What do people use Mac Pros for?
July 7, 2014 2:24 PM   Subscribe

Why do people spend $4,000 or more on a Mac Pro? Who are those people and what do they do with the machine?

I am faintly aware that people working with audio and animation need a lot of computing power and often use Mac Pros, but who else is in the target audience? I've found it surprisingly hard to find an answer to this, but that may be because I'm not even sure where to start.
posted by StephenF to Computers & Internet (26 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Until a recent job change, I was seriously considering one. I'm a physicist who uses GPU acceleration to process large quantities of image data. (My datasets are typically uncomfortably large relative to my total amount of RAM, but not so large that "big data"/distributed computing techniques are worth the setup overhead.)
posted by dorque at 2:29 PM on July 7, 2014 [2 favorites]

Designers and engineers working with CAD software also need lots of computing power. If they really need a Mac Book Pro ... well, the intrinsic affection for shiny things (designers, mostly) and the most powerful hardware on the market (engineers, mostly) certainly play their part.
posted by Triton at 2:30 PM on July 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Apple page for the MacPro is pretty detailed about its uses. Video Editing, 3D Modeling and Animation, Photography, Design and Layout, Audio Processing, Science and Technology people, etc.
posted by blue_beetle at 2:30 PM on July 7, 2014

The people I know who use them use them for image processing.
posted by mskyle at 2:33 PM on July 7, 2014

@orta: "Mac Pro review in one tweet. I don’t even bother closing Xcode 5 & 6 to play Team Fortress 2."
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 2:43 PM on July 7, 2014 [4 favorites]

There are likely a fair number of corporate executives that get one to check their email. Opens powerpoints real fast. Beeg spreadsheets ;-)
posted by sammyo at 2:44 PM on July 7, 2014 [3 favorites]

For some people, Apple is a brand like Harley Davidson: more like a clan or tribe than simply a supplier. These are the people who get logo tattoos, and for them owning the coolest, neatest, most recent, most expensive product is part of belonging to the tribe.

They don't need it in any kind of practical sense, but they need it for social reasons.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 2:48 PM on July 7, 2014 [7 favorites]

Professional photographers, to work on and manage (hundreds to thousands of) photos in RAW format (huge)

Research scientists, to collect, process/work up, and store many different types of data, then create manuscripts, proposals, and presentations containing images of said data (for example, spectra, graphs, X-ray crystal structures, all which have hundreds to thousands of data points and each which require unique software)

Source: my husband (photographer, has one at home) and myself (research chemist, have one at work)
posted by rio at 2:53 PM on July 7, 2014 [6 favorites]

I am one of these people. I use mine constantly at work (I do the law thing) because it is the best machine I've ever used for computing in terms of speed and beauty. And I love the Mac environment too. When I have business trips, I generally take it along then too. I realize my machine was expensive, but I am OK with paying for something that works this well. I also love how well it meshes with my other electronics, which are heavily Apple oriented.

And no, I don't need to show it to anyone. Only people who actually come to my office and see me on it know I have one.
posted by bearwife at 2:58 PM on July 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

I use mine for image processing. Lots and lots of raw images loaded concurrently into Adobe Bridge ready to go through Photoshop, DXO and assorted filters, from one or two 16GB cards from a weekend photoshoot. I also do some video work as well.

And yeah I use the same computer to read email and Facebook :)
posted by seawallrunner at 3:00 PM on July 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

As a software developer, my desktop is a 6 core / 12 thread CPU with 16GB RAM. When doing software builds, this is absolutely not overkill (if your program has 6000 source files, and you're rebuilding all of them, you have a factor of 6000 of parallelism available in your work). 12 core / 24 thread with 32GB RAM would be even better. Dual SSDs (mirrored) for most of my fellow developers, though I'm on spinning media for some reason. GPUs are irrelevant for this type of work.

We're all running Linux, and they're standard PCs put together from parts in-house, but if we were a mac shop we'd almost certainly be in a middle-to-high-end mac pro configuration. I don't think they'd have sprung for the 12-core, $10k configuration, though.
posted by jepler at 3:04 PM on July 7, 2014 [2 favorites]

It's marketed to people in creative/design fields who need a lot of computing power, yes. The people I know who exclusively use MacPros (as opposed to MacBooks, Airs, etc) are film editors, graphic designers, photo retouchers, and people who work in CAD.

Most other people who get them just do it aspirationally, in my experience.

I've also seen people get them as opposed to a lower end Mac or a PC out of a desire to Always Have The Best Thing. Like, even if an Air would meet their needs perfectly, they get a Pro because it's the biggest/fastest/most, and they like having an impression of themselves as someone who always has the Best.
posted by Sara C. at 3:06 PM on July 7, 2014 [3 favorites]

Opens powerpoints real fast. Beeg spreadsheets ;-)

I know this is a joke, but I have to say, Excel is laggy and annoying on my MacBook. If I had the disposable income, I would totally get a Pro for the express purpose of Excel not being such a nightmare.
posted by Sara C. at 3:09 PM on July 7, 2014

Thanks all!
posted by StephenF at 3:35 PM on July 7, 2014

The cost is insignificant in a large business context. We recently bought a couple of $125k servers, and while that raised a few eyebrows, it sailed right through the normal purchasing process. No one cares if a workstation costs $400 or $4000 when your other business expenses are hundreds of millions of dollars a year.
posted by miyabo at 3:37 PM on July 7, 2014 [6 favorites]

i use mine for photography and video processing. also because i can get (so far) 12TB of storage in it, and sit back and go, "holy SHIT, 12TB of storage!".

so there's that.
posted by koroshiya at 3:38 PM on July 7, 2014

I use mine for image processing. I did giant sign layout recently that was over a gigabyte in size. Still took several minutes to open and save.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 3:45 PM on July 7, 2014

also for the sake of argument, i should mention that mine is older, and i did not pay $4000 for it. i also did all my RAM and HD upgrades post-apple, which made things a hell of a lot cheaper.
posted by koroshiya at 3:48 PM on July 7, 2014

No one cares if a workstation costs $400 or $4000 when your other business expenses are hundreds of millions of dollars a year.

Honestly, if your company's doing okay, even for much smaller companies than that, a $4k computer every few years is dwarfed by the salary costs you pay for the employee, so I've seen places that give employees really nice machines just because then they feel a little more Special and they have better retention, etc. Not necessarily these, but same idea.
posted by Sequence at 4:33 PM on July 7, 2014 [5 favorites]

We have an older mac pro sitting under a desk doing a specific kind of data processing, essentially 24/7. People ship us hard drives of gridded data, and we massage it into a special format called netCDF that achieves a 10x+ compression ratio, and THEN we upload it to a datacenter. 2400% CPU usage, baby! When that machine dies, we'll probably buy a new mac pro to do the same thing. Desktop hardware just isn't that expensive in the grand scheme of things, and tools are useful. Yeah, we could buy a tower and a linux box and get things running...but people's time is EXPENSIVE. The Mac pro saves a week of someones time and it has paid for itself.
posted by rockindata at 5:11 PM on July 7, 2014 [3 favorites]

Yeah, all the above reasons. Gaming may also be an attraction. Customers who use Mac Pros tend to keep their computers around longer, which will lower the ownership cost.

However, with the migration to Thunderbolt and the latest Mac Pro's design that favors external peripherals, Apple's desktop seems to be in a transition mode to me. The future of Apple desktop ecosystem may well be quite different from what we are familiar today.
posted by applesurf at 5:33 PM on July 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

Video Editing. The file sizes are huge, fast fast speeds are wonderful when rendering video, etc. For a while I was building pc's that had the specs I needed ever year to 18 months, to keep costs down but still provide the capacity I needed. But then I let myself splurge on a Mac Pro. It is now 6 years old and has only needed a few more drives popped in, a bit more ram, and I don't have to drive myself bonkers rebuilding from scratch. It has been a relief. I figure I'm good for another 1-2 years before I need a new one, and then the old one will still be decent as a hand me down to a family member (and it even has windows 8 running on bootcamp for when I just have to do something that's better done on a PC).
posted by instead of three wishes at 5:36 PM on July 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

I didn't and couldn't drop four grand on a computer, but if I had been using and replacing my old laptop model at the rate it broke, it would be well over four grand by now.

My MBP been a nearly-hassle-free tank for seven and a half years, or as I put it, five and a half Toshibas.
posted by jameaterblues at 7:59 PM on July 7, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm surprised at the number of people who say they use Mac Pros for photography. I thought most photography software (Lightroom, PS, Aperture) doesn't take advantage of what the Mac Pro is especially good at (GPU computing, parallel processing on 12 cores.) For at least regular still photography, I was under the impression that what was more important was the amount of RAM, read/write speed of your hard disk, and the speed of your processor (as opposed to the number of cores.) I run a Mac Mini with 16GB of RAM and an SSD and I can go through a couple of hundred 5DMKII RAW files practically instantaneously. Admittedly I don't do much work with huge, multi-gig composite 32-bit HDR TIFFs, but the Mac Pro seems like overkill for photography, especially considering besides the $4000 for the machine, you're still going to be dropping thousands of dollars on some sort of external RAID storage.
posted by alidarbac at 1:46 AM on July 8, 2014

I've looked seriously at buying a MacPro to replace my existing one at work. And yes, even the "low end" of four grand would be a huge processing step up from my going on five year old machine. That's really the key. I have a five year old desktop that I still use daily in the professional video industry - and it is still current. The latest programs run, and generally well. The OS is utterly up to date. Not to mention it is still largely the default OS for most people in video - I have a couple of colleagues who have switched to Windows and are happy with it, but they are in the minority.

If the new MacPro saves me 15 minutes a day in rendering times (low estimate), that's now an hour a week. My billing rate is $125 per hour, so in the first month that's $500. Does that actually translate to $500, no, not really. But my work is all about the quality we can put out in a certain amount of time, and a product that can help increase quality or reduce time is very valuable.

Dammit, now I just want to go spec out a new MacPro again...
posted by shinynewnick at 7:09 AM on July 8, 2014

I worked for a number of years for a genetics research foundation. I configured a number of Mac Pros for DNA sequence analysis: I would compile Unix software for OS X, input a lot of files, and let them crunch numbers. I literally could not make a single Mac Pro break a sweat. Pretty amazing processing power for the price, I thought.

I could even run a Linux or Windows VM and make it crunch numbers in multiple OSs at once. Awesome.

Granted, this place had no problem buying fully maxed-out computers: 32GB of RAM, 8TB of internal storage, and 16 processors was common.

I don't work there anymore, but I would love to do that kind of work on one of the new Mac Pros. It has to be amazing.
posted by the matching mole at 7:41 AM on July 8, 2014

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