Mac Technology Explained

Do You Really Need a Mac Pro? What You Need to Know

Ben Stegner Updated 29-05-2020

The Mac Pro is the highest-end computer that Apple sells. It’s an extremely powerful machine with an eye-watering price tag to match.

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But what is the Mac Pro actually used for, and who needs a Mac Pro? Let’s look at what the machine offers and find out why Apple makes such a powerful desktop computer.

What Is the Mac Pro?

The Mac Pro is an Apple desktop computer designed for professional work. Don’t confuse its name with the similar MacBook Pro or iMac Pro, which are different machines. We’ll touch on those later.

Apple has released three generations of Mac Pro. The first model, which used a typical “tower” look, was introduced in 2006. It was succeeded by the cylindrical Mac Pro in 2013, which had several issues, including a lack of upgradability.

The most recent Mac Pro launched in December 2019 and returns to the standard “desktop tower” setup. This is the Mac Pro we’ll consider here, since the old models are too outdated to recommend nowadays.

Mac Pro Specs and Upgrade Options

Unlike the 2013 Mac Pro, Apple’s current revision allows for tons of customization (including on your own after purchase). When you head to Apple’s Mac Pro purchase page, you’ll see two configurations. One is the standard tower setup, which starts at $5,999. You can also purchase it for use in a rack starting at $6,499, which is mostly for business use.

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If you stick with the cheapest possible Mac Pro ($5,999), it comes with the following specs:

Mac Pro Base Model

  • 3.5GHz 8-core Intel Xeon W processor, with Turbo Boost up to 4.0GHz
  • 32GB (4x8GB) of DDR4 ECC memory
  • Radeon Pro 580X with 8GB of GDDR5 memory
  • 256GB SSD storage

Each Mac Pro also comes with a Magic Mouse 2, Magic Keyboard with Numeric Keypad, and a USB-C to Lightning cable. A monitor is not included.

You can upgrade the CPU, memory, graphics hardware, and storage if the base isn’t enough for your needs. There are too many upgrade options to list out here, but a few examples to give you an idea include:

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Apple Mac Pro Upgrades

  • An additional $1,000 to upgrade to a 3.3GHz 12-core Intel Xeon W processor, with Turbo Boost up to 4.4GHz.
  • $1,000 more to upgrade to 96GB (6x16GB) of memory.
  • An extra $1,600 for two Radeon Pro W5700X cards with 16GB of GDDR6 memory each.
  • An additional $800 for 2TB of SSD storage.
  • $2,000 more for an Apple Afterburner card, which helps with extremely demanding video editing.
  • $400 extra to replace the computer’s feet with wheels so you can easily move it.

Extra Mac Pro Accessories

Apple offers a few additional accessories before you check out. The Pro Display XDR is a 32-inch 6K screen that’s available in either standard glass or Apple’s “nano-texture” glass. The standard model costs $4,999, while the nano-texture glass is $5,999.

The monitor doesn’t include a stand, so you’ll have to pay another $999 for the Pro Stand. This allows you to adjust the monitor’s viewing angle however you like and easily detach the magnetic connection in order to change the orientation or remove the display. If you’d rather, you can instead buy a VESA Mount Adapter for $199.

Clearly, if you have money to spend, you can put a lot of power into the Mac Pro. Just for fun, if you upgraded everything in the Mac Pro to its absolute max, here’s the setup you’d have (along with the cost of fully upgrading each item):

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  • 2.5GHz 28-core Intel Xeon W processor with Turbo Boost up to 4.4GHz ($7,000).
  • 1.5TB (12x128GB) of DDR4 ECC memory ($25,000).
  • Two Radeon Pro Vega II Duo with 2x32GB of HBM2 memory each ($10,800).
  • 8TB SSD storage ($2,600).
  • Apple Afterburner card ($2,000)
  • Frame wheels ($400)

This all comes to the staggering sum of $53,799. Adding the Pro Display XDR would cost another $4,999, or $5,999 for the nano-texture glass model. And this doesn’t include AppleCare+ or preinstalled software like Final Cut Pro X, which come at additional cost.

What Is the Use of a Mac Pro?

Of course, what the Mac Pro offers exceeds the needs of 99% of people. This might lead you to ask what the use of a Mac Pro is. Let’s take a look.

Top-of-the-Line Image and Video Editing

People who work with terabytes of ultra-high-definition video footage need a powerful computer to handle it all smoothly and prevent hangups. The Mac Pro’s powerful video cards, massive amounts of RAM, and speedy SSD storage are built for tasks like that.

While you might balk at the extreme price of the Pro Display XDR, having accurate color display is essential for graphic designers and other creative professionals. They need a clear representation of how their work will look outside the screen, which is where premium displays like this shine.

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Heavy-Duty Graphical Performance

Demanding 3D apps, such as engineering design software, require a lot of video resources. Professional-grade software is a lot more difficult to run smoothly than consumer-level apps, which is why specialized industries need a powerful computer like the Mac Pro.

This means that computer-aided design, medical imaging, emulating multiple instances of an app at once, and similar tasks require much more power than a standard computer can provide.

Gaming and Game Development

While Macs aren’t primarily known as gaming machines, the Mac Pro has enough power to run most games compatible with macOS. Of course, you can always use BootCamp to install Windows on your Mac and get access to the wealth of games on that platform.

Game developers who prefer Macs could also use the Mac Pro’s power to work on their titles.

Mac Pro Alternatives

Frankly, if you’re wondering whether you need a Mac Pro, you almost certainly don’t. The machine is designed for a specific niche of professionals who need a powerhouse of a computer. Unless you are a professional in the fields of video editing, image editing, or 3D rendering, you very likely do not need a Mac Pro.

Knowing that, which Mac should you get instead? Let’s consider a few options based on your use case.

MacBook Options

Macbook Pro 15 inch

If you frequently work on the go, a MacBook is obviously the best choice.

For light work like web browsing and word processing, the MacBook Air is a great all-around machine. It starts at $999 and goes up to $2,249 if you max out everything.

Meanwhile, if you need portable power, take a look at the MacBook Pro. The 13-inch model starts at $1,299, while the 16-inch model begins at $2,399. Maxing out a 13-inch MacBook Pro results in a $3,599 price tag, or $6,099 for the 16-inch model.

The MacBook Pro can’t handle extreme editing tasks like the Mac Pro can. But if you want to do some light video editing or app development on the go, it’s definitely capable of those tasks.

Take a look at our MacBook model comparison for more info.

iMac Options

iMac Pro looking sleek

You have more options on the desktop Mac front. The most direct comparison to the Mac Pro is the iMac Pro, which starts at $5,000.

It’s still way overkill for most people, but includes more in the box. You get a 1TB SSD and a 27-inch 5K display, giving you four times the base storage of the Mac Pro and a monitor ready to go. If you want to upgrade, an iMac Pro maxes out at $14,299—we’ve compared the most powerful Mac models Is the iMac Pro Right for You? The Most Powerful Macs Compared Wondering if an iMac Pro is worth it? Perhaps a MacBook Pro or an iMac would be better for you. Let's find out. Read More if you’re interested in specifics.

For more modest needs, consider a standard iMac. The 21.5-inch model starts at $1,099, while the 27-inch iMac is available from $1,799. Unfortunately, the base models of iMac don’t include a solid-state drive, so we highly recommend upgrading to an SSD if you choose this computer.

Finally, you could go for a Mac mini. This tiny computer has you connect your own peripherals, including a monitor. It starts at $799 and is great if you want the desktop Mac experience on a budget.

Check out our iMac vs. MacBook guide MacBook vs. iMac: A Comparison Guide to Help You Decide You might think deciding between a MacBook and iMac only comes down to portability. But there's a lot more to deciding which is best for you. Read More if you’re not sure which to pick.

Consider Building a Windows PC

If you’re interested in a Mac Pro, chances are that you’re not a fan of Windows. However, if your primary interest is having a powerful PC for heavy-duty work or gaming, you can get a lot for your money by building your own PC.

Check out our guide to picking the right PC building components How to Pick the Right Components for Building Your Next PC Building a PC is challenging, but get the hardware balance right and the result can be a computer that is as powerful as you need. Read More for help with this. You can build a respectable computer for much less than a comparative Mac costs. Of course, this option sacrifices the macOS experience, so you’ll have to decide whether it’s worth it for you.

The Mac Pro Is for Serious Professionals Only

We’ve seen that the Mac Pro certainly has uses, but it’s not made for the average consumer. Between the extreme hardware upgrades available and sky-high price tag, chances are that you won’t get enough value out of the Mac Pro to justify the cost.

Stick with one of Apple’s consumer-facing machines instead, and you’ll have enough for your needs. To help, we’ve shown how to build the perfect Mac for you on Apple’s website How to Build Your Perfect Mac on Apple's Website When you buy a Mac, don't settle for the basics. Here's how to get the perfect Mac for you from Apple's website. Read More .

Related topics: Buying Tips, Hardware Tips, iMac Pro, Mac Pro, Mac Tips, MacBook.

Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the site alive. Read more.

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  1. mark hurburt
    June 2, 2020 at 5:41 am

    Anyone doing 4k video editing needs more GPU power than is available in most Macs. Without more powerful GPU some tasks will simply not run, while others could take 10 minutes vs 1 minute with a powerful GPU. One excellent alternative to the Mac Pro is to get a high-end Mac Mini and attach an external GPU. This is a $300 enclosure with power supply and a single PCIe slot for a high-end Video card, such as the 570XT or Radeon Pro W5700. The enclosure connects to the Mini via a Thunderbolt-3 cable. This setup is not quite as fast as a Mac Pro (the Thunderbolt connection cuts GPU performance by 5-10%) but it is a fraction of the cost and unlike the Imac, it's upgradeable.

  2. Vivek Suhag
    January 13, 2019 at 4:56 pm

    I want to play CALL OF DUTY: WW2 and GTA5. Which one should I purchase, mac pro or Macbook pro?

  3. Pramodh
    December 2, 2017 at 12:37 am

    Well documented and quite to the point. Thank you!

  4. Sarmad
    January 15, 2017 at 9:29 am

    very clear reason for buying a Mac Pro, thank you for this article, planning to have an iMac for normal usage but I like retina display so much.

  5. Daniel F Allen
    October 3, 2016 at 5:26 pm

    Hi Joel, this is a great article with good analysis and it's great seeing someone take a position on an issue instead of the usual non-challenging near-spam that is the norm.

    So it with respect that I am suggesting considerations missing from this article that drive me to different conclusion.

    The work I do is not any of those you listed as the type requiring a Mac Pro, but I still need a Mac Pro, because I cannot afford to wait for my computer to do things. It is just a matter of putting a dollar figure on a minute of my time,. With a faster computer there is work I can do that I cannot do on al slower one. So even though an iMac can do the jobs I ask of my computer, I need Mac Pro because it can the work faster and the result is my clients get better results. Usually, my work is limited to what I can get done by a certain date. A slower computer does not provide more time, it means I deliver less. That is why I need the fastest computer I can get my hands on.

    Regarding costs, dang, those new Mac Pros are expensive but my Mac Pro with 12-cores running at 3.3GHz with 64G of RAM cost $1900 (US). How? I bought a 2012 Mac Pro, that's how. It's got a Geekbench 3 score of over 18,000.  So that beats the performance and the cost of a new iMac.

    What do you think of this approach?

    • Neil
      May 1, 2017 at 1:22 am

      Fair point, Daniel. I'm intrigued as to how much time you actually save though. In my experience of computer performance, it can be seconds, rather than minutes and hours faster. But then I am not doing any of the high compute, or graphic processing kind. What is it you are doing?

  6. M Rast
    September 23, 2016 at 6:01 am

    Suit

  7. GildaKim
    November 25, 2014 at 7:01 am

    The one who really loves Blu-ray movie must need this kind of high-configuration machine as it always choppy in my Air. But since Mac Blu-ray player is improved with feature BluFast MX, it's much better than before. Mac Pro will work much better than mine, I'm pretty sure about that.
    http://goo.gl/l2dNqc

  8. Von Adam Martinez
    November 17, 2014 at 7:23 pm

    It is mainly for the rich layout artists, graphics artist and video hobbyist.

  9. John Williams
    November 11, 2014 at 5:43 pm

    We have two of the dual processor models at work to run Pro-tools multitrack audio edit. Sadly you can't downgrade the graphics spec - audio edit doesn't need all that grunt. We do video edit on an ordinary iMac.

    These are workstations, they run no other programs. These are the type of Mac that "just work" and "never get viruses" - mainly because they are not networked to anything (even each other!)
    They have audio "cards" costing £5k plus.

    With regard to the price, The audio mixing desk attached to these Macs cost £150k. The speaker monitors in the room another £40k. The microphone cabinet holds £100k plus of mics.
    The Steinway piano cost £150k, etc, & etc

    These Macs will be expected to last for up to ten years. They are grade one industrial computers. Not everyone hangs around in Starbucks "working" with their iPad or Macbook Air. Where do you think all that media content you watch and listen to all day comes from? The back of a laptop? A Macbook Pro would die of exhaustion after a month in a music studio.

    Similarly there are PC fileservers. There's a whole world of £10k Two processor machines out there. Grinding away all day every day spitting out the internet. They are expected to live about 3 years running flat out continuous ly. There is much more to computing than your tiny desktop.

    • Joel Lee
      November 12, 2014 at 8:03 pm

      Thanks for your input. The long life expectancy ("up to ten years") is a good point, especially in a professional-grade context. Another ancedote that confirms: Mac Pro is very good at what it does, but it's meant for an extremely niche market.

    • nic
      August 27, 2016 at 11:29 am

      thats a tricky double sided coin there...the latency is run out of the graphics processor which is the reason your graphics processor will fry if you dont use a audio interface..for instance i run a macbook pro with an akai digital interface. i have already used my macbook for 3 years solidly plan on using it at least 3 more.

      • Daniel F Allen
        October 3, 2016 at 5:14 pm

        Nic, interesting comment, but I don't understand part of it. Using an audio interface will prevent the graphics processor from frying? I don't understand what an audio interface is. I will tell you something I do understand. I fried the graphics unit in my macbook pro. I didn't know these machines can do things that will destroy them at the same time. It was not like I had it wrapped in a blanket. I was just using iMovie and apps at that level and down she went. My work is developing web -based apps, but I make a lot of screen capture videos for clients and students. I went for a 2012 Mac Pro with 12-cores, I think it's going to be great. But I don't what an audio interface is or why would take a load off the graphics unit. Thanks.

  10. reinkefj
    November 11, 2014 at 3:26 pm

    Chromebook.

    • Col. Panek
      November 12, 2014 at 7:13 pm

      128 RaspberryPis.

    • Joel Lee
      November 12, 2014 at 8:01 pm

      Have you read the article? It seems you might be confusing the Mac Pro with the Macbook Pro.

    • reinkefj
      November 12, 2014 at 9:55 pm

      yup. I'm departing the Apple and Microsoft experiment. Not that they are terrible, but Apple's planned obsolescence and Microsoft's quality issues are too expensive. Not that Google is "the next savior" but the Chromebox and Chromebook are the ultimate in "Thin Clients". About the only fault I have with them -- well two things -- they don't yet support ProXPN and there is not yet a robust set of web services to do the complex tasks that one would need a Thick Heavy Client for. But, I bet they will come as more folks seek "simplicity" and are willing to pay for the "complexity" they need.

  11. Daniel Smith
    November 10, 2014 at 10:49 pm

    For much less money, build a hackintosh, run it as a Mac:
    tonymacx86.com/446-building-customac-buyer-s-guide-october-2014.html

    • Joel Lee
      November 18, 2014 at 12:52 am

      Last I heard, there were still some risks and caveats to running a Hackintosh, but it's a good that the option is still out there. Would you only recommend it for tech-savvy folk?

  12. Seb
    November 9, 2014 at 10:04 am

    This computer is seriously overpriced
    for that kind of money you could buy a car AND a decent computer

    besides who needs that processing power?
    sure if you edit hollywood movies it might be useful
    but how many people do that

    • Joel Lee
      November 10, 2014 at 2:46 am

      Exactly! It's a very specific computer for a very niche market. :)

  13. Peter
    November 8, 2014 at 7:47 pm

    7 GHz?? Hahahahahahaa!

    • Joel Lee
      November 10, 2014 at 2:45 am

      The mistake has been fixed. Decimals seemed to have been lost somewhere along the way. :P

  14. Don Riding
    November 8, 2014 at 12:10 am

    Who really needs a 500 HP Cadillac computer, WoW! I am saving my money right now for one because it's there.

  15. Jerry
    November 7, 2014 at 3:29 pm

    When the Mac Pro was first announced, I drooled about wanting to have one. But now, looking back in retrospect, for cost versus gain reasons presented in this article, I am glad I did not get on board with that machine.

    For my computing needs, I have two machines. I have the iMac with 5K retina for home as the main workstation. I also have the Macbook Pro 15" retina for the high-performance portability.

    • Joel Lee
      November 10, 2014 at 2:45 am

      Good choice going with the iMac and Macbook Pro. I trust that they haven't been giving you many problems?

    • Greg Wardlaw
      November 25, 2014 at 3:25 pm

      I was network admin on a Windows network. Since then, I have bought an Iphone, IPad, and a Macbook Pro. On getting an equivalent pc for half the price: First, good luck on getting an equivalent pc. Now, half the price we can do. Still looking for the equivalent pc. How's it working out for you?

    • Nicholas
      April 21, 2015 at 10:03 pm

      Greg Wardlaw I just got a windows (pc stands for personal computer so a mac is a pc) with almost the exact same specs has a mac pro for $1250. It's not that hard just build it yourself or get one off newegg/cyberpower.

  16. likefunbutnot
    November 7, 2014 at 1:38 pm

    By "5GHz" or "7GHz", you actually mean "3.5" or "3.7", since Apple isn't shipping Xeon CPUs encased in liquid nitrogen in chassis that disobey all the laws of thermodynamics, right?

    • saumyakanta
      November 7, 2014 at 2:41 pm

      exactly

    • Anonymous
      November 7, 2014 at 3:23 pm

      Lol, the writer doesn't understand that haveing dual cpus does not mean their clock frequency doubles.

      A smarter idea, would be to get an equivalent pc for half the price.

    • Joel Lee
      November 7, 2014 at 4:11 pm

      Thanks, you're correct. It looks like WordPress stripped the pre-decimal numbers when posting. Will update the post ASAP!