I’ve now enjoyed my Mac Pro for over a month. Why did I decide on that computer, and how is it working out?
My late-2014 5K iMac was five years old: it still worked, but was increasingly limiting. The internal 500 GB SSD was too small, and even with the external 1 TB SSD I kept bumping into limits, wasting time cleaning out cruft. Ports were another issue: no USB-C ports, not enough ports in general, and I have yet to find a 100% reliable USB hub. The retina screen is still perfect, and my wife will likely get many more years out of this computer, but as a daily developer workhorse, it was getting long in the tooth.
I was sorely tempted to upgrade to an iMac Pro two years ago. However, while the current iMac Pro might be a great choice for many developers, for me it had a few drawbacks:
- GPU not upgradable: I’d have to decide up front how much to invest in this rapidly evolving technology.
- No way to drive the non-XDR 6K monitor that Apple is surely going to release any year now.
- Ports not future proof: Thunderbolt 3 / USB-C will remain relevant for many years to come, but new standards will surely emerge in the next decade.
I’m a developer, not a video professional, so the case for a Mac Pro is not as clear-cut. My main work right now is on the all-new version of SmartGo, about 70k lines of Swift and growing. The shipping version of SmartGo for Windows is 166k lines of C++; SmartGo Kifu is a mix of C++, Objective-C, and Swift. So while there are other tasks that benefit from a multi-core CPU (e.g. running Go or Othello simulations overnight, or converting 140 Go books to ePub), speeding up Xcode builds is the main benefit.
Modern Go programs are based on neural nets, which benefit a lot from a powerful GPU. However, my current development focus is on user interface, not on stronger play, so with GPUs still improving rapidly, I want to delay investment in a powerful GPU until I really need it.
Basically, I maxed out SSD and CPU (within halfway reasonable budget constraints), and plan to upgrade memory and GPU as needed.
- 3.2 GHz 16-core Xeon W, turbo boost to 4.4 GHz: Slightly slower than the 12-core, but turbo-boost speed is the same.
- 48 GB RAM DDR4 ECC at 2933 MHz: I figured this would be plenty for a while, and so far memory has not been an issue.
- 4 TB SSD: I don’t want to keep bumping against that limit.
- Base GPU: More than powerful enough for what I need now.
In addition, the expandability of the Mac Pro may lead me to:
- Add more ports: If I need more USB ports, or some other port comes along that is helpful, I can just add a card for that.
- Add internal SSD: I currently have a 2 TB SSD hanging off the internal USB port (for nightly backups); when I need more, I can add a PCI card with extra SSD storage.
- If/when Apple switches to ARM, it’s conceivable that Apple would create a card with an ARM processor for the Mac Pro.
- The unknown: Having PCI Express card slots available keeps options open for the future.
I expect the Mac Pro to be reliable for many years, and if something goes wrong, it will be easier to repair than a computer crammed behind a large screen.
I’m used to dual monitors: a 4K monitor next to the 5K iMac (a Dell P2415Q 24-inch 4K monitor, which is surprisingly good). I’d love a 6K monitor, but the 6K Pro XDR is not for me. The iMac is overdue for an SSD-only update and visual refresh, and at that point it would make a lot of sense to also release standalone screens in the same form factor. However, Apple’s timing is famously unpredictable, so I decided to go with the LG 5K for now to avoid being dependent on Apple’s plans. If they do release a 6K monitor for mere mortals, I’d be happy to replace the 4K by a 6K screen.
For developers, staying in the zone is crucial, and being able to reduce the build-run-debug cycle has really helped. Compared to my old iMac, build and run speed has improved by a factor of 2 to 3, and build times have become much more predictable. For my 70k lines of Swift, launching on an iOS device (connected by USB) after a small change takes 6-7 seconds, and a full build takes less than 30 seconds, more than good enough. I feel like I’ve gotten a lot more done this last month than in prior months.
Yes, it was a very expensive machine, but I do expect to get at least 7 to 8 years out of it. (I got 7 good years out of my 2006 Mac Pro.) The 6% cash back when buying with the Apple Card before December 31 helped; also, if you’re in the market for a Mac Pro, make sure you talk to the business rep at your local Apple Store to see if you can get a discount.
A month in, the Mac Pro has been everything it was supposed to be: fast, reliable, silent, unflappable. It looks gorgeous, but I hardly even notice it – it just sits quietly below my desk helping me focus on my work.