This is my final piece on the new Mac Pro. Apart from the fact the main Xeon CPU of the 2013 Mac Pro is powerful, one of the most important aspects of the new Pro is the fact it has two GPUs (Graphics Processor Units). You might recall a Mac Pro can drive six monitors out of the box, or three 4K monitors and/or projectors plus a 'normal' resolution monitor or projector.
Of course, most people won't be doing that. Two, sure - I even do that with my 15-inch MacBook Pro, but that's something every Mac can do - but six monitors will be excessive for most users. Not to mention bank-tremblingly expensive.
As Apple puts it: "We looked ahead and engineered an even more powerful GPU architecture. Not only does it feature a state-of-the-art workstation-class AMD FirePro GPU - it features two of them. Available in 2GB, 3GB or 6GB of dedicated VRAM and up to 2048 stream processors delivering up to 7 terraflops of computing performance, the two powerful GPUs provide the performance to work with richly detailed 3D graphics or edit 4K video in real time effects while driving up to three 4K displays."
As anyone who uses powerful computers knows, the key point of high-power systems is cooling, and the influential Anand Lal Shimpi says on the AnandTech website "It's the most area efficient dual-GPU setup I've ever seen." The Pro uses a single, unified heatsink that's directly responsible for cooling the three major processors in the new Mac Pro: the CPU and the two GPUs. The thermal core is in the shape of a triangular prism, with each lateral surface attaching directly to one of the three processors.
All three boards connect to the main logic board located at the bottom of the mini tower, which is where Intel's C602 Platform Controller Hub sits along with high density connectors and ribbon cables for all of the daughter boards.
That 6GB VRAM video option, by the way, just adds NZ$960 to the purchase price for both cards - you can see (and tick) options for all this on Apple's Mac Pro 'buy' page. Of course it all adds up: ticking all the options (2.7GHz 12-core with 30MB L3 cache, 64GB RAM, 1TB flash-based SSD storage, dual 6GB AMD D700 GPUs) makes the price a rather teeth-clenching NZ$15,544. And don't forget you still need a monitor (or several), a keyboard and a mouse/trackpad/input device on top.
After all that, Final Cut Pro X sounds like a positive steal at just $399.99!
Ars Technica has looked into video performance, saying "To handle realtime filtering of 4K footage, Final Cut 10.1 was updated to tap both the GPUs in the Mac Pro. It is a stellar example of the kind of power you can achieve when using everything - multithreaded CPU, fast RAM, and two GPUs that are able to process incredible amounts of data in realtime. I loaded up FCP X 10.1 and a 4K sample project and proceeded to push it, and the results were pretty staggering."
All that rich GPU and other goodness sounds remarkable, but the Mac Pro's workstation spec hardware actually limits raw performance. As the review posted by Electronista confirms, "The benefit of workstation-class hardware means that Mac Pro users editing and rendering a film, for example, won't have to contend with the likelihood of dropped frames or other potential bit-error mishaps that can potentially arise in 'mission critical' uses with regular desktop hardware."
For "The necessary product testing and validation processes for workstation-class hardware means that the Mac Pro does not enjoy a large performance gap over the high-end iMac that the price differential might otherwise indicate. However, if your needs skew towards needing the fastest and most reliable performance when running professional applications, you will not find a finer machine on the market."
I do not have the resources to test the Mac Pro's video performance, and only a single crappy old LG monitor to drive in the first place, so visually I could not begin to do this hardware any kind of justice. But Keith Bailey, a New Zealander who works in the UK and Ireland as managing director of Taught Media Ltd is an Apple-certified Final Cut Master Trainer since 2007 (he's also an Adobe-certified trainer) has a pretty varied and interesting background, which you can read all about on his Pulse College profile.
Keith had the opportunity to test a new Mac Pro in Dublin last month. It had a 3.5GHz 6-Core Xeon E5 with 16GB 1833MHz RAM and two AMD FirePro 3GB GPUs fitted. The internal HD was 256GB PCI-e Flash, and it used media imported from a LaCie Rugged 120Gb SSD over Thunderbolt. This Mac Pro drove a Panasonic 4K Television plus a (non-4K) Apple Cinema Display, both plugged into two of the six Thunderbolt ports. The test was done live using a RED camera ultra high definition clip.
This was at an Apple Premium Reseller event in Dublin 20th February 2014, with Apple representatives in attendance.
The test used a 9.2Gb of UHD (ProRes 422) copied from SSD via a Thunderbolt 1 cable; it was Colour Balance analysed; consolidated; ran smart-collected people find; and Proxies were created - and this all took 92 seconds. Of this, the copy to the Library took around 60 of those seconds, with the reminder of time taken for the completion of analysis.
The test had real-time playback of 11 streams of UHD multi cam (Apple says 16 streams are available, equivalent to 64 streams of HD, and indeed I have seen this demonstrated with 16 streams).
Keith says the Mac Pro in the test was also able to run real-time playback of a scaled, keyed and retimed native R3D file, composited with a scaled generator.
As an expat-Kiwi, by the way, Keith says he's "happy to take any questions direct about FCPX and Motion 5 from you readership", so please do that with respect if you would like to communicate (email firstname.lastname@example.org).
Meanwhile Final Cut professionals on fcp.co have been thrashing the Mac Pro for all it's worth - have a look through their findings after two months of all sorts of combinations, including the observations "It's fast, super fast. Forget sitting back in your chair and having a leisurely cup of tea or going outside for a cigarette whilst that blue render bar gets to 100%. You continue to work without stopping ..." and "Xsan via 4Gig fibre was a huge improvement, although the speeds we thought were super-fast once, now seem to be not so great when compared to Thunderbolt drives" and, leading to the 'criticism' part coming up, "It's a good job that the Mac Pro has thee Thunderbolt buses distributed over six ports, you soon use them up."
So, the criticism. Apple didn't update the Mac Pro properly for so long, professionals were starting to look elsewhere. Apple messing up the whole Final Cut Pro X introduction sure didn't help. Technically, the new Mac Pro put things right for the hardware platform. Mostly. The concern that remains is that all that super-fast connectible stuff has to be ... connected. Cue cable spaghetti snafu. This does create a gap in the market for some clever cable snap, tie or hide accessories, or maybe just a very good desk design that can also hold those massive monitors while tidying away the cable maze. But it probably means higher costs, too, for all those housings plus drives. You used to be able to buy a drive sans case - which made it a little cheaper - and put it into the internals of the old-style, and eight-times bigger, Mac Pro yourself in a minute or two.
The 2013 Mac Pro's fast Thunderbolt 2 daisy-chaining goodness comes at this cost, but at least people are making suitable, speedy accessories.
Sonnet, for example, was shipping four Thunderbolt 2 devices already by this February: Sonnet's Echo Express family of expansion products enable any Mac computer equipped with Thunderbolt 2 or Thunderbolt ports to interface with a wide variety of high-performance PCIe cards, which were originally designed only for use in desktop computers. Check out MacSense for those, as they're available in this market already, but expect a lot more soon as the professionals embrace this Darth Vader Mac.