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Saying No to Mac Pro (Probably, Maybe)

January 9th, 2014 - 7:11 am


Analyst Charlie Wolf says it would be “insane” for Apple to build a truly low-cost iPhone. Here’s why:

Wolf’s thesis was presented on Wednesday in a note to investors, a copy of which was provided to AppleInsider. In it, the analyst went as far as to say that building a cheap iPhone to capture the low end of the smartphone market would be an “insane idea” for Apple, destroying the company’s gross profits seen in its current strategy.

For example, to hit the so-called “sweet spot” of smartphone pricing in emerging markets, Apple would have to price a hypothetical cheap iPhone at around $350 without a carrier contract subsidy. If Apple were to target a hypothetical 40 percent gross margin with such a product, Wolf’s estimates suggest the cheap iPhone would need a bill of materials at around $90 — or less than half the bill-of-materials cost of high-end iPhones.

That’s just not doable for the kind of device Apple is willing to put its name on, either. There may come a time to sacrifice profit margins to market share, but this is not that time. Twice now I though Apple might go for it, before the launch of the iPad mini last year, and before this year’s launch of the iPhone 5c. I won’t make that mistake a third time. Apple will charge you less for a smaller device, but not that much less.

Strangely enough Apple does seem willing to part with fat profit margins on the Mac Pro, although that admittedly is not a workstation they’ll move in large numbers. But if you go to Dell or HP and try to build a similarly-outfitted desktop workstation, you’ll likely spend more money than you would for a Mac Pro — and without super-speedy PCIe SSD, either. The same was true at the time my five-year-old Mac Pro Nehalem came out — no Windows OEM could touch Apple’s prices for Xeon machines, which I suspect was due to a sweet deal with Intel. Oh, and instead of a sleek, quiet, 11-pound machined aluminum cylinder, Dell and HP will sell you massive ugly plastic boxes.

I should mention here that contrary to popular belief, the CPU, dual GPUs, and SSD are all user-upgradeable in the Pro.

And yet with all those positives, odds are I won’t be buying one.

I’ve done my research since Apple released the new Pros last month and even though I’m starting to get that upgrade itch, they just don’t suit my needs. The only really CPU/GPU intensive stuff I do is with Aperture and Handbrake. But Handbrake doesn’t (so far as I know) have the ability to really take advantage of that dedicated secondary GPU to offload from the CPU. And, really, two GPUs is serious overkill for still photography.

So I’ll likely end up with a new iMac, when the current i7 models give way to something with six cores — and a 4k screen. Or maybe I’ll build myself a Hackintosh. Fact is, the new Mac Pro is without question the finest video editing box (cylinder!) anyone has ever put out for under five figures.

But that’s not what I do.

It’s a shame, too. Because I’d like to have one on my desk, just so once a day I could look at it and say, “My God, it’s full of stars!”

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All Comments   (14)
All Comments   (14)
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As proof that I have the bestest wife ever, I was authorized to order one tricked out as I liked as my Christmas gift. I decided I liked 8 cores, 32GB/1TB, and dual FirePro D500 GPUs, and thank you, dear.

I don't do video editing - yet - but I do dabble in image editing and website design/development. And yes, using this machine for those tasks is like going duck-hunting with a GAU-8 (the 30mm Gatling cannon in the A-10). But I _will_ be able to just look at it sitting on the desk and say "my God - it's full of stars."

Did I mention I have the bestest wife ever?
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
Does it play "Thus spake Zarathustra" when it boots up?
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
I do a ton of video editing and encoding. I really would like that cylinder. But I'm a very prosumer, one person shop and last year's 27" i7 is still blazingly fast for what I do.

Just can justify the cost. 8^(
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
I do quite a bit of audio and video editing, and want that big mac in a bad way.

Just can't justify the dough though. Have too much of my company's wintel horsepower here to justify the expense.
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
I've caught your logic from an earlier post about iPads, and am thinking that my trip back to Mac will be a Macbook Air.

When my oldest went to college, we got her a macbook pro. About the same time, my company gave me a newish thinkpad (I was the 2nd owner). My thinkpad just went back this year to be replaced by a newer model, after the last two years of being good only for email and vpn access. Total lifespan, about 5 years. 7 if you count the two miserable years of locking up and slow performance.

By contrast, after four years of college and a year of work and single-girl life - being dropped, stepped on, spilled on, my kid told me she upgraded the memory and OS and her macbook is better and faster than it was. And she's just as happy with it as the day she unpacked it.

Worth every penny of the grand or so we dropped on it. You get your money's worth with apple.
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
Cadillac destroyed its own luxury car image in China by pushing a low end Cadillac even the middle middle class could afford. Rich Chinese stayed away, aspiring rich Chinese followed.

Apple can only grow with innovation and better designs. Leave the low end to the wannabes.
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
Id say goto Newegg pick your parts and build a hackintosh. If your wanting one on your desk, and if you wanting a small case look for a lan box. I've build gaming pc's for 10yrs+ for under 700 dollars .
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
$3000? Seriously?
It is pretty, though.
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
A Dell or HP Xeon-class workstation will cost more and spec less.
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
Cost more yes. And for a reason (and that reason is I/O & GPU, where the Mac Pro is crippled and the Dell & HP units are both far better spec'd and can be upgraded down the line, which isn't uncommon in that space).

Spec less, no. The new Mac Pro is pretty much completely gimped in terms of I/O because Apple committed to Thunderbolt instead of sufficient PCIe 3.0 x4 slots. Thunderbolt's a cool technology. It's the next best thing to brilliant for a MacBook, especially if paired with an Apple Thunderbolt Display where it becomes a docking station built into a great display. There certainly should be 2-4 TB2 ports on the new Mac Pro, it's pretty much a requirement for the current Apple ecosystem. There should also be an actual expansion I/O capability, which Thunderbolt isn't unless you like mediocre performance and latency. It's a monster in CPU & RAM, but hobbled in I/O, storage & GPU. In fact you can pretty much match the I/O & GPU capabilities of the new Mac Pro with the old one (particularly the GPU, you just need to use aftermarket parts).

Oh, and that super-speedy PCIe SSD? There's much faster available in the PC world, where you can actually build SSD arrays since you have enough storage channels. Expensive, but stupid fast. Oh, and a real Mac Pro? Takes these as well. A pity the new Mac Maxi doesn't.
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
You're trolling, but I won't let this kind of disinformation stand.

You talked first about HP and Dell upgrades, ignoring the fact that the Mac Pro's CPU, SSD, and GPUs are all user upgradeable. Everything (anything!) else you need is simply plugged in as need via Thunderbolt 2.

There are six TB2 ports on the new Pro (not 2, not 4), each of which supports up to six devices. You can even see them right there on the photo. Why is that important? Because Thunderbolt is kicks PCIe's bottom.

The reason you can't buy a Thunderbolt card for any PC or for any Mac is that TB is faster than PCIe. A TB "card" would be like sticking a lawnmower motor in a Mercedes SL. But the Mac Pro runs TB2, which is twice as fast again as TB. Cruising Dell's workstations, it's difficult to find TB1, much less TB2.

Now, if you happen to have a Dell or HP workstation with 36 quadruple-speed PCIe ports... I want some of what you're smoking.

Are there fast solutions to PCIe SSD? Sure there are. You can order or build some absolutely smoking RAID boxes. Now, that SSD RAID box is going to cost you a fortune, whether you build it to plug into a Mac or a PC.

The question is, whether you'd rather attach it via the sluggish eSATA connector you'll find on that Windows machine, or any one of the 6x6 TB2 connectors on the Mac Pro.

The choice is yours. But I happen to work for a video production company, and I can tell you exactly which machine our pros are lusting for.
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment

First off while the Mac Pro's single SSD is upgradeable (it's an x4 PCIe unit with Apple's proprietary interface, a variant of the x2 version used on the recent MacBook Air & Pro) neither the CPU nor the GPU's are. They are custom units and completely non-upgradeable, although someone may come up with a GPU upgrade at some point (yep, even the CPU which is essentially 2 XEON's on one package is pure custom, not a standard package or interface). And you are limited to one internal drive.

Also, there's a fair amount of misinformation here on TB2's actual bandwidth, I don't think you really understand TB's architecture. It's a shared bus architecture with 2 10GBit/s data channels per port, shared across up to 6 devices per port (TB2 allows bonding to increase the amount of bandwidth a device can access to 20MBit/s, but does not increase the per-port bandwidth). Conversely PCIe 3.0 offers a mere 7.88MBit/s per lane, but more lanes per port (typically x4's in this configuration, with a couple x8 or x16's for video devices). There are 2 ports per controller for TB2 in all current applications.

Therefore Thunderbolt is not faster than PCIe. Not even close. A single PCIe 3.0 x16 slot offers 126Gbit/s (985MB/s or 7.88MBit/s per lane with 16 lanes), that's more bandwidth than is available across all of the Mac Pro's TB2 ports. Each of the three TB2 controllers (which each drive 2 TB2 ports) lives on a single PCIe 3.0 x4 link to the rest of the system. Each of those controllers has a total of 4 10Mbit/s data channels and 4 dedicated Displayport Channels (which cannot be used for Data and are completely separate from the data interconnects), offering a total of 40Mbit/s aggregate bandwidth across 12 devices not counting displays, with each port of 6 devices sharing 20MBit/s of total bandwidth. yes, TB is shared bandwidth, with 2 channels per bus. TB2 is in fact nothing more than TB1 with the ability to bond both channels on a port to double bandwidth to devices on a single port. So you are limited to a single PCIe 3.0 4x transfer when transfering between TB2 controllers on a Mac Pro. Your total aggregate bandwidth to the rest of the system from your TB2 controllers is 12 PCIe 3.0 lanes. Not 36 separate x4 ports.

btw, a PCIe 3.0 x4 slot has 31.52MBit/s of bandwith. A single TB2 port has 20MBit/s as you probably know. (PCIe 2.1 is slower at 16GBit/s on an x4 port, which is probably the spec you were thinking of when comparing to TB2, but Haswell & its Xeon sibling are PCIe 3.0 which is twice as fast as 2.1 per lane).

Oh, who uses eSata for RAID aside from home users. For TB2 money I can build a Fibrechannel raid unit which is more robust and faster.

And I said a Mac Pro should have 2-4 TB2 ports, not that it does, you correctly note that there are 6 ports.

And the reason you don't see TB ports in the PC world? Because the uptake there has been zilch. The few machines which supported TB have not been noted sellers and since PCIe x4 cards are cheaper & faster than TB solutions when paired with similar-performance parts (ie skip the eSATA stuff for RAID interconnects). The other issue with TB2 in the PC world is the use of interchangeable video cards, which play merry hell with TB2's displayport channels. This is one area where Apple has a real win with its use of a non-standard video board on the Mac Pro.

The sad part is that if Apple had built the new Mac Pro on the old chassis, with a mix of TB2 and PCIe 3.0 they'd have had a far more powerful system than what they got with the current system.
39 weeks ago
39 weeks ago Link To Comment
Likely due to vendor mandated chip shortage. (Vendors have first pick of production, over whitebox or retail outlets.) I have serious doubts that Intel is having significant yield limits at this point in the Xeon lifecycle. I think they're just pulling a DeBeers to keep margins high, and not undercut the other product lines.

Dell would regularly make noises about starting to include AMD, and Intel would give them priority on procs over HP to keep them Intel-only.

At this point, given the headaches when upgrading, I'd only lease pallet loads of tier one vendor's boxes for enterprise rollouts, and make a roll-my-own for personal use. Too many of the vendors pad the margins with 6 month old memory and disk component pricing, and OEM sourced upgrades are insultingly high.

Blade server -wise, I'd go Cisco UCS.

You can't touch the style, tho. It's like the great grandchild of a Cray XMP, sans the couch.
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
Couple problems with you comment.

Dell and HP already do use AMD, quite a lot. Apple doesn't, nor is it likely to given its penchant for using top shelf parts only. So Apple really has no stick to use against Intel, and given their comparatively small volumes, Apple doesn't have that much carrot to offer, either.

And don't say "style" as though it's just the way the Mac Pro looks. It has been painstakingly redesigned to change how a video workstation is built, where it can be used, how portable it is, how crypt-quiet it can be, while redefining expandability.

Does it look great? Yes. But that's a side effect, not a cause.
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
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