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Why I Probably Will Never Buy a Mac Pro Again

See the MPG Mac wish list and MPG wishlists for computer gear at OWC.

Photographers need big storage and/or fast storage—check out my recommendations.

Background discussion: Ordered a 2017 iMac 5K: Why Now and what about iMac Pro? and Ordered a 2017 iMac 5K: Why Now and what about iMac Pro?.

Update: See the reader comments on this post.

...

My 2013 Mac Pro 3.3 GHz 8-core with 64GB memory and D700 GPUs has been a stalwart workhorse for 3.6 years. AppleCare now long gone, it still purrs away.

Yet I now say that it is highly unlikely that I will ever again buy a Mac Pro, for a multitude of reasons. These reasons might not apply to some users, particularly heavy duty video users, and other high-end usage which generally entails a system that in total (with huge storage capacity, backup and so on) costing $15K to much more.

In essence, the 2017 iMac Pro or 2017 iMac 5K now satisfy all my needs the heretofore only a Mac Pro could deliver, along with other advantages. Moreover, Apple has left Mac Pro users like me drifting in the wind for years now, with only vaporware hints and vague mumblings. A new Mac Pro would have to be extremely compelling to make me swallow Apple’s contempt for my professional needs (planning ahead, desired hardware features).

  • Performance: comparative and real-world testing for my workflow as well as 8 weeks of field use of the slower 2015 iMac 5K establish a baseline for reliability and performance. The 2017 iMac 5K only improves upon that performance. Performance parity is now there for most tasks, and that parity already meets the performance I need with today’s computers. And it’s superiority for the iMac 5K in some workflow cases. Also, my local web server starts up in 1/3 the time of the 8-core 3.3 GHz Mac Pro—3X faster—and 2/3 the time for a background initialization requirement. The iMac 5K with its 4 CPU cores rocks big time in some cases.
  • Memory: the 2015 and 2017 iMac 5K both accept 64GB memory. The iMac Pro will go to 128GB, and I don’t need more than 64GB.
  • GPU: GPU performance is one of the worst hype features out there when it comes to photography. It can make some difference of course, but the trajectory of improvements is asymptotically disappointing—it has a lot more to do with programming skill.
  • Cost savings: purchasing and configuring nicely both a home-office and a travel machine has huge cost ramifications to the tune of at least $10K. An iMac Pro or iMac 5K can be used equally well at home or on the road in my Mercedes Sprinter photography adventure van. My existing 2015 Macbook Pro will be good for many years when a laptop is necessary (e.g. airline travel).
  • Spend where it makes sense: rather than redundant machines doubling my efforts to keep them in sync and up to date, I’d rather put the cost savings into one or two high capacity super speed Thunderbolt 3 SSDs, which could boot off any Mac to be up and working again—it’s all about my setup and data, not the hardware on which it runs.
  • Reduced maintenance: Apple’s onslaught of poorly tested manure-grade software releases are even more of a headache with additional machines. Syncing problems are a headache, as is reconciling a home and travel machine. With one machine for home and travel, a lot of wasted time is saved.
  • Portability/setup: in my van, the iMac Pro or iMac 5K can be up and running in under a minute from out of the Gator Cases carry case, and vice versa. When home, I can just carry it inside; it then becomes the home machine.
  • Power consumption: at worst, the iMac 5K at idle with screen on consumes 60 watts. My electricity rates at home hit $0.36/KWh and in my van the power consumption matters. A Mac Pro with dual displays will bump up the power requirements substantially, and safe high-grade 400 amp lithium batteries cost around US$6500 ($8000 professionally installed), a cost and loss of interior space that I am not keen to take on.
  • Dual displays: a Mac Pro with dual displays (mandatory for my work) would require stowing and unstowing two displays and the Mac Pro, versus one display and the iMac. The core issue there is not the increased setup time so much as the problem of finding padded safe space to stow a second display and the computer, even settings aside availability and quality and cost of the display also matters. There is just no good place to do so. Basically, the iMac Pro or iMac 5K dispense with that issue because of that excellent Gator Cases carry case. And in the end, setting up two items instead of the iMac is faster and easier with less risk and hassle over time. I speak of course of usage in my Mercedes Sprinter photography adventure van—driving with that gear set up will damage it for sure, if only from very rough roads.

What’s the downside? Less redundancy: if the primary (and only) workstation-grade machine fails. With duplicate machines, it’s a relatively quick switch-over, assuming proper backups. Still, I’m willing to take that risk, since I’d rather save $10K upfront. Worst case, I overnight a brand-new computer (possibly a slightly newer model), and I’m back up and running. Plus core business work can be done on the laptop for a short while, particularly with an external display/keyboard/mouse setup, buying time for repair or new machine to arrive.

The 2017 iMac 5K

See Ordered a 2017 iMac 5K: Why Now and what about iMac Pro? and Choosing a Photography Workstation Setup for 2018 Usage.

The 2017 iMac 5K to be purchased is model APIMTRMNED44, about $3699 at BHPhoto.com. To that, items from the following list should be added, with suitably size backup drives for the choice of main storage

There is one caveat: MPG has been told that Thunderbolt 3 versions of the Thunderbay 4 are coming very soon—buyers should wait on that, which means it would behoove buyers to wait for the MPG tests between the iMac Pro and the 2017 iMac 5K. By the time those results are known, Thunderbolt 3 storage should be shipping or about to ship.

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