Review: Apple Mac Pro

The “pro” in Mac Pro is there for a reason. With price tags that start at $3,000 and specs that make your average desktop look like an abacus, these have always been machines designed for those who need ridiculous amounts of processing power on a daily basis.

The newly redesigned Pro doesn’t just deliver that power, it does so without looking like any desktop tower you’ve ever seen.

With a shell made of machined aluminum polished to a reflective, glossy sheen, the cylindrical Pro could double as Darth Vader’s waste bin or some futuristic flower vase. It’s surprisingly small too, at just 10 inches tall and a little over 6.5 inches in diameter. All told, the 11-pound Mac Pro is about 1/8th the size of its 2012 predecessor.

Because there is no conceivable universe where a blogger would need a 3.7GHz quad-core Xeon E5 and two AMD FirePro GPUs capable of 7 teraflops of computing power, I employed the help of some industrial designers to make sure we pushed this beast to its limits — both with CPU- and graphics-intensive product renderings. Using trial versions of apps like KeyShot and Rhinoceros, we manipulated a CAD file of a Ferrari 599 using a 1080p Samsung TV as a monitor. Real-time raytracing in KeyShot was admirably snappy, while the process of switching, selecting, and changing new materials and complex textures was speedy and streamlined.

When multitasking — which, for me, included streaming HD Netflix with a silly number of Safari tabs and other apps open — the Mac Pro didn’t bat an eye. The gaming experience is also tops. Playing Diablo III with the quality settings maxed out also proved a breeze for the Pro. Graphics were sharp, detailed, and animations are stutter-free.

But the machine’s processing prowess really shines in Final Cut Pro X, which Apple recently updated specifically to take advantage of the Pro’s capabilities. On-the-fly 4K video streams rendered in real time without a hitch, unfazed by the addition of a handful of cinematic filters. In fact, you can stream 16 different smoothly playing 4K streams at the same time in the app while editing a video together. This feat is largely thanks to those two AMD FirePro GPUs, which include 2GB of dedicated VRAM apiece. The 3.7GHz system as a whole comes standard with 12GB of DDR3 memory, but our unit was upped to 16GB — you can configure it all the way up to 64GB, though.

The amazing part is while you’re doing all this, the machine just purrs — if you want to call the quiet hum it produces “purring.” Compared to the ambient noise in your average room or office, the Mac Pro runs practically silent, even under duress (15 dBa under load compared to the previous Mac Pro’s 30 dBA). Apple designed a unique cooling system for the computer: With the tower’s fastidiously organized circuit boards situated in a triangle inside its outer aluminum shell — the device actually looks even cooler with this casing removed — a single fan located at the top of the assembly sucks warm air out of its hollow center and pushes it out the top of the device. Fresh, cool air is sucked up from a grill along the bottom edge. Under load, you can definitely feel more warmer air being pushed out the top, but the machine never starts growling.

Like Apple’s other 2013 Mac offerings, the Mac Pro features 802.11ac Wi-Fi, which delivers download speeds over twice as fast as the current standard. But of course, you need a compatible router or base station to take advantage of this.

Compared to other professional machines, the Mac Pro does lack some customizability, particularly when it comes to things like extra hard drive bays (it has none). But as iFixit recently noted, it’s actually more repairable than most Macs. And while it is designed for superior performance, benchmarks show that you can get similar results in some areas with a specced-out late 2013 iMac or MacBook Pro. But that’s largely because there are so few apps (like Final Cut Pro X) that are optimized to take advantage of the Mac Pro’s architecture.

Not everyone needs a beast of a machine like the Mac Pro at their desk. But for those compiling thousands of lines of code a day, manipulating HD or 4K video streams, or constantly rendering CPU-intensive animations or images, this shiny cylinder of power has come from the future to save you time.

All photos by Josh Valcarcel/get-gadget

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