The retro computing craze spiked during the pandemic. With the usual watering holes closed, some techies occupied their time by painstakingly restoring the old Performa towers cluttering their lofts.
And, as one of our readers pointed out, Apple has seemingly jumped on the bandwagon by selling the nearly eight-year-old “trashcan” Mac Pro. In true Cupertino fashion, it doesn't come cheap, despite its December 2013 vintage.
A model with a 2.7 GHz 12-core Intel Xeon E5 processor, combined with 64 GB of DDR3 RAM, 1TB of PCIe storage, and two AMD FirePro D700 GPUs with 6GB of GDDR5 VRAM costs a cool £5,149.
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For the sake of fairness, lower-end models are comparatively cheaper. For £2,549, you can get a six-core Xeon E5 with 16GB DDR3 RAM, 256GB of NVMe storage, and two AMD FirePro D500 GPUs with 3GB of VRAM each.
Upon its first release, the "trashcan" Mac Pro raised eyebrows. Whereas previous Pro desktops had a conventional tower design, this looked like something stolen from the props department of a Stanley Kubrick film. And while some appreciated the futuristic aesthetic, it suffered from dismally poor thermal throttling, ensuring the internals never lived up to the full potential.
GeekBench scores are rather illustrative here. The high end 12-core Mac Pro performs worse than the new M1 Mac mini in both single-core and multi-core tests.
Upgradability was a problem. Here, Apple used a proprietary format for its graphics cards, limiting the number of options available to pixel-pushing professionals, and raising the cost massively.
By contrast, the previous Intel Mac Pro desktops used normal PCIe 1.0 expansion slots, making it straightforward to add additional graphics cards and I/O (including Thunderbolt 3, M.2, and USB 3.0).
The 2013 Mac Pro, we note, lacked USB 3.0, let alone Thunderbolt 3.0.
Put simply, it lived up to its “trashcan” moniker. The machine ultimately proved to be a harbinger for things to come, as Apple increasingly emphasised design over practicality, culminating in the notoriously bad butterfly keyboard MacBooks.
Who's going to buy it?
Despite this, there are some who doggedly defend the trashcan Mac Pro. Although it wasn't rack mountable, like the Xserve or the 2019 Mac Pro, its diminutive chassis proved surprisingly well-suited to clustering. Virtualization companies like MacStadium bought them by the hundreds.
Creatives also appreciated the portability of the machine. Unlike the previous tower models (the Mac Pro 5,1 weighed a backbreaking 18.1kg), you could easily throw the trashcan Pro in a rucksack and carry it between shoots.
We also note that the proprietary nature of the GPUs, as well as the storage format (although it is possible to use an M.2 adaptor) might also play a role in people wanting to stick with the trashcan Mac Pro.
Extending its lifespan further, it also supports eGPUs and is compatible with dozens of AMD cards, as well as a smattering of Nvidia Keppler series chipsets.
Still, it is fairly long in the tooth, and based on the trajectory of previous Mac Pro desktops, it won't be long until software support comes to an end. The 2010 Mac Pro, for example, stopped receiving updates after the release of MacOS 10.14 Mojave in 2018.
For most people, the 2013 Mac Pro is a curiosity. But even with the discount offered by Apple against the original RRP, this machine is a bad choice for all but a few. The latest M1 Macs offer better performance, lower power consumption, and are vastly cheaper. ®