First Impressions: New Mac Pro

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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.

15 replies
  1. Jeff says:

    This is not the issue with the Thunderbolt ports, but I thought I’d share something that might be useful to you. There are 3 thunderbolt channels, each delivering two thunderbolt ports to the back. The two ports you are using in your picture are on the same channel. You might consider moving your cables to different ports to get maximum throughput. The top left and the one directly under it are on 1 channel, the top right and the one directly under it are on another channel, and the bottom two horizontally (along with the HDMI port) use the third channel.

    • Kirk McElhearn says:

      It’s a good thought, but that would only limit bandwidth. The Apple te support asked if I had multiple displays, and, if so, that could be an issue. But even then, I can’t imagine it taking 7 minutes to boot because of that. Also, there was one reboot after a wake from sleep during the night; that’s not resulted to booting. And a couple of times when TB peripherals didn’t mount. My guess is there’s something wrong with the Thunderbolt interface.

    • Kirk McElhearn says:

      I actually ordered an SSD and a USB 3 enclosure to run Yosemite. I haven’t got it yet, but I might try when I do.

  2. Jeff says:

    You’re exactly right, it would only be a bandwidth issue. Did I read correctly that the slow boot issue occurred even with thunderbolt items unplugged? While booting slow, what were you seeing? Gray screen with Apple? Spinning wheel? Blank gray screen? There’s a number of hardware checks that occur during startup, so you might be dealing with a hardware issue.

    • Kirk McElhearn says:

      Yes. It was generally slow with the Apple logo on the gray background, then slow again when the gear was spinning. That’s the hardware check part. It could be anything; it could even be bad RAM. But the Apple technician told me not even to bother with a hardware check, as this simply shouldn’t happen with a new Mac of any kind, let alone a Mac Pro.

      • Seymour says:

        Have you tried verbose boot? Command V during startup. You can even set it to always boot verbose. Typically when a system (Windows, Linux, Mac) takes a long time to boot there are very, very interesting things being logged… shame that Apple hides useful diagnostic information behind a useless logo. Under NeXT verbose boot was normal operation.

        • Kirk McElhearn says:

          Yes, I just tried that. It gets stuck here for a couple of minutes:

          Jun 21 10:43:13 localhost kernel[0]: IOThunderboltSwitch<0xffffff8040f27c00>(0×0)::listenerCallback – Thunderbolt HPD packet for route = 0×0 port = 11 unplug = 0
          Jun 21 10:43:13 localhost kernel[0]: IOThunderboltSwitch<0xffffff8040f27c00>(0×0)::listenerCallback – Thunderbolt HPD packet for route = 0×0 port = 12 unplug = 0

          I can’t find anything to confirm what that means, but the problem is clearly related to something Thunderbolt. This jibes with the fact that my TB peripherals haven’t always mounted correctly.

  3. ChrisS says:

    Try booting in verbose mode by holding command-v down while the Mac Pro boots.
    (instead of gray boot screen you will get a black screen with white text detailing boot process; the same text is also listed in the system.log file)

    Watch to see where in the boot process it’s spending so much time.

  4. Ed Ski says:

    “I did try a few things – booting without the Thunderbolt cables connected – and, while it did boot quickly at times, it wasn’t consistent. ” <- this points me to a hardware problem. Software is generally consistent in causing issue. But hardware likes to play intermittent. For that much money, an exchange is best–don't pursue further diagnosis.
    In the meantime, you might invest $180 and get a UPS (Cyberpower CP1350PFCLCD ) that does true sine and APFC. It has enough watt rating to support your macpro, cinema display and peripherals in the picture. Afterall, you spend $3K or more on a computer, 5% to protect it isn't that bad.
    I am jealous. And black Apple decals! Good luck and followup how the replacement works out!


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