The Mac Pro was long overdue for a refresh – and Apple hasn't disappointed.
Apple hasn't revised the basic design of its high-end workstation since its launch in 2006 – but the 2013 edition is a whole new machine, one that Apple's calling "Something radically different from anything before it." But is it change for the sake of change, or a genuinely innovative leap forward?
You spin me right round
The first thing that strikes you about the new Mac Pro is that is really doesn’t look anything like a computer.
The shiny black tube is far smaller in reality than you’d think – a mere 9.9in tall and 6.57in in diameter. There are, we imagine, bigger drinks served in American cinemas. Despite its diminutive frame, Apple's crammed an eye-wateringly long spec list into the Mac Pro, including everything from Xeon processors with up to 12 cores to 64GB of superfast DDR3 memory.
There’s something incredibly sci-fi about the Pro's design, from the motion sensor that lights up the port indicators when you move it to the button you press to remove the cover (it’s just a shame Apple couldn’t make it produce a puff of dry ice to finish the effect).
There's a point to the Mac Pro's new look – instead of using multiple fans and heat sinks to keep the Pro cool, Apple's used a single fan and positioned the components around a single thermal core that distributes heat evenly. That means that the Mac Pro runs quiet – astonishingly so – though we did notice that it gets quite warm. The cooling system must be working overtime to keep those high-end components in check.
Of course, the Mac Pro isn't aimed at the casual computer user; those 12-core Xeons will be put to work in edit suites, VFX studios and other processor-intensive environments. We've put the computer through its paces with some real time 3D rendering, and the results are astonishing; complex scenes are rendered almost instantly, many of which would take several minutes on current high-end kits.
We also played with the Mac Pro using two large 4K monitors, although the Pro can drive four.
Music production is likely to be one of the Mac Pro’s big markets – Apple has been testing the machine with Stuart Price, the man behind Lady Gaga and The Killers' latest albums. And a quick blast of Logic, Apple's high-end music software, revealed that multiple tracks with effects are no problem.
It’s also incredibly quiet, and one music producer who has tried the machine told us it was almost disconcerting not to have the hum of a PC in the studio.
The Mac Pro isn’t for everyone - and in reality, the newly refreshed Haswell MacBook Pro models will be a desktop replacement that’s more than adequate for most of us. But for those who need the extra power, there’s nothing quite like the Mac Pro.
It remains to be seen how that design will hold up in day-to-day use – and there will, doubtless, be gripes that Apple is pushing Thunderbolt 2 as the means for expansion rather than internal slots. But it feels like a glimpse at the future of the desktop PC - with a design so radical it’s hard to think of any other firm that would come up with it.
And while it's destined to sit in edit suits and movie production houses, we couldn’t help thinking how cool it would look in the living room - and what an amazing gaming machine it would make.
Here's hoping we’ll see a round Mac Mini sooner rather than later...