Editors' note:The Mac Pro is a high-end professional product too far-reaching to fully test in an initial day or two. We will continue to explore the system's functionality for video editing, graphics, and other tasks, and update this review regularly.
Apple's new Mac Pro is a stunningly fresh take on the desktop computer. But it's probably not for you.
The tabletop-size cylinder design has been described as resembling everything from a small beer keg to a jet engine to a kitchen composter, each clad in gleaming Darth Vader black. More importantly, it breaks the decades-long tradition of putting desktop computer components in a rectangular box, whether a massive full tower of the kind that dominated offices and dens for many years, or a small cube such as Apple's own Mac Mini.
When compared with the most recent professional-grade desktop Mac Pro, the difference is especially striking. Despite offering the same or better components, the new version has an interior volume that's about one tenth that of the big, boxy old Mac Pro desktop. Seen side by side, the significance of this is easy to see.
But both that familiar silver tower and this new, sleek black cylinder are not intended for the same audience as the popular MacBook Air laptops or even the 27-inch iMac all-in-one. Besides a much steeper starting price, the main difference is in the internal components.
The initial $2,999 investment required of a base model Mac Pro gets you a quad-core 3.7GHz Intel Xeon processor, 12GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD, and AMD D300 FirePro graphics. Two points of commonality with current-gen consumer Mac systems are the faster PCIe style SSD storage, and a Wi-Fi antenna using the latest 802.11ac standard.
A second base model, starting at $3,999, moves up to a six-core Xeon CPU with 16GB of RAM, AMD D500 FirePro graphics, and the same 256GB SSD. Additional upgrades, to D700 GPUs, and up to a 12-core processor, can drive the price up even further. Note that the box contains only the small tower and a power plug; even the keyboard and mouse are sold separately.
Apple calls this the future of the pro-level desktop, and the company is emphasizing its use in high-end movie and music production, although I'm sure graphic designers, Web site builders, and other creative types are already trying to work one of these into their budgets.
Ports and connections are accessible from a front panel (or rear panel, depending on how you position the chassis). In one of those clever extras Apple is known for, a glowing border around the ports lights up when the system is moved, such as when you might swivel it to plug something in. In the panel, you'll find six Thunderbolt 2 ports that can power up to three simultaneous 4K displays, including one from a built-in HDMI output.
The smaller design is built around cooling and efficiency, and Apple says the new Mac Pro is much more power efficient than the previous tower-based Mac Pro desktop. It's also very quiet, with minimal fan noise, which Apple compares to the sound level of a Mac Mini desktop. A fan sends warm air upward, and if you hover a hand over the top of the system, you can feel a faint flow of warm air.
Can you buy a Mac Pro for home use as your personal PC? Yes, but it may not be the most economical use of your money (and for home users, it's also worth a mention that despite being a desktop computer, the Mac Pro lacks an internal optical drive, even as its cylindrical shape seems perfectly suited for one). Still, many will doubtless do just that, mesmerized by the design and high-end configuration options. Our review bridges this gap, interpreting the Mac Pro as a consumer extravagance, while also looking into its ability to handle professional tasks, especially as it relates to the growing field of 4K video.
An important note: In our consumer-level benchmark testing, the system excelled, but with a giant asterisk. That mitigating factor is that the review sample loaned to us by Apple is a very high-end configuration. It includes an 8-core Intel Xeon processor, a whopping 64GB of RAM, a full 1TB SSD hard drive, and upgraded D700 AMD FirePro video cards, all of which adds up to a current price of $8,099 (and an availability date of February).
Apple Mac Pro (2013)
Apple iMac (27-inch, September 2013)
Falcon Northwest Fragbox v3
27-inch, 2,560 x 1,440 screen
3Ghz Intel Xeon E5-1680 (8-core)
3.4GHz Intel Core i5-4670
4.5GHz Intel Core i7-4770K
64GB DDR3 SDRAM 1867MH
8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1600MHz
16GB 1800MHZ DDR3 SDRAM
(2) 6GB AMD FirePro D700
2GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 775M
3GB Nvidia GeForce GTX780
1TB SSD hard drive
128GB SSD 1TB hybrid hard drive
(2) 960GB SSD RAID 0
Dual Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11ac wireless, Bluetooth 4.0
Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11ac wireless, Bluetooth 4.0
Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11b/g/n wireless, Bluetooth 4.0
OSX Mavericks 10.9
OSX Mountain Lion 10.8.5
Windows 8 (64-bit)
Design and features
This is not the first time Apple has done something radically different with a desktop computer. The G4 Cube was a famously minimal gleaming box meant to represent the future of PCs. While the Cube was a cult favorite more than a commercial success, the new Mac Pro feels like the logical next evolution in maximizing power while minimizing space.
And the Mac Pro line was certainly ready for an update. The existing tower design is one of the oldest in the Apple catalog, changing little from when it was called the Power Mac G5. Up until now, the Mac Pro has been missing USB 3.0, Thunderbolt, and other features many MacBook users take for granted.
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.