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June 12, 2013

Will the new Mac Pro be good for recording music?

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Written by: jay

Apple “wow”ed us yesterday with the announcement of some new ‘Mac Pro’ news. After the rumour mill going around suggesting that after 3 years without an update (and still no thunderbolt!) perhaps the days of the Mac Pro were numbered. Well, it turned out that this was not so. And did they wow us? Yes. Yes they did. Whether you love it or hate it, the response we all had one way or another was ‘Wow… What the *$&% were they thinking?’ or ‘Wow…. Shut up and take my money!’.

So this begs the question; will the Mac Pro be good for producing music?

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It will feature double the memory bandwidth of its predecessor at 60GB/s

The biggest question that comes to mind with the new design is expand-ability. Video and audio professionals alike require droves of RAM and (particularly for video producers) up to date graphics cards. The good news is that the new Mac Pro does not continue Apple’s trend of soldering RAM onto the board, as it does with the Macbook Air and new MacBook Pro line. This means that bad memory chips or even just obsolete ones can be discarded and fresh sticks put in. Considering that Apple has long considered RAM chips user serviceable and ‘consumable’ it is good to see them not walk down the same path with the Mac Pro.


The Mac Pro has dual graphics processing units inside, however, these do not appear to be expandable. There is no mention of the sound chip which is installed, but any serious music producer will be opting to use an external audio interface anyway.


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There will be no regular size hard drives, however, faster (and more expensive) flash memory will be expandable.

In the hard drive department again all of us music producers need plenty of hard drive pace. The flash storage will be expandable, fortunately, however it appears that we will have flash storage only. This means there will be no multi-terabye hard drives inside the mac pro. This does, however, mean that we will have super fast flash based hard drives to run the operating system (OSX) and our audio software on.





The cooling system is rather radical, this time a triangular cooling core will be in the centre with the components stored around it. Cool air will be drawn up from the bottom of the tube and expelled out the top. This is supposed to be a more efficient method of cooling, and will clearly be more reliable with no bulky expansion cards messing up the air flow.


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The air is drawn from the bottom and expelled from the top

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Three component boards at placed against the triangular heat sink in the middle.








So is it that the new Mac Pro is not expandable then? What about all my audio gear? What about all my hard drives that I need full of Samples and Native Instruments Komplete or East West Symphonic Cube? Well there is an answer actually. Apple calls this their most expandable Mac yet. How so? Well it’s all to do with the new Thunderbolt 2 port. These ports are so fast now that there is no distinction between internal and external parts. If you want the latest hardcore graphics card which bends physics to achieve blinding graphics computation? No problem, just buy an external PCI-e to Thunderbold enclosure. So what if you want 10 terabytes worth of hard drive space to fill up with all your guitar takes, mixes, and masters of your tracks? Sure no problem, just go get an external hard drive enclosure.

Now while this is all well and good, I’m not sure that I’m convinced with the new method. Sure, you can expand all of these components with external enclosures but this will be more expensive than just putting them into the case. And then you have to consider where you will put them. They have not made the Mac Pro very stackable (or at all it seems as it requires the top as an air vent) so you can’t put these things on top of them. You don’t want to put them on the ground where they are prone to moisture, being stepped on, and static electricity. Most musicians have a double issue when it comes to desk space – we have all kinds of controllers, sound cards, guitar picks, and gadgets on the desk – not to mention the last two years worth of song idea notes, cables, and bread crumbs from eating at the computer. If anything wants to take a chunk of my desk space it has to earn it’s keep!

So can I use the new Mac Pro to produce music? Yes, yes you certainly can. The memory will provide upgradability for years. The flash hard drive will provide super fast speeds for your operating system and DAW. You will, however, need to find a place to put your external hard drives, and as usual your audio interface which you probably already have a spot for. If one extra gadget on your desk isn’t too much of an issues (behind your screens perhaps) then you may be alright, but the new Mac Pro design, in my opinion, is as graceful as it is ungraceful. As a standalone unit it is a great option with up to 12 core Intel Xeon processing and loads of super fast and expandable RAM. It’s just this design which is the white elephant in the room.

Why not make a design that lets us put things -inside- the case – except with Thunderbolt ports. But that would just be like the old Mac Pro but with Thunderbolt, wouldn’t it? Yes it would, and that’s the point. All they needed to do was add thunderbolt and they would have kept us professionals happy for another 5 years. The old Mac Pro design was genius, and as far as I can tell nobody was sick of it. Could the new design be genius too?  It looks like not, but time will tell.

I have no doubt – however, that it will sell like wildfire, but that’s not what matters to me. What matters to me is how we feel when we look at it in our studio at 2am while we bounce down a mix. Will we look at it with wonder and joy because it is so small and sleek and clever, or will we look at it with a feeling of discontent – wondering why it can’t bear the load which the workhorses we’re all used to. Instead, that it is handing us back the responsibility for our peripherals and non-stock components. I know that it worries me deeply, indeed.



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