Updated April 2017: Included the new pricing structure for the 2017 speed bumped Mac Pro.

I'll be frank: Unless you fit into a few, very specific categories, I don't particularly recommend buying a 2017 speed-bumped Mac Pro. That said, there are a few who are going to want to pick up this version of Apple's aging pro tower before the company has a chance to reinvent it — and if you're one of them, here's what you want to take into account.

More for your money

While officially the 2013-chassis Mac Pro hasn't been discounted, you now get a lot more system for your money than you once did. While it works on the next generation of Mac Pro, Apple has essentially discounted formerly paid upgrades by $1000+, making them the default option for new buyers. The $3999 system is now available for just $2999, and a fully-upgraded kit will cost you less overall. It's worth noting that these upgrades aren't new components for the Mac Pro — since 2013, you've been able to build the Mac Pro to order with higher-core Xeon processors and FirePro D700 GPUs.

Before, $2999 would get you a 3.7 GHz Intel 4-core Xeon processor; now, for the same price you'll get a 3.5 GHz 6-core processor with 12MB of L3 cache.

You'll also see an upgrade to the Mac Pro's internal graphics cards — moving from AMD's D300 dual graphics processors to the company's D500 chips with 3GB of GDDR5 VRAM.

Comparing Mac Pro models

All Mac Pro models look the same on the outside: They're 11 pound cylindrical black towers, with four USB 3 ports, 6 Thunderbolt 2 ports, dual Gigabit Ethernet port, an HDMI 1.4 port capable of connecting to a 4K "UltraHD" display, optical digital audio output, headphone minijack, 802.11ac Wi-Fi networking, and Bluetooth 4.0.

It's the inside that matters here, though: Each of the two Mac Pro models — priced at $2999 and $3999, respectively — have different processors and GPUs. The $2999 model, as noted above, comes with a 3.5 GHz 6-core processor, 12MB of L3 cache, and AMD's D500 dual graphics processors with 3GB of GDDR5 VRAM. Its $3999 sibling bumps that up to a 3.0GHz 8-core processor, 25MB of L3 cache, and AMD's D700 dual graphics processors with 6GB of GDDR5 VRAM. Both models ship with 16GB (four 4GB sticks) of DDR3 ECC memory and a 256GB SSD.

Like the Mac mini, the Mac Pro does not come with its own display, keyboard, or trackpad — you'll have to pick up those on your own.

Upgrading the Intel Xeon processors

Apple's current Mac Pro uses an Intel Xeon processor, like its predecessors. Xeon processors were built for heavy-duty use in servers and workstations — environments demanding more extreme performance and operational criteria. The Xeon processors in the new Mac Pro are based on Intel's Ivy Bridge-EP architecture. It also has beefier Level 3 cache for frequently accessed instructions, saving the CPU from having to page to slower system memory.

What's important to understand here is that the Mac Pro is designed for parallel processing. Each core in a CPU can operate its own separate instruction; six cores can execute six instructions simultaneously. Applications that are tuned to support multiple cores will benefit the most from this — video editing software like Final Cut Pro, data compression and transformation software, 3D rendering, scientific software, and other apps.

Starting with Apple's base model $2999 six-core Mac Pro, you can upgrade the following:

  • +$800: 3.0GHz 8-core with 25MB of L3 cache
  • +$2000: 2.7GHz 12-core with 30MB of L3 cache

These are both discounts on the original pricing for 2013's upgrades — the 8-core upgrade originally cost $1500, with the 12-core coming in at a whopping $3000.

D500 vs. D700: AMD's FirePro graphics performance

The heavy duty CPU is one important element of the Mac Pro's performance capabilities. Another is its dual graphics processors, powered by AMD's FirePro system. These aren't the sort of processors you'll find in a gaming system: They're designed for high-end graphics workstations, thoroughly optimized not only to render graphics well with impressive pixel and texture fill rates, but also providing full-on compute engines that can help the Mac Pro process raw data.

AMD's system hooks into OpenCL, a standard that Apple has supported since Snow Leopard; apps with OpenCL support can take advantage of the programmability of the FirePro GPUs. 3D rendering apps, physics simulations, numerical analysis, data analysis — all of these can benefit from the beefy FirePro graphics. (It's worth noting that AMD does not support Intel's CUDA platform, on account of, y'know, not being Intel.)

Starting with Apple's base model $2999 AMD FirePro D500 Mac Pro, you can upgrade the following:

  • +$200: Dual AMD FirePro D700 GPUs (6GB of GDDR5 VRAM each)

Again, this is a discount on the original pricing, which saw D700 GPU upgrades offered at $600.

RAM price vs performance

The Mac Pro can accommodate up to 64 GB of RAM using four DIMMs (memory modules) in separate slots. The RAM itself is DDR3 Error Correcting Code (ECC) RAM clocked at 1866 MHz — very fast memory aimed at the server-workstation market. Apple uses ECC memory in the Mac Pro to avoid transient memory errors that can cause systems to crash or produce erroneous data.

Like just about everything else, the 2017 bump brings the base-level $2999 Mac Pro from 12GB to 16GB of RAM; you can upgrade the following:

  • +$400: 32GB (4x8GB)
  • +$1200: 64GB (4x16GB)

Just a small discount on RAM from the 2013 to 2017 models: $100 less than their original $500 and $1300 entry costs.

Memory designed to work in the new Mac Pro is already available from third-party vendors; you may very well be able to save yourself significant money — hundreds of dollars — by waiting to upgrade the system yourself with more RAM later.

256 GB vs. 512 GB. vs. 1 TB Flash Storage

The new Mac Pro is incredibly compact and designed for maximum throughput, so it employs PCI Express (PCIe)-based flash storage, the same kind of technology used in other Mac models equipped with flash storage. It's considerably faster than the Serial ATA (SATA)-based flash storage it replaces.

The Mac Pro comes with 256 GB on a single drive, but you can upgrade the following:

  • +$200: 512GB
  • +$600: 1TB

This is a discount of $100 and $200, respectively, from the original $300 and $800 prices found on the 2013 Mac Pro.

Questions?

Any other queries about upgrading the 2017 Mac Pro? Let us know in the comments.

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Mac Pro: What you need to know

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