My Mac Pro column: A reply to comments

Last week, I posted a column detailing why I thought the high cost and, to a lesser extent, the limited internal expandability of the forthcoming Mac Pro would mean that many current Mac Pro owners, including myself, would not upgrade to the new model.

Based on the large number of retweets and Facebook “likes” the article generated, it apparently resonated positively with a significant segment of readers. That’s always nice to see. However, you wouldn’t have guessed this by just reading the posted comments, which were mainly critical. I guess that’s to be expected; people are generally more motivated to write when they disagree. [Update: Dec. 4: Interestingly, most of the comments posted in the last two days have been positive. Go figure.]

I’ve read and considered all the comments. Rather than separately respond to each one, I decided to offer this more general reply. As many of the comments repeated the same basic points, this seemed a more reasonable and effective way to go.

Paradigm shift? Maybe, maybe not

Numerous comments indicated that the new Mac Pro represents a “paradigm shift.” In contrast, I was accused of being stuck in “old school” mode, unable to “get it.”

Most especially, rather than viewing the shift in emphasis from internal to external storage as a negative, many viewed it as preferable. They noted that, with the superfast Thunderbolt 2 connectors, users would be unlikely to see any speed deficit with external drives as compared to internal storage. Further, external drives give you more flexibility, allowing you to add or swap drives with ease. One commenter even questioned why anyone would need more than 256GB of internal storage anymore.

I am generally as enthusiastic about embracing paradigm shifts as anyone. I am not typically one to reject any change that represents progress. So I have to admit that it’s possible I’ve missed the mark here.

However, let me be clear: This is not an either-or situation. It’s not as if one has to choose to keep all storage internal or all external (beyond some minimal 256GB). I have a combination of internal and external drives now with my current Mac Pro, and I would expect that arrangement to continue with any new model I might purchase. So, you can have your cake and eat it too.

Still, there is a certain minimum amount of software (applications, documents, media etc.) that I prefer to keep on my startup drive. For one thing, I like to know that, in the event that the Thunderbolt connection fails for any reason, I still have access to these essentials. And 256GB is not sufficient to allow me to do this.

In this regard, it’s worth noting that a 27-inch iMac with a 1TB Fusion drive can be had for under $2000. A 1TB Fusion drive Mac mini costs under $1000. You can get a MacBook Pro with 512GB for as little as $1800. These are common configurations. Certainly, I would expect desktop Pro users to want at least as much storage. At the very least, I can’t see viewing a smaller drive as an advantage.

Still, some commenters compared the situation here to previous Apple-initiated “paradigm shifts” involving getting rid of floppy drives or, more recently, optical drives.

“Again Apple has seen the future much sooner than most. Remember when everyone was up in arms because Apple stopped using the floppy disk? Seems rather silly now, huh?”

One problem I see with such comparisons is that these other shifts began on Apple’s lowest cost machines—the iMac or the MacBook Air. They eventually spread throughout the Mac’s entire line-up. In contrast, this supposed shift in emphasis from internal to external storage is making its first appearance with Apple’s top-of-the-line machine. I will be surprised if it trickles down to iMacs and laptops. If this is a paradigm shift, it is one that will be restricted to pro desktops.

More generally, there is the Mac Pro’s relative lack of internal expansion options of any kind, not just storage. In this case, I do see a more typical paradigm shift in play here. There is virtually no internal expansion for today’s MacBooks and iMacs. This approach has now spread to the Mac Pro as well. This is clearly the direction Apple wants to go, for better or worse. In either case, I don’t view it as a “deal-breaker” for the Pro. So I don’t want to make too much of this.

For professionals only? Yes

A related criticism was that I didn’t grasp that the Mac Pro wasn’t meant for users such as myself. Rather, it was meant for “high-end professionals”—users who will come out financially ahead by buying a Mac Pro because its “tech spec” advantages will save money in the long-run, outweighing its initial high cost.

In some of these cases, I have to wonder whether the readers didn’t actually read my column. The comments seem to be attacking a “straw man”—someone who was claiming that new Mac Pros are inferior machines with problems that are so telling that the machines are doomed to fail. When the Mac Pro goes on sale and proves to be a success, this straw man will “eat his words.”

The problem with these arguments is that I never said or implied any such thing. In contrast, I recognized that the Mac Pro is most assuredly a “professionals-only” machine—designed for people working in video production, graphics layout, publishing, science labs and such. I specifically stated that “the new Mac Pro will appeal to this small but profitable professional market.” Indeed, I expect this market will enthusiastically embrace the new Mac Pro. I also acknowledged the Mac Pro is attractive even to a “not high-end user” such as myself: “The promise of lightning-fast speed combined with the allure of its futuristic cylindrical design seemed irresistible.”

My key assertion was a limited one: Given the high cost of a “fully configured” Mac Pro setup—especially when compared to the improved relative performance of Apple’s latest less expensive Macs—I expect most “pro-sumers” (not high-end professionals) who previously opted for a Mac Pro will not do so this time around.

There was a time when the Mac Pro line suited the needs of more than just the highest end of the market. This no longer appears to be the case. This doesn’t mean the Mac Pro is doomed. But it does mean that the Mac Pro will have a more narrow appeal. At least, that’s my assessment. If I’m wrong, we’ll know soon enough.

Expensive? Yes, but

Speaking of cost, a few commenters challenged my basic assertion that a new Mac Pro setup is “expensive.” To buttress their argument, some cited examples of the much higher costs of previous generation computing devices, going back as far as decades ago. Such comparisons don’t make much sense to me. Yes, computers back in the 1960’s could cost hundred of thousands, if not millions, of dollars and yet have less computing power than today’s iPhone. But so what? That’s not the choice facing today’s users.

It may also be true that the new Mac Pro is cheaper than some workstation solutions that exist today. Again, this is largely besides the point.

The simple point is this: The new Mac Pro, even adjusted for inflation, will cost significantly more than a comparable prior-generation Mac Pro. Unless you truly need a workstation-like machine, it’s going to be very hard to justify this cost.

Whining? Sigh

Not surprisingly, some comments amounted to name-calling attacks—using phrases such as “whiner,” “strained hit piece,” “yellow journalism” and more. Such is life on the Internet.

Some of these commenters clearly have no idea of my background. If they did, they would know that I have owned nothing but Apple computing devices since buying a Macintosh in 1984. I have made a career writing about Apple products, primarily lauding their advantages over the competition. The idea that I would be motivated to write some sort of “hit piece” is almost funny.

Even if this were not the case, such comments shed no light on the discussion. That’s why, beyond what I’ve written already, I see little point in directly responding to these comments. It only gives the commenters more attention than they deserve.

Happily, most of the comments did not fall into this “attack” category. Rather, they were respectful disagreements. As such, they pushed me to rethink my positions, in an effort either to better defend them or to change them. I always welcome that opportunity.

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12 Responses to My Mac Pro column: A reply to comments

  1. Ted, I’ve been reading your Mac articles since most of these kids were in short pants. You continue to have well thought out arguments, and I appreciate the analysis. Don’t pay any attention to the attacks. I don’t agree with everything you say, but I respect your opinion. Here are a few thoughts of my own for your consideration.

    Best wishes,


  2. Keith Rondinelli says:

    Perhaps this might shed a little light on the assertion that the Mac Pro is expensive. Everyone knows that first-generation machines cost more, and first-generation adopters usually shell out more than someone who waits.

    I’m a graphics professional who bought a late 2007 Mac Pro 8-core, the base configuration at the time (my “about this mac” says it’s 2,1).

    This machine, plus a Cinema Display, cost me around $6,000! I’ve used it every single day, nearly, for the past five years. I’ve run my entire business off if it. Professionally, I do motion graphics, video editing, sound design and music, web design, 3D modeling and animation, and some photography. This machine has paid for itself, by my estimation, over 80 times over.

    Anyway, point being, is that the new Mac Pro “Trashcans” don’t really seem that much more expensive than the first-generation “Cheese Grater” Mac Pros. You can’t really compare the new Mac Pro, price-wise, to the last-generation Cheese Graters, because they’re a whole new beast. And, given their power, I’d say they’re very affordable.

    Of course, upping the RAM, internal storage, and number of cores will increase the base price tags dramatically, but I’m expecting the machine I order to come in around not much more than what I paid for my current first-gen Mac Pro. And, being I’m a professional, even if the machine lasts half as long as Apple claims (5 years vs. 10 years), it will still turn me a huge profit.

    Anyway… my two cents.

  3. Frank Lowney says:

    In trying to imagine how a prosumer like myself would deal with a new Mac Pro, I recalled how much stuff is saved to my home folder by default (650 GB and growing daily). Many of the apps bundled with MacOS X save their data to the home folder by default (iTunes, iPhoto, iMovie, et. al.). The new Mac Pro would need to offer those users with huge home folders like me with a way to easily move it to an external device remapping it so that these apps wouldn’t get confused. It can be done today but it isn’t easy.

  4. Ted says:

    Keith: Thank you for your comments. I’d offer three responses.

    RE: “I’m a graphics professional who bought a late 2007 Mac Pro 8-core, the base configuration at the time. This machine, plus a Cinema Display, cost me around $6,000!”

    The base configuration was $4000, according to MacTracker. So your setup should have only cost about $5000. And by 2009, a base Mac Pro was down to $2500, which is the basis for the price comparisons in my article.

    RE: “And, being I’m a professional, even if the machine lasts half as long as Apple claims (5 years vs. 10 years), it will still turn me a huge profit.”

    I have no argument here. As I said, both in the original article and in the reply posted here, these machines are made for true “professionals.” My point was that the older models had a broader appeal.

    RE: “You can’t really compare the new Mac Pro, price-wise, to the last-generation Cheese Graters, because they’re a whole new beast. And, given their power, I’d say they’re very affordable.”

    I don’t know how many times and different ways I have to say this to get my point across: It doesn’t matter one whit whether the machines are “affordable…given their power.” What matters to non-professional users is whether they are affordable at all! You could perhaps make a great case for why some hypothetical $12,000 computer is well worth the money for people such as yourself. It wouldn’t matter to me. There is no way that someone like myself would ever spend $12,000 on a computer. Again, my point was that the pricing of the new Mac Pro is leaving users such as myself behind.

    That’s not necessarily a problem or a bad decision on Apple’s part. But it does seem worth noting.

  5. Mark Dyson says:


    I will step up as a “professional user” who largely agrees with your stance. While I am fine with the idea of external storage, and nearly all of my work is done on external drives even now, I am baffled by Apple’s decision to make 256GB the default internal storage.

    I’m in the camp that believes applications and operating system files should be internal, on a fast system drive, and not installed on external storage under any circumstances. In my belief a system should be able to boot up and run its installed software as a standalone unit; to do otherwise is–again in my belief–to open up way too much opportunity for system failures.

    I confess I am also somewhat put off by the price tag. I will be able to claim the cost as a business expense, and I have sufficient funds in my end-of-year hardware budget to get the appropriate system for my needs, but it still seems rather dear. As a one man shop it will take me a decent amount of next year to break even on this purchase.

  6. geo says:

    I am not sure what the issue is. If you think it is too expensive for your needs, then DON’T BUY IT.

  7. Keith Rondinelli says:

    I guess I don’t see the point either – why argue that this machine doesn’t have broad appeal, is only targeted to high-end professionals, etc.?

    I know plenty of graphics professionals that are using Macbook Pros and top-of-the-line iMacs to do their work, without any problems, really. Walk into your average design studio these days and you’ll see banks of iMacs.

    The new Mac Pro is targeted squarely at video professionals that will be churning through large amounts of hi-res video data, photographers, some audio technicians (thought some are arguing that the machine is overkill for tracking music), and animators, compositors and 3D artists.

    If you’re not doing some or all of that stuff, there’s no point in buying this machine. For the same price, you can buy a tricked-out iMac, with 1TB of internal flash storage, a nice graphics card (nicer than the one I’m stuck with and with which I’ve been doing all of the above-mentioned tasks), and a beautiful monitor built right in. They even come with a mouse and keyboard!

    So it just seems like a pointless complaint.

  8. Ted says:

    RE: “So it just seems like a pointless complaint.”

    The mistake you are making here is describing what I wrote is a “complaint.” It wasn’t. It was more of an observation.

    True, I expressed dismay at the small amount of onboard storage in a base configuration of a Mac Pro. But that was basically a question of cost, not a limitation of the machine. And yes, in some ideal world, I would prefer a Mac Pro that was perfectly suited to my needs and budget. And maybe Apple will still do that some day. In the meantime, I don’t assume that it’s Apple’s job to cater to my whims.

    I can be quite content with an iMac, if and when the time comes to buy a new machine. Indeed, my Macworld column concluded by saying “If the Mac Pro’s escalating costs put the machine out of reach of many potential buyers, well, the iMac and MacBook Pro are always there to fill the void.” This isn’t a complaint. If I wanted to complain, I would have instead emphasized that the iMac and MacBook fail to fill the void.

    I agree with your assertions that almost everyone today can get by with an iMac or a MacBook; that the new Mac Pro is only for “video professionals…etc.” that can’t get by with these other machines. This was not the case for previous Mac Pros, at least not as strongly. That’s why many people who previously bought a Mac Pro will not want to replace those machines with a new Mac Pro. The Mac market has shifted. My column tried to explain the how and why of this shift. This doesn’t seem “pointless” to me — especially so for people who may not yet be aware of the change. Fundamentally, it’s no different than an article discussing, for example, why many people who previously bought an iMac are now better served by getting a MacBook or iPad.

  9. lbutlr says:

    Well Ted, being a long-time self-appointed prosumer-wannabe I’ve been buying MacPros (and before that, G4 and G3 Towers) for a long time, and I’ve been drooling over the possibility of buying one of these lovely new MaPros since Apple first gave us a peek at them.

    I’ve come to pretty much the same conclusion that you have, I want one, but for what I would spend I could buy 2 27″ iMacs and a spare Thunderbolt display and still have some cash left over. Money is not the only consideration here, and if I had a need for this machine, I wouldn’t hesitate.

    So, if you’re a professional who is going to save time and make more money with this machine, then Ted’s article isn’t for you. If you’re Just a Geek and just want a really nice really fast machine, then the iMac is a smarter choice.

  10. Ha, it is amazing of vitriol there is on the web. Personally i totally agree with your comments. And as a profesional video editor from what I have seen, the new Mac Pro and it’s additional costs and issues (Thunderbolt is not nearly as fast as PCI, lack of expansion, lack of NVIDIA and CUDA support, what about bootcamp which must be on an internal drive or partition, so that internal SSD would need to be partitioned, and the high cost of Thunderbolt Acesssories) it has me looking at a Puget Systems PC for my next work machine, and many other video editors I have talked to agree. Quit a few friends and fellow editors either have moved to PC, are planning on it, or are at least thinking about it. And I can’t see I have seen that at any time in the past! And while i have read about facilities moving to FCP X, I have yet to run into one. Most I know are currently running FCP 7 or EEdia composer, and thinking about a future of Media composer or premiere, and that can be done less expensively on windows!

    And people will think me a mac hater too, but I have been running Apple products since I was 7 and had an A pple IIc, and have owned many macs and Apple products since, but am starting to be scared of the companies future where it fits with my professional career.

  11. Nick says:

    I am a video professional this computer being small and lightweight (at least compared to the previous version) is in fact perfect for me. I’ve run through every iteration of mobile CPU horsepower (MacBook Pro, hackintosh, xmacmini) and this I believe will be a perfect fit for my needs.

    I will say the only issue I have with this discussion is the lack of storage argument. I have been moving my “home” folder on my hackintoshes for the past couple of years and have relocated it on my (x)macmini and my MacBook Pro as well with no issues. So I think 256gb is plenty of space for the apps and the OS. If I need to store my iTunes library or my movie catalog that can all live on a separate drive connected via thunderbolt.

    Now again I’m only using this as a professional comp so I don’t have anything to add to the price debate. For me this is literally the only option available that gives me everything I need. And price wise my first Mac was a top of the line dual g4 with SCSI drives and cost around 4500 (that one did not end up paying for itself). I think the rest of the points are completely accurate and I’m not sure why anyone who’s not looking for the very specific set of items that the new Mac Pro offers would purchase one.

  12. Kevin Hogan says:

    What’s interesting to me about this discussion is how it highlights one of the dirty secrets of the PC industry – multiple cores are something most people don’t need, and there aren’t too many “killer apps” that take advantage of them. My number one software package is Final Cut Pro X, with motion graphics software a close second, and I do a little 3D animation. If it weren’t for the 3D animation bit (and the fact that the new FCP is supposedly updated with the Mac Pro in mind) I’d be inclined to get the iMac as well. What’s funny is that I farm out all my 3D renders to a company based in Germany, which lets me use literally hundreds of cores (for a fee!). So even the most powerful individual render station Apple can make can’t compete with a large network of 12-core machines. Ultimately the advantage of the multi-core Mac Pro for my 3D work will only be felt when creating previews while developing projects. No question I will experience a big boost in 3D productivity, and that’s pretty high paying work so the added expense should pay for itself. That said, it does feel a little bit like a curse that I can’t just settle for the top shelf iMac and be done with it.

    I just want to add that I’m absolutely furious at the secrecy surrounding the release of these machines. As a video professional who needs to upgrade immediately, it’s a major inconvenience not to have any idea when I’m going to be taking on a new machine. Upgrading is always a major hassle representing hours, if not days, of lost work and it really sucks that Apple is just going to lay it on us one day by shouting “SURPRISE!”

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