Goodbye, Mac Pro

My first foray into Macintosh was back in 2004. My neighbour, who watched me spend my evenings after school in Photoshop, would offhandedly mention that if I was serious about “graphic design”, then I should get rid of my shitty Dell and get a Mac. Perhaps those weren’t the exact words used, but at 15 years old I felt it my duty to let my parents know through persistent hounding and nagging.

Eventually the nagging paid off and I convinced my wonderful and encouraging parents to buy me my first Mac, a PowerMac G5.

Over the years, Apple’s “pro” line of desktop computers have suited me down to the ground, although you could argue, it’s all I’ve ever known. So in 2009, when it was time to upgrade my ageing G5 tower, a Mac Pro replaced it; and in 2013, when Apple announced the new Mac Pro at WWDC, I knew immediately what my next computer would be.

I wavered for a few months to gauge the overall consensus; as you do with a first-gen product — and in March of last year, after plenty of research, I pulled the trigger. And after a good month or so, it arrived.

I remember having a lot of work on at the time, so I held off transferring everything over from my current Mac Pro. Though thinking back, I was probably secretly holding out in hope that Apple would announce a retina display that would complement my new machine. When I realised that was a while off, I started looking for 4K alternatives to tide me over until Apple addressed the 4K elephant in the room.

After going through a handful of budget 4K displays and their respective reviews, I finally settled on the Asus PB287Q, a fairly priced and seemingly capable 4K 60Hz display. Capable it was not.

Once I’d hooked up the PB287Q, I started noticing all sorts of issues. Weird input lag and bad viewing angles made it a chore to use and I ended up returning it soon after. Due to my budget and the astronomical prices of 4K monitors at the time, I decided to stick it out with my current 27” Thunderbolt Display and wait for Apple to play catch up.

There was a period when I was frequenting MacRumors several times a day and following every rumour on a possible display update from Apple. WWDC 2014 was coming up and with it being exactly a year since the Mac Pro was revealed, it seemed like the perfect occasion to announce something. But WWDC came and went, and a display update was ignored, as if the new Mac Pros had never even happened.

The wait got even harder to deal with when Apple unveiled the 5K iMac last October. It looked incredible and I felt burnt.

Here I was with this fantastic machine; a machine capable of powering three 4K displays, but instead I had it paired to a three-year old panel, because Apple aren’t or weren’t interested in the “pro market” anymore.

I started questioning if I even needed a Mac Pro, and would an iMac be a suitable alternative? I’d wrestled with this conundrum over the years when upgrading, but ended up with the same answer. For what I do, the short answer was always yes; but I guess I found comfort in knowing the Mac Pro always had a bit of power left in its reserve — if I ever needed it; that and Mac Pros tend to hold their value extremely well over time.

I tossed and turned, and eventually in January I moved on my Mac Pro and bought a 27” 5K Retina iMac. It is now approaching a year since the switch and I don’t regret the decision one bit.

I ended up going with the 4.0GHz + 256GB Flash Storage configuration 1, so I haven’t noticed even the slightest dip in performance compared to my Mac Pro. Applications are blazing fast to open and the iMac barely makes any noise doing it, or anything else for that matter. Even at my most productive hours in the day, it runs dozens of resource-intensive apps without ever breaking a sweat.

The display is the real reason I’m here though and it delivers on every single pixel. Designing for high-res screens with my previous setup had always been a cumbersome task. I would reach a point in my design process when I had to preview my retina designs on retina screens; this would involve pulling out my iPhone and/or iPad — and that was before I’d even written a line of code. The sheer pixel density of this panel means I no longer need to pull myself away from it, and why would I ever want to with a resolution of 5,120 x 2,880 — it’s by far the most beautiful display I’ve seen on a desktop computer to date.

I hear Apple are doing some sorcery involving the graphics chip underneath the hood to get this display to even run. I won’t pretend to understand this incredible piece of engineering, but it might be why we won’t see a dedicated display for quite some time. I’m at least glad I jumped ship when I did. 2

I don’t know if this is the end of my relationship with Apple’s pro-line of desktop computers, but it’s certainly looking that way. The iMac appears to be where Apple are focusing their engineering efforts and rapid-iteration, which makes sense, and sort of cements the iMac as the workhorse in my setup, at least for now. Meanwhile, the market for the Mac Pro keeps getting smaller and smaller, and so does my investment in that product.

  1. That’s about all the configuration I did. I kept the stock graphics and memory options. I opted for 256GB Flash Storage over Fusion Drive, purely for performance reasons. Instead I use a 2.5” Toshiba drive for much-needed additional storage and Twelve South’s BackPack for iMac to keep the hard drive and its wire out of sight.

  2. As of posting this, it’s been over two and a half years into the announcement of the Mac Pro, and Apple still haven’t shown a standalone display of their own to pair with it. Zero regrets.