Like many others, I couldn’t wait for Apple to finally upgrade their MacPro and like many others, when they could finally be ordered, I queued up to get mine.
Last Monday, after two months of wait, the package finally arrived and I could start playing with it. I have to say: The thing is very impressive.
The hardware itself is very lightweight and compact. Compared to the old aluminium MacPro it was replacing, it felt even smaller than it is. Also, the box is nearly silent – so silent in fact, that now the hum of the dimmed background light in my old 30” Cinema Display is louder than the machine itself.
Speaking of that 30” display: It’s using a dual-link DVI port. That means a special adapter is required to connect it to the new Thunderbolt ports – at least if you want to use a higher resolution than 1280×800 (which you definitely do).
The adapter is kinda difficult to get, especially as I totally forgot about it and I reall wanted to migrate to the new machine, so I had to look through local retail (only the one from Apple even remotely available) as opposed to Amazon (three other models available, some cheaper).
The device is huge by the way. I’m sure there’s some electronics in there (especially when you consider that you have to plug it into a USB port for power), probably to split the full 2560×1600 pixels sent over Thunderbolt into two images of 1280×800, only to be reassembled in the display I guess.
The fact that there obviously is processing going on leaves a bit of a bad taste as it’s one more component that could now break and, of course, there might be display lag or quality degradation.
At some time, there was for sure, if the adapters reviews are to be believed, but so far, I wasn’t able to notice bad quality nor lag, but the fact that now there’s one more active component involved in bringing me a picture makes me just a tad bit nervous.
Anyways – let’s talk about some more pleasant things.
One is the WiFi: With the old MacPro I had peak transfer of about 3 MBytes/s which was just barely good enough for me to not wanting to go through the trouble of laying cable, even though it really pissed me off at times.
On the new Pro, I reached 18 MBytes/s over the exact same WiFi yesterday which removes any need for ever considering installing a physial cable. Very handy. Remember: It’s not a file server, it doesn’t run a torrent client, it doesn’t serve movies to my home network. The really large bulk transfers it does are mainly caused by Steam which clearly is the bottleneck here (it never manages to saturate my 150MBit/s downstream).
Another thing that really surprises me is the sleeping behavior of the box. Well, actually, the waking up behavior: When asleep, the thing wakes up instantly (less than a second) – never in my live have I seen such a quick waking up from sleep in a computer.
Yes. I’m waiting for the fan to spin down and all audible noise to go away, but still. Hit any key on the keyboard and the machine’s back. We’re talking “waking an iphone from sleep” speeds here.
It might be that the machine has multiple levels of sleep states, but the instant wake-up also happens after sleeping for over 12 hours at which point a deeper sleep would totally make sense if there was any.
What is strange though: I seem to be able to wake the machine by pinging it. Yes. I know about the bonjour proxy, but in this case, I’m pinging it directly by IP and it wakes up (the first ping has a roundtrip time for 500ish ms – yes. it wakes THAT quickly).
This leads me to believe that the machine might not actually be sleeping for real though because waking from a direct ping requires quite a bit more technology than waking from a WOL packet.
Somdeday, I’ll play with
tcpdump to learn what’s going on here.
Performance-wise, I haven’t done that much testing, but replaying a test Postgres database dump that takes 5ish minutes on a 2012 retina MacBook Pro completes in 1:12 minutes on the pro – pretty impressive.
And one last thing: When you get a machine as powerful as this, there’s of course also the wish of playing a game or two on it. As I had one SSD dedicated to Bootcamp in the old Pro, I was curious whether I might be able to keep this setup: The built-in flash drive dedicated to MacOS and Windows on its own (the old one) dedicated SSD.
Now that we don’t have internal drive bays any more, this might seem tricky, but yesterday, I managed to install Windows 8 nicely on that SSD after connecting it via Thunderbolt using this adapter (no affiliate code – I got the link straight from google).
I guess the fact that it’s using Thunderbolt makes Windows think it’s a built-in hard drive which is what makes this work: You’re not allowed to install Windows on a portable drive due to licensing issues.
The adapter is not actually intended for use with arbitrary drives (it’s an accessory to some Seagate portable drives), but it works totally well and is (physically) stable enough. I’ll have to do a bit of benchmarking to see how much performance I lose compared to the old built-in solution, but it certainly doesn’t feel any slower.
Overall, I’m really happy with my new toy. Yes, it’s
probably overpowered for my needs, but it’s also cool has hell, it is the first MacPro I own where sleep works reliably (though I’m inclined to say that it works suspiciously well – it might be cheating) and the fact that bootcamp still works with a dedicated external drive makes me really happy too.