Text by C. Scott Wyatt
Apple’s newest Mac Pro received a lot of derision on social media when it was released in December. The most expensive Mac Pro configuration tops out at $53,000.
Yet Apple’s base configuration for $6,000 compares favorably to media workstation offerings from HP, Dell, BOXX, BIZON and Orbital Computers.
A mid-range Mac Pro configuration for film editing costs $22,000, a reasonable price in that niche.
Comparing a video workstation to a home computer is like comparing a consumer digital video camera to a studio production camera. A mid-range 4K video camera kit averages $5,000. Upgrade to a Panasonic VariCam 35 and spend $55,000. Hollywood studios prefer ARRI cameras. At $98,000 for the body alone, the ARRI ALEXA line remains the choice among award-winning cinematographers. More than 70 percent of major studio movies in 2019 were shot using ARRI cameras.
Complete professional camera rigs cost more than the average house. A $22,000 Apple workstation is a fraction of a feature film budget.
Workstations are not gaming computers. Gaming PCs emphasize high clock speeds, fast single-threaded CPU execution and graphic playback. The emphasis on speed means that gaming PCs, like most home computers, do not require features such as error-correcting code memory (ECC RAM), which is slower than “non-parity” memory.
If you’re a Hollywood studio rendering special effects, every bit of data must be perfect. You use ECC RAM that detects and corrects errors in data. You also use self-correcting solid-state drives (SSDs), video encoding accelerators and other technologies that gamers do not need.
The heart of a workstation is either an Intel Xeon or AMD Threadripper CPU. Workstation chips emphasize multi-thread performance over single-thread speed. If you’re playing a game, your computer is often performing one primary task. Completing tasks out of order would make for an odd gaming experience.
A Zeon Platinum series supports 112 simultaneous threads. Your typical desktop i7 runs 12 simultaneous threads.
The BOXX W5, which uses the same Xeon-W series as Apple’s Mac Pro, starts at $6,500. Fully configured, the system reaches $46,734 with no software. You receive a third of the ECC RAM Apple offers (512 gigabytes compared to 1.5 terabytes), significantly slower SSD storage and no media-industry standard Thunderbolt 3 connections. In fact, a similarly configured Mac Pro with 768GB of RAM is $30,199. The Mac Pro is at least $16,000 cheaper.
On Apple’s website, I configured a 24-core Xeon with 192GB of RAM, dual 32 GB video cards, 4 TB of SSD storage and Apple’s professional media applications for $22,000, including extended Apple Care support. That’s a bargain compared to the BOXX system. Plus, Apple computers can run Windows applications if necessary.
Trying to match the BOXX configuration, I selected the closest options from other vendors. The systems with at least a Xeon W with 20 cores were $49,707 from Dell, $52,761 from HP (with 384GB of RAM instead of 768GB), $46,296 from BIZON and a bargain $22,071 from Orbital Computers.
The $53,000 Mac Pro is a beast: a 28-core Xeon CPU with 1.5 terabytes of RAM, 12 terabytes of storage and dual 32 gigabyte graphic adapters. The Mac Pro isn’t for everyone. It was designed for media creation, such as Hollywood special effects.
What about Apple’s $5,000 Pro Display XDR?
Video content creation editors want a color-calibrated monitor. If you are editing a feature film, the color needs
to be perfect. Some editing monitors from Sony cost $40,000. The Canon DP-V1711 is a 17-inch reference monitor, for a bargain $15,000. The HP Z31 will set you back $7,000, and it has mediocre reviews from industry professionals because it doesn’t meet industry calibration standards.
People might joke about Apple not including a stand, but media creators usually have VESA mounts that support two or more screens. I’m a hobbyist with a dual-monitor stand, so any new screen would be mounted to one of the flexible arms I have.
Finally, commenters cannot resist mocking the $400 wheels for the Mac Pro. Although $100 per wheel seems expensive, few similar workstations offer wheels. You need to buy a special cart or rackmount cage for HP and Dell workstations if you want them to be mobile. The rolling cages for other workstations cost $700 or more. I’m unlikely to move a workstation frequently.
If Apple’s workstation pricing is close to HP, Dell, BIZON and BOXX, enthusiasts mock the Mac Pro. Few people realize that you can configure a $110,000 HP workstation. Other workstation vendors do not advertise their highest-end computers because the content creation market is a small community of experts.
I don’t need a Mac Pro, but I do love to dream about what I might create with such a workstation.