Mac Pro, reviewed by someone who needs one – a mechanical and aerospace engineer

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

What you need to know

  • Dr. Craig Hunter is a developer as well as a mechanical and aerospace engineer.
  • He's been putting a $30,000 Mac Pro through its paces.
  • Testing included complex scientific calculations that make your head hurt.

Since Apple started seeding Mac Pros to people for testing we've been seeing a steady feed of hands-on videos and early reviews. And while most of those seem to have come from people that need to handle massive numbers of audio tracks, or create amazing 3D worlds, there's another group that could benefit from huge globs of CPU power. Engineers and scientists.

Dr. Craig Hunter falls into that camp, and as spotted by John Gruber, he's been testing a 28-core, $30,000 Mac Pro by putting it through the computational grinder. And boy does it seem to be living up to the hype. Especially compared with an 18-core iMac Pro.

The monstrous weight and visual impact of the Mac Pro is matched by its performance. Right out of the box, I ran a LINPACK benchmark and saw over 1.5 teraflops of CPU performance. For comparison, that's over 55% greater performance than the 18-core iMac Pro I reviewed in 2018. Results are shown below. For this test, the LINPACK benchmark solved a dense system of 15,000 linear equations (by LU decomposition with partial pivoting, for you Richard Crandalls out there) using Intel's Math Kernel Library benchmark code. Whereas the iMac Pro tops out at 970 gigaflops with all 18 cores, the Mac Pro surpasses that level with just 13 cores and goes on to top out at 1.5 teraflops on 28 cores.

Sounds good, right? It continues.

Next, let's look at an engineering benchmark, using computational fluid dynamics (CFD) for aerodynamic analysis. For this work, I used the USM3D CFD solver available from NASA to study flow over the ubiquitous NACA 0012 airfoil shape. Results show USM3D hitting 62 gigaflops using all 18 cores on the iMac Pro. The Mac Pro passes that level with 11 cores and runs up to 88 gigaflops on 28 cores -- a 42% increase in performance.

Awesome. But while benchmarks have their place, what about something a little more real world. Or, at least, real world for people who spend their days modeling things like the impact of wind on structures. Hunter decided that should be done by "analyzing the uplift loads due to hurricane-force winds acting on different types of open roof structures (open roofs could represent marine structures, pole barns, picnic shelters, etc)".

Normally these kinds of computations would cost huge sums of money every time they're done, but if you buy a Mac Pro, you can do them over and over again without spending anything after the initial outlay. A point Hunter makes well.

Now, ordinarily these computations are run on a supercomputer and cost thousands of dollars per solution, or you'd need to build a cluster for $15-20K or more. But with 28 cores and the ability to handle up to 1.5TB of memory, the Mac Pro is a competitive alternative. To test that, I ran a wind simulation case on the Mac Pro and was able to obtain a converged solution in just 42 minutes, which puts the Mac Pro in a very productive club and justifies the high cost of the machine. A $20-30K Mac Pro doesn't make sense for very many computer users, but an engineering firm would get their money's worth out of the machine in short order.

Once again we're reminded that while I don't need a Mac Pro to write this, some people, somewhere, do need one to get their work done. And it's those people who can justify spending $30,000 on a new machine.

I guess I need to learn how to do this stuff so I can buy a Mac Pro.

Oliver Haslam

Oliver Haslam has written about Apple and the wider technology business for more than a decade with bylines on How-To Geek, PC Mag, iDownloadBlog, and many more. He has also been published in print for Macworld, including cover stories. At iMore, Oliver is involved in daily news coverage and, not being short of opinions, has been known to 'explain' those thoughts in more detail, too.

Having grown up using PCs and spending far too much money on graphics card and flashy RAM, Oliver switched to the Mac with a G5 iMac and hasn't looked back. Since then he's seen the growth of the smartphone world, backed by iPhone, and new product categories come and go. Current expertise includes iOS, macOS, streaming services, and pretty much anything that has a battery or plugs into a wall. Oliver also covers mobile gaming for iMore, with Apple Arcade a particular focus. He's been gaming since the Atari 2600 days and still struggles to comprehend the fact he can play console quality titles on his pocket computer.

  • As hard as iMore and other Mac sites have tried to explain to the fake techie crowd that the Mac Pro is not a machine for the masses, those fake-techies continue to compare it to machines they assemble from parts they buy from Frys or Micro Center. They have no idea what a $30K machine is capable of and who it is intended for. They think their $999 contraption can easily outperform the Mac Pro. They are so dense they can't even imagine the concept of the Mac Pro.
  • Agreed. They do it for the clicks.
  • Are you saying none of those people can build a machine that will out do it?
    Also, you’re as bad as they are. To suggest they not a single one of them knows is stupid. Just stupid.
  • What do you mean the "concept of the Mac pro"? It's just an Intel server processor, with a few radeon gpus and a lot of (very slow & overpriced) RAM. It's not some magical Spectre of godliness. Take any 28+ core server processor, a bunch of ram and nice video cards and it's going to perform just as well, if not better. You can easily outperform the top of the line Mac pro with a 64 core epyc 7nm processor for a quarter of the price. But keep on drinking the koolaid.
  • The guy gave his Linpack scores. You can go price out a system that will easily double this performance for far less. The Xeon W-3175 per one person achieved 1.7 terflops in Linpack. You can pick up two of them for $6,300. A LGA 3647 board with two CPU slots costs about $600. Throw in 12 sticks of 32 GB ECC Registered Ram (if you can even use that much) for $1,400. A full tower case can be got for $100. Add 2 EVGA RTX 2080 Ti graphic cards for $2,200 and finally a couple of Samsung SSD's for $1,000 and you are spending $11,000 - $12,000 on a system (excluding OS price) that will get double the Linpack score. It really is not that complicated. There are some valid reasons why someone might want to buy from an OEM (for mission-critical servers OEM certification is a big deal, but for workstations, not so much) but kind of hard to justify from a performance standpoint especially when you are spending $20,000 more for a PC that is half as powerful as an $11,000 - $12,000 system. I am not telling you what you should or should not buy, but your comments are just not based on facts.
  • There are already systems from HP and Dell that can do his kind of work without spending 30k, and they have better specs. The mac's only differentiator is the OS. For companies that need to buy 10 or 20, its still much better to go with windows/linux PCs than Apple PCs.
  • I literally made an account so I can comment on this hilarious subject. You are trying to justify the hysterical priceperperformence to having "28-cores", but those 28 cores cost 7000USD, when you can get a Threadripper 3990X for 4000USD and enjoy yourself 64-cores machine for a fraction of the price. Apple are once again, enjoying their easy-gained buck from their fanboys.
  • As someone whose thesis involved me having to solve a system of 18-30 VERY stiff ODES ( radau method) I routinely ran into problem with the solving system I would want to use not being available on my OS. I use Windows and the solvers were built for Linux. I'm genuinely curious why you would put yourself through using the Mac os to do things that can easily be done on Windows or Linux? Does software unavailability ever become an issue?
  • Dr. Hunter never actually says that the Mac Pro is a good value. He never says that he'll even mention the machine to his firm. I doubt his firm even uses Mac os on any of their computational machines. He says that an engineering firm could get their moneys worth out of a machine like that Mac Pro. That may be true, but any firm that runs software on Windows or Linux (like most firms) could pay a whole lot less and get a whole lot more performance from a machine with new AMD CPUs and Nvidia GPUs. If the firm needs Mac os, the Mac Pro is the best option, simply because there is no other option (without going in to hackintosh territory). This article reads more like an ad than a real test of the benefit of using a Mac Pro to run engineering computations. Dr. Hunter was sent that Mac Pro from Apple for review. I'll just let that speak for itself.