Features_graphics_display_20100727-224x140Apple today announced new Mac Pros, marking the first updates to the fruit company's pro line since March of 2009. Pricing starts at $2,500 for the base 4-core model, $3,500 for the 8-core model, and a wallet-annihilating $5,000 for the 12-core model. The new machines use the latest Intel Xeon processors, there are new SSD options for storage, and higher-powered ATI graphics cards are now standard. No USB 3.0 or Lightpeak as rumored, and still no Blu-ray option. None of this is particularly surprising, but there's an interesting angle to this announcement concerning the ongoing feud between Apple and Adobe.

There are of course pages touting processor updates, new benchmarks, and a whole bunch of tech specs. But take a look at the graphics card options for the new machines:

  • (1) ATI Radeon HD 5770 card with 1GB of GDDR5 memory
  • (2) ATI Radeon HD 5770 cards with 1GB of GDDR5 memory
  • (1) ATI Radeon HD 5870 card with 1GB of GDDR5 memory

Notice anything missing? For the first time in Mac Pro history, there are no nVidia graphics cards offered. Here's the reason this is of interest to professional editors and filmmakers: Adobe's impressive Mercury Playback Engine, recently premiered with its CS5 suite, relies exclusively on nVidia graphics cards. Apple has always shipped Mac Pros with nVidia GPUs -- either standard, or at the very least, as a build-to-order option. In fact, even going through the history of Power Mac G5 shows that nVidia has always been an option, ever since the G5 was introduced in 2003. However, this new Mac Pro will break that streak (despite earlier rumors that nVidia's new Fermi line of GPUs would be supported). So, to recap: Adobe releases CS5 with nVidia GPU acceleration, blowing the performance of Apple's Final Cut Pro out of the water. Apple releases new Mac Pros and leaves out nVidia GPUs. Coincidence? I'll leave it up to you to decide...

While some of nVidia's new cards are thought to run hot, nVidia has always been a workstation standard. At the very least I would expect Apple to offer nVidia cards as a build-to-order option, because, you know, this is a "Pro" machine and many professionals choose to use Adobe products. But no. Instead, if you want to get the best performance out of your Adobe-based editing suite (and, if you're paying $3k or more for your machine, I assume performance is important), you'll have to pay for the ATI card and then buy a nVidia card from a third-party reseller. This is assuming Apple releases drivers for the latest nVidia cards on any sort of reasonable timeline. Suddenly, Apple's claims of being open are even more laughable. You want $5,000 for a pro workstation and won't even offer a nVidia card as an option, despite the fact that most popular creative software suite in the world uses nVidia cards? I said I would leave it up to you to decide, but this really doesn't seem like a coincidence.

I can hear Steve Jobs touting Apple's openness by saying Adobe's decision to go with a proprietary nVidia technology is "closed," whereas ATI graphics cards run on "open" standards like OpenCL. Yes, implementing nVidia's CUDA architecture was a proprietary decision on Adobe's part, but let's put Apple's own reasoning to work here. Similar to Apple's argument for keeping Flash off of iOS, Adobe made a decision based on performance: nVidia's CUDA is more mature than OpenCL at this point in time. Regarding Adobe Flash, Steve Jobs himself stated, "we have routinely asked Adobe to show us Flash performing well on a mobile device, any mobile device, for a few years now. We have never seen it." So in an effort to improve the performance of their device, Apple went with a Flash-free approach because there wasn't an extant example of Flash performing well. Similarly, in an effort to improve the performance of their editing suite, Adobe went with CUDA because there wasn't an extant example of OpenCL performing well. It's the same argument, but apparently it doesn't go both ways. Once again, by not giving its users options, Apple is acting like a TV manufacturer who bans certain stations.

So, what to do? Spend $3,000 on a machine that isn't offering you the basic options you want? Maybe you can build a hackintosh. Or, you know, thanks to some other Mac issues with editing, perhaps it's time to switch to a PC.

ApplehomeI'm just thinking out loud here, and while I'd rather not spend so much time talking about Apple, I do use their hardware to create absolutely everything I do. If add-on nVidia cards are shown to work flawlessly in CS5 come August, I'll probably buy one of these Mac Pros anyway, simply because of all the Mac applications I'm reliant on. But take a look at the Apple homepage -- on the day they announced new Mac Pros, new iMacs, a new 27" Cinema Display, and a new Magic Trackpad, the iPhone still receives top billing (to the point where the Mac Pro announcement doesn't even make the home page). As of late, Apple's top priority is clearly selling gadgets to consumers; meanwhile, their high-end hardware is becoming less and less friendly to Pros.

What are your thoughts on this "omission" by Apple? If you're in the market for a new editing machine, will you buy a new Mac Pro?