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Apple is over-thinking the Mac Pro

Today Apple announced they are rethinking the entire design of the Mac Pro after three years without an update.

The current Mac Pro is an extremely impressive piece of design and engineering. Unfortunately the design was too clever and  over-engineered and it neither met customers' needs nor allowed Apple to easily upgrade it.

Apple issued an apology, which is extremely rare, and it's great to see they have recognized and taken ownership of the issue. It's almost unprecedented for Apple to announce unfinished products without a ship date and they're timing this right before NAB, so I'm assuming this move is to do with damage control.

The only problem is that I'm spotting a pattern here. Apple abandoned the old (pre-2013) Mac Pro and barely updated it, then after a customer outcry they released a completely redesigned model, which they then abandoned again. Now they are completely redesigning it again but it won't ship for at least a year and we don't know much about it except that it will be modular to some degree.

It sounds like Apple may be about to fall into the same trap again: over-thinking the problem in panic mode with an over-engineered solution. Apple behaves like this is a really difficult problem to solve but it's actually extremely simple. We want to use Macs, so all Apple has to do is not get in the way.

What Apple fails to grasp is that the design factors that made the iPhone successful have little relevance to the pro desktop market. Sure, design is important to creative people, but it's not #1 on the priority list - it's maybe #7 or #8. Our #1 priority is being able to do our jobs quickly with as few restrictions or workarounds as possible. I'm sure a sizable number of pro users would be happy enough with 2017 specs in the 2012 case.

If Apple wants to impress their professional customers they need to do two things: design their pro products backwards by thinking about what their capabilities should be first and then thinking about their physical design, and do a better job of maintaining a dialogue with pro customers (hint: dialogues are in both directions). There are a lot more options now and Apple should be competing for our business instead of assuming we'll just stick around like we have so far.

Posted by Jon Chappell on Apr 4 2017 to Analysis, Apple, Hardware

Apple limits availability of non-Retina MacBook Pros

Today Apple aimed to reaffirm their commitment to professional users with more details on the new Mac Pro. While some have correctly pointed out that the starting price for the new version is higher than the old model, this seems entirely reasonable to me given the significant leap in specifications. I was also relieved that it is reasonably upgradeable, minus the graphics card, although Mac users have never had a wide variety of cards to choose from anyway.

However, at the same time Apple took away some professional options. The Retina MacBook Pro was updated with more screen size options and improved specifications, however it has almost entirely replaced the older non-Retina model.

There are very specific reasons why some pros would choose a non-Retina model: matte display, greater availability of ports and upgradeable interior. The only option Apple is offering is a 13" version, which seems strange because I would have assumed that the type of user who chooses the non-Retina model would aim for the largest screen size possible. This would suggest that Apple is not aiming this laptop at spec-sensitive professionals at all, but instead users who are looking for a cheap option. However, it's only slightly cheaper than the 13" Retina so I'm really not sure what their target market is (if you can figure it out, let me know in the comments).

My 2011 MacBook Pro recently got destroyed so I was in the market for a new one. I considered a Retina laptop but in the end I opted for a 15" non-Retina MacBook Pro that was barely faster than my 2011 model. I could grudgingly cope with the glossy display and reduced ports but the lack of upgradeability was the deal-breaker for me. While it is good that Apple has reduced the prices of the Retina model, you'd be a fool not to max it out at the time of purchase. As I've said before on this blog, Apple is charging a premium price for a throwaway computer and they really need to factor that into the initial selling price.

Posted by Jon Chappell on Oct 22 2013 to Apple, Analysis, Hardware

My thoughts on the new Mac Pro

Apple just gave us a sneak peek at the new redesigned Mac Pro.

* It's not dead!
* It finally has Thunderbolt and a significant spec bump
* Dual GPUs
* The Thunderbolt ports are not all running on the same bus
* It's significantly smaller and lighter

* No space for internal PCI cards - all expansion is through Thunderbolt
* The hard drive is not user-replaceable
* It will definitely not fit in a rack
* AMD cards will not run CUDA-optimized apps like Resolve well

* Price
* Is the RAM replaceable or soldered to the motherboard?

The cons are not cons for everyone and it seemed like my Twitter feed was split down the middle. It looks like Apple has focused on FCPX as the target application but not really paid much heed to other pro apps people might want to use. I think this is a sign that people at the very high end of the industry may want to look elsewhere for their pro computers, whether that is a Hackintosh or a Windows box.

A big problem with lack of internal upgradeability is downtime. If the hard drive dies in a regular Mac Pro, it is not difficult to replace it, and you can be up and running again in minutes if you were smart enough to clone the drive beforehand. The problem with the new Mac Pro is that every issue is potentially a visit to the Apple Store, which could take a day or more for them to fix (not to mention the added cost if you're out of warranty). So it is probably best for facilities to have multiple spare Mac Pros that they can swap out easily.

Which brings me onto my next point - how much is it? Apple didn't say. But assuming everything is soldered to the motherboard and the case can't be opened, the Mac Pro will essentially be a disposable computer that you should not expect to last for as long as your current Mac Pro. A disposable computer should be sold for a disposable price, so I expect the success of the new Mac Pro to entirely hinge on the pricing, especially as comparably-specced Windows computers can be purchased for less.

What that means is that right now we don't really know if the new Mac Pro is worthwhile until we get more details, but it's clear that Apple has put its cards on the table and very much hedged against making a computer that will meet everyone's needs in our diverse industry.

Update: Apple has posted more details on their site and it looks like both hard drive and memory are upgradeable. This is great and makes me feel much better about the machine but I still think it will depend on pricing.

Update 2: Blackmagic says work is underway to support the Mac Pro in Resolve and Adobe says the upcoming Premiere Pro CC should support it out of the box.

Posted by Jon Chappell on Jun 10 2013 to Analysis, Apple, Hardware

NVIDIA Quadro 4000 machines won't boot up after 10.6.7

NVIDIA is reporting that Mac OS X 10.6.7, released a few days ago, removes drivers for high-end NVIDIA Quadro 4000 cards, so machines with these cards will refuse to boot up after installing OS X 10.6.7.

There is an updated driver for OS X 10.6.7 here. The support post is a little vague and doesn't state if the new driver can be installed before updating to 10.6.7 to prevent the issue from occurring, or if it must be installed afterward. If the latter, the article states that you should install a different graphics card in order to boot up to install the new driver, but I'd only advise that if Safe Mode and Target Disk Mode fail.

Update: TUAW is reporting that the NVIDIA support article is inaccurate and that Quadro 4000 machines will boot up just fine but without 3D acceleration and other features. Just install the new driver and these features will be restored.

Posted by Jon Chappell on Mar 23 2011 to Hardware, Software

Why Thunderbolt is a game-changer

Today Apple released brand-new MacBook Pros with Intel's LightPeak technology, now called Thunderbolt.

Thunderbolt is a 10 Gbps port that can daisy-chain up to six devices including a display. To give you an idea of how fast it is, USB 3.0 is 5 Gbps, Firewire 3200 is 3 Gbps, eSATA is 2.4 Gbps and Fibre Channel can be up to 4 Gbps.

To me, this is a game-changer because these ports can become any type of port as long as you have an adapter, so Apple essentially added support for USB 3.0, eSATA and anything else you like in one go. Thunderbolt is a huge leap forward for professional users. Its power is in its versatility.

It also means that laptops can finally rival desktops in I/O performance. As an example of the amount of throughput you'll be able to get on a laptop, Apple showed a demo of Final Cut Pro running four streams of uncompressed HD on the 15" MacBook Pro, peaking at 600MB/s.

And if you're in a shared environment you'll be able to easily add laptops, or indeed any type of Mac, to an Xsan network for fast access to shared storage, which is something that was difficult to do before.

Finally, Apple posted some new details about Mac OS X 10.7 Lion today and revealed that the desktop and server versions of the operating system will be merged together, meaning that every Mac is now a server out of the box. Couple that with Thunderbolt and the Mac Mini suddenly looks reasonable as an Xsan metadata controller (and indeed for many other server tasks) now that the Xserve has been discontinued.

Posted by Jon Chappell on Feb 24 2011 to Apple, Analysis, Hardware

Recently updated AppleCare docs - 5/1/09

Here are the most recent AppleCare docs relevant to ProApp users, or ones that I found generally useful.


Xserve: USB, FireWire, and optical drive do not respond
MacBook Pro: Distorted video or no video issues
Can't connect two DVI connectors to Power Mac G5 (Late 2005), Mac Pro (Original), and Mac Pro (Early 2008) video cards
Xserve (Early 2009): Use the latest version of Server Admin Tools
Mac Pro: Power consumption and thermal output (BTU) information
Xserve (Late 2006 and later): Configuring Lights-Out Management (LOM)
Xserve (Late 2006 or later): How to configure Server Monitor to access Xserve
Xserve (Early 2009): Power consumption and thermal output (BTU) information
Certain optical digital audio source sample rates may not work for some Intel-based Macs

Final Cut Pro / Express

Final Cut Express: Camcorder support
Final Cut Pro/Express: Some imported PSD files may only contain the background layer
Final Cut Pro: Speed interferes with Smooth Cam
Final Cut Pro: Troubleshooting Basics
Final Cut Pro: Green frames or other anomalies on render with REDCODE
Final Cut Pro: Quality issue with movies you export from the Viewer with filters applied
Final Cut Pro: Log and capture with DV50 sometimes does not work in French or Japanese


Motion: Motion quits unexpectedly when exporting to REDCODE


Compressor: Troubleshooting basics


Logic Express: Locating the Support ID and Serial Number


Xsan 2: Compatibility of Xsan clients with Grass Valley SAN shared storage systems
Xsan 2: Xsan Admin Setup Assistant appears when opening Xsan Admin


Mac OS X keyboard shortcuts
Mac OS X: How to log a kernel panic
Posted by Jon Chappell on May 1 2009 to Apple, Final Cut Studio, Hardware

RED Rocket announced

Many within the RED community have been clamoring for an official conform tool to simplify online/offline RED workflows. Well, RED's gone one better with RED Rocket.

Rocket is a hardware R3D decoder and debayer capable of realtime output of up to 30 fps @ 4K or 24 fps @ 5K. This completely removes the need for an offline (at least with the RED One - Epic will still need it at high resolutions), allowing you to work with 4K directly in FCP, Premiere, After Effects, RED Alert!, REDCINE, REDrushes or any application using the REDCODE SDK.

It is PCI-Express (laptop users are out of luck here), is compatible with Windows, OS X and Linux, and features Quad-DVI and Quad-HD-SDI.

This is bad news for DVS which just introduced Clipster at NAB, however there could be a place in the market if they can undercut Rocket's $5k pricetag and beat it to market. There is currently no ETA on RED Rocket.

Update: Jim says two months but RED's release dates have been pushed back on many occasions.
Posted by Jon Chappell on Apr 22 2009 to Cameras, Hardware, Industry

NVIDIA Quadro FX 4800 for Mac Pro

The 2009 Mac Pros don't have a great range of graphics cards to choose from. You can go for the cut-down GeForce GT 120 or the more advanced Radeon 4870, and that's it unless you plump for an older card (not to mention of course the fact that you must buy one card for every Mini DisplayPort monitor you own, which screws up FCP).

There's now another one to choose from - the NVIDIA Quadro FX 4800. It's incredibly powerful with 1.5 GB of memory, 192 CUDA parallel processing cores (!) and 76.8 GB/sec memory bandwidth. But its price tag matches its capabilities - $1799.

I would not actually recommend this for ProApp use, as the Quadros have not traditionally been optimized for Core Image operations (not to mention the small number of ProApps that utilize the GPU significantly) so a lot of that power goes to waste in Final Cut Studio. However, this card is often used for 3D modeling and visualization tasks.

Why was this not released with the 2009 Mac Pros? One explanation could be the fact it requires OS X 10.5.7 which has not been released yet. The card is scheduled to be released in May, which suggests 10.5.7 would also be released around that time too.

It is compatible with the 2008 and 2009 Mac Pros. Apple have not announced anything on their site so it remains to be seen if there will be a BTO option. Interestingly, NVIDIA's site only mentions Dual-Link DVI as a display option and does not mention Mini DisplayPort at all.
Posted by Jon Chappell on Apr 21 2009 to Apple, Hardware

3-31-09 New AppleCare articles

Here is my roundup of recent useful AppleCare docs.


Mac Pro: Noise, pops or clicks heard when monitoring a live recording
Mac Pro (8-core): Memory and hard drive kit compatibility
Promise VTrak: Configuring for optimal performance
Xserve (Early 2008) and Mac Pro (Early 2008): AXD, ASD and AHT may report the incorrect total VRAM
Vintage and obsolete products

Final Cut Pro

Changing system display settings causes Final Cut Pro/Express to quit unexpectedly
Final Cut Pro/Express: Ingested AVCHD clips are sometimes distorted


Motion 3.0.2: Masks on text layers can't be turned back on

Soundtrack Pro

Soundtrack Pro: May see "Unexpected Problem" alert when using some Audio Unit plug-ins


Logic Pro 8, Logic Express 8: Cannot select USB mic as an audio input
Logic: Rebuilding the Loop Index
GarageBand '09: Templates missing after Logic Studio or Logic Express 8 installation


Xsan 2: Xsan Admin Setup Assistant appears when opening Xsan Admin
Xsan 2.1.1: Xsan Admin cannot save SAN document

Final Cut Server

Final Cut Server: Connecting the database to the correct local user account
Posted by Jon Chappell on Mar 31 2009 to Apple, Final Cut Studio, Hardware

New Mac Pros, iMacs and Minis

Apple has hit us with three hardware refreshes in the same day.

Mac Mini

2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo
1GB memory2GB memory
120GB hard drive320GB hard drive
8x double-layer SuperDrive8x double-layer SuperDrive
NVIDIA GeForce 9400M graphicsNVIDIA GeForce 9400M graphics
$599, shipping within 24 hours$799, shipping within 24 hours

I'm really glad this little guy is still going strong. There were fears it would be discontinued but thankfully this has not proven to be the case.

Not the greatest specs in the world, but the GeForce 9400M is a welcome addition that should provide a decent performance boost to graphical apps.

Apple is claiming that it now uses 45% less power, making it even more viable for server-related tasks (my personal favorite use for Minis). It's worth noting that the case has not been redesigned to match the iMac, as was rumored.


20" display24" display24" display24" display
2.66GHz Intel Core 2 Duo2.66GHz Intel Core 2 Duo2.93GHz Intel Core 2 Duo3.06GHz Intel Core 2 Duo
2GB memory4GB memory4GB memory4GB memory
320GB hard drive640GB hard drive640GB hard drive1TB hard drive
8x double-layer SuperDrive8x double-layer SuperDrive8x double-layer SuperDrive8x double-layer SuperDrive
NVIDIA GeForce 9400M graphicsNVIDIA GeForce 9400M graphicsNVIDIA GeForce GT 120 with 256MB memoryNVIDIA GeForce GT 130 with 512MB memory
$1,199.00, shipping within 24 hours$1,499.00, shipping within 24 hours$1,799.00$2,199.00

Not much to say here - just a speed bump and NVIDIA graphics across the whole line. The 24" now starts at a lower pricepoint.

Mac Pro

One 2.66GHz Quad-Core Intel Xeon "Nehalem" processorTwo 2.26GHz Quad-Core Intel Xeon "Nehalem" processors
3GB (three 1GB) memory6GB (six 1GB) memory
640GB hard drive 640GB hard drive
18x double-layer SuperDrive18x double-layer SuperDrive
NVIDIA GeForce GT 120 with 512MBNVIDIA GeForce GT 120 with 512MB
$2,499.00, ships within 4 days$3,299.00, ships within 4 days

And here's a custom configured Mac Pro with pretty much everything you'd ever need:
Two 2.93GHz Quad-Core Intel Xeon
32GB memory (8x4GB)
Mac Pro RAID Card
4 x 1TB 7200-rpm Serial ATA 3Gb/s
ATI Radeon HD 4870 512MB graphics
Two 18x SuperDrives
2 x Apple Cinema HD Display (30" flat panel)
AirPort Extreme Wi-Fi Card with 802.11n
Quad-channel 4Gb Fibre Channel PCI Express card
Xsan 2
Mini DisplayPort to Dual-Link DVI Adapter (needed for 2x 30" displays
AppleCare protection plan for Mac Pro
$19,994.00, shipping in 6-8 weeks

Processor - You might think it's just a speed bump but the Nehalem series of CPUs has a completely redesigned architecture that removes a lot of traditional bottlenecks. This will significantly improve performance (particularly memory throughput) over previous Mac Pros.

The new architecture also allows two threads per core, meaning that 16 threads can be run simultaneously on the 8 core. I had wondered if Apple would market it as a 16 core machine but they chose not to, which is probably best as it could have been misleading.

Go for the 2.93 GHz processor if you can afford it.

Memory - Apple has been generous with the memory in the 8-core model. My usual advice would be to custom configure the machine with the minimum amount of memory possible and then buy it separately from cheaper sources. Note however that the custom configurator offers a minimum of 6 GB of memory, which will be enough for the majority of people.

Hard Drives - There are four bays, each offering a 640 GB or 1 TB SATA drive at 7200 RPM. I'd advise against ordering additional drives from Apple. Instead, shop around and you will get a much better deal. They are dead simple to install.

Apple has chosen not to offer solid-state disks as an option.

Graphics - Apple is offering two cards - the NVIDIA GeForce GT 120 512MB and the ATI Radeon HD 4860 512MB. The GeForce card is available in multiples up to 4. I would not advise purchasing multiple graphics cards in anticipation of Snow Leopard, as you'd be forking out a lot of money for something that has an unknown performance benefit. You don't know that it would improve performance enough to warrant the extra cost, and you don't even know if Final Cut Studio 3 will be able to use the extra cards. You can always buy extra cards later.

The Radeon is advised for Pro App use, however, as it has much better Core Image performance and a much greater range of working color depths. It is much faster than the GeForce and no comparable NVIDIA cards are yet offered as a BTO option for the Mac Pro. Both cards come with dual-link DVI and Mini DisplayPort connectors.

Note the absence of the NVIDIA Quadro FX.

Optical Drives - Not much to say really, except no Blu-ray.

Displays - The new graphics cards have support for the DisplayPort standard so the new 24" LED Display can now be used by Mac Pros, in addition to the traditional 30" Cinema Display. It looks like the 20" will not be replaced.

Note: you must have two GeForce cards in order to connect a second 24" display, or a Mini DisplayPort to Dual-Link DVI adapter if you are connecting two 30" displays.

My advice would be to go for the 30" because it is not glossy (there unfortunately isn't a matte option for the 24") and if you want to connect more than one, your choice of graphics card is not restricted.

Other minor aspects - There is no FireWire 400 - it's FW 800 only, like the MacBook Pro. You can use FW 400 devices with a converter cable. Bluetooth is now built-in.


It's a product refresh - you can't expect a whole host of new features. I think the Mac Pro refresh was a decent one (and long overdue) although I would prefer more display options from Apple. The 24" should have a matte option for those that prefer it, but what I dislike the most is that you are tied to the much slower GeForce if you want to add two of these.

Additionally, no-one really knows the future of the 30". Is it wise to buy one now when there could be a possible refresh in the near future? Or is it actually better to buy one now in case Apple gives us an inferior refreshed product in the future (it has happened before)? Or should we just buy from an alternative manufacturer? That is the question.

I'm really glad they chose to release these machines while Leopard was still around. It means that when I come to buy one in the near future, I can downgrade to Leopard if problems occur with Snow Leopard. It's not best to be an early adopter of an OS if you use it for professional work, nor is it best to downgrade to an earlier OS that does not support your computer.

The price hike for the Mac Pros was less welcome but this is mainly due to the increased cost of the CPUs from Intel, so it was not unexpected. Whenever Apple gives us something, they take away something else - but I do think in this instance Apple has given more than they have taken.

Update: Apple also gave the 15" MacBook Pro a speed bump.
Posted by Jon Chappell on Mar 3 2009 to Hardware, Apple, Analysis