During the keynote address of Apple’s World Wide Developer’s Conference (WWDC) Monday, Apple unveiled a lot of changes to its MacBook line including upgrades to the MacBook Air and Pro lines and a new style of MacBook Pro entirely featuring a thinner frame and a Retina display. One product past due for an upgrade that remained absent from the presentation was the Mac Pro, the top-of-the-line Apple desktop system that typically boasts the best specs for the professional user.
Apple actually did update the Mac Pro line yesterday, though these updates are hardly keynote worthy. Still lacking USB 3.0 or Thunderbolt support, the Mac Pro hasn’t received a major update in two years, leading some industry thought leaders to question whether the Mac Pro is being killed off or simply lagging behind the pack for a little too long.
Why Apple Should Keep the Mac Pro
While some fans of the Mac Pro have emailed the CEO to voice their concerns, it is hard to imagine that Apple would actually kill off the Mac Pro just yet. Video rendering on a laptop is still a struggle, even on the most advanced Ivy Bridge Core i7 processors. Frankly, even the best asymmetrical fans don’t hold a candle to the cooling ability of the Mac Pro.
Having worked in a Mac studio, it’s not an uncommon sight to see a line of Mac Pros connected to a storage rack or stack of G-Raid drives. Each system has a specific job to fill during the production process including running Final Cut Pro, rendering, etc. Modern HD video demands a lot out of systems during video editing, and it can be very difficult for a notebook to keep up with. Not necessarily because of processor or graphics limitations, but a combination of factors including heat which can reduce the life of a notebook considerably.
I have a 13″ MacBook Pro and video rendering, even light video rendering, sends the CPU temperature up into the high 190s Fahrenheit with spikes going above 200. That’s with a cooling pad. While modern systems are designed to withstand a lot of thermal abuse, a well-cooled system with desktop-class hardware will still win out a great deal of the time.
Add to this the fact that desktop processors are capable of holding more cores in their present state in addition to larger motherboards being capable of being home to multiple CPUs. I’d like to see a notebook with 12+ cores, each capable of eating threads for lunch.
The Mac Pro is also extremely aftermarket friendly. You can add an additional graphics card, extreme amounts of RAM, or even change out processors a lot easier. The Mac Pro is designed for professionals to cater to the needs of the individual so they can get to work and get things done in a way that suits their needs the best. Notebooks, even modern ones with Thunderbolt ports and multiple external monitor options, are still mainly WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) systems. Upgrading anything beyond RAM takes a lot of know-how.
Why Apple Should Scrap the Mac Pro in Favor of Notebooks
The things notebook computers can do today are incredibly impressive. Anything from word processing to video editing can usually be accomplished on even the least powerful MacBook Pro. Granted, you’ll have struggles with some of the more intensive tasks such as video rendering and gaming. That’s the nature of the beast, but the vast majority of professionals and consumers out there can accomplish almost everything they’d want to on a notebook.
Why, then, should Apple cater to such a small market of professionals that continue to demand the most out of their hardware when the majority of its profits could be made off of laptops that are powerful enough to handle the vast majority of its customers’ needs? Therein lies the heart of the matter, and perhaps the answer to the question from which this article is titled.
The modern professional is mobile. You can’t do much away from your desk if your primary work machine is a Mac Pro. The MacBook Pro, however, allows you mobility and an impressive battery life that could keep you working throughout the day. The MacBook Pro is powerful enough to handle quite a lot, and the new Retina display gives you the ability to see well beyond 1080 pixels on a screen that fits in your laptop bag. Where I once struggled with screen real estate, I could get a lot more done with more pixels on the screen, especially while editing video away from the office.
All we can do at this point is speculate, not having first-hand knowledge of Apple’s product roadmap. It’s clear at this point that the Mac Pro hasn’t been given as much attention as the MacBook line as of late, and that’s to be expected as the company’s popularity among consumers has exploded during the past two years. Apple’s focus on consumer devices has been to its financial benefit, which leads many (including myself) to question whether or not there is a place for the Mac Pro in Apple’s future.
My personal opinion is that either the iMac or the Mac Pro will be seeing some dramatic changes in the next 6-12 months. The iMac delivers quite a lot in terms of computing power on a screen that is large enough to handle most professional’s needs. I used a 2010 iMac for video editing with little to no issues, and would expect that technology would advance to the point where the iMac’s form factor would eventually be capable of handling the workload currently assigned to a Mac Pro.
On the other hand, not everyone wants to be forced to use a monitor they don’t want. Industry professionals use a variety of external monitors designed to give the editor a theatrical experience. Even though you can hook an external monitor up to an iMac, it might not be the optimal setup the user needs. The Mac Pro delivers on a promise of choice. Choice over components both internal and external, and choice over experience. You’re not shoved into a box as you are with the iMac, or forced to deal with upgrade limitations as you are with the MacBook Pro. The Mac Pro is and will remain the best option for professionals that want a Mac which can be configured to the user’s specifications. Until the iMac, Mac Mini, MacBook Pro, or some new system yet to be announced meets those needs, there will always be a place for the Mac Pro.
Then again, I’m just speculating. What do you think? Will the Mac Pro be around for another year? What changes would you make to it?