Happy 5th Birthday, Mac Pro!

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This month, my Mac Pro turns five. Five! That seems to be a long time for a computer to last, especially when the cycle of computer refreshes seems to be getting shorter. For a Mac Pro though, it’s not. I mean, five years might be a longer time than usual, but the nature of a Mac Pro is that it’s meant to be upgraded over time. More/faster drives, more RAM (which gets cheaper and cheaper), better graphics, faster CPUs.

Mondo Power

I’m starting to feel the itch to upgrade (more than the CPU that is). There have been a lot of upgrades and refreshes across the Mac line recently, but the most current Mac Pro has not seen an upgrade in over a year. Why? Well, that’s anyone’s guess. Apple aren’t exactly forthcoming in their plans. Some say it’s because the Intel CPU roadmap doesn’t have anything new yet, others say Apple have special access to secret Intel CPUs. Another popular theory is there’s a case redesign coming, which may even do away with an optical drive (the case has been relatively unchanged since the original G5 eight years ago).

One person in the macrumors forum had an interesting, albeit unlikely theory:

Think of a future “Mac Pro” as a “service” rather than a big bulky product.

Instead of merely distributing data on the Cloud, what if we we saw Apple build distributing processing power into the next OS, and used their new massive data farms to churn renderings, simulations, etc.. Mondo power could be accessed over the Net.

I could see this happening to be honest — it’s just the crazy, bleeding edge stuff that Steve Jobs likes to implement. And, if it worked in reality, it would be the perfect Mac Pro: there for the people who need it, when they need it, as often (or as little) as they need it. No expensive hardware to purchase, and no expensive hardware to manufacture. Cool idea.

Back to reality

So I’m left with a few options:

  1. Continue to use my current Mac Pro and get a few more years out of it. I could do this, as the extent of my computing power is multi-gigabyte Photoshop files, and some occasional video work. The Mac will keep on truckin’, but I know that I can go out today and get a more powerful Mac Pro that would run rings around my current Mac Pro. It’s a want vs need issue, with a bit of “it’s about time” thrown in the mix.
  2. Wait until something is eventually released. This makes the most sense because if a new Mac Pro is released, with mediocre specs, or a missing optical drive (or some other issue), I could still buy the model before, but at a lower cost (provided they’re still available to buy). In this scenario it’s potentially a win-win.
  3. Wait until we’re about to leave KL to buy a Mac Pro, regardless of whether something new has been released or not. The benefit of this option is Macs are 15–20% cheaper in KL than in Australia[1. Apparently this is because the Malaysian government does not tax ‘computers’ as much as Oz, or at all, to make them as affordable to Malaysians as possible. The government wants it’s countrymen to skill up!]. It would be silly for me not to purchase while I’m in KL. The money I’d save would pay for all the RAM I’d want. And who can argue with free RAM?

    The trouble with this option is we have no idea when we’re leaving KL. And the wait’d destroy my soul.

    I hope for, and would expect, a refresh/new model before we leave KL, so I default to the previous option in this scenario.

  4. Buy soon/now. The upside is I get a plenty-fast Mac sooner than later, and experience the real benefits of speed in my work today. I can take advantage of the crazy low prices for 24 or 48GB RAM at the moment too, but these prices are unlikely to go up too much again, so this might be a moot-ish point.

    The Mac Pro I’d be looking at buying would take all of the hard drives I currently have as well as all the peripherals I have plugged into my current machine. This is an obvious benefit, but no one can say whether a new Mac Pro wouldn’t also work with what I have. It has been a long time since I’ve needed more or faster drives, faster graphics card, better scanner, printer, or backup drives. I truly feel I have myself sorted for all that stuff now, and I’m only lacking in processor speed and a measily 14GB RAM[2. I say ‘measily’ because Photoshop is such a memory hog, and I use it all the time. Plus, 24GB RAM for a new Mac Pro is less than US$500.].

    Some say the best way to buy Macs is to buy it when you need it; forget the waiting and hoping. I can understand this but when you really feel an update is inevitable, your purchase could be bittersweet, and turn completely bitter when a new model is announced four weeks after your purchase. I don’t think I’d cope very well with this, especially since it’s a few thousand dollars on the line.

What to do?

I don’t know — the more I think about the more tortured I get. I keep my eyes on the rumour sites for a possible glimpse of the future, but it’s all speculation, and it ultimately brings me back to my four options.

I’ll probably go with option 3, defaulting to option 2 if circumstances dictate.