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  • Is Apple Moving Away From Pro Computers?

    January 8th, 2008

    I’m sure many of you were blindsided when Apple quietly upgraded the Mac Pro and the Xserve to use the new Intel “Harpertown” Xeon chips, code-named Penryn. Now it’s perfectly clear that this is a worthwhile upgrade. The new chips are not only faster, but cooler running, consuming less power.

    So those of you with environmental concerns are apt to appreciate the change, and content creators will lust after the promise of greatly improved performance. There’s also hope that more applications will be able to benefit from double quad-cores, partly as the result of the enhanced multithreading support under Leopard. In addition, the new Intel Penryn chips, as they are also known, incorporate extra high-powered hooks for developers to tap into and enhance performance even further.

    However, you’d expect a product promising twice the performance of the previous model would get something more than a press release, some front-page emphasis on Apple’s site and a few briefings from Apple’s PR and product management crew. After all, at one time, professional desktops were Apple’s top sellers, and it if wasn’t for content creators, the company would probably have never survived the hard times of the last decade.

    Now to be perfectly fair, not introducing a Mac Pro and an Xserve at a Macworld Expo might make a lot of sense. After all, that’s largely a consumer-oriented event, even though professional-grade applications and peripherals will be on display.

    Apple has used a WWDC event to reveal new professional hardware, but that means six or seven months delay, which makes even less sense, since the product is available right now.

    In large part, you can expect Steve Jobs to talk strictly to consumers at his Macworld Expo keynote next week. I’ve already weighed in on what I expect to see — no doubt most of it is way off-base — and it’s all largely consumer-oriented, except, perhaps for faster MacBook Pros and that highly-anticipated thin and light note-book.

    Sure, the iPhone is often used by businesses. But, again, it was designed for regular consumers, not business owners, although a large number of the latter have bought them and are telling the IT people in their companies to figure a way to make the iPhone work with the corporate email systems. That is, of course, Apple’s back door approach to penetrating the often-inscrutable enterprise.

    But where does that leave such products as the Mac Pro and the Xserve? Is there any possibility that they will gain less and less emphasis over time and eventually disappear? I suppose you could speculate that way, suggesting that higher-end iMacs and MacBook Pros will fill the gap, but they won’t. Not now, not ever.

    In fact, I very much object to any suggestion that Apple would ever desert its core user base of content creators. After all, professional Mac desktops are involved more and more in editing films and creating special effects. Scientific institutions of all sorts use them to perform the intense calculations required for cutting-edge medications, quantum physics and other research purposes.

    Even graphic artists who exist in the Adobe Photoshop, InDesign or QuarkXPress environments prefer to run those applications on Macs. That’s true even though there are Windows versions of all three and many of the other creative software they use.

    So why are the new professional models getting such low-key introductions? Well, for one thing, the people who buy these products are not apt to depend on cute TV spots and clever print ads to make their purchase decisions. If they are already Mac users, they will simply upgrade at the appropriate time, when their current hardware is no longer suitable for the tasks at hand.

    When it comes to Windows switchers, believe it or not, Apple continues to price its professional computers aggressively. You saw that when the Mac Pro first came out, when it was over $1,000 cheaper than a comparably-equipped Dell workstation. Sure, Apple overprices its RAM, but nobody forces you to buy the Apple brand, which is probably sourced from the very same companies, such as Crucial, that sell direct to dealers or the end-user.

    Also, take a look at the bottom line. Every single Mac Pro or Xserve delivers big profits to Apple. When a customer custom configures a special version with a different set of processors, hard drives and high-end graphic cards, profits soar into the stratosphere. In the end, for multinational corporations, it’s still all about the money. And so long as Apple can make a bundle on high-end Macs, they will never go away.



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    10 Responses to “Is Apple Moving Away From Pro Computers?”

    1. javaholic says:

      Today’s update, while a nice surprise, was simply that – an update. I don’t think there’s any real evidence Apple is moving away from its Pro base. And if they did, – well, put it this way, I don’t think I’d be the first person knocking on Steve’s door getting him to explain himself.

      I read about the Pro today, thought it looked good and honestly didn’t think much more about it. If the industrial design was new (which I think is long overdue) Apple may have made a bigger splash about it. However, as you pointed out, many of us that use this type of hardware just upgrade at the appropriate time. Plus, I think Apple would rather offer up the more diverse, consumer orientated products at Macworld.

      Still, based on today’s announcement, I’d like to see Apple throw the graphic designer that mini tower to fill the gap that’s getting bigger between the iMac and today’s updated Mac Pro. While the new Pros are impressive, they now seem better geared towards digital video and multi media creation. Our agency primarily uses Adobes CS3 apps and one of our guys does a lot of photo retouching. We (and other designers I know) in the ad and publishing industry have no need for the extra PCI slots and drive bays, but we’re petrol heads – we want the performance. Right now we’re ultimately paying for expansion we don’t necessarily need or want.

      Whether or not Apple has listened I guess we’ll find out next week.

    2. John Fallon says:

      The fully buffered DIMM’s, the size of the old case, the expandability of them, the power consumption, all the fans and the noise – in some ways, the Mac Pro’s are more like bottom end servers than workstations for content creators. If you want a cheap tower server this is it – but maybe some people want a really fast machine that doesn’t make quite so much noise or use so much power.

    3. Adam says:

      The fully buffered DIMM’s, the size of the old case, the expandability of them, the power consumption, all the fans and the noise – in some ways, the Mac Pro’s are more like bottom end servers than workstations for content creators. If you want a cheap tower server this is it – but maybe some people want a really fast machine that doesn’t make quite so much noise or use so much power.

      This is a quiet machine, given enough RAM to work in. The number of fans and the “cheese grater” perforations all work to make that so by reducing airflow restriction. More fans run more slowly to move the same volume of air. Granted, this was not always true of the G5 predecessor.

    4. Karl says:

      All Mac towers have been to some extent loud. I have my G5 in the same room as my G4 tower. The G4 has a consistent fan noise emitting from it. The G5 is usually quieter than the G4 until I do some processor intensive work. And don’t get me started on the older PowerMacs. If I fire up my old PowerComputing Tower it sounds like the G5 at it’s loudest continually.

    5. Steve says:

      I agree. As long as Apple is still selling hardware and can turn a buck on the Pro machines, they won’t stop selling them.

      What I would like is a greater number of processor options on the Mac Pro. Eight cores are too much for me (right now). I was looking forward to a dual processor (quad core) running faster than 3.2Ghz. My understanding is Intel has the Penryn dual core chips at 3.4 Ghz. Since these would be lower cost (?) than the quad-cores, I’d be able to better use my remaining budget on memory and storage. I’d probably spend about the same at Apple, but get more of what I want. However, I’ll end up buying one of these 8 core machines anyway, so perhaps Apple does know what it’s doing.

      Since the new NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GT increases the ship time to 3-5 weeks, I’m now going to wait for the SteveNote before ordering my new Mac Pro.

    6. ScienceMan says:

      I believe this is actually positive news, as it leaves the door open to other dramatic introductions in the Pro area (for example, including laptops) while getting the news about the new Pro towers out ahead of MacWorld. Want one!!

    7. I belive this is actually positive news, as it leaves the door open to other dramatic introductions in the Pro area (for example, including laptops) while getting the news about the new Pro towers out ahead of MacWorld. Want one!!

      Yes, that makes two of us. 😀

      Peace,
      Gene

    8. Al says:

      A little bit off topic but regarding the industrial design of the Mac Pro/PowerMac G5.

      I’m looking at my 4 year old PowerMac G5 and I hate the thought that when the time comes to replace the unit I will have to get rid of a perfectly beautiful, finely crafted piece of industrial design. Yeah the case is aluminum which recycles well but that especially in this day and age that still requires energy and generates some emissions. That case is quite a chunk of aluminum you know. I wish Apple would offer some kind of new component kit so I can keep the case and still have a fully updated Mac.

    9. DWalla says:

      Apple is NOT moving away from their pro line. The pro purchasers are totally different breed of consumer. They typically are up on all the latest technologies and relevant news. As such they don’t need some home consumer based media event to get the word out. I’ve known these new towers were coming for at least 3 months…. I’ve been following the chip release news from Intel and new it was definitely in the pipeline. Lots of other people I know in the industry were also aware these were coming. Unlike the iPhone, iPod, iMac, etc. which are pointed directly at the average consumer, the Pro line is not… and it doesn’t need the fanfare associated with typical consumer release products in order to generate sales.

      If Apple was truly moving away from Pro computers… then why do they still develop and sell Final Cut Pro Studio?… or Logic?… and why are they building out a successor to Shake? These are not tools suited to the consumer machine.

    10. lance says:

      hi-

      About the sound issue: I work on many macs. Here is the breakdown on sound:

      (1) PowerMac G4 converted to rack mount (using Marathon computing box): Ridiculously loud, but it works.

      (2) Xserve: Loud and I don’t want to work next to it (any model).

      (3) Stock PowerMac G4: Loud, but much better than the Xserve. Use to be my primary desktop, but now I can’t believe I worked next to such noise.

      (4) PowerMac G5: Quite enough, but when it works the fans go up and down and are distracting.

      (5) MacPro/Intel: Quite and good enough for a desktop workstation, but after being away from it and then coming back you notice the noise from it.

      (6) iMac/Intel: This is the best! Quite. The early 20″ Core duo is quite, but the later 24″ Core-2 duo is even quieter.

      (7) PowerBook G4: Louder than (6) but quieter than (5).

      (8) MacBook Pro/LED: The quietest.

      (9) MacBook late model Intel: Between (7) and (8).

      Next: I want a SSD MacBook Pro because I think it will be very quiet indeed!

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