Apple Redux?

By • October 30, 2013

“Think Different.” Anyone remember that slogan? That was the Apple sales pitch for years before the iPod, iPhone, and iPad, and its appeal was to artistic types. PCs were for offices, number crunchers, but if you were a musician, artist, photographer, video editor, graphic artist, the Mac is the platform for you was the message. Sure it cost more money but the best programs, like Photoshop, Illustrator. Logic, Digital Performer, Pro Tools, Final Cut, etc. ran either only on a Mac or best on a Mac. That was the message. And lots of famous creative people echoed those sentiments and influenced others to buy Macs.

But with the phenomenal success of all the Apple devices, the philosophy changed more to “everyone can work like a pro” and celebrity artist endorsements became a much less leveraged selling point for Apple. In fact, we recently learned from Ken Segall, the creative director behind the Think Different campaign, Steve Jobs strongly considered ditching the pro apps altogether, as consumer products had an unlimited upside, while the pro market was by definition a niche market.

The perception was heightened when year after year went by without new Mac Pros to compete with more powerful PCs and few major updates to pro apps like Logic Pro. Rumor was that there would never be a Logic Pro X, just a GarageBand Pro. After all, the talk, said, look what Apple did to Final Cut Pro.

But the surprise release of Logic Pro X, its improved capabilities under the new OSX Mavericks, and more concrete information on the new Mac Pros, seems to indicate that Apple is at least hedging its bets and moving pros to accept that the apps they love can be made more simple for newer users without making them less desirable for professional use.

Logic Pro X has, in my opinion, walked that fine line rather artfully and when the more egregious bugs are stomped out, I think most long time Logic users AND newbies will be pleased.

What has me personally excited, however, is the performance increase I am seeing in Logic Pro X with OSX Mavericks. At first, I thought it was my imagination but it is running like butter. In the past when I opened it, it would take a couple of times playing through to settle in and even then I would occasionally at the biggest section get a system overload message. Not a lot, but occasionally. Now, first play through and subsequent replays, perfect!

I wonder if the new “Compressed Memory” feature is doing this or if there has been improvement in hyper threading? I don’t know what is going on under the hood, but whatever it is, I like it.

Speaking of OSX Mavericks, it is the first major OS update from Apple that is free. I wonder if Windows 9 will be free :)

While obviously, the Logic Pro developers had the inside track on optimizing their engine for Mavericks, presumably Digital Performer, Cubase, and Pro Tools users can look forward to better performance on their Macs under Mavericks, if not now, in the not too distant future. This is great news for pro users who feared that the direction of OSX development would be to merely turn it into IOS.

Let’s talk hardware, specifically the all-new Mac Pro, coming in December. Once again, many pros feared until recently that we would never see another one, as clearly the future is laptops, not desktops.

So much that could be said, but perhaps so little that can be definitively concluded as to how it will be received.

Until the last 2 years when I migrated to a Mac Mini i7 and PC i7 tandem to run my demanding sample libraries, I was always a loyal Mac Pro user. I bought just below the cutting edge, which insured that I got a decent buy on a powerful machine with lots of bays for hard drives and PCI cards (PCI, then PCI-x, then PCI-e) and could count on a decent resale price when it was time to trade up. But the lack of new Mac Pros with SATA III SSD capability, the arrival of Thunderbolt, and the superior performance of some of my libraries under Windows, meant that for considerably less money than the most powerful Mac Pros I could have a rig that was more powerful.

There was a trade off. I needed a Sonnet chassis to house my PCI-e cards. I needed to daisy chain all my Firewire hard drives. I have more cables hanging out of my machines. Oh, and I am using two machines.

Theoretically, I would love to return to the simplicity of a single Mac Pro, but the new one is a total paradigm shift. It certainly looks different, considerably smaller with a design that people are reacting very strongly to, positively and negatively. That is of course subjective and frankly, I don’t give a large rodent’s behind one way or another. It will have state of the art dual GPUs, which should be great for video and graphics guys but I am not sure that helps we musical composer and engineer types that much. It will have new Intel Xeon E5 processors with up to 12 cores, but there is some question as to whether they are as powerful and fast as the latest processors available for less expensive PCs. And for composers running large sample libraries in Logic Pro, clock speed is king. Faster memory? Check. Thunderbolt 2? Check. PCi-e flash based storage, even faster than SATA III SSD? Check.

How about internal bays for drives and cards? Not really. With the new Mac Pro Apple has gone down the path I have already embarked on, which is to have expansion options mostly outside the box. Instead you get connectivity with six Thunderbolt 2 ports, four USB 3 ports, dual Gigabit Ethernet and a HDMI 1.4 port. No more Firewire so you will need some Firewire to Thunderbolt adapters or USB 3.

This means that I may still will have lots of cables and if I want to continue using my PCI-e cards (and I do) a chassis or two perhaps.

But surely we will save money over previous generations of Mac Pros because of that, right? Not really. The entry level Quad Core will be $2,999 and 6 core $3,999. Even if you buy more RAM from less expensive third party vendors, your new Mac Pro is going to cost you somewhere between $3,500 and $7,000 all tricked out. This assumes btw that you are happy with your displays. Oh, and no mouse or keyboard included.

Let’s compare that to a top of the line 27 inch 3.5 GHz turbo i7 iMac (and new ones are expected.) Even with the more expensive graphics card option, $2349.00 baby. And that is with a beautiful display, keyboard and mouse. Throw in more RAM and you still are under $3,000. In fairness, however, you can have 64 GB in the Mac Pro and only 32 GB in the iMac. Fine. So add a slave Mac Mini i7 or a $2,000 or under i7 PC slave and you still arguably will have more power than the top of the line Mac Pro will have for a couple of thousand dollars less, at least.

Now if you are doing great paying work as a composer, this new Mac Pro may still be the way to go. After all it is going to look great (if you think so) and run quietly due to its single fan, and you need tax write offs anyway.

I confess. I want it. Badly! But will I buy it? Probably not, and I think that will prove to be true for many composers who use a Mac for their main DAW.

Comments

By Michael North on November 8th, 2013 at 8:58 am

What I need is venders to start offering empty 4 & 5 bay Thunderbolt enclosures.
The old Mac Pro lets me set up a 12TB stripe array which runs super fast.
But … BackingUp becomes extra important … So I use two sets of backup.
Until I can move the drive-sets at a reasonable price, I can’t / won’t get …
… The Master Cylinder

And you are totally right about a Max-out iMac … It’s the most bang-per-Mac-buck out there.

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