Why You Should Upgrade your Mac Pro

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The Mac Pro is the flagship model in Apple’s stable of well-designed computers and, as indicated by its name, the model intended for professional use, especially in creative fields such as video, photo, audio, design, animation, and more. Like most things at the top end of a company’s range, the Mac Pro is one of those computers that received a huge amount of attention when it was released, in late 2019. This new model saw a return to the more modular and squarish form factor of the Mac Pro from two generations ago, along with pretty spectacular performance upgrades throughout. Upgrades and a new physical design are expected with a new computer, of course, but particularly for those working with the especially unique Mac Pro from 2013, what does the late 2019 iteration mean?

Apple Mac Pro

Modular Design

We’ll talk about performance in a bit, but the most apparent change between the two generations is the physical design. And in the case of both generations of Mac Pros, their designs aren’t purely aesthetic, despite their being aesthetic objects. The designs are functional and intentional, but it’s safe to say that the 2019 edition is more functional in its intentions.

The previous generation will forever be known as one of the more polarizing designs from Apple, especially in regard to the expected user base of the Mac Pro. It was a computer that was not set up for the modularity and expandability one would expect from such a machine. One of the touted features of its distinct cylindrical design was the vertical airflow; the new 2019 Mac Pro has reverted to the more classic box-like shape to enable easier expansion and its exterior design incorporates a lattice pattern and three fans for even more effective cooling.

While the 2013 design was certainly smaller, it’s a much more contained system with no accessible PCIe slots and less physical space that prompted the need for various dongles, hubs, and potentially complicated external storage. The updated design, while physically more spacious, is also intended for greater modularity to suit different applications. It features eight distinct PCIe expansion slots, including four double-wide slots, three single-wide slots, and one half-wide slot with an Apple I/O card that supplies two USB Type-A and two Thunderbolt™ 3 ports—all of this is to say there are twice as many available expansion slots and they are all much more accessible.

If you want you can even upgrade some core components on your own. Examples of this are the base storage and memory. Apple has made available SSD Kits from 1TB up to 8TB as well as DDR4 R-RIMM ECC Memory Module Kits from 16GB to 256GB. If you decide you need more from your machine a year or two down the line, it is super easy to purchase these upgrades and install them yourself.

Performance Boost

In terms of specs, this is where you’d expect the obvious changes to be and, of course, they are there. At its base level, the Mac Pro can be configured with a 3.5 GHz Intel® Xeon™ W 8-core processor, 32GB of RAM, and a single AMD Radeon Pro 580X graphics card. This is impressive, and likely enough for many creative applications, but it’s just the base level. If you were to max out the Mac Pro, then you’re looking at a 28-core monster with 1.5TB of RAM and two AMD Radeon Pro Vega II Duo cards. This is likely overkill for the individual user—but knowing that configurations exist anywhere between these two extremes means you can find the right model if you’re working on editing 4K video content, just editing some high-resolution photos, mastering an entire album, or working on intensive 3D modeling projects.

Delving a bit deeper into what all this means for the content creator, you can think of how the idea of being a “content creator” in 2020 has taken on new meaning versus in 2013. Lines between creative mediums are being blurred nowadays and it’s not uncommon to find photographers dabbling in video, videographers working heavily in audio, and animators needing to work in a wide variety of visual capacities. The point is that a computer should be able to accommodate the multi-medium workflow of creatives in 2020, and the Mac Pro addresses these needs with its attention to memory and graphics.

Beyond that, the base level Mac Pro of 2019 starts with 32GB of RAM, versus the 16GB DDR3 entry from the previous generation. The new model is also working with faster DDR4 RAM and has a significantly higher ceiling to suit running several memory-intensive applications, like Final Cut, Logic, Maya, and Adobe Photoshop, at once. Outside of RAM, too, the current Mac Pros are also configured with much faster PCIe NVMe SSD storage options of up to 8TB. And then, looking outside of built-in storage, the physical design, again, means you can configure the new Mac Pro with “internal” RAID storage.

As far as graphics are concerned—obviously one of the crucial areas for those working in visual mediums—Apple has stuck with AMD graphics processors and lets users choose up to a pair of Radeon Pro Vega II GPUs for 56 teraflops and 128GB of bandwidth to suit even the most high-end 3D animation or video-editing needs. Besides the sheer specs though, Apple has also revised how GPUs are configured, with Mac Pro Expansion (MPX) Modules. These removable modules—up to two can be used—can each hold two GPUs and have a PCIe connector, as well as an integrated Thunderbolt™ connection to deliver up to 500W of power per tray; this is up to potentially twice as much as the previous generation.

Even if you’re not moving up to the peak graphics performance, the base AMD Radeon Pro 580X 8GB GPU still trounces the previous generation’s performance, making for an overall better performer for all visual needs. Additionally, since integration is one of the stronger suits of this new model, the MPX Modules have been accounted for in terms of overall cooling performance, and do not require their own heatsinks; instead, the lattice design and built-in fans of the enclosure provide sufficient, and quiet, cooling.

Notable Upgrades

Now, something specific for the video crowd: Apple debuted the Afterburner hardware accelerator card with this Mac Pro. This video-intended optional upgrade uses more than a million logic cells to process up to 6.3-billion pixels per second, which, practically, lets you work with up to six streams of 8K ProRes RAW, 16 streams of 4K ProRes RAW HQ, or 23 streams of 4K ProRes RAW video content while editing with Final Cut Pro X, which frees up more processing cores for greater effects processing.

Beyond processing and speed improvements, the 2019 Mac Pro has also been updated in more functional ways, too. It uses the T2 Security Chip, a secure enclave coprocessor, that encrypts storage and secures boot capabilities.

Looking back at some more nuances of the physical design, the new Mac Pro, as stated before, has a much more functional I/O design. Whereas its predecessor was hampered by the number of and availability of ports, the updated model offers four Thunderbolt™ 3 ports, two USB Type-A ports, and two 10Gb Ethernet ports. And then these numbers can be expanded through the use of MPX Modules, which could permit working with up to 12 4K displays (one display per potential Thunderbolt™ 3 port) or even six Pro Display XDR screens.

Pro Display XDR

The Pro Display XDR, announced alongside the Mac Pro, is a 32" IPS panel with 6K (6016 x 3384) Retina resolution. Like the Mac Pro, this display is aimed directly at creative users looking for the utmost performance and accuracy from a monitor; XDR stands for Extreme Dynamic Range, and it covers the entire P3-DCI wide color gamut with 10-bit color depth, making it ideal for color-critical editing applications. Also, in a unique move, Apple has released the Pro Display XDR in both a standard glass version, as well as in a nano-texture version that greatly reduces glare.

Final Thoughts

So, looking back at the Mac Pro, and the idea of upgrading from a 2013 Mac Pro to the newest late 2019 version, the quick answer to whether or not you should upgrade is “yes.” But to elaborate, the new Mac Pro is much, much more than an incremental update to an existing model. It has a number of fundamental changes that reassert the Mac Pro’s position as a modular, configurable, and powerful system for the most demanding of creative needs. Even beyond the obvious upgrades in power, memory, speed, and graphics performance, the updated model will unlock access to a wide range of creative potential for visual effects creators, video editors, 3D modelers, and animators, as well as even still photographers working with large libraries of high-resolution images. All creative processes have become more demanding of a computer system and the new Mac Pro addresses these needs in a variety of ways, and, for most individual users, with plenty of room to grow.

What are your thoughts on the new Mac Pro? Do you see it as an essential upgrade for previous-generation Mac Pro users? Which features are most exciting? Let us know your thoughts on this powerhouse workstation in the Comments field, below.

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