Four things to bear in mind when reading a Mac Pro review

Like the rest of you, we’ve been going through the latest Mac Pro reviews with a fine-toothed comb, obsessively over-analysing each feature in order to sustain ourselves until our demo model arrives.

And what we’ve noticed is that there are four areas where panic, speculation and opinion-as-analysis are threatening to overwhelm rational reporting. So we’re doing what any self-respecting tech blogger would do: adding fuel to the fire. Here’s our (hopefully fairly sane) take on Mac Pro’s latest talking points.

Will the CPU be upgradable?

The iFixit teardown revealed that Mac Pro’s Xeon CPU uses a standard Intel socket, which means it could potentially be upgradable, like the majority of previous Mac Pro models. Don’t get too excited yet though – this is not a user-upgradable part and will still require some hardcore disassembly of the machine to achieve, including removing the CPU heat sink and thermal paste.

On top of this, we’re not even sure if Apple will allow upgrades: they could lock the faster CPUs out at a firmware level, and haven’t featured upgradable CPUs before. It’s more likely that the reason the CPU looks upgradable is because Intel doesn’t sell the Xeon in any package that doesn’t fit into one of the LGA sockets.

What are my memory options?
The new Mac Pro uses Flash memory that’s directly connected to the PCIe bus, making it pretty speedy. It looks to be similar to the removable, stick-style Samsung Flash drive found in the newer MacBook Airs and MacBook Pros with Retina display, and there are currently no third party upgrades available. This was the case when Apple first introduced the stick-style Flash memory to other devices, and third party upgrades were released soon after, so we’re reasonably hopeful that this will be the case with the new Mac Pro.

For those who think that the 1TB available isn’t enough, the good news is that it’s very easy to connect a range of high speed storage devices via one of your Mac Pro’s six Thunderbolt 2 ports, leaving the onboard storage as a high speed cache for your video data.

Is there comparable PC hardware out there?
There are several sites comparing the latest Mac Pro with PC-based hardware, especially when it comes to price. Personally, we think that these comparisons should be taken with a pinch of salt.

The Mac Pro uses several components, including its Flash memory and GPUs, that are custom Apple parts and can’t be purchased anywhere else, making cross-platform comparisons difficult and inaccurate. And what doesn’t get mentioned in those comparisons is OS X, a highly advanced operating system for which pro software like DaVinci Resolve and FCP X has been specifically optimised.

We’re not saying don’t take notice of these comparisons, just that you should make sure you know what is being compared and bear in mind the programs you’ll be running, so that you can judge the validity of the comparison for yourself.

Are upgrade options limited?
Many people are bemoaning the lack of internal expandability, but it’s not like you can’t upgrade – it’s just that Apple are forcing you to do it externally, via those six Thunderbolt 2 ports. This could be a good thing or a bad thing depending on your needs, but we’re largely in favour – it helps to keep the original machine small, light and quiet without compromising the upgrade potential.

Arguably it will also make connecting and disconnecting peripherals easier, which we’re always in favour of, but the fact that the six ports are spread across three different Thunderbolt 2 buses means it’s going to be easier to balance performance across a large number of peripherals and ensure everything’s running optimally (although you can only have three devices with the full 20Gbps throughput each – it’s the same principle as PCIe bus segmentation). Ports 1,2 and 5 are the ones you want to use to ensure that a device is on its own Thunderbolt controller.

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