The Mac Pro - where to begin? Firstly, this is a computer, or a 'workstation' that was created by Apple. It is the fastest and most powerful machine that the company has to offer, and since the new model release in July of this year, the specifications can be tweaked to ridiculous amounts. I bought mine in February of this year, and I suppose a good place to start would be to tell you of the specification of my workstation...
The model I have is the MacPro4, 1, and it features a Quad-Core Intel Xeon processor, with a speed of 2.66 GHz, a memory RAM of 6 GB, three hard drives, each 640 GB in size, a NVIDIA GeForce GT 120 graphics card, and an optical drive: 18x SuperDrive with double layer support (DVD±R DL/DVD±RW/CD-RW), with the Mac OS X 10.6.4 Snow Leopard. When designing your machine on the Apple website, you pretty much choose whatever features you desire - but of course, the more you add, the more it costs, and the better features you add, the more it costs. I quoted the total price it would cost to my local Apple dealership (KRCS of Peterborough) and they got me a better deal. Other features that are included in my Mac Pro are an AirPort Extreme Card (wireless internet), four FireWire ports (two each of FireWire 400 and Firewire 800) and five USB ports. One thing I stress is that this is far from the most powerful specification that you can purchase, but the above machine came with a sticker on the box with the price: £1749.00 printed on it.
With specifications out of the way, I can now discuss the machine and its performance. First and foremost, it's fast. Very fast. I can click on a bunch of programmes and they'll open in a matter of seconds. And the performance is very impressive too. But I'll start off from the beginning...
The Mac Pro was fairly easy to set up. In the box you will find instructions, but more often than not, you won't really need it. Of course, if you haven't used a computer before, then you may do, but I believe it is a fairly straight forward process. Now the tower unit is quite big - in inches, 20.1x 8.1 x 18.7 to be exact (H x W x D), and weighs in at around 18.1 kg (or 39.9 lb) - so expect a lot of room. The back of the tower unit is not like a lot of computers: clustered. Instead, the ports and holes and what not are laid out very well and it is easy to see what goes where. This helps speed up the setting up process considerably!
The tower unit's appearance is quite basic. With a complete metallic finish, the front and back feature a mesh-like exterior, which also provides great ventilation for the Mac Pro. The back sees a socket for the power, two panels featuring all ports (FireWire, USB, optical audio, analog audio, Ethernet and one for the monitor) and a fan. The front boasts a dual CD/DVD drive (you choose whether you want one or two actually installed, but there is always room for another to be installed if you only want one first off) and a small panel that features two FireWire ports, two USB ports, a headphone jack, and the 'on' button. Either side feature a plain silver panel with the Apple logo in a lighter grey in the centre. One of these panels can be removed to reveal the interior.
I shan't go into hefty detail on the interior, but in a word, I would describe it as 'tidy'. The panel is easy to remove, and once inside, it's not a complete mess like some tower units are. Instead, everything is organised neatly and systematically, and should you be brave enough to fiddle (I wouldn't recommend unless you know what you're doing!), you will be able to do so with clarity of knowing where everything is situated. The interior units are in compartments, most of which can be slid out with relative ease - but not so easy that the sections just fall out! There is ample empty space in the tower unit to allow free ventilation, so the Mac Pro does not get over heated.
Okay, so everything is set up and ready to go. Upon turning on the Mac Pro, you will have to register your details, but this does not take long. Before you know it, you are looking into that iconic purple space wallpaper, seeing a dock of programmes at the bottom of your screen, and in the top-right hand corner, shortcuts to your hard drive(s). The turning on and shutting down speeds are great - faster than any other machine I've used before, which becomes particularly relieving when it comes to rebooting your computer after installations and the sort. Installations themselves do not take long at all, and like I mentioned earlier, everything is fast! Install what you want. Manipulate and tweak your interface until your get everything you want, where you want it. This is your Mac Pro and you can do what you want with it.
So why the Mac Pro? Well, I'll have you know that I don't just go spending £1749 willy-nilly. After all, the Mac Pro is a 'workstation'. It is there to do 'work' on. My 'work' on the Mac is composing and using audio production programme Logic Pro 9. The Mac series are particularly renowned for being easier and more reliable than windows in terms of audio production (this is up for debate, of course), and I truly believe that it is. But this isn't just the case for audio production, but it is also very good for graphics (Adobe Photoshop, for example), movie-making (iMovie, Sony Vegas etc.) and animation (Macromedia Flash, for example). And the Mac Pro, being the fastest in the Apple Mac range, is your best bet.
I work with Logic Pro 9, as I have already mentioned, and although I am far from using it to its full potential (nor understanding how to!), it truly is a joy to use. Being a Windows owner prior to using the Mac Pro (well, I still own a Fujitsu-Siemens laptop with Vista on it), it was quite hard adapting, but generally, Mac OS X is easy to use. I used audio programme Cubase beforehand, and the Mac Pro with Logic Pro is far better, far more reliable and far easier to use.
But there are tonnes of other applications on offer. Of course, iTunes is a must. Although it can be downloaded for Windows, and many a person has it on their Windows system, iTunes is primarily an Apple programme, and works beautifully on the Mac, as well as looking pretty darn good! Safari is the primary web browser for an Apple Mac, and although I have downloaded Google Chrome, Safari always remains on my system. There are basic programmes that are pre-installed on the Mac (or on an accompanying disc) that will get you started in certain areas, such as Garage Band and iMovie. I also have other programmes such as Microsoft Office, Spotify, Sibelius 6, Quicktime Player and Soundtrack Pro. There are loads on offer, some free, some at a price, but they are all very easy to use and look great on the Mac's display. And your favourites (or even all of them) can sit on the very handy icon dock at the bottom of your screen (although you can move it to the left- or right- hand side).
One gripe that I hear of very often from people is that there aren't many computer games for the Mac - most are designed only for Windows, and with the graphics card that a Mac Pro boasts, it seems a big shame. But the Mac Pro is a 'workstation', and should be used mainly for work-based purposes, not for gaming. Of course, you can get your hard drive partitioned and 'Bootcamp' set up (where you can run windows alongside Mac OS X) and play your games on there, but many people are against this process for various reasons.
If you bought just the Mac Pro, you'd be pretty stuck. The Mac Pro is simply a tower unit, with speakers built in (but not very good ones) and an Apple keyboard and mouse. I find the keyboard to be very easy and fluent to use, and it also boasts a USB port that the mouse can fit into - a very handy too! Worth noting is that there is no monitor included with the Mac Pro! You must specifically buy one when building your Mac, or buy one separately. I purchased a widescreen Dell monitor for around £500 cheaper than an Apple Mac monitor, and although it's not quite the same, it's quite close, and looks fantastic. Worth it, I reckon. I also have an M-Audio interface (like an external soundcard but far more useful and powerful) that runs two Mackie MR5 monitor speakers, as well as a range of inputs should I want to record. I also have a USB MIDI keyboard that I use for MIDI recording, and an Epson Stylus SX415 printer. It becomes far more expensive when all these extra bits are added on top, but I have found that it is very much worth it. You will be more than satisfied with a complete Mac Pro set up.
One thing that is said about Macs is that they do not get viruses. I don't believe that this is completely true, and have an antivirus programme in place, but generally, I think that Macs are far less prone to such occurrences than other computers. Generally, they are very reliable machines. I got one year free with AppleCare, which is a warranty that ensures that you will get technical support and a guarantee on all hardware and software. After this one year, you do have to pay quite a lump sum to receive further warranty, but it is up to the owner of the machine whether or not they want it. Eight months down the line and I'm still fine with mine! I do think that these are the most reliable computers you will come across, though.
The Mac Pro. Do I recommend that you buy one? Yes, if you do want to get into certain areas such as audio production, animation, graphics or movie-making, but if not, then I wouldn't recommend you splashing the cash. If you don't work in any of the above areas, but do possess a money tree in your garden, then by all means buy the biggest and best Mac Pro out there; but if not, I would say go for a cheaper model in the Apple Mac range or a Windows computer. But in my opinion, the Mac Pro is the best computer on the market. With a brilliant specification, ease of use, a wide range of features and applications and great reliability, it truly is a phenomenal machine. But it comes at a price.