AnandTech review of the new Mac Pro

This is the review I’ve been waiting for. When I am in the market for a new camera, I always make my way to Anand Lal Shimpi brings the same level of detailed, geeky goodness to his reviews.

This is a long, thoughtful review. A few highlights from Anand’s conclusions (but no substitute for reading the entire thing).

On taking advantage of multi-threaded software:

The new Mac Pro offers an option for those users whose workloads can benefit from having more cores, memory and GPU performance. The latest version of Final Cut Pro as well as the rest of Apple’s professional apps do a great job of splitting their work across multiple CPU cores. Even simple tasks like importing photos into iPhoto or Lightroom is extremely well threaded these days. It’s in these workloads where a 6, 8 or 12-core Mac Pro can offer a healthy performance advantage.

On the dual GPU design:

Apple’s big bet with the new Mac Pro however is on GPU computing becoming even more relevant in the future. Relying on CPU scaling alone the Mac Pro is doomed to moderate speed increases going forward. By leveraging a pair of high-end GPUs, including one more or less dedicated for compute work, Apple hopes to realize the sort of huge performance gains it has enjoyed in its phones/tablets over the years. The modern Apple is a company that values GPU performance, investing heavily in the GPUs used in all of its products. Even those that leverage Intel’s integrated graphics are pushed as far as possible within thermal constraints. It makes total sense that Apple would choose to outfit its highest end Mac with two GPUs.

It’s actually shocking how poorly Final Cut Pro 10.1 runs on older Mac Pros without an upgraded GPU (or even newer Macs with integrated graphics). It’s not uncommon to see an 8-core Mac Pro have the vast majority of its cores remain idle, waiting for effects to finish rendering on the GPU in some of these older configurations. If you haven’t upgraded the GPU in your Mac Pro you’ll likely see a tremendous performance increase when going to the new Pro.

On the thermal core design:

The new Mac Pro’s thermal core works extremely well in practice. The single, shared heatsink and large fan keep the system cool and quiet. Real world workloads that I threw at the machine weren’t enough to throttle any of the processors (CPU or GPU). Despite its compact proportions, the Mac Pro’s cooling solution is appropriately sized for the silicon it serves. I don’t see much room for Apple to move to more powerful GPUs though. If the next generation of GPUs aren’t significantly more power efficient, Apple may have to wait for 14/16nm FinFET based silicon before it can substantially upgrade the graphics power of the Mac Pro.

On 4K display support:

As the first Mac with proper 4K support (meaning not only resolution but 60Hz refresh rate as well), the Mac Pro does a reasonable job – assuming you pick the right monitor. It turns out there’s a very good reason Apple only offers the Sharp PN-K321 via the Apple Store: 4K display compatibility under OS X is still a bit like the wild west at this point. I do expect that Apple will quickly fix things (and likely offer their own 3840 x 2160 and/or 5120 x 2880 panels) in the near future, but early adopters beware.

I am disappointed that Apple didn’t enable any HiDPI modes on the 32” Sharp display. While I found 3840 x 2160 a great resolution for video work, for everything else it made on-screen menus and text a bit too small. I would love to see a 2560 x 1440 HiDPI option (rendering offscreen at 5120 x 2880 and but scaling down to 3840 x 2160 for display) but it looks like I may have to wait for Apple’s own display before I get something like that.

The final, final word:

All in all the new Mac Pro is a good update to its aging predecessor. Apple did a great job with the new chassis and build a desktop that’s extremely dense with compute. When I had to dust off the old Mac Pros to prepare them for this comparison I quickly remembered many of the reasons that frustrated me about the platform. The old Mac Pro was big, bulky, a pain to work on and was substantially behind the consumer Macs in single threaded performance. The new Mac Pro fixes literally all of that. If you have a workload that justifies it and prefer OS X, the Mac Pro is thankfully no longer just your only solution, it’s a great solution.