Why the major overhaul now? One of the reasons Apple previously felt little need to update the Mac Pro was because it appealed largely to a small but steady professional audience and didn't require a flashy iMac-style revamp to bring in new audiences. But, in the several years since the last major Mac Pro overhaul, the computer industry has shifted dramatically away from the traditional tower-based desktop toward laptops, all-in-one desktops, tablets, and now even touch screen "tabletop PCs" such as the Lenovo Horizon 27.
How did Apple rebuild the Mac Pro into such a small package? Components are built around something Apple calls a unified thermal core. A small lock switch is moved to the unlocked position, and the entire outer sleeve of the system lifts off, exposing the interior. It's easy to remove and replace, but you must disconnect the power and video connections to do so. That's obviously a good idea, but as a long-time desktop PC tinkerer, I do miss the ability to putter around inside a case with the machine running.
Inside the Mac Pro is a triangular hunk of metal that acts a both a heat sink and the central structure the motherboard and components are attached to. The SSD is on one side, the GPU's on another, and RAM slots are on either side of the port panel.
Those RAM slots are the most user-accessible component inside, although Apple says the SSD and graphics cards could be swapped out as well, but it certainly wouldn't be as easy as it is on a traditional desktop tower.
No, the idea being promulgated here is that your expandability should flow outward, not inward. If the lack of traditional internal expansion slots inside didn't clue you in to that, the six Thunderbolt 2 ports plus four USB 3.0 ports on the connections panel should. And, as Thunderbolt devices can chain themselves together, that's a total of 36 Thunderbolt/mini-DisplayPort devices one can hook up simultaneously.
Three of those video outputs can be used to drive multiple 4K displays simultaneously, including the single HDMI 1.4 output. We happened to have a 4K TV set up CNET's testing lab, as well as several 4K video files, which had previously brought any other PC we tried to its knees.
In our expanded hands-on testing, we'll play, edit, and output files via Final Cut Pro X. For now, we tried playing some of these files with the Mac Pro connected to a Toshiba 4KTV, setting the system's resolution to 3,840x2,160.
The most advanced file was a demo ProRes MOV video, playing via QuickTime at 799Mbits/s at 3,840x,2160-pixel resolution. That played smoothly, as you'll see in our hands-on video above. Some differently formatted files that on paper should have been easier to play gave us trouble, and we are continuing to test different combinations of video files and displays to explore the issue.
Is the Mac Pro a killer performance machine? For $8,000 it had better be. In our benchmark testing, the system turned in excellent scores, ripping through video encoding and other tasks. The charts below give you an initial impression of the Mac Pro compared to other recent high-end PCs and Macs, although it's important to remember, we're not testing the base $2,999 model (which would still presumably perform very well on the same tests).
The Mac Pro, as configured, was in most cases well faster than even the most high-end Windows desktop we've tested this year, but the non-consumer components created some problems for our standard tests. Our Photoshop test uses an older version of Photoshop, and it underperformed compared with our expectations, and is not currently included in the charts below. We're currently troubleshooting and re-running the test and will add those scores when we're confidant in them.
The dual AMD FirePro D700 video cards in our system are not designed for the same 3D gaming as consumer-level AMD or Nvidia cards, but can be used for that in addition to their stated task of allowing multiple 4K video streams and real-time application of video effects in programs such as Final Cut. A quick run through our very old Mac gaming benchmark, Call of Duty 4, at 2,560x1,440 resolution, yielded a frame rate of 86.3 frames per second. Diablo III ran at the same resolution, on high detail settings, at around 58 frames per second. Some more recent high-profile games, such as Bioshock Infinite and Metro: Last Light, are resolution capped in OS X and not good for benchmarking.
The new Mac Pro is a professional workhorse dressed up in a very appealing high-design package. It's a stretch to say this is a computer for casual consumers, but the starting price isn't more than you'd pay for a similarly configured Windows PC and the radically different look and feel is cool enough to appeal to any design enthusiast who wants nothing but the best-looking, best-performing products.
The depth of its abilities as a video editing and professional-grade creation tool are both too vast to fully explore in an initial day or two, and also somewhat outside our normal consumer-focused scope, therefore, this review will be updated with new impressions and performance results as we continue to test the system.