First Impressions: New Mac Pro

06/20/2014

Note: I know the Mac Pro isn’t really new, but it’s new to me, hence the title of this article…

Yesterday, I took delivery of a new Mac Pro. Replacing a Mac mini, about two and a half years old, this is only the second time that I’ve opted for Apple’s top-of-the-line computer. Back in 2006, I bought the first Mac Pro, and kept it for more than two years. I especially liked that computer because it could hold four hard drives and two optical drives. (You can read my posts from back in 2006, tagged Mac Pro.)

But, today, with Thunderbolt and USB 3, there’s only a small advantage to having internal storage. With an SSD for startup disk, and all my files that aren’t documents – my music and video files – on external disks, I don’t need the speed of internal hard drives.

The Mac pro is a small but hefty device. As always, Apple’s packaging is up to the standards of their design. The compact box contains the computer, and a rolled-up power cord, and a few bits of paper: there’s a brief quick-start document, and some guarantee papers. And, you get black Apple stickers with the Mac Pro:

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The Mac Pro is small and shiny, and it is indeed made to sit on a desk. You could certainly put it under a desk if you want it out of the way, but, for now, I’ll leave mine visible.

It’s got lots of connectors – four USB 3 ports; six Thunderbolt ports; one HDMI; and two Ethernet. It also has the standard audio input and output ports. And they’re very easy to access, as long as you keep the computer on your desk.

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When running, the Mac Pro is essentially silent. It makes about the same amount of noise as my Mac mini, which is a very quiet computer, but what impresses me is that, even when the Mac Pro is working hard with all eight cores, the fan noise is barely noticeable. Compare that to the Mac mini, which sounds like an exhaust fan when it’s working hard.

The Mac Pro is also quite cool; it gives off less heat in normal operations than my Apple 27″ Thunderbolt display. As I write this, I placed my hand on the top of the Mac Pro, and it doesn’t feel warm at all; when converting some videos with Handbrake, it’s a bit warm, but less than I expected, and still not much more than my display.

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Unfortunately, my first experiences with the Mac Pro were not very positive. When I first set it up, after running the Migration Assistant, to copy data from a bootable backup of my Mac mini, it didn’t see my Thunderbolt peripherals. Booting was very slow, and, after unplugging the Thunderbolt cables, re-plugging them, and restarting, it finally saw them. But then booting was continually slow; at one time, it took up to seven minutes. When it did boot fast, it took a tad longer than my Mac mini; about 15 seconds compared to ten. But it would boot slowly at random, so I called Apple.

The Apple support person was very nice, and very apologetic. He said that if a brand new computer – and a Mac Pro – does something like this, they don’t bother to troubleshoot it, but exchange it right away. While I was on hold, I did try a few things – booting without the Thunderbolt cables connected – and, while it did boot quickly at times, it wasn’t consistent.

I also noticed that, overnight, while it was sleeping, it rebooted. There wasn’t a power cut in my house, and I saw a number of Thunderbolt-related messages in Console. So my guess is that there’s something wrong with the Thunderbolt interface on my Mac Pro, and I’ll be getting a new one. (I’ve seen a number of web discussions about issues like this.)

Since it took twelve days from my order until delivery, Apple said they’d expedite the replacement as much as possible. I’ll continue using this as much as I can, but if it becomes unstable, I’ll revert back to my Mac mini.

Aside from the boot and Thunderbolt problem, this is a sleek, attractive, and fast computer. The main reason I want a faster Mac is to digitize my DVD and Blu-Ray collection (or much of it); the Mac mini just can’t handle that. It does more than I need, but what convinced me to go for the Mac Pro instead of the iMac is the fact that I have a Thunderbolt display already.

So, it’s not cheap, but the Mac Pro is one heck of a Mac, and one that will last me several years. I’m looking forward to getting one that works perfectly.