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Old Jul 22, 2013, 01:54 PM   #1
Dr. Stealth
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Opinions: Does the New Mac Pro qualify as a Workstation?

There's been plenty of discussion about the "Pro" designation of the New Mac Pro. There's also been some discussion in another thread as to whether the NMP qualifies as a "Workstation". Then there have been questions such as "Well, what exactly is a workstation?". The definition is somewhat subjective, and can obviously change over time.

It should go without saying that anything I post anywhere in this forum is of course my opinion.

To qualify my opinion, I've worked professionally for over 35 years in manufacturing and engineering primarily in the aerospace industry. I'm an aerospace engineer. My work encompasses commercial aircraft, military aircraft and spacecraft to name just a few.

Prior to the emergence of standalone computers I worked on IBM mainframes via "Dumb Terminals". I never considered my terminals to be workstations, heck, they weren't even computers.

I know exactly what a workstation is in my mind but I guess there's another generation gap going on. I'm sure many of the older members here have their own opinion of what a workstation is. Many of us have been working on them professionally for many years. Many were UNIX workstations but not all, DEC-VAX, Sun SPARKstation, Apollo, Silicon Graphics, DEC-Alphas, IBM, HP to name a few. More recently PCs have taken on the "workstation" designation. Apple's current Mac Pro falls squarely into the UNIX Workstation designation. At least mine.

I was asked to describe MY definition of a workstation. So in brief:

1. A workstation is flexible, expandable and powerful.

2. Workstations can be custom configured for any number of very specific professional tasks. Scientific, Engineering, Graphics, Audio, Photography, Medical, Video, etc. Configure the CPUs, GPUs & Memory for the job.

3. The workstation can also be re-configured at will as the task changes or grows in scope. Need an additional 32GB of ram for this new project or software? No problem. Need to upgrade to that newly released cutting edge GPU? No Problem. Need to pop in a couple PCI-e cards? No problem. Even my PowerMac 9600 had 12 RAM slots and 6 PCI slots. What for? For expansion and flexibility!

Anyway, that's just my brief definition of a workstation and why I don't believe the New Mac Pro falls into the workstation category. Forget about adding GPUs via TB. In engineering that's what we refer to as a kluge.

I'm bummed Apple has decided to vacate the professional market instead of fighting to dominate it like the old days. But, with $150 Billion in the bank it's pretty hard to say they're making bad decisions. At any rate, the current Mac Pro is the last piece of Apple hardware produced that isn't a disposable.
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Old Jul 22, 2013, 03:03 PM   #2
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IMO a workstation it's just a powerful computer that get the job done. No matter how it get the job done as far as the price is right.
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Old Jul 22, 2013, 03:05 PM   #3
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In my opinion, the new Mac Pro design still qualifies as as workstation, but one that has been compromised in some areas while being improved in others.

The replacement of PCIe slots with Thunderbolt is a compromise for me, but for others, it's not.

The GPUs appear to be proprietary, which makes another compromise to me, but many may not agree.

The lack of internal drive options makes another compromise to me, but others seem more than happy to attach external drives as needed. Thing is, I'd not be able to get by on a single internal drive at all. Not even my laptop is a single drive. I have two SSDs in my 2012 15" cMBP, and I *still* use an external USB3 drive when I'm working on a mobile video edit.

The reason I still call the nMP a workstation, though, is because there are some people that can get by on a single internal volume with slow TB or USB3 externally attached drives. I could as well, but it would cost me a lot more money to adapt to that design. If every computer in the future is built this way, I'll have to adapt eventually, but fortunately, that's not today.
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Old Jul 22, 2013, 03:46 PM   #4
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I'd definitely still call it a workstation. I've seen much, much less powerful workstations.
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Old Jul 22, 2013, 03:53 PM   #5
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Even though it's missing one traditional feature associated with Workstations in general it both offers a replacement technology for that feature (PCIe Card slots for 4 cards replaced with TB2 ports for up to 36 cards or devices) and utilizes Workstation grade components (CPU, Memory, GPU, etc.) in all other aspects.

So I guess it's still a workstation both technically and in the common definition.

It's a pretty weird workstation but whether or not that weirdness is a good thing only time (and a price tag) will tell.
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Old Jul 22, 2013, 04:26 PM   #6
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It is Apple's most aggressive attempt in decades to redefine what a workstation is.

It is obvious that they have ditched the conventional understanding of what one is and are attempting to "change the game." Thinking of Steve Jobs' "trucks" analogy, it appears that the new Mac Pro is more like a luxury SUV.

I believe its future success as a workstation will depend upon if there is both an explosion in Thunderbolt peripherals and at least a 25-50% reduction in peripheral/cable cost in the next three years. Given that about 50,000 MPs are sold every quarter, I'm confident Apple will at least better those numbers with those who like the luxury angle, and with the GPUs inside you are going to have a very powerful processing device.
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Old Jul 22, 2013, 05:46 PM   #7
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"Workstation" is a totally nebulous term that effectively means nothing when trying to distinguish it from "PC."

My home-built Haswell PC with a GTX780 probably has more computing power and certainly more RAM than the stock 2012 mac pro. Does that make it a workstation?
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Old Jul 22, 2013, 06:03 PM   #8
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I think a couple of you have nailed it.

Traditional workstation it's not.

New age workstation in the making.... ? We'll see......

Apple doesn't seem to have much trouble closing the door on fringe areas to accomplish their goals these days. Gamers have been shut out with dual workstation class gpus. High end science and medical have been shut out with only 64GB of ram. I'm sure others have been snubbed with other limitations.

But, just like Costco and Home Depot..... If they don't sell boat loads of an item they won't carry it. You have to go to the little mom & pop hardware store.
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Old Jul 22, 2013, 06:18 PM   #9
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Originally Posted by Dr. Stealth View Post
Gamers have been shut out with dual workstation class gpus. High end science and medical have been shut out with only 64GB of ram. I'm sure others have been snubbed with other limitations.

But, just like Costco and Home Depot..... If they don't sell boat loads of an item they won't carry it. You have to go to the little mom & pop hardware store.
Gamers use workstations? I also believe that max RAM is 128GB. The fact that it's going to be manufactured in the US, I think means that they can handle smaller production runs and scale easier.

It seems the main gripe is with traditional internal expansion, a regular PC tower also have this, but it does not make it a workstation. Dual GPU as standard, Xeon CPU and ECC ram are all properties that makes it a workstation.
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Old Jul 22, 2013, 06:55 PM   #10
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Originally Posted by Dr. Stealth View Post
I was asked to describe MY definition of a workstation. So in brief:

1. A workstation is flexible, expandable and powerful.

2. Workstations can be custom configured for any number of very specific professional tasks. Scientific, Engineering, Graphics, Audio, Photography, Medical, Video, etc. Configure the CPUs, GPUs & Memory for the job.

3. The workstation can also be re-configured at will as the task changes or grows in scope. Need an additional 32GB of ram for this new project or software? No problem. Need to upgrade to that newly released cutting edge GPU? No Problem. Need to pop in a couple PCI-e cards? No problem. Even my PowerMac 9600 had 12 RAM slots and 6 PCI slots. What for? For expansion and flexibility!
By the 1st gauge of a General Workstation then I would say the nMP is a Workstation.

Powerful, - If a 128Gb RAM Supporting 12 Core CPU and the spec of the 2 GPU's isn't Powerful then I don't really know what to say. I am not saying that a Dual CPU option wouldn't have added extra power, or that is the most powerful, but the machine is still powerful.

Expandable - Is it expandable, Externally Yes it is expandable, there are Thunderbolt to PCI-E Chassis, for the addition of many of the PCI-E cards that are required by people. Netstor and Sonnettech have support for Video Capture/Processing Cards, Pro Audio Cards. Black Magic, Red Rocket UAD etc are supporting Thunderbolt so they must think that the cards are capable of being used in this fashion over Thunderbolt in an acceptable way. When looking across the machines being launched then when you look at the rMBP, MBA, iMac etc then Apple is moving Firewire to Legacy, and providing support via the Thunderbolt Display or Adapters. I suspect that when the mini chassis is changed that the Firewire will be removed there as well, so I don't see the FW as an issue. You can argue as to whether get the FULL benefit of RAID Cards, however ATTO, Areca etc are Thunderbolt compatible and tested in Netstor and Sonnettech chassis so they must believe that is worthwhile for there Cards, and that in the real world they are acceptable performance still for the card over Thunderbolt.

Flexible - Apple have traditionally offered a number of options, currently from a Quad Core, right through, 6, 8 and 12 Core Offerings, You can also specify extra RAM, change the GPU. WIth 10.7 and 10.8 then there is more flexibility on the GPU side if prepared to live without Boot Screens and then with the excellent 3rd Party work done by various people then even many of those cards can now be Flashed with an EFI and so restore the Boot Screens if you want them. It remains to be seen what the specs will be at launch, however it would be surprising if there isn't various level of CPU, and GPU offered. Is it as flexible as allowing a Dual CPU and then 1 GPU as an alternative, however you are then debating the level of Flexibility that is providing, not if it is Flexible or not.

I would also say by the 2nd Gauge given that the nMP is a General Workstation.

Add in Cards can be added into the System as required ( providing have Driver Support ) externally via Thunderbolt. Apple is pushing heavily into OpenCL and updating the OpenGL support. We don't know the exact offerings that Apple will provide in terms of CPU and GPU, but previous history ( which is all that we can go on here ) indicates that there will be various levels of CPU and GPU offerings. You select the level that meets your needs. OpenCL is providing support for GPU acceleration into many area's and the Software Developers such as Adobe, etc are adding support for OpenCL into there products. All Workstations require support from the Software Developers to take advantage of newer features in them, so I don't see this as any different too in the past for Workstations. For instance to take advantage of the improved virtualization support in Intel CPU's the the Hypervisor vendors have had to add support for those instructions to take advantage of them. The software developers will need to do this for the nMP as well.

I would also argue that meets the 3rd gauge as well.

Need Extra RAM you can pop it in upto a max of 128. Is this a hardware limit or simply the limit imposed by OSX 10.9. Previous Mac Pro's limits have been revised upwards with later OSX release and people have confirmed that can run
OSX 10.9 with 128Gb in the 8 Core/12 Core Mac Pro's. At the moment we don't know what is the limit here, so could possibly increase if larger compatible DIMMS come along. On the Apple Website then can still only specify upto 64Gb on a Dual CPU Mac Pro.

Need to upgrade to the latest Cutting Edge GPU. As the nMP hasn't launched yet then we don't know if additional other GPU's will be available or if 3rd Parties will launch official GPU cards. However lets be honest, Cutting Edge GPU and the Mac Pro have NEVER been a combination used apart from in complaints. It is only very recently that Driver Support for a wider range of cards is found. If you are one of the many people here that refuse to move from 10.6.8 then you are also cutting off from the latest GPU cards as well.

Are we going to purely mention STANDARD, OOB GPU cards here, or are we prepared to accept PC Cards that work with compromises (ok boot screens), require modding. Whilst the GTX580 cards that MacVidCards provides work, I believe is a bit more then a simply flashing an EFI into the Card, like it was with my GTX680 (hardly the latest and greatest at the moment) To get AMD cards working full speed then you start linking or removing resistors. These hardly qualify as simply taking a GPU card and inserting in the same way that the GTX680 for Mac or Sapphire's 7950 Mac Edition do. Whilst many people here on Macrumors ( and bear in mind the audience on here is likely to be people quite happy to tinker with there Mac Pro, more then say a person working in an Enterprise Environment is where is provided and maintained by the IT dept ) as part of the total computer using population they are quite small.

As such I would say that the Mac Pro has always been limited in it's availability of official GPU support, and at the moment we simply cannot state that there will be official 3rd Party cards, or not. Will there be an Nvidia Quadro card available in the necessary format, we just don't know. The Manufacturers will do the maths and make the decision to make them or not. What we do know is that Mac Pro's have never until very, recently been great at there GPU support, anyway.

You need to add in PCI-E expansion cards, then there is already support for these to be added into the overall system via Thunderbolt. I have yet to see a GPU card supported in a Thunderbolt PCI-E Chassis so I suspect that the neccessary changes in the Driver simply won't be spent time on developing with the compromise that would be needed, so it doesn't make sense to put the GPU on the end of a Thunderbolt connection.
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Old Jul 22, 2013, 07:15 PM   #11
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Originally Posted by Dr. Stealth View Post
I think a couple of you have nailed it.

Traditional workstation it's not.

New age workstation in the making.... ? We'll see......

Apple doesn't seem to have much trouble closing the door on fringe areas to accomplish their goals these days. Gamers have been shut out with dual workstation class gpus. High end science and medical have been shut out with only 64GB of ram. I'm sure others have been snubbed with other limitations.

But, just like Costco and Home Depot..... If they don't sell boat loads of an item they won't carry it. You have to go to the little mom & pop hardware store.
Apple has CLEALRY served notice that they are abandoning parts of their former markets. They have found selling to the masses is very profitable and they are far less picky than "Pros".

So instead of selling a 3/4 Top Notch machine they are moving down the scale to 1/2.Pros have been complaining about gamut shifts in QUicktime for awhile. Should they fix it or just sell more FCPX packages to the Wedding Video crowd and call it a day? Easier to add a spinning hearts transition and tell the Pros to move on or accept gamut shifts

I used to design high end national spots. Last summer I had a 2 week gig designing a booth at Vid-Con 2012 and running a gag where we tossed a 25lb salmon at people and shot it with a Phantom Camera at 1000fps. Hilarious...and mindless. And any flaws in my set or booth....nobody caed. It was all going on Youtube for clicks and to get people to subscribe to a channel.

So, at the end of the day, their check cashed the same as if I designed a "real" production. The difference being that Youtube stuff won't be going on my reel. As a company, they have no such ego. Mindless trivial software for the masses or hours spent crafting a Supercomputer? With a gazillion shareholders demanding higher stock prices, the easy money wins every time.
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Old Jul 22, 2013, 07:48 PM   #12
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Old Jul 22, 2013, 07:51 PM   #13
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I think what Apple is attempting here is to market a Mac Pro that is meant to be upgraded every 4 years much like their other products. The Mac Pro is such a small chunk of their profit due to the fact that most people who buy them prefer to just upgrade the parts themselves without having to buy an entirely new system. Apple is mostly a hardware company, so a major factor in their game is the one-on-one "Genius" tech support service.

Take for example the new [2012] iMac's...
They have no upgradeable hard drive bay (though you can upgrade the RAM) and a one time VESA mount option that gives you an ultimatum between owning a wall-mounted computer or a stand-oriented one at the time of purchase. Apple designed these new desktops in such a way that it requires some serious surgery to replace these parts as well as causing your warranty to become void should you decide to do it yourself. So if you buy a new iMac and decide to upgrade the hard drive or add a VESA mount later down the road, expect to pay the Geniuses (Or the dumbasses as I call them) to do for you what most PC users are already permitted to do. Plus Apple won't install a hard drive or any type of part not purchased through them into your computer. This forces you to buy their severely overpriced parts like: A 32GB of RAM (2012 iMac) for $600, variously priced HDD's or SSD's (3tb fusion drive=$400/512GB SSD=$600), and/or new GPU's (which are very limited). You also can't upgrade the CPU's in most Mac products because they glue them to the motherboard (Plus they often use specially sized processors, especially in the notebooks).

The new Mac Pro also doesn't take a traditional 3.5 or 2.5 in hdd/ssd, but rather "naked" PCI flash memory cards like the ones found in the Macbooks. There are only four RAM slots as far as I know, and the GPU is most likely not upgradable.

That's why i'm glad that I bought the mid-2012 "cheese-grater" Mac Pro. I had a feeling that Apple was going to restrict your ability to upgrade components. So if you want my two cents, i'd say that the new Mac Pro is more like an "All-In-One" package meant for casual Apple desktop users who desire a little more power but don't care much about specifics. Apple has made it abundantly clear that they don't like consumers looking under the hood and replacing parts at the expense of them not profiting from the process.
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Old Jul 22, 2013, 07:53 PM   #14
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Apple has CLEALRY served notice that they are abandoning parts of their former markets. They have found selling to the masses is very profitable and they are far less picky than "Pros".
Pretty much the only markets it seems the new Mac Pro is abandoning is HPC and servers. If you weren't already aware that Apple was abandoning those markets, you were probably living under the world's biggest rock.
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Old Jul 22, 2013, 08:13 PM   #15
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Old Jul 22, 2013, 08:16 PM   #16
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Pretty much the only markets it seems the new Mac Pro is abandoning is HPC and servers. If you weren't already aware that Apple was abandoning those markets, you were probably living under the world's biggest rock.
Those and the Dual CPU workstation, lots of RAM workstation, multi PCIE card workstation markets. (just 3 more)

I do live on the side of the Hollywood Hills, pretty big rock I guess.


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Ah, I think maybe you saw the rubber sledgehammer videos. Best were the giant weather balloons filled with glitter getting popped. All of which would be IDEAL editing candidates for the shiny new Mac Pro.
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Old Jul 22, 2013, 08:26 PM   #17
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“A bus station is where a bus stops. A train station is where a train stops. On my desk, I have a work station….” ― William Faulkner
lol.. nice
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Old Jul 22, 2013, 08:32 PM   #18
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Old Jul 22, 2013, 08:34 PM   #19
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I think what Apple is attempting here is to market a Mac Pro that is meant to be upgraded every 4 years much like their other products. The Mac Pro is such a small chunk of their profit due to the fact that most people who buy them prefer to just upgrade the parts themselves without having to buy an entirely new system. Apple is mostly a hardware company, so a major factor in their game is the one-on-one "Genius" tech support service.

Take for example the new [2012] iMac's...
They have no upgradeable hard drive bay (though you can upgrade the RAM) and a one time VESA mount option that gives you an ultimatum between owning a wall-mounted computer or a stand-oriented one at the time of purchase. Apple designed these new desktops in such a way that it requires some serious surgery to replace these parts as well as causing your warranty to become void should you decide to do it yourself. So if you buy a new iMac and decide to upgrade the hard drive or add a VESA mount later down the road, expect to pay the Geniuses (Or the dumbasses as I call them) to do for you what most PC users are already permitted to do. Plus Apple won't install a hard drive or any type of part not purchased through them into your computer. This forces you to buy their severely overpriced parts like: A 32GB of RAM (2012 iMac) for $600, variously priced HDD's or SSD's (3tb fusion drive=$400/512GB SSD=$600), and/or new GPU's (which are very limited). You also can't upgrade the CPU's in most Mac products because they glue them to the motherboard (Plus they often use specially sized processors, especially in the notebooks).

The new Mac Pro also doesn't take a traditional 3.5 or 2.5 in hdd/ssd, but rather "naked" PCI flash memory cards like the ones found in the Macbooks. There are only four RAM slots as far as I know, and the GPU is most likely not upgradable.

That's why i'm glad that I bought the mid-2012 "cheese-grater" Mac Pro. I had a feeling that Apple was going to restrict your ability to upgrade components. So if you want my two cents, i'd say that the new Mac Pro is more like an "All-In-One" package meant for casual Apple desktop users who desire a little more power but don't care much about specifics. Apple has made it abundantly clear that they don't like consumers looking under the hood and replacing parts at the expense of them not profiting from the process.
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Old Jul 22, 2013, 09:08 PM   #20
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Gamers use workstations? I also believe that max RAM is 128GB.

Gamers do use MacPros. Or, plenty of Mac Pro owners are gamers. There are plenty of them in this forum.

Four ram slots * 16 GB = 64 GB
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Old Jul 22, 2013, 09:20 PM   #21
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"Workstation" is a totally nebulous term that effectively means nothing when trying to distinguish it from "PC."
Well, no. "Workstation" should typically signify Xeon or Opteron and ECC RAM. It should also signify a Workstation grade graphics card but those lines are a little blurred sometimes.

Those three components are the mains ones. Expandability, especially some specific type like "internal expandability" doesn't enter into the definition although the intended purpose, setting, or tasking of the machine might. One would normally want fast and tough storage devices on a workstation but that isn't a qualifier either.

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Old Jul 22, 2013, 09:41 PM   #22
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In my opinion, the new Mac Pro design still qualifies as as workstation, but one that has been compromised in some areas while being improved in others.
You go on to list a few compromises that bug you but then not any areas of improvement. In what way do you think the new design is better?
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Old Jul 22, 2013, 09:55 PM   #23
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Computer says...

A workstation class PC may have some of the following features:
  • support for ECC memory
  • a larger number of memory sockets which use registered (buffered) modules
  • multiple processor sockets, powerful CPUs (for Intel CPU it will be server derived Xeon instead of typical for PCs Core)
  • multiple displays
  • run reliable operating system with advanced features
  • high performance, reliable graphics card (for Nvidia it will use a Nvidia Quadro series GPU, an enterprise variant of the more cost efficient consumer cards).
Computer says yes.
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Old Jul 22, 2013, 09:58 PM   #24
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A workstation class PC may have some of the following features:
  • support for ECC memory
  • a larger number of memory sockets which use registered (buffered) modules
  • multiple processor sockets, powerful CPUs (for Intel CPU it will be server derived Xeon instead of typical for PCs Core)
  • multiple displays
  • run reliable operating system with advanced features
  • high performance, reliable graphics card (for Nvidia it will use a Nvidia Quadro series GPU, an enterprise variant of the more cost efficient consumer cards).
Computer says yes.
"larger number of memory sockets" actually half as many as 2012 so unless you compare it to a MacBook, this is a fail

"multiple processor sockets" - half as many as before, ie, only 1, another fail

"Nvidia" - no reason to believe these will be available soon

So half of the items you listed it doesn't do

YOUR computer may need ECC to correct some errors
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Old Jul 22, 2013, 10:14 PM   #25
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Sandy EP wasn't out until mid 2012, so "let them eat Westmere" wasn't a terribly viable argument for 2011. After that I agree with you.
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