Developers and the nMP: Worth?

Discussion in 'Mac Pro' started by slifty, Dec 22, 2013.

  1. slifty, Dec 22, 2013
    Last edited: Dec 22, 2013

    slifty macrumors newbie

    Mar 27, 2011
    Apologies if this thread is just another rehash, but I'm doing some soul searching and have a 2013 business expense bucket set aside for a new professional workstation.

    I don't do graphic or video production. The audio stuff I do is just hobby-level Ableton. However, I am a professional freelance developer and I spend 100% of my living creating things using computers. My primary workstation right now is a 2012 MBP and it covers my current habits and projects well enough, but I desperately need a non-portable OSX workstation in order to re-organize my life and streamline my ability to create.

    I don't want to have to worry about how many VMs I have going at once or the breadth of my actively running technology. I don't want to wait for things to compile or build. I just want to be able to focus on organizing my computational life, writing code, and deploying it.

    Right now I am trying to decide between:

    1) A T2 nMP (6-core, 32GBRAM , 500 vCard)
    2) A T1.5 nMP (same as #1 but baseline vCard)
    3) A fully souped up iMac
    4) A T1 nMP (everything baseline but the RAM)

    I have an order placed for #1, but as we know, it ships in February so I can cancel it easily.

    The main reason I'm being thrown for a loop is that most conversation about the nMP is focused on highly computational, highly visual tasks; less of a focus on people who might need to have a broad and persistently running tech stack on their workstations.

    I'll also be honest: I know that I'm being seriously influenced by the "sexy" factor. I feel significantly more excited by the idea of using a 6-core nMP than any of the other options, I love the idea of not having to think at all about the limits of the device I'm using for the next three years, and I make my living on being on the cutting edge of what technology is capable of (although usually the "edge" I work in is more about creative application and less about raw power).

    TL;DR -- I believe I would be more productive on a nMP, but I also recognize the value of money. I'd like to hear what others have to say about where the nMP should fit in the creative professional programmer workforce.

  2. Cubemmal macrumors 6502a

    Jun 13, 2013
    I do the same - software development using VM's etc - and ordered a hex core with D700's. It'll be brilliant. The rest of the Macs are repackaged laptops. I specced out the minimum iMac I'd buy and it was $300 shy of a lowest Mac Pro I'd rather have, there's no contest.
  3. Tanax macrumors 6502a

    Jun 15, 2011
    Stockholm, Sweden
    Did you include a TB display in that comparison? Because don't forget that the iMac basically includes a TB display while the Mac Pro doesn't.
  4. Cubemmal macrumors 6502a

    Jun 13, 2013
    Yes - of course it depends on your priorities. I personally don't want an extra monitor, and one that I can't upgrade without upgrading the computer too. If you're looking for the most bang for your buck than the iMac is the way to go. If you want the best computer than the Mac Pro is the choice, IMO.
  5. akm3 macrumors 68020

    Nov 15, 2007
    Well there is a requirement I haven't heard before. Fortunately all mac laptops can be upgraded to non portable with a simple roll of duct tape.

    If that doesn't meet your needs, would a Mac mini work? The i7 versions are quite powerful and you don't seem to be doing much in the way of graphics work. If you need a monitor, perhaps consider an iMac?

    If you can afford a nMP and are honest with yourself that your needs are far exceeded by intended use, and don't mind the risk to your livelihood if there are problems or glitches with this unproven form factor and gen 1 manufacturing processes and new assembly in America, sure roll the dice and give it a go.

    If I were you I would wait and see how the initial reviews come in and what problems people are having before I stick myself and my livelihood to something unproven.

    I think waiting for gen 2 apple products is often a smart bet.
  6. Gonk42 macrumors 6502

    Jan 16, 2008
    near Cambridge
    What sort of software development?

    The nMP is heavily geared towards GPGPU programming (but not CUDA), the prices charged for the CPU and the upgrades are quite high so if you don't make use of the dual GPUs you're paying over-the-top for hardware that you will not use.

    I guess the SSD is very fast and you will make use of that, but otherwise a refurbished previous generation Mac Pro might offer better value for money.

    So if you plan to get into GPGPU programming the nMPro is the way to go - but then go for the higher GPU options rather than extending the number of CPU cores (which Apple charges a large mark-up on).

    Apple used to offer a developer discount, I presume you've looked into this? (If you became an official developer you could make a one-off purchase of hardware at a fairly large discount.)
  7. Cubemmal macrumors 6502a

    Jun 13, 2013
    I've owned some 20 Apple computers and still have 10 and have had bugs and hardware issues with new gen and old gen. Most often the bugs are pure software. Reviews are fine but they're not going to tell me much IMO. It takes owning one to see how it works for you.
  8. akm3 macrumors 68020

    Nov 15, 2007
    Well that is way more apple computers than I own, so I would take Cubemmal's advice.
  9. Cubemmal macrumors 6502a

    Jun 13, 2013
    The worst was my quad Mac Pro 2009. Plagued with bugs, Bluetooth would go haywire, so I plugged in all my mice and keyboard, and USB would glitch too. Had an eSATA card which would panic the kernel. On and on ... it took them YEARS but guess what? Now it works perfectly. Took them about 4 years though, idiots. Oddly my brothers 8 core MP bought at the same time didn't see any of these.

    The older iMacs, I had the G and intel series, also were horrifically buggy. Sold them before I figured out whether it was hardware or software. I've only seen a few hardware bugs, including a 2011 MBP that had a flaky graphics connector. I never took it in, until it blew years later. But the fix (a new motherboard) was only $250. Which is one reason I buy Macs - support.
  10. dyn macrumors 68030

    Aug 8, 2009
    The videocards can be beneficial to a developer if he wants to hook up a 4k display and/or multiple displays. You can also use these for OpenCL (maybe compile via OpenCL?).

    Marco Arment has a nice overview of the cpu options in both the Mac Pro and other Macs. Moral of the story: cpu power is about the same throughout the Macs but most can only run at high power for small periods of time while the Mac Pro can do it for long times. That is quite important if you compile large stuff. Having the option for more cores (the others Macs won't go past 4 cores, if you want more the Mac Pro is your only option).

    You also have 2 nics with the Mac Pro but you can add an additional one via USB3 or Thunderbolt (Apple sells one for 29 USD) for any other Mac. This gives you the option to have the machine physically in two different networks (useful for testing for instance). You can also use it with LACP.

    With the Mac Pro and the Mac mini you get to decide what display you can use which is a nice bonus.

    In the end it just depends on how much computing power you need regarding cpu and gpgpu (OpenCL). I'd focus on that and see from there. If you can save a lot of time by using more cores to compile your work than the Mac Pro might be a better choice. If you want to use a 4k display to increase your workspace or just want sharper looking text than the Mac Pro might also be a better choice. If however there is little difference between your current setup and the Mac Pro it won't be a better choice. The best choice than might be a Thunderbolt dock plus external display (and mouse & keyboard), a Thunderbolt Display (and mouse & keyboard), a Mac mini (if you fancy your own display) or an iMac (if you want a very clean setup).
  11. Cubemmal macrumors 6502a

    Jun 13, 2013
    So I'm working on the last version of the 17" MBP, and as I'm fixing errors and compiling the fan is kicking in and going faster, and faster ... I'm reminded why I ordered a nMP.
  12. goMac macrumors 604

    Apr 15, 2004
    If you do GPU programming, it's definitely a step up. If you're writing software intended for creatives, it's a must have (start writing dual GPU code now.)

    Otherwise... it depends. The 6, 8, and 12 core options are nice for compiling projects really really fast, but you'd have to have sizable projects to take advantage of the 12 core option.

    If you're not working with large projects, and not doing any GPU development, the Mac Mini with an SSD is a great option. But if you're dealing with larger things, the Mac pro looks like a nice system.

    Just make sure whatever you do it has an SSD.
  13. Stingray454 macrumors 6502a

    Sep 22, 2009
    I'm also a developer (running my own small business as freelance). I'm currently using a maxed out late 2012 iMac, but I'm really interested in the Pro. Here's how I look at it:

    - The speed/power in the Pro is awesome, no doubt about it.
    - Between the iMac and Pro, there's very little (indistinguishable) difference for developers. I can't think of many cases where you'll put that power to good use.
    - I do run VM's, edit large photoshop files, play around in Blender and such, BUT as I don't do this all day every day nor edit video / huge 3d projects, the seconds I shave off such tasks doesn't matter much.
    - What DOES matter (to me personally) is expandability. Development is awesome with 2-3 screens on the desk, preferably professional ones for correct colors or 4k resolution. With the iMac you're locked to the built in one (yes you can add more, but locked to the main display at least).
    - Same goes for GPU / CPU / SSD and such - I believe the Pro will be able to update all these components more or less, while the iMac is a locked box.
    - I _do_ play games, fiddle with 3d rendering and such (mostly in my spare time), so for such things it would be great to have.
    - I spend 8h+ per workday in front of the computer, so having "the best of the best" is actually not a bad idea (same reasoning for buying a really good office chair for a lot of cash instead of using a chair from your kitchen table - in the long run you do deserve the best you can get).

    So, will it be a financially good decision? Probably not, it won't help with the development process much, except for the expandability. Will it give you more options for expanding your setup? Yes. Will it give you the best tools available to you for the job? It sure will. Is it a lot better than the (much cheaper) iMac? Not really.

    I haven't decided if I should get one yet - sure, buying one for my business it a LOT cheaper than buying one privately, but it's still a lot of cash for a one-man business. I'll probably wait for some more reviews and see if there are some kinks/bugs and how dual-gpu adoption turns out, and then make my decision.
  14. maflynn Moderator


    Staff Member

    May 3, 2009
    I think this is the salient part of the post. the nMP's power may be a bit under utilized for this intended task. I think the CPU upgrade from an iMac to the nMP is sizable, as will the GPU performance but the GPU improvement is not something you or most developers will be able to take advantage AFAIK.

    Running multiple VMs will definitely be a plus on the nMP but with a base 512GB storage will that be too small for holding multiple VMs?

    Bang for your buck - how much improvement will you see for the premium price? My thinking is that you'll not see sufficient improvement to justify the price difference.

    Risk - Another factor is you're basing your business on a brand new design and tying up lots of resources in that computer. While I love the nMP and love to have one, I'd not buy one for my business until things shake out. You want a stable platform. I'm sure it will be fine, but nonetheless being such a new radical design, there is a risk

    My $.02 is that you'll not see a return on your the premium pricing, and you introduce higher risks on an unproven workstation.
  15. ohbrilliance, Dec 24, 2013
    Last edited: Dec 24, 2013

    ohbrilliance macrumors 6502a


    May 15, 2007
    Melbourne, Australia
    Developer here (web, iOS, Java). I would say that for your tasks, in a blind test you would notice no difference between a maxed out Mac mini with SSD and an nMP. There's a limit to meaningful improvements by throwing hardware at standard tasks.
  16. borad macrumors member

    Dec 13, 2013
    In a blind test you wouldn’t see the third monitor, true.
  17. Cubemmal macrumors 6502a

    Jun 13, 2013
    Since I have a nMP coming in I put the oMP on Windows gaming duty, and am running on the last released 17" MBP with SSD's and 16 GB RAM. This i7 spanks the i5 or i7 mini any day but I can easily tell in a blind test compared to my 2009 Mac Pro. I'm working on an open source C++ library. Not a large one, maybe 50k lines of code over some 50 files or something. Immediately I see

    • Scrolling and clicking different windows has a noticable lag compared to the much older Mac Pro.
    • The code is machine translated so there are a million errors I'm fixing. So it's fix, compile, fix compile in quick succession. Within 20 seconds the fan on the MBP maxes out, annoying me, and the performance during this isn't impressive. Much better on the older Mac Pro.
    • I also have two VM's running, Linux and Windows as I'm using those for this port. Both computers have 16GB and 4/8 cores, but the virtulized OS's run tangibly slower on the MBP.
    • I run with 16 spaces. One for web, one for Mail, one for Xcode, one for IntelliJ ... and a custom Xkeys keyboard to switch between them. No comparison, I actually don't even do it on the MBP because switching Spaces is annoyingly slower. Also I don't think I should run that many apps, it's slow enough.

    Never mind that I'm doing this open source project for a commercial project of mine, that I'm going to investigate GPGPU for. It's a modeling tool, and I have zero doubt that the old 2009 Mac Pro wouldn't spank the MBP with it, as it is quite resource happy.

    Again, I have three circular sit/stand desks for my office, arranged so I'm in the middle of the "command center". I use a recent Mac Mini, a MBP and an old Mac Pro daily for the various things I do, and the MP kills the other ones.
  18. ohbrilliance macrumors 6502a


    May 15, 2007
    Melbourne, Australia
    Ah, as specified in the OP. You rock.
  19. Cubemmal macrumors 6502a

    Jun 13, 2013
    And now Xcode is using 50% of one CPU just sitting there. I'm not sure what it's doing, it's idling while I'm looking at code, but the MBP fan has spun up about halfway. Annoying! On the MP or the nMP I wouldn't even notice it.
  20. ohbrilliance macrumors 6502a


    May 15, 2007
    Melbourne, Australia
    That doesn't sound right. Xcode idling on my dual core MBP takes up neglible CPU cycles.
  21. JavaTheHut macrumors 6502


    Aug 15, 2010
    Just a thought... One good thing about the Mac mini approach is you can easily afford to scale up to a second or third mini for your tasks if you ever need to.
  22. ohbrilliance macrumors 6502a


    May 15, 2007
    Melbourne, Australia
    Interesting. Any idea why the MP would be so much more performant (besides the obvious nature of being a 'mac pro')
  23. Cubemmal macrumors 6502a

    Jun 13, 2013
    I've puzzled about this, but it is why I scorn people who look at benchmarks and make sweeping statements about performance; it's more complicated than they think. Frankly the only performance that matters is how it is to the person in front of the computer. In my experience the newer procs will beat the MP in activities like transcoding (Handbrake) - for a time. Once they saturate they seem to slow down. But if the job isn't too big the new ones will come out ahead, with a noisy fan. However for everything I do the MP is faster.

    One possible reason is that the MP is essentially always idling at a higher performance than the other CPU's, and most people - even when surfing or typing, need little bursts of performance. The MP seems to have that reserve instantly, where the others need to ramp up into Turbo before they can deliver. So as long as your chittering along in the noise floor they never get there.

    I speculate there's more under the hood too, like bus bandwidth and such. I suspect the PCIe and memory busses rail down on the mobile type platforms, but I haven't researched this.
  24. theSeb macrumors 604


    Aug 10, 2010
    Poole, England
    Xcode does a few tasks in the background, so it could be related to that.
  25. resotek macrumors member

    Sep 25, 2013
    You said a mouthful with the above paragraph. If you earn your money and spend countless hours in front of a machine it needs to be whatever you want. I really like how you phrased that last sentence above. It's clear you want the nMP and I doubt you'd be very happy with any other option at this point.

    To me, it's a bit like a race car driver driving a Ford Focus in daily life. After all, it's not his race car, so he doesn't need the performance right?

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