Viewed from the outside, the new Apple Mac Pro is something out of a time warp. Its traditional desktop shape has more in common with the boxy silver Mac Pro of the early 2000s than with its direct predecessor, the 2013 Mac Pro, which is distinct for its sleek, cylindrical design.
Reverting to a traditional tower-style design lets Apple pack in more components, and allows for much greater upgrade flex down the road. Based on what we know now about Apple’s new workstation beast, if you top out the configuration, the new Mac Pro will be able to house a Xeon CPU with as many as 28 CPU cores, plus up to four AMD Radeon Pro GPUs and 1.5TB of main system memory. The 2013 Mac Pro is on an entirely different planet when confronted with this raw power, which means that if you’re upgrading from one, you should be prepared for an entirely new computing experience.
Prospective Mac Pro users caught a glimpse of that experience on stage at WWDC this week, where on the new Mac Pro hundreds of instrument tracks played simultaneously in Logic Pro, and multiple 8K video streams rendered at the same time. If you don’t perform tasks of this caliber (and unless you’re a professional content creator, you probably don’t), the new Mac Pro isn’t for you. If you’re still not convinced, consider the new workstation’s $ 6,000 starting price.
If you do perform these kinds of resource-intensive tasks and are currently using a 2013 Mac Pro, though, here’s a quick glance at some of the improvements you can expect if you buy the 2019 entry-level Mac Pro when it goes on sale this fall. We’ll compare the base models and high-end configurations of these two workstations to see just how far the new model has evolved.
CPU, Memory, and Storage Differences
Let’s start off here with a summary of the specs you’ll find in the base models of the 2013 and 2019 machines…
These two configurations, mind you, come in at very different base prices: $ 2,999 for the 2013 Mac Pro outlined here with its six-core CPU, versus $ 5,999 for the base 2019 model. To reiterate that: The new Mac Pro starts at double what the old one did.
Next up, here’s a basic summary of the maximum hardware that you can outfit each model with…
First, let’s discuss the processors. Both generations of the Mac Pro are based on Intel’s workstation- and server-grade Xeon CPUs, but the similarities end there. The 2013 Mac Pro uses a six-core, eight-core, or 12-core Intel Xeon E5, while the 2019 Mac Pro starts with, at the minimum, an eight-core Xeon W and can be configured with a 28-core Xeon W at the upper end.
At the highest end, you’re looking at more than doubling the number of processor cores, which can have a profound impact on your workflow if you’re using an app that’s fully threaded and designed to leverage as many CPU cores as possible. It’s even more of a benefit if your workflow uses older apps that may rely on multiple CPU cores but lack GPU acceleration.
Even at the low end, the differences between the two machines’ CPUs are significant. The Xeon in the base-model 2019 Mac Pro starts with just two more cores than its entry-level predecessor’s did, but it gains many modern CPU features that simply didn’t exist in 2013, most notably support for more and faster memory.
In terms of memory, the differences are even more marked here. At the low end, the old Mac Pro starts at 16GB of memory, while the new one ships with a minimum of 32GB. The 2013 Mac Pro tops out at 64GB of 1,866MHz DDR3 memory, compared with a whopping 1.5TB of 2,933MHz DDR4 memory in the 2019 top-end version. That’s more than a 20-fold increase, before you even consider the benefits of the faster DDR4 RAM modules. (The 2019 Mac Pro can host up to 12.) Outfitted with the 28-core Xeon W or the step-down 24-core version, the Mac Pro can actually accept up to 2TB of RAM if you install aftermarket modules, but Apple says its memory-optimization process limits from-the-factory configurations to 1.5TB.
With PCI Express NVMe solid state drive options, the new Mac Pro also offers considerably faster storage than the old Mac Pro does. In 2013, these NVMe-protocol SSDs, which can offer throughput speeds of approximately 3,500MBps, simply did not exist. That means the 256GB, 1TB, 2TB, or 4TB of storage in the new Mac Pro will be considerably faster than the 256GB, 512GB, or 1TB options of its predecessor.
Third-party storage manufacturers are already lining up to offer aftermarket drives for the new Mac Pro, too. Promise Technology is planning to sell a four-bay RAID chassis, the Pegasus R4i, that can fit into the same form factor as the 2019 Mac Pro’s MPX Modules, complete with four 8TB 7,200rpm SATA hard drives. (More on MPX Modules in a moment.) This, to say the least, isn’t possible with the 2013 Mac Pro.
Graphics: The Sighting of a New Vega
For years, Apple has used exclusively AMD graphics processors in its high-end desktops and laptops, not the Nvidia Quadro GPUs that are more common in Windows workstations. The new Mac Pro gets some custom AMD graphics silicon that you won’t find in any other PC currently on the market. The AMD Radeon Pro Vega II, a GPU that we haven’t seen before, has 64 compute units and 32GB of dedicated memory.
That’s not what comes stock, though; the base-model 2019 Mac Pro comes with the same AMD Radeon Pro 580X GPU that’s the base option in the 2019 27-inch Apple iMac and shares the same number of compute units with the non-Pro AMD Radeon RX 580X for consumers. But the Mac Pro’s graphics muscle will presumably really shine when you punch it up from the Radeon Pro 580X. The Radeon Pro Vega II GPU will live in a removable sled that Apple calls an “MPX Module,” with its own Thunderbolt connection and a maximum power consumption of 500 watts per sled. Each MPX Module has a large heat sink, and, according to Apple, doesn’t contain its own fans, in order to keep operating noise down. The three giant fans behind the Mac Pro’s front grille keep the entire interior cool, including the GPU modules.
Where things get interesting is with the MPX options. Each MPX Module can be configured with one or two Radeon Pro Vega II GPUs, and each Mac Pro can hold one or two MPX Modules. (With two GPUs in an MPX Module, that’s a graphics option that Apple is referring to as a “Radeon Pro Vega II Duo,” a dual-GPU Radeon that doesn’t exist outside the Mac Pro.) Put two and two together, and (assuming you have the budget for it), you can buy a Mac Pro with four discrete GPUs with a combined 256 graphics compute units and 128GB of video memory. Such a configuration would truly leave any 2013 Mac Pro in the dust.
As for the base model of the 2013 Apple Mac Pro, it uses two AMD FirePro D500 GPUs, each with 3GB of video memory. The only GPU-upgrade option is to dual FirePro D700s, each with 6GB of memory.
We mentioned above that the base model of the new Mac Pro includes the more pedestrian AMD Radeon Pro 580X. Mac Pro users using the 2013 machine shouldn’t sniff at it, though; its 8GB of memory and 6.2 teraflops of peak graphics-compute power crush the entry-level FirePro configuration in the old Mac Pro.
I/O and Expansion
As soon as the first images of the Mac Pro flashed across the WWDC stage, the internet was ablaze with comparisons to a cheese grater. The likeness keeps with the tradition of high-end Macs being associated with household goods—many people think its predecessor looks like a trashcan.
The grater is an apt enough comparison, because Apple cut a ton of holes into the metal chassis to improve airflow. The company refers to the holes as a “lattice pattern,” and they are apparently so effective that the new Mac Pro keeps all of its insides cool with just three front-mounted fans to draw air through the chassis. (According to the company, the MPX Modules have no separate cooling fans for the GPU or GPUs.)
The 2013 Mac Pro also features an innovative cooling design of a very different kind, with air flowing vertically through its cylindrical chassis. But this design is limited by the chassis’ relatively tiny size and footprint compared with its successor’s. The 2013 Mac Pro cylinder is 10 inches high and 11 pounds, versus 20.8 inches high and 39.7 pounds for the 2019 Mac Pro.
Besides a vast amount of extra space for air to flow through, the new Mac Pro also offers a lot more real estate for accessing components and connecting peripherals than the old design does. After removing the exterior aluminum housing, which detaches with the pull of a handle, you can add PCI Express cards with ports to suit whichever peripherals you need to connect, with three PCI Express slots that span the length of the motherboard, and one half-length slot free for use. The stock configuration comes with one I/O card installed in the half-length PCI Express slot; the card supplies two USB 3.0 Type-A ports and two Thunderbolt 3 ports.
As for other connectivity, at the bottom of the chassis next to the power supply, the 2019 Mac Pro has two Ethernet ports, which are each capable of up to 10Gbps transfer rates, while the top of the tower enclosure has two more Thunderbolt 3 ports.
In contrast, the 2013 Mac Pro includes six Thunderbolt 2 ports, which are vestigial in 2019, as well as four USB 3.0 ports and two gigabit Ethernet (1,000Mbps) ports. Adding to this complement is not easy (other than plugging in dongles or hubs), and the motherboard has no accessible PCI Express slots. Even if you could upgrade the 2013 Mac Pro’s internal components, the 450-watt power maximum would prove quite limiting. In contrast, the new Mac Pro has a 1.4-kilowatt power supply.
Should You Upgrade?
The most important piece of information about the new Mac Pro that Apple has yet to share before its fall release is pricing. We know the base model of the Mac Pro starts at $ 5,999, but we don’t know just how loftily priced its higher-end configurations will be.
We did a little cruising around some workstation desktop vendors’ configurators, to small effect. For example, you can buy a Dell Precision 7920 workstation with a single Quadro P4000 card and 1.5TB of memory right now, but this memory configuration requires two Xeon CPUs, results in a price north of $ 40,000, and of course lacks the Mac Pro’s custom Radeon Pro GPU setup. We do expect the Mac Pro’s loftier configurations to cost tens of thousands of dollars, but just how many tens of thousands is still a mystery.
One thing is clear: If your special-effects studio or research lab is using last-generation Mac Pros, upgrading to the latest one will unlock vast computing potential and upgradability that hasn’t been seen from Apple for more than five years. And if nothing else, that gap has reminded the Apple faithful that other options exist—you can already buy a Windows workstation with many of the same features that made the WWDC crowd gasp.