At its annual developers’ conference on Monday, Apple finally delivered what the designers, photographers, video editors, and other pro-grade creatives who grew up using the company’s machines have been waiting for: multiple references to the progressive rock band Rush. Sadly, this news was soon overshadowed by the insanely powerful new Mac Pro.
Pity the unfaithful who gave up on the long-neglected previous version of the Mac Pro and bought the recently upgraded iMac instead, because Apple has finally created a Mac Pro worthy of the name. The look of the computer also harkens back to the design language used on the Mac Pro from two generations ago, which means that yes, Apple’s top machine once again looks like a huge cheese grater.
WWDC keynotes usually shun specs, but Apple peppered its onstage routine with stats and figures for the announcement of the new desktop computer, touting the details of graphics cards and brightness nits in the monitor. Apple has clearly been taking notes from its professional users, because these are exactly the kind of details the pro crowd cares about. The new Mac Pro is, by design, a high-end machine. It also has a high-end price tag that not many will be able to justify.
The new Mac Pro starts at $5,999 for the 8-core model with 32 GB of RAM and a 256-GB solid-state drive. That can be configured up to a 28-core model with 1.5 terabytes of RAM. A new Pro Display XDR monitor-a new Apple product as well-to go along with your workstation will set you back another $4,999 for the base model, bringing the cost of a full setup to $11,000. And that’s just the entry-level configuration.
The new Mac Pro is all about processing power and graphics. It can handle as many as four AMD Radeon Pro Vega II graphics cards, which will net you enough power to play three simultaneous streams of 8K video-a feat Apple showed off during the WWDC keynote.
Apple has bucked some of its own design trends by making the Mac Pro’s case easy to open. It’s a user-upgradable Mac with up to eight PCI Express expansion slots-twice as many slots as on the last Mac Pro, which debuted back in 2013. This one also has attachable wheels and is designed to work as a rack-mounted system as well.
Apple is also touting a new hardware acceleration card it calls Afterburner. It’s the magic behind the Mac Pro’s ability to handle those three simultaneous streams of 8K ProRes RAW footage, which is what you get from RED and similar high-end cameras used for professional filmmaking. With the graphics card handling the video playback, you can use all those primary CPU cores to handle creative effects and other processing tasks.
Even the most powerful video-editing workstation is nothing without a display that can best represent the machine’s output, and for that Apple has delivered something that might be more impressive than the Mac Pro. The Pro Display XDR is a 32-inch Retina 6K monitor. It boasts up to 1,600 nits of brightness, sustaining 1,000 nits indefinitely-that’s an impressively high output and is only achievable because the back of the monitor is heavily vented so the guts don’t overheat. The rear venting uses the same cheese-grater pattern as the new Mac Pro for some visual synchronicity. A unique hinge mechanism allows for height and angle adjustments and a 90-degree portrait-mode orientation.
The contrast ratio of the Pro Display XDR is one million to one. In case you aren’t an expert in monitors, that puts the new hardware in the class of what’s called “reference displays.” These displays are insanely expensive tools (think mid five-digits), used primarily in high-end production shops. For those in the video production industry, the Pro Display XDR’s $4,999 price tag probably sounds like a fire sale.
The new hardware may be worth every penny, and we’ll know for sure when both machines arrive this fall. But that’s still a lot of pennies.