The Most Useful Nuggets of Info from Apple's NYC Press Briefing
Apple was in New York yesterday to officially launch its Mac Pro hardware. We were fortunate enough to get one of the units into the hands of a cutting-edge production facility in town, who will be putting the hardware through its paces, along with the latest version of Final Cut Pro, for a forthcoming StudioDaily review. In the meantime, there are plenty of places you can go on the net to see benchmarks, system specifications, and other information about the new system, but we thought it would be worth highlighting the most useful nuggets of information we got from Apple representatives yesterday.
1) The Mac Pro makes 4K monitoring easy. Just send a signal out via HDMI to a second 4K monitor and you're good to go. For color-critical applications, you'll want a device like the AJA Io 4K or the Blackmagic UltraStudio 4K, which will get you 10-bit video monitoring over Thunderbolt.
2) Only one PCIe-based Flash drive is supported. Why? Every other PCIe lane in the system architecture is in use. If you need more than 1 TB of storage, it probably makes sense to connect a separate RAID device anyway.
3) Thunderbolt 2 cables will be available at up to 60 meters in length. That means you can stash that separate RAID device — or anything else that's so noisy or bulky that you don't really want it on your desktop — in a separate room but still access it at crazy fast speeds.
4) In general, facilities will be rack-mounting the new Mac Pros by turning them over on their "sides" and storing them lengthwise in a rack with a special arc cut out to cradle each unit so that it doesn't roll around on the shelf. This has the benefit of ensuring that the systems' thermal cores are expelling heat out and away from the rack, rather than up and directly across the system that's mounted above. DIT carts to bring the Mac on set will likely be designed with a circular cut as well.
5) If you get a Mac Pro, take another look at Final Cut Pro X, which has been updated to take advantage of two GPUs by splitting compute-intensive functions across the chips, leaving plenty of working bandwidth available while exports or fancy effects like Optical Flow are running in the background. FCP 10.1 has a setting for a custom video resolution, so you can set your own higher-than-high-res frame size in case of, for example, a 6K delivery requirement for your Red Dragon project.
6) Apple demonstrated editing up to 16 multicam angles of 4K ProRes footage in real-time on a single Mac Pro workstation with eight cores. We asked about that system configuration and were told that an eight-core system with maxed-out graphics is likely the "sweet spot" for video work. Everyone wants the biggest and best, but think twice before you splash out an extra $1500 for a 12-core system. (And it's possible you could save a little money by buying third-party RAM if you're interested in the 64 GB upgrade.)
7) If you have hardware-specific applications that you're hoping to run on the Mac Pro by hooking up some non-stock graphics hardware via Thunderbolt, forget about it. Nvidia's CUDA technology, for instance, is not supported today. "Apple supports OpenCL," we were told. The company believes vendors are adopting OpenCL quickly enough — given the head start they got when the announcement was made about the GPUs the Mac Pro would be packing — and that the graphics hardware inside the box is cost-effective enough that support for other cards is not required.
8) TCP/IP communications are supported over Thunderbolt 2 at speeds in excess of 10 Gbps. That means small Mac Pro workgroups could be created with only one system connected to super-fast storage via fibre-channel or 10 Gb Ethernet, then sharing files to the other clients over peer-to-peer Thunderbolt connections.
9) For some reason, Apple has decided not to produce a 4K Thunderbolt display to go along with the new hardware, opting instead to offer a 32-inch Sharp Ultra HD monitor for $3595 as a configuration option. 4K is obviously important to content creators, but Apple does not (yet) see it as a profitable product offering. If you've been holding out for an Apple-made 4K display for whatever reason, it's definitely time to seriously consider your other options.
10) After CEO Tim Cook sent an email last June famously promising a refresh of the Mac Pro in 2013, the company had a deadline to meet — and it seems certain that the announcement was rushed a bit to hit before the end of the year. By Thursday morning, Mac Pros were being sold with a promised ship date in February. Apple is, historically, pretty good at ramping up manufacturing to meet demand, but if you want the Mac Pro ASAP, order one now, just in case the queue gets longer between now and then.