A real old Mac Pro vs. the coming Mac Pro

Daniel Pasco, renegade polymath:

I use a 5k iMac for work and am interested in VR production and gaming. Some friends told me to build a dedicated Windows box and others suggested building a Hackintosh, but I was sure there was a better way to get what I wanted.

So I turned a 2009 Mac Pro I picked up off of Ebay for $1300 into a superb professional workstation, gaming, and VR platform, simply by adding an SSD drive and a new video card.

This is a pretty cool idea. Read Dan’s post to see how the machine stacks up as a VR platform (spoiler: very, very well).

But read on, as Dan shifts gears, focusing on the Apple’s coming Mac Pro:

I realized that the corner that Apple has painted us into is just another “sweet solution” (similar to Jobs proposal that we develop web apps for iPhone instead of native apps).

I can do the work that Apple feels is appropriate with a 5k iMac, but the massive pile of external disks and their power supplies stacked up behind it speaks to the adaptions I’ve quietly had to make in order to get it to meet my basic needs.

Apple’s agenda has been to stay focused on its cash cow: the iPhone. As a result it has quietly mothballed some amazing products and technologies along the way, seriously impaired the economics of commercial software sales, and neglected macOS in their efforts to homogenize it with iOS.

Who is this guy? Daniel Pasco is the CEO of Black Pixel, a top development shop. So in my book, he’s earned his opinions.

  • NB

    The point about peripherals really stands out to me. Apple spent so much time and effort on making the Mac Pro silent and sleek, but then said “well if you want the stuff you think should be included, plug it in externally so it’s louder and more cluttered than it would be than if it were in the case”

    • The only reason computers die is heat or failure of moving parts. Moving sources of heat and moving parts out of the case just makes sense.

      There should already be storage solutions that you can put on a shelf and connect to the Mac with a single cable.

      • john doofus

        I disagree. One big, well-engineered power supply and well-designed cooling system beats a bunch of smaller crappier ones connected by cables that can easily be tripped over, accidentally unplugged, etc.

        Anecdotally, it seems like the trash can has far more heat problems than the cheese grater ever did.

      • Glaurung-Quena

        The problem is that when Apple downsized the MP, they didn’t offer any such storage solution themselves, nor did they partner with any companies to offer it. If they had done so, and oh, I don’t know, made it so you could stack the MP on top of the storage box, then they would have pissed off far fewer of the people who didn’t like the new MP.

        • What’s baffling to me is that nobody jumped at the chance to build the thing. You’d think with all the whining someone there’d have been enough pent-up demand to make a fortune on it.

      • Sigivald

        Like, er, a Drobo or something?

        • Drobo’s an answer, but it’s an overcomplicated answer. There are enclosures that do what I’m thinking of — straight hard drives — but none of them seem to have found a niche with Mac Pro buyers.

      • NB

        Worked out great for the Mac Pro. No overheating issues there!

  • Martian Monkey

    I wholeheartedly agree with Dan’s assessment. I’m still holding onto my 2006 Mac Pro.

    I want to upgrade to the one offered on OWC for about $3800US….https://eshop.macsales.com/item/Apple/MP10D346CTLC/

    I feel like that would get me thru the next decade or more!

    • Glaurung-Quena

      Buying off Craigslist, then upgrading, will save you a fortune.

  • Dave, don’t think I haven’t noticed that you think anyone who agrees with you has earned their opinion and anyone who doesn’t hasn’t.

  • Mo

    This piece spurred me to consider what to do with my dormant 2010 Mac Pro. If I had more confidence in my skills, I’d tear it down a bit to try to find the cause of the runaway fan noise that made it less usable.

    • Lee Fyock

      I thought there are only two fans — one for the case, and one on the video card. It should be easy to figure out which is problematic, and hopefully only slightly harder to replace it.

      I found a link to http://allpartsmac.com while googling around.

      I’m running a 2009 Mac Pro as my AV server, backup server, home automation server, etc. I’m hoping it holds out until the next Mac Pro model is released.

      • Mo

        Regardless of how many fans there are, I want to narrow down the cause of the overheating. My limited reading on the subject suggests that thermal grease on a heat sink may have dried out. That heat sink is either on a CPU or the GPU. Either way, I’m worried about compounding the problem by poking around with limited skills.

        • Lee Fyock

          Ah, I thought it was just noise that was the problem, meaning a bad bearing.

          If the Mac Pro is already out of commission, what’s the worst that could happen? 🙂

          • Mo

            It goes from a noisy machine (that I occasional fire up to run old software) to an unusable machine.

        • rick gregory

          Find a well rated computer repair shop in the area and have them do it?

          • Mo

            I might have to, if I want to put this machine back to good use.

  • rick gregory

    This post says a few things to me about pro usage (keeping in mind that no one person is representative of all pros, of course).

    First, that most people are not CPU bound.

    Second, that you can run high end, modern GPUs even in old Mac Pros.

    Third, that SSDs get rid of the disk I/O issues.

    given Pasco’s experience, I wonder how many pro users really NEED significantly more power than he has right now vs those that want it because they don’t want ‘old CPUs’ etc. That is, if they didn’t know what was in a box, would they be just fine? Or would they really be limited? OF the latter, what’s the limiting factor?

    Honestly, I don’t need super high end power and while I’ve though about a Hackintosh as a powerful desktop, I’m kind of inclined to copy what Pasco did.

    • Glaurung-Quena

      “I wonder how many pro users really NEED significantly more power than he has right now vs those that want it because they don’t want ‘old CPUs’ etc.”

      There are people whose work eats CPU cycles like there’s no tomorrow, for whom every step up in speed/cores means less downtime waiting for things to get done.

      But they tend to express themselves in the exact same terms as the spec fetishists, because spec fetishism is an epidemic disease among computer nerds. Which makes it hard to figure out just what percentage of people actually need a faster machine.

      I think the real limiting factor (once we dispense with spec fetishism) to people continuing to use upgraded tower mac pros is not the CPU but the lack of USB3, USB-C, and Thunderbolt in the last generation of tower Mac Pros.

      After all, we’re in the age of diminishing returns when it comes to Moore’s law, with near-flat CPU speeds and near-flat IPC for the CPUs that have come out since 2010. So the delta between a tricked out dual CPU Mac Pro and the baddest 12 core windows box you can get is not going to be all that huge (you can put a lot more Xeon cores into a dual CPU system now than you could in 2010, but only if you’re willing to mortgage your firstborn and your spare kidney).

      • rick gregory

        I wonder… could you add USB C etc via a PCI-E card?

        • Glaurung-Quena

          From what I have read, there are USB 3 cards, but thunderbolt cards with Mac drivers appear to be very scarce. Haven’t seen people talk about USB-C.

          No matter how you cut it, it’s not as convenient as a bult in port.

          • rick gregory

            Makes sense, thanks

  • Sigivald

    He wants to game?

    Build a Windows PC for that.

    Pro-grade Macs aren’t for gaming now, won’t be next year, and probably never will be.

    This is OK.

    • rick gregory

      read the post. He dual boots Windows on the Pro which he’s upgraded with an Nvidia 1080 GPU. He uses Mac for work, so he has 1 box for both… Oh hell READ THE POST NEXT TIME.