It may be time for Apple to throw in the towel with the Mac Pro

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Enlarge / Apple’s Mac Pro 2019, a tripphobe’s nightmare.

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The Mac Pro is one of the few Intel Macs left without an Apple Silicon replacement out of the box, even though we’re a little past the two-year deadline CEO Tim Cook originally set for the transition in the summer of 2020 (and to be fair, it’s been a hard couple of years to predict).

Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman reports that Apple continues to work on a new version of the Mac Pro, along with other Intel Macs that have yet to be replaced, such as the high-end Mac mini and 27-inch iMac, but that an “M2″ chip Extreme” planned that would have powered the Apple Silicon Mac Pro has “probably” been cancelled.

The Extreme would have spliced ​​together two M2 Ultra chips, in the same way that the current M1 Ultra is a pair of interconnected M1 Max chips, but as of this writing, Apple reportedly plans to ship the new Mac Pro with an M2 Ultra chip inside and focus on “easy expandability for additional memory, storage, and other components” to help make Mac Pro stand out from the existing Mac Studio.

Waiting for news in the face of uncertainty isn’t new to Mac Pro hesitants; it has been a constant for the last decade and more. It’s been a long time since the Mac Pro has been updated at anything close to a predictable cadence, especially if you don’t count partial updates like the 2012 Mac Pro tower or the addition of new GPU options to the 2019 model. And each of the last two Updates—the “garbage can” Mac Pro in 2013 and the revamped “cheese grater” version of 2019—have reflected a complete shift in design and strategy.

At this point, I’d like Apple to decide: commit to a consistent strategy or vision for the Mac Pro and its place in the lineup, or retire it.

a fading star

Apple's 2013 Mac Pro still supported a few niceties, like user-replaceable storage and upgradeable RAM, but it languished without updates for more than half a decade.  Apple eventually changed course on the design, but it was a huge misstep.
Enlarge / Apple’s 2013 Mac Pro still supported a few niceties, like user-replaceable storage and upgradeable RAM, but it languished without updates for more than half a decade. Apple eventually changed course on the design, but it was a huge misstep.

Retiring the Mac Pro would have been unthinkable a couple of decades ago, when the G3 and G4 Power Mac towers were priced, spec’d, and marketed more like high-end consumer desktops than corporate workstations. But it’s been a long time since that was true, and other Macs have stepped in to fill that void while the Mac Pro has suffered its identity crisis. Apple’s high-end professional software has also faded during this era, and software packages from Premiere to After Effects to Blender to Autodesk Maya are either platform agnostic or take advantage of hardware features like Nvidia’s unique CUDA API that Apple no longer offers.

The Mac Studio is probably the best argument against the continued existence of the Mac Pro. It’s the first truly new Mac design of the Apple Silicon era, taking full advantage of the performance and power efficiency of the M1 series (and soon, hopefully the M2). It’s small, it’s incredibly efficient, it runs relatively cool and quiet, and it manages to outperform Mac Pro 2019 configurations to the max in many workloads for less money.

It’s something The Verge’s Mac Studio review highlighted very well: Employees who use apps like Premiere, Audition, Photoshop and After Effects, Avid Pro Tools, and Blender had nothing but good things to say about Studio in relation to the way they used it. Intel Mac and Apple Silicon MacBooks to run those applications on a day-to-day basis. Creating web content isn’t as complex or demanding as creating, say, 3D effects for a major movie or TV show, but that’s a wide range of creators who could they’ve benefited from a Mac Pro a decade or two ago that they definitely don’t need to consider it today.

Apple still ships its own set of professional apps exclusively for the Mac, including Final Cut Pro X, Motion, and Logic Pro. But the speed at which these apps are updated (and the extent of updates, when they arrive) has slowed and shrunk. in the last decade at the same time that the Mac Pro has atrophied.

Earlier this year, a group of 112 professional filmmakers signed an open letter calling on Apple to improve collaboration features in Final Cut, respond more quickly to requests for new features, and do a better job of lobbying for the. software within the film industry. Even the creators who to prefer to use it in this context “can’t pick it yet” due to real and perceived shortcomings in the application and a general lack of experience and knowledge about the application across the industry. The Verge’s video editors, likewise, “didn’t want” to help test Final Cut Pro because “none of them use it.”

Apple’s other hardware succeeds in part because it runs Apple software that gives people things they can’t get from other ecosystems. The opposite is true for Mac Pro-style high-end professional workloads, which run primarily on applications that also run (and, in some specific cases, better) on cheaper and more flexible Windows and Linux hardware, and this it is reflected in the hardware and software that actual VFX studios use.

A large 2021 survey by the Visual Effects Society Technology Committee found that Linux and Windows are by far the most popular platforms for workstations, with Windows being somewhat favored at smaller studios and Linux at larger ones. large.  Mac involvement is minimal across the board.
Enlarge / A large 2021 survey by the Visual Effects Society Technology Committee found that Linux and Windows are by far the most popular platforms for workstations, with Windows being somewhat favored at smaller studios and Linux at larger ones. large. Mac involvement is minimal across the board.

A 2021 studio platform survey report by the Visual Effects Society Technology Committee surveyed nearly 60,000 workstations across 88 studios of all different sizes; Linux ran on 60 percent of these workstations, while Windows ran on 29 percent and macOS accounted for just 11 percent. The survey also found that most studies planned to increase their use of Linux and Windows, while most planned to keep their use of macOS at roughly the same level.

None of this means Apple should cede this market to Lenovo, Dell, Intel, AMD, Nvidia and the rest, but Apple needs to be more focused, consistent and serious than it has been with the Mac Pro if it really intends to do so. . compete here.

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