I attended Apple’s WWDC keynote this week and to say it was overstuffed with important announcements would be an understatement. From key updates to all of its operating systems (including the launch of iPad OS), to new developer tools such as Swift UI and ARKit 3, to new privacy-focused rollouts including Sign In with Apple, the vibe was one of a company firing on all cylinders with a real sense of confidence and even a bit of swagger. Nowhere was this more evident than in the long-awaited and symbolically important announcement of the new Mac Pro.
A Long Overdue Release
Apple’s Mac Pro has long been a favorite of professional content creators, especially those working in the fields of video editing and computer-generated imagery (CGI). However, the last major Mac Pro launch from Apple happened back in 2013, when the company rolled out the current cylindrical version of the product with a starting price of $4,000. A bold design unveiled at WWDC that year; Apple filled the product with unique technology designed to prove the company was still head of the class when it came to innovation. Unfortunately, Apple made some technology bets inside that design that failed to come to fruition, and that put it in a difficult position when it came time to refresh the product. And so, instead of major refreshes that would keep it relevant, the product saw minor speed bumps that saw it fall further behind the competition. The product languished for years, leaving many with the impression that Apple had abandoned some of its most ardent users behind.
Things got so bad that Apple took the unusual step of sitting down with a small group of technology journalists way back in April 2017 to announce a “completely rethought” version of the Mac Pro was in the works. Apple said it would ship…sometime in the future. More than two years later, Apple has finally announced the new Mac Pro, and a new high-end monitor called the Pro Display XDR both of which will ship this fall.
A True Mac Powerhouse
Apple executives left out any cheeky comments about the company’s ability to innovate and let the new Mac Pro, which starts at $5,999, speak for itself. The design returns to a more familiar tower form factor, but a highly modular one focused on accessibility, upgradeability, and—importantly—air flow. Cooling is key here as the system can support workstation-class Intel Xeon processors with up to 28 cores, up to 1.5TB of memory (via 12 DIMM slots), graphics including the 64-GB Radeon Pro Vega Duo (with two GPU chips), and a 1400W power supply.
Beyond its top-shelf industry parts, the new Mac Pro also includes a custom-designed accelerator card Apple Afterburner that ramps up the performance for video editors. Afterburner has a programmable ASIC designed to speed the conversion of native file formats and capable of decoding up to 6.3 pixels per second. Apple says the card can decode up to three streams of 8K ProRes RAW video and 12 streams of 4K ProRes RAW video in real time.
The system has a steel frame and encased in an aluminum housing that lifts complete away to give full access to the system. The aluminum housing features unique air-flow channels on the front and back that give the unit a bit of a “super cheese grater” look. Apple carries that look over to the rear of its Pro Display XR, and it’s not merely a design choice as the monitor itself has serious cooling requirements.
That’s because inside the 32-inch, 6K display Apple is using a large array of LEDs to drive an astounding 1,000 nits of full-screen brightness and 1,6000 nits of peak brightness. The display supports a P3 wide color gamut and 10-bit color for over 1 billion colors. This is a true professional-caliber monitor that Apple says can compete with other industry products that can cost upwards of $40K. The base model of the display starts at $4999, one with a special matte option will cost $5,999, each without a stand.
Apple spent a fair amount of time talking up the monitor’s new adjustable stand, but when execs unveiled that the stand would cost $999, there was an audible negative reaction among the WWDC crowd. This, to me, was among the only Apple missteps the entire keynote, and it’s really one more of perception than anything else. Apple knows that many professional content creators already have a high-dollar stand, and so the company is wisely offering the display sans stand. I’m certain that if Apple has said the display started at $5999, or you could buy it without the stand for less, nobody would have batted an eye. That said, I do find it absurd that to utilize the display with an industry standard VESA mount Apple force the purchase of a $199 VESA adapter.
Setting the Future Stage
A Mac Pro that starts at $5,999, with a display that starts at $4,999 (minus a stand), is clearly not a product for the average consumer. And that’s the point. With these new products, Apple is showing professional content creators some serious love. Back in 2017 when Apple announced plans for new Mac Pro, many of us saw that as a good sign, but as time wore on, it became concerning that it was taking so long. How hard, we wondered, is it to build a tower workstation? Apple rewarded that long wait with a true purpose-built system that should deliver world-class performance. Plus, Apple has created a design here that should allow for the type and cadence of hardware refreshes required by this segment of the market.
The other important thing Apple accomplishes with new Mac Pro is to establish a clear distinction between this product and the rest of its Mac lineup. Why is this important? Because most of us expect Apple to shift the rest of its Mac lineup over to its own A-Series, ARM-based processors at some point in the future. When that happens, and Apple talks up all the benefits of this switch, it was conceivable that many would point back to this 2019 launch and suggest that, once again, Apple had launched a Mac Pro that was out of step. However, this design—and especially the inclusion of the Apple Afterburner accelerator technology—firmly establish that no matter what comes next from Apple, the pro-centered end of its lineup will continue to offer a high-powered X86 option. For pro content creators, this is a very good thing.