Revisiting Professional Macs

April 17th, 2014

While I still run into people from time to time who believe that Macs are sophisticated consumer computers and not suited for professional work, I’m sure most of you know that isn’t correct. But I do understand the point of view.

Regardless, over the years, it was generally assumed that an all-in-one Mac was useful for small business or consumers, while a Mac tower was the work machine that the content creators craved.

That, however, changed in late 2009, when a new lineup of iMacs came out with quad-core processors, reasonably speedy graphics, and expansive hard drives. As development of the Mac Pro appeared to have slowed, a tricked out iMac, customized with extra RAM and the more powerful processor and graphics chips offered by Apple, actually met or exceeded many Mac Pro benchmarks. Yes, I understand that having extra processor cores counts in some apps, but not in most.

For a while Mac Pro users probably felt that Apple had given up on personal computing workstations and would, instead, focus on computers with more mass appeal. I know that I sold a Mac Pro and display and bought customized iMac and had enough change left over for a backup drive, and an AppleCare extended warranty.

After Tim Cook promised a great Mac Pro upgrade in 2013, there was a lot of anticipation and suggestions on how Apple might change the form factor, assuming there was going to be much of a change. The fashionably small black cylinder without much external expansion probably came as a surprise to many, although it may make sense for some that didn’t find the internal expansion to be sufficient.

No matter. It appears the Mac Pro has taken off quite nicely, still backordered for several weeks on even the two standard configurations. Either Apple has problems turning them out at a USA factory, or demand was more than anticipated.

Indeed, the Mac Pro puts the lie to the claim that Macs are overpriced toys. From the standard configurations to the fully decked out customized versions, a Mac Pro is actually cheaper than comparable Windows hardware, sometimes to the tune of several thousand dollars. But this is nothing really new. From time to time over the years, I did some cost comparisons between a Mac Pro and a Windows workstation with similar specs, and the Mac was almost always cheaper. It’s a fact not widely mentioned, but it was true at least for the comparisons I ran.

That Mac Pro is competitively priced doesn’t change a significant fact, which is that it’s still quite expensive, and it may not always be possible to justify that expense.

Indeed, when the benchmarks are performed, it’s quite clear that an iMac delivers competitive performance for most apps. There may be flexibilities in the external expansion offered in a Mac Pro that will still make it more desirable for some uses even before you consider the potential advantage of the extra processor cores.

But if you examine Mac performance up and down the line, you’ll see that most any model is capable of terrific performance, even a Mac mini. For serious business use, an iMac is a powerful beast, and should be taken seriously.

When it comes to such chores as 4K video editing, particularly in the latest Final Cut Pro X, 3D rendering, mathematics and similar processor intensive chores that do make effective use of up to 12 processor cores, the Mac Pro remains unbeatable. But the intended audience is far smaller than it used to be, although clearly sufficient to justify production of a flagship model.

Yes, I grant that Apple is perceived as focusing far more on well-heeled consumers these days than on creative professionals. It’s also true that some of those creative professionals deserted the Mac because of the time it took to deliver a credible Mac Pro upgrade, and the fact that the original release of Final Cut Pro X lacked some important features video editors required.

When it comes to Final Cut Pro X, I regard that as an Apple marketing screw-up pure and simple. Sure, it’s not unusual for Apple to release an all-new app that is missing features at first. That happened with an iMovie release, and more recently with the “free” edition of iWork.

Apple’s usual response — or excuse — is that some features dropped are in the initial release of an all-new version, but they will be added back later. Certainly that process has already begun with iWork. Each update has a slew of new features, some of which restore capabilities that were dropped with the initial release.

Yes, it makes sense, but Apple should have spelled this out very clearly on the day Final Cut Pro X came out, and immediately dropping sale of the previous version only conveyed the impression that the professional market was being abandoned in order to focus on prosumers.

But that wasn’t quite true, as most of those lost features have been returned, and, particularly when it runs on a Mac Pro, Final Cut Pro X has become a terrific tool for editing 4K video. It’s not just a plaything for consumers with lots of money to burn.

For me, the Mac Pro is in the rear-view mirror. The iMac does all that I need with the level of performance I expect. But that’s not true for everyone, which explains why demand for the latest and greatest Mac Pro remains high.

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One Response to “Revisiting Professional Macs”

  1. Articles you should read (April 18) says:

    […] “Revisiting professional Macs: While I still run into people from time to time who believe that Macs are sophisticated consumer computers and not suited for professional work, I’m sure most of you know that isn’t correct. But I do understand the point of view.” — Read the article on > […]

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