Is the Mac Pro really that expensive?

2019 Mac Pro
2019 Mac Pro (Image credit: Rene Ritchie / iMore)

The new 2019 Mac Pro is but a few days into its lifecycle. Beyond the striking holes, the beautiful enclosure that lifts off like a second shot of unboxing euphoria and its partner-in-crime, the Pro Display XDR, one of the most distinctive features of the new Mac Pro is its price.

Before you even arrive at the Mac Pro's configuration page, it's already the most expensive base-model that Apple sells. Only the iMac Pro comes close with a starting price tag of $4,999. Rookie numbers in this bracket. Of course, when it comes to the Mac Pro, the party really starts when you begin stuffing more components inside the Mac Pro's glorious aluminum chassis. 28-core processor? Sure, that'll be $7,000. 1.5TB (terabytes) of RAM? $15,000. Wheels? $400. By the time you fully kit out a Mac Pro, the bill runs north of $53,000, which, by the standards of everyone outside of the 1% (or something) is a life-changing sum of money. That's a very nice new car, or two less nice cars, a very substantial down payment on a house. More than what most people earn in a year, more than a lot of those people earn in two. So by objective standards, yes, the Mac Pro, even at base-model spec, is expensive.

But in the context of powerhouse computing, is it too expensive? Absurdly expensive even? Well when you think about the target audience of the Mac Pro, the answer becomes a lot less clear-cut. Take movie-making for example. Anyone interested in buying a Mac Pro probably has a really nice camera. A mid-range RED camera costs about the same as a fully-decked out Mac Pro, so for professionals at that level, maybe the Mac Pro isn't so expensive after all...

And even if you're not shooting for the top-spec, you'll often find that in a professional setup of any sort, the Mac that binds it all together is seldom the most expensive piece of kit in the room. A professional music studio can run into the hundreds-of-thousands if not millions of dollars. $53,000 for a Mac to make it all tick doesn't quite seem like such a stretch in that context.


But how does the Mac Pro compare to the competition? Well, one obvious comparison might be a Dell workstation. The Precision 7920 Tower workstation retails from Dell's website for $6,728 and is currently on sale for just over $4,500, so it makes for a reasonable comparison in terms of starting price. Like the Mac Pro, the customization potential is pretty much limitless. Load up one of these bad boys, and the Mac Pro's price suddenly seems laughably cheap... The Mac Pro's top-spec processor, as mentioned, costs $7,000. There's a Dual Intel Xeon Platinum you can add to the 7920 that costs $34,000... There's also a Triple NVIDIA Quadro graphics option for the same price... You can seemingly add more hard drives than I have fingers and toes, and the workstation also supports up to 3TB of RAM, which costs a cool $92,000. That's two Mac Pros!

Now obviously, a Dell Workstation like that is targeted at a very specific user-base. Namely, professionals operating at the highest echelons of their craft who need literally more computing power than most of us will use in our lifetime. But so is the Mac Pro! And this is the kind of context the Mac Pro needs to be considered in. Yes, there are a couple of Apple-isms, like $400 for a set of wheels that you can't install yourself. But it's not hard to imagine that a lot of talk about the Mac Pro's price tag is often clouded by thoughts of the rest of Apple's product lineup. Why would I buy a Mac Pro? The Mac Mini is less than $1000, both have macOS, right? But you simply can't compare the Mac Pro to any other Mac on offer, they are worlds apart in every sense. And whilst the Mac and a Dell Workstation are different products in their own right, I simply offer it as proof that there will be plenty of people out there who weren't at all surprised by the potential cost of the Mac Pro. And furthermore, as proof that the Mac Pro is definitely not the most expensive computer you can lay your hands on these days.

But, computers are getting more and more expensive right?

If you take a stroll down memory lane, you'll actually find that computers are getting cheaper and cheaper. The 1989 Macintosh Portable retailed at $6,500 - over $12,000 in today's money. And for that price, you got a 16MHz Motorola CPU, 1MB of RAM and a 40MB hard drive. It also had a lead-acid battery that weighed two pounds and probably took years off the life of its users. Apple's 1983 Lisa was even more expensive, at a cost of $9,995, or $24,000 in today's money. The specs of the Lisa were even worse than the Macintosh Portable!

Macintosh Portable

Macintosh Portable (Image credit: Centre for Computing History)

So sure, the Mac Pro is vastly more than any of us might ever want to pay for a computer. But that won't be the case for some. For many who operate in the creative sphere, be it music, movies or photography, the Mac Pro is a chance to combine all the benefits of Apple's user interfaces and its ecosystem, with raw processing power the likes of which we have never seen in a Mac before.

The good news for the rest of us is that we will get to reap the rewards in the form of movies, TV shows, music, and great photography, from creators who will all be enabled in part by the most powerful Mac ever made.

Stephen Warwick
News Editor

Stephen Warwick has written about Apple for five years at iMore and previously elsewhere. He covers all of iMore's latest breaking news regarding all of Apple's products and services, both hardware and software. Stephen has interviewed industry experts in a range of fields including finance, litigation, security, and more. He also specializes in curating and reviewing audio hardware and has experience beyond journalism in sound engineering, production, and design. Before becoming a writer Stephen studied Ancient History at University and also worked at Apple for more than two years. Stephen is also a host on the iMore show, a weekly podcast recorded live that discusses the latest in breaking Apple news, as well as featuring fun trivia about all things Apple. Follow him on Twitter @stephenwarwick9