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Mac Pro historical perspective

April 5 2022 by Jeff Johnson
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Thanks to Mactracker for maintaining historical lists of Mac models and prices.

The Mac Pro was introduced in 2006 at a base price of $2499. However, the Mac Pro was effectively the Intel successor to the PowerPC Power Mac. The computer case design was introduced in 1999 with the Power Macintosh G3 and remained mostly the same in fundamentals ever since, except for the "trash can" period of 2013 to 2018.

Power Macintosh G3 Blue and White

Below is a historical list of changes in the base price of the Mac Pro and Power Mac. There are short-lived periods of a few months when the base price was a little lower or higher, but I've not included those specific models because they would add unnecessary complication to the table without changing the trends significantly.

1999 Power Mac G3 $1599
2001 Power Mac G4 $1699 +6%
2003 Power Mac G5 $1999 +18%
2006 Mac Pro $2499 +25%
2013 Mac Pro ("trash can") $2999 +20%
2019 Mac Pro $5999 +100%

The overall US inflation rate between 2013 and 2019 was 10%, not 100%. For comparison, the Late 2013 21.5 inch iMac had a base price of $1299, and the 2019 21.5 inch iMac had a base price of… $1299, an increase of 0%.

Prior to 2013, the Mac Pro and Power Mac had been relatively affordable for individual creative professionals (as opposed to corporate and other institutional buyers with vast sums of money). These computers were quite common among my fellow software developers, and indeed I personally bought a 2010 Mac Pro. In a 2017 interview about the Mac Pro, Apple Senior Vice President Craig Federighi said "it’s possible software developers are actually our largest pro audience."

I would argue that the Mac Pro as we software developers knew it was never given a successor after the "trash can". The Mac Pro was discontinued and replaced with a different computer of the same name that was no longer for its largest pro audience. I don't know many individual software developers now who can afford a new Mac Pro. I certainly can't. The Apple news media gleefully exclaim "The new Mac Pro is not for you!", but the problem is that the old Mac Pro was for people like me, as proven by the fact that I had one, as well by Federighi's statement that it was for people like me. In my eyes, the 2019 Mac Pro was a betrayal of Apple's 2017 assurances.

This year the new Mac Studio was introduced. In contrast with the obscene, historically unprecedented price of the new Mac Pro, the base price of the Mac Studio is an affordable $1999. Unfortunately, the internals of the Mac Studio are crowded into a small case of approximately the same design as a Mac mini. The consequences of this case design is that the Mac Studio is non-upgradable in every way, a stark contrast to the 2012 and earlier Mac Pro, the open case design of which allowed trivial user replacement of almost every internal part. The Mac Pro used to be a machine built for the future, not for the apparent planned obsolescence of the Mac Studio.

I don't understand why we have to make these painful tradeoffs in 2022 when they weren't necessary in 2012. Ten years ago we had relatively affordable, conveniently upgradable Mac Pro models. Since then we gained a faster CPU, but otherwise we've lost everything else great about the Mac Pro. I've seen a lot of celebration lately about a "Mac Renaissance", but I don't see how that's objectively justified from an historical perspective.

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