Earlier this week the highly-anticipated Mac Pro finally touched down on my desktop after several years of anticipation. In this initial hands-on video, I take a look at the top 2019 Mac Pro features and explain why even the base model Mac Pro might be the best system for you if expandability is at the top of your list.
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Unboxing the 2019 Mac Pro
The 2019 Mac Pro ships in a large box that weighs what feels like 100 lbs. Inside the one-time-use shipping box, you’ll find the Mac Pro packaging.
The Mac Pro box is sparsely decorated on the outside and features black ‘Mac Pro’ lettering on an all-white exterior. The box includes velcro straps on the sides to keep the top and bottom portions secure around the contents inside.
The unboxing is very Apple-esque but has its own unique design for a computer inside that’s even more unique. Apple includes an extra-large “Designed by Apple in California” packet inside the box. This package includes a set of super-sized Apple stickers, regulatory and warranty information, and an extra-large and well-illustrated getting started guide.
Beautiful and functional aluminum housing
The Mac Pro is beautiful, arguably the most stunning piece of Mac hardware that Apple has ever produced. Visually, and texture-wise, it’s very appealing to the eyes and senses. This design deserves to be placed on the desktop. It’s just too bad that, for many people, it’ll occupy an area tucked away somewhere under a desk.
Visually speaking, it’s the aluminum housing’s lattice hole pattern that makes the 2019 Mac Pro hardware stand out. There are obvious design details that remind you of the classic Mac Pro “cheese-grater” chassis, but it’s not just about looks.
Apple says that the lattice pattern found on the Mac Pro aluminum housing is a naturally occurring phenomenon in molecular crystal structures. The lattice is created via a group of 3D interlocking hemispheres, resulting in increased surface area. Such a design optimizes airflow, maximizing the Mac Pro’s thermal capacity, and it also increases the structural rigidity of the housing while remaining relatively light weight.
One of the great things about the design of the aluminum housing is that it’s easy to remove. Instead of having to rely on any sort of screw mechanism, Apple includes a handy top latch that you simply twist and lift to release the aluminum housing from the stainless steel space frame. This makes it ridiculously easy to access internal components to facilitate upgrades.
Stainless steel space frame
The starting point of the Mac Pro design is the stainless steel space frame. This frame, which starts at the feet and extends all the way to the handles, supports the system and provides crucial interior mounting points.
Even if you don’t splurge for the machine’s $400 wheel add-on, the Mac Pro is easy to move around thanks to the handles formed at the top of the stainless steel space frame. The handles are smooth and rounded, so they’re comfortable to grip, and make for a stable way to move your Mac Pro.
The great thing about the stainless steel frame is that it provides the end-user with unobstructed 360-degree access to the interior components of the computer. It makes installing and maintaining system components much easier than it is on a generic PC tower setup.
Dual-sided logic board
Complementing the easy access provided by the stainless steel frame is a dual-sided logic board that makes it easy to access components installed inside the Mac Pro. On one side of the logic board, you’ll find the processor, graphics, and PCIe expansion. On the opposite side, you’ll find the storage and memory.
Because of the high-performance components inside the Mac Pro, it’s no surprise that a lot of heat is generated as a result. To help keep the Mac Pro cool, Apple employs the use of three axial fans that move air across the CPU and the GPUs in order to keep them cool.
On the opposite side of the logic board, a blower pulls air across the memory and storage components and through the power supply to exhaust out of the back of the Mac Pro. Not only does this design keep the interior components cool enough to work at their highest capabilities, but it’s quiet, even when under load for an 8K video transcode job in Final Cut Pro X.
Unlike the iMac Pro, which is a great machine in its own right, the Mac Pro is in a whole different stratosphere when it comes to headroom, room for growth, and expandability.
Whereas the iMac Pro more or less needs to be configured on day one for how you’ll use the machine over its lifespan, the Mac Pro, even the base model, can easily grow along with your needs.
Unlike the previous “trashcan” version, which heavily relied on an immature Thunderbolt 3 roadmap for expandability at the time, the 2019 Mac Pro gives users the best of both worlds.
Not only does the Mac Pro possess a wealth of internal growth potential, it can also take advantage of a now mature Thunderbolt 3 peripheral lineup. This truly is a machine that can, in virtually every way, grow along with your needs.
With this reasoning in mind, I intentionally opted for the base model Mac Pro, because I plan to upgrade it heavily over time. Not only is such a decision easier on the wallet upfront, but it also allows you to get a little now, and a lot more down the line when needed.
Upgrade-eligible 2019 Mac Pro internal components
The base model Mac Pro comes with an 8-core Intel Xeon W CPU clocked at 3.5GHz that can boost to 4.0GHz. Upgrades include 12-, 16-, 24-, and 28-core options.
While Apple has yet to officially speak on the potential of CPU upgrades, there are strong indications that users will be able to perform their own upgrades. Apple appears to be using custom Xeon-W with a different amount of L3 cache than the OEM Xeon-W chips with matching specs, but it still appears to be possible to upgrade despite that discrepancy.
With all of that said, I still think the 16-core Mac Pro configuration is probably the best option for most users, especially if you don’t plan on doing upgrades to the CPU anytime soon.
The 16-core is respectable in single-core performance and much better in multi-core. It’s also capable of addressing memory at a higher clock speed than the 8-core version. If you can only make one upgrade during the build-to-order process, I recommend the 16-core chip.
The base model Mac Pro includes 32GB of DDR4 ECC RAM that operates at 2666MHz. Machines with 12-core CPUs and higher allow the RAM to operate at 2933MHz.
Apple includes a six-channel memory system across a whopping 12 DIMM slots on the 2019 Mac Pro. It supports up to a max of 1.5TB of RAM on higher-specced CPU configurations. As usual, Apple’s memory prices are absurdly high, but the good news is that I’ve confirmed that upgrades to Mac Pro can be performed using much cheaper third-party RAM.
PCI Express expansion slots
One of the most exciting things about the 2019 Mac Pro is its PCIe expansion capability. Featuring eight PCIe slots, the Mac Pro can accommodate a wide variety of third-party PCIe cards — network cards, graphics cards, capture cards, audio interfaces, etc. — for expandability.
The Mac Pro includes:
- One half-length x4 PCIe gen 3 slot (Apple I/O card pre-installed)
- One full-length single-wide x16 PCIe gen 3 slot
- Two full length single-wide x8 PCIe gen 3 slots
- Four full-length double-wide PCIe gen 3 slots
Featured in video:
Apple’s MPX modules, which stands for Mac Pro Expansion Module, combines a standard PCI Express x16 connection with a new MPX connector that can provide up to 475W of power. Because MPX modules require no auxiliary power connection, they install super clean.
In addition to the extra power, the MPX connection provides access to more PCIe lanes and integrates Thunderbolt. In total, the MPX module has access to up to 500W of power, which makes it perfect for GPUs.
The MPX module is designed as an integrated part of Mac Pro and features a much larger heat sink that takes advantage of system cooling. That means that no extra fans are needed, which makes the GPU much quieter than a standard GPU.
In the base configuration, Apple includes a standard Radeon Pro 580X GPU, but users have the option to upgrade to a more powerful configuration. Up to two MPX modules can be configured simultaneously, which can yield some ridiculous performance metrics if configuring one of Apple’s more powerful GPUs.
Afterburner is a $2000 add-on card that accelerates ProRes and ProRes RAW codecs in Final Cut Pro X. Apple notes that with an Afterburner installed, a Mac Pro can handle up to 6 streams of 8K ProRes RAW video at 30 fps, and your CPU won’t break a sweat.
Although it’s a niche accessory in an arguably niche computer, the Afterburner card may make sense for those editing ultra-high resolution (6K, 8K, and above) video in ProRes or ProRes Raw. Jonathan Morrison has an impressive first look at the capabilities of this expansion card, which is definitely worth checking out if you edit video in ProRes.
By default, Apple includes 256GB of SSD storage via one 256GB module in the Mac Pro. Higher Mac Pro SSD storage configs support insanely fast speeds up to 3.4GB/s sequential read and write, and all configs feature encryption via the built-in Apple T2 security chip.
Up to 8TB of total storage can be added during the build-to-order process, but unfortunately, this is one area that is not directly upgradable by the user after purchase.
I don’t think it’s a huge deal, and a user relying on PCIe storage solutions could get by with 256GB, but I think it makes sense to consider opting for the 1TB option during the initial build of the Mac Pro.
Apple includes a 1.4-kilowatt power supply unit inside the Mac Pro, which is enough power to drive virtually anything you can throw its way, including a quad-GPU setup via two Duo MPX units. It features maximum continuous power rating of 1280W at 108–125V or 220–240V or 1180W at 100–107V.
Multiple Thunderbolt 3 ports
On the base model Mac Pro, you’ll find four Thunderbolt 3 ports out of the box. Two of the ports are located on the back of the machine courtesy of the preinstalled Apple I/O card. Two additional Thunderbolt 3 ports can be found on the top of the machine, right next to the power button.
Each set of Thunderbolt 3 ports reside on its own Thunderbolt 3 bus and can be used to drive Thunderbolt 3 accessories, including external displays. An MPX unit is required to support display output from any of the Thunderbolt 3 ports on the Mac Pro.
Four DisplayPort connections are routed from the Radeon 580X MPX GPU to the system to support these internal Thunderbolt 3 ports. Users can connect up to six 4K displays, two 5K displays, or two 6K Pro Display XDRs.
When Mac Pro users upgrade the AMD Radeon Pro 580X to a higher-specced MPX unit, they gain access to four additional Thunderbolt 3 ports per MPX unit.
2 x 10GbE ports
At the bottom of the Mac Pro, right next to the power plug input, you’ll find a pair of RJ-45 jacks that support 10Gb Ethernet. The ports support Nbase-T for 1Gb, 2.5Gb, 5Gb, and 10Gb link speeds.
2 x USB-A ports
The pre-installed I/O card near the top of the Mac Pro includes two USB-A ports for USB 3 connectivity at up to 5Gb/s.
3.5-inch headphone input
The Apple I/O card also includes a 3.5mm headphone input for connecting headphones.
HDMI 2.0 ports
Each MPX graphics module that comes with the Mac Pro includes at least one HDMI 2.0 port, which is handy for connecting to an external projector or television. The entry-level AMD Radeon Pro 580X includes two HDMI 2.0 ports, while the rest of the higher-end models include one HDMI 2.0 ports along with four Thunderbolt 3 ports.
Silver and black Magic Keyboard and Magic Mouse
Functionally-wise, the Magic Keyboard and Magic Mouse are the same products that come bundled with the iMac Pro, or that you can buy separately at the Apple Store. Visually, though, both the Magic Keyboard and Magic Mouse that come with the Mac Pro feature a color combination that’s exclusive to Apple’s highest-end computer. Users also have the option of purchasing a matching Magic Trackpad.
Already there’s a small ecosystem of components from third parties that allows you to further expand the functionality of the Mac Pro. We will be reviewing these accessories as they become available.
- Promise Pegasus R4i 32TB RAID MPX Module for Mac Pro
- Promise Pegasus J2i 8TB Internal Storage Enclosure for Mac Pro
- Belkin AUX Power Cable Kit for Mac Pro
Unlike the iMac Pro, which includes a built-in display, the Mac Pro is display independent and can therefore be used with any external display of your choosing. While the iMac Pro’s 5K display is high quality, you’re more or less forced to use it, which isn’t ideal for every situation. I much prefer the idea of being able to select my primary display, even if it means spending a little more in the process.
I plan on pairing my Mac Pro with at least one Pro Display XDR 6K display, and this will serve as my primary workstation for video editing going forward. Until that display arrives, however, I’ll be using the awesome LG UltraFine 4K Display as my primary Mac Pro monitor.
After a few major missteps over the last five years, Apple has slowly but surely reinvigorated the Mac lineup one product at a time. It began by pushing the limits of the MacBook Pro with faster components that appealed to pro users. It kept going with the long-awaited meaningful refreshes to the MacBook Air and the Mac mini. It got even more surreal when Apple reversed course on the terrible butterfly keyboard for the MacBook Pro, producing its most compelling laptop in years. And it all culminates with the 2019 Mac Pro, a truly remarkable machine for the ages that firmly cements Apple’s positive stance towards its pro users.
The Mac Pro is the antithesis of the 2013 trashcan Mac Pro release, as its a machine that prioritizes functionality over form. Yet, it still manages to look great in the process.
No doubt, this is an expensive machine, but even the underpowered base model, with its 8-core Intel Xeon-W CPU, may be a better buy than the iMac Pro, which essentially cannot be upgraded internally after purchase.
The Mac Pro, on the other hand, stands to last for many years and can be upgraded with faster components even if you don’t opt for them upfront. For me, that makes it a much better long-term prospect, a machine that can easily grow with me as my needs require it.
What do you think? Sound off down below in the comments with your thoughts and opinions.