15 years of the Apple Mac Pro

Tony Boyce

The mighty beast

To any creative who works with Apple products, the Mac Pro has always been the flagship desktop. The outstanding features of this product line has made it one of the powerful and flexible computers in the entire Apple range.

With its dual-core processors and rectangular case, the original Mac Pro was able to establish its identity back in 2006. Over the last 15 years, the Mac Pro has been transformed generation after generation, maintaining the high quality and performance that Apple is famous for.

Why do professionals in the creative industries use Apple? In audio, video and graphics, they're simply better than their Windows alternatives. Major software companies at the high ends of these professional fields focus their efforts on the Mac, as they know that that's where their user base is. So we're all naturally pulled in that direction. It's a self-perpetuating cycle.

Why is the Apple Mac Pro the weapon of choice over the iMac? Flexibility, power, connectivity and upgradeable options have always made it superior - plus, for someone like me that works in audio, I can get the computer out of the room!

Within each of the three generations of Mac Pro evolution, there have been many successive improvements and upgrades. I won't give you a blow-by-blow account of these here, as it would run to dozens of pages - you can find that elsewhere. This is simply an overview of the three generations.

The first generation

I know I know, it sounds like Star Trek. To be honest, when I got my first Mac Pro back in 2006, it felt like I was in Star Trek.

Apple Mac Pro 2006

My first Mac Pro, aka 'The Wind Tunnel'. Idiosyncratic fan noise that would often have me reaching for a coat. Powerful bugger, though.

With the release of this first generation in August 2006, these computers were a gamechanger. After its release, Apple abandoned the prefix 'Power' and focussed on using 'pro'. Remember the Power Mac? And the Performa? Am I getting misty eyed? No - I never looked back after my first Mac Pro.

In this first generation, features like non-linear digital editing and high-end video and audio quality were highly trumpeted by Apple. They helped the company in establishing the particular image that we today associate with the Mac Pro. For me, as an audio professional, this was the first truly capable Mac that I owned.

Over the years, revisions and upgrades have increased processing speeds, RAM and logic board improvements as the OS was also evolving forward at a remarkable speed, demanding ever more power and performance. However, all 1st gen models used Intel processors, so when Apple moved away from this processor, the OS and the second generation Mac Pros were coming. Goodbye my old windy friend...

The second generation

This was a helluva sequel.

Apple Mac Pro 2013

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Is it a trashcan?

The second generation of Mac pros was released in 2013, and its looks were certainly a departure. A polished aluminium cylinder and a vented fan for heat dissipation and....it seemed not a lot else. Where the hell do I slot my hard disks in? No Firewire?

We all moan about Apple's built-in redundancy when it comes to connectivity. It does get very boring when you own 23 peripherals, all with Firewire and you then need to festoon your life with extra cables and adaptors. And now it's USB C. Next week, it'll be Bimblewire 7, so we can all keep throwing away expensive wire and buying new ones. Just saying, Apple!

The main problem with the trashcan is a hardware one. Everything is cemented in, so upgrading is a problem. In fact, this generation went unchanged for three years, so long it broke an Apple record for non-upgrade. For this reason, this model gets a bad rap - in my view unfairly.

Once you get used to housing all your HDs and old pci cards in external enclosures, upgrade your other devices to Bimblewire 7 and thrown a mountain of cables and redundant devices away, it's a fabulous machine. Really fabulous. I currently run my studio on one, and I absolutely swear by it. Rather than swear at it. Usually.

The third generation

Like Back to The Future, we now scroll forward to the pandemic, populist AI dominated topsy-turvy roaring 20s.

Apple Mac Pro 2019

Released in 2019, this generation of Mac Pro replaced the second gen era and finally consigned the trashcan to....the trash. Towers are back! (Also available in rack form....)

This is one insanely powerful machine, and potentially insanely expensive, starting at £5.5k for your basic model (although to be fair, this is not a basic machine). For a laugh, I just went on the Apple site and specced it to 28 cores, 1.5tb ram and twin graphics cards and reached a breathtaking £55k. Power don't come cheap.

The initial news about the production of the new Mac Pros was dominated by a move to a Chinese manufacturing base, but by the end of 2019, Texas was selected as the state for production. With their production in the United States, this line of computers became the first ones from Apple to be entirely made in the country (although the main reason was the high tax tariff). Seems like computing has come full circle.

This generation of Mac Pros has had glowing reports. It's a design triumph, and Apple have managed to squeeze every last bit of power out of the available resources. As well as every last penny from your wallet. By the looks of the spec, you'll also need your own power station to run it. Still, if you've got deep pockets and are planning a moon landing, this is the fella for you.

You pays your money...

It would be hard for me to do what I do on a first gen machine now. As I've said, I run on a second gen at the moment, and can't see myself upgrading anytime soon. The third party software developers that I use and rely on are going to cater for pre M1 chipped machines for the foreseeable future, and I always adopt an 'if it ain't broke, don't fix it' attitude. A second gen Mac Pro is more than capable for what I do. At the moment.

Besides. I can't face upgrading everything to Bimblewire 7 just yet....