Thursday, February 23, 2017

Video Pros Moving From Mac to Windows for High-End GPUs

Marco Solorio (May 2016):

But as good as that juiced up Mac Pro Tower is today, I know at some point, the time will have to come to an end, simply because Apple hasn’t built a PCIe-based system in many years now. As my article described, the alternative Mac Pro trashcan is simply not a solution for our needs, imposing too many limitations combined with a very high price tag.

The Nvidia GTX 1080 might be the final nail in the coffin. I can guarantee at this point, we will have to move to a Windows-based workstation for our main edit suite and one that supports multiple PCIe slots specifically for the GTX 1080 (I’ll most likely get two 1080s that that new price-point).


Even a Thunderbolt-connected PCIe expansion chassis to a Mac Pro trashcan wont help, due to the inherent bandwidth limits that Thunderbolt has as compared to the buss speeds of these GPU cards. And forget about stacking these cards in an expansion chassis… just not going to happen.

Via John Gruber:

This may be a small market, but it’s a lucrative one. Seems shortsighted for Apple to cede it.

Timo Hetzel:

Moving my video workflow to a modern PC could save me an estimated 4-8 hours every week. I wonder if Apple knows/cares.

Previously: Getting a New 2013 Mac Pro in 2017, How Apple Alienated Mac Loyalists.

Update (2017-02-24): See also: Hacker News.


This has been an ongoing problem since the summer. Some have reverted back to using several 9xx cards (which have spiked in price) while others have switched platforms. Lacking any real progress on this, I would suspect many in this situation would abandon OSX permanently by the end of the year. And if you give up OSX on your desktop, the incentive to stay in that environment on your laptop, tablet, and phone go way down.

This is a serious problem and the only outcomes are either a) Nvidia GPUs are supported, or b) OSX is abandoned, because the simple fact is that Nvidia GPUs are more important long-term than the entire sum of Apple’s hardware; I can replace a tablet or desktop or laptop, but I can’t replace a Pascal TITAN X.

Update (2017-02-25): See also: Reddit.

Update (2017-03-06): Owen Williams (via Jeff Johnson, Hacker News):

I’m a developer, and it seems to me Apple doesn’t pay any attention to its software or care about the hundreds of thousands of developers that have embraced the Mac as their go-to platform.


It took me months to convince myself to do it, but I spent weeks poring over forum posts about computer specs and new hardware before realizing how far ahead the PC really is now: the NVIDIA GTX 1080 graphics card is an insane work-horse that can play any game — VR or otherwise — you can throw at it without breaking a sweat.

I realized I’m so damn tired of Apple’s sheer mediocrity in both laptops and desktops, and started actually considering trying Windows again.

See also: The Talk Show.

Update (2017-03-22): Owen Williams:

After waiting eagerly for the MacBook Pro refresh, then being utterly disappointed by what Apple actually shipped — a high-end priced laptop with poor performance — I started wondering if I could go back to Windows. Gaming on Mac, which initially showed promising signs of life had started dying in 2015, since Apple hadn’t shipped any meaningful hardware bumps in years, and I was increasingly interested in Virtual Reality… but Oculus dropped support for the Mac in 2016 for the same reasons.


It took me months to convince myself to do it, but I spent weeks poring over forum posts about computer specs and new hardware before realizing how far ahead the PC really is now: the NVIDIA GTX 1080 graphics card is an insane work-horse that can play any game — VR or otherwise — you can throw at it without breaking a sweat.


I don’t say this lightly, but Windows is back, and Microsoft is doing a great job. Microsoft is getting better, faster at making Windows good than Apple is getting better at doing anything to OS X.


However, in pursuit of the continual shrinking and lightening of the product line, the gap between the specs available from Apple and the major PC vendors in the workstation category has finally reached the point where even Apple loyalists are taking notice. We’ll see what Apple releases over the next few months (and years), but as I write this, compared to the MacBook Pro, portable workstations from the major PC vendors can be configured with faster processors, four times as much system AND video RAM, as well as more (and upgradeable) storage. As compared to the Mac Pro, desktop workstations from the PC vendors can be configured with more than three times the number of processor cores, sixteen times as much RAM, and double the number of (more powerful and replaceable) video cards. Compare these specs to the iMac, and the gap is even larger.

12 Comments RSS · Twitter

Gruber, as usual, is an idiot. So close, yet so far. Pro video may be a lucrative market, but only for far *smaller* vendors than Apple, who can maximize their profits at that scale by targeting that market, and that market alone, and putting into it everything they've got.

Post-2007 Apple shouldn't even be getting out of bed for any under 10M customers. That's the scale they must operate at now to run efficiently. Chasing every bit of chickenfeed you see is how you make lots of work for little profit. Look at Microsoft, who built a global empire doing then just that, only to have the bottom drop out *overnight* just because the crippling overheads of maintaining that impossibly sprawling, incoherent empire left them no flex or agility at all.

Targeting fewer, bigger markets who all buy the same products and services from you creates enormous economies of scale; more profit per work. Dumping your older, smaller markets that can't provide the same ROI frees up valuable product development resources that can then be committed to keeping those newer, bigger markets ahead of their competitors.

The post-Jobs Apple's one big error has been taking its foot off the gas once at the head of the race, cos that's the one thing it *can't* ever afford to do if it wants to stay there. Not figuring how to ditch old, exhausted markets more aggressively goes hand in hand with failing to cultivate new ones so that even before the current market has hit its peak, the old one is already set to launch off the back of it. Apple should've had every middle-class living room stitched up by 2015. Instead, its ceded that privilege to Amazon, whose Echo and Alexa platforms are going to eat Apple's services alive.

What's perplexing is that a brilliant processes guy like Tim Cook, who also came up under one of the most amazing salesmen in history, couldn't see a brilliant processes company like Amazon doing exactly this. Amazon didn't build Echo to sell it as a product, they built Echo to sell more products!


There is zero question of what Apple *should* be doing. That Mac geeks cannot see it is why they'll never create multi-Tn world-changing successes like Jobs, Bezos, et al. But then, they're just little people, as much by personal choice as Apple design.

What's really worrisome [for Apple's shareholders] is that, be it through timidity or myopia, the current Apple board seems to have a serious problem in seeing and doing it too. Hopefully by the time the Apple world goes completely titsup, Windows will have finally shucked off all its consumer markets and MS can focus 100% on retooling it into *the* general-purpose business-computing-specific platform for the future.

And real pro users should not care either, because real professionals buy a platform to run their tools, not vice-versa. I think the next few years will see a huge shift of traditional "Mac" industries to Windows because while the two softwares may be on par, the level of accompanying services, integration, and support that MS can supply to business customers just blows away anything Apple can possibly offer. (At least till Google comes along and streaks circles round them all.;)

"What's perplexing is that a brilliant processes guy like Tim Cook, who also came up under one of the most amazing salesmen in history, couldn't see a brilliant processes company like Amazon doing exactly this. Amazon didn't build Echo to sell it as a product, they built Echo to sell more products!"

Tim Cook is not a "brilliant processes guy". He's a "brilliant supply chain guy". And he's doing that quite well! Everything else is far beyond his expertise or competency.

This was expected. Apple just doesn't give a damn about the Mac. MacPro is dead and Mac itself is on its death throes. Apple wants people to move to iPad Pro and just let Mac die. Apple's now making fashion statement devices and not performance-oriented computers.

It's time ti abandon Mac.


PS: And John Gruber's a fool. Can't stand that man.

While the Apple shareholder/commenter above has a good grasp on the economies of scale and the pro market not being monetarily lucrative for Apple, they are completely missing the point of why Apple would want to service the pro market. It's not about generating huge profits in this segment. It's about maintaining mindshare among some of its most important, creative, enthusiastic users which has a halo effect on the rest of the ecosystem in the same way that supercars created by major automakers like Ford, Honda, and Toyota have a halo effect on the rest of their lineup and their brand. Or the way that the auto racing they participate in has a halo effect on their brand. These are not profit maximizing activities in and of themselves but more like marketing activities. And regarding the Amazon Echo locking up the living room, this is not even close to being done. We're only in the first inning.


You're way off base. The market being described is not a "niche market", it's the entire market of real power users. Power users (scientists, engineers, statisticians, content creators, and high-end developers) need expandable machines pushing the edge of technology. Apple used to provide those, when it was much smaller. (Not to mention that tower type machines are effectively a lot "greener", since components can be replaced or upgraded as needed - they are a much better value proposition.)

If Apple is unwilling to do serve power users, it should open macOS to general licensing, and let others fill the void. Really I think this is the best plan, as it would result in a big surge in macOS market penetration, which would inevitably result in a lot more iOS devices being sold. The Hackintosh community clearly demonstrates how well macOS runs on most PC hardware.

Right now Apple is not only the largest computer company by market cap, but the largest company period. It has the resources to be doing a MUCH better job serving its customers, and growing its business. There is a real market opportunity here.

High end machines are halo products that provide a nice marketing angle, and will entice influential power users to use Apple products.

Apple got a huge amount of their brand from creatives --fiercely both using and defending Apple products. This included both the Mac, MacPro and associated software i.e. FinalCut and others. While a small community, I would suggest that community had a huge effect on the Apple brand. The neglect is going to come home to roost. I have been a huge Apple fan, but am sitting here typing this on the new Surface Studio, and while not what I would want for Video Editing yet, I have made a decision with my Wallet to try another platform that is at least showing some effort at innovation and investment. Apple is going to loose their brand.

I see another issue for pros beyond GPU. A big benefit to a desktop machine is being upgradable, and able to perform maintenance when something inevitably goes wrong, you invest more up front but it pays off in the long run. I think many higher end users and companies take this into consideration.

I cannot imagine how many times I've opened up my MacPro to tune it up. Cleaning fans, reseating memory, adding hard drives, removing a bad drive, reapplying thermal paste to cpu, disassembling and cleaning the GPU, replacing a bad battery. Mostly simple upkeep has literally extended the life of a good computer years and years. Apple's new solution - go with iMac? Specs are nice, screen is beautiful. But you can't open it. My options would have quickly became, deal with it, take it to Apple for repairs, or buy a new one - all more inconvenient and much more costly in the long run.

"My options would have quickly became, deal with it, take it to Apple for repairs, or buy a new one - all more inconvenient and much more costly in the long run."

I believe "much more costly" is a feature, not a bug.

I feel like Apple should be treating the Mac Pros like they treated the Apple Stores and Genius Bars, not as something measured solely by its contribution (or lack thereof) to the bottom line, but rather by its contribution to the health of the platform/company/ecosystem.

The Stores are costly to operate (and, at least for the early years, were not significant contributions to the overall sales—I think I've heard "recently" that Apple Stores have the highest sales amount per square foot of any retailer, so maybe they do make a significant sales contribution now), but the presence of trained Apple staff nearby to troubleshoot your malfunctioning Apple product, offer education on your Apple product and related topics, and, yes, help you purchase Apple products, provides an enormous value to the brand. In a world where "support" these days means a bad phone connection halfway around the world to unempowered people reading off a script, Apple's alternative—walking in to an Apple Store to talk face-to-face with a real, live human who personally looks at your problem—is a tremendous win. (And when that failed VP of Retail tried to treat the Stores as if their value were measured on a mere sales basis, they, and Apple, suffered. And then he was out.)

The Mac Pros are never going to be as powerful a contribution to the overall health of the platform/company as the Apple Stores/Genius Bars are, but they play a similar role. Objectivist and Shortsighted above list a number of market segments where Mac Pros are important. Apple doesn't need to make a Mac Pro that directly addresses the specific needs of every pro segment, but it needs to have a pro model that hits somewhere in the broad swath of pro segments' needs, and it needs to keep the pro model's innards relatively up-to-date, or the overall health of the Mac/Apple ecosystem starts to suffer. The big picture is important, and it's important in more ways than just things that show up directly on the bottom line every quarter.

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