The Mid-range utility Mac


My thoughts have been churning away on this since the Mac Pro came out, and with some time, a cup of coffee, and a somehow-beautiful drizzly afternoon I’m going to attempt to articulate them! This was originally written on Sunday, but funnily enough a Mac-related issue lead me to forget about this post.

This rambling mess starts, as so many of my posts do, with a comment someone else made. You generally shouldn’t read comments, but Loop Insight somehow avoids pernicous screeds, just as GigaOm of yore did. SamuraiArtGuy left a comment three days ago on a Mac Pro review:

And yeah, as a self-employed Graphic and Web Designer, I know that I’m not Pixar or BBC World News. So no, not my machine. But yeah, I could use that mid-range configurable Xeon Tower with a robust graphics card. But if Apple had to choose between a shoot-for-the-stars halo machine or a mid-range utility box, build the monster first.

I’ve seen the phrase Halo Mac used in a few contexts. It’s a node to Halo Cars, which Benjamin Hunting described so well for AutoBytel:

Halo cars are meant to be shining high-tech accomplishments that show off the best of what an automaker is able to accomplish. Whether they be outrageously-styled attention-getters, retro throwbacks, high performance overachievers, or ultra-luxurious cruisers, the best halo cars over the years have been those that lifted a brand above its previous accomplishments and boosted its credibility across the board.

This is what Apple was attempting. They wanted to design and ship the best possible Mac they could again, and in doing so restore credibility to their pro customers and Mac fanbase who felt abandoned. The latter is now half done, though they still have a way to go as I worried about in 2017:

But glaringly absent [from their announcement] was an assurance from Apple that the issues that caused this cycle of innovation to abandonware won’t happen again.

I’m not as optimistic as Marco Arment about the new state of the Mac, but I’ll reserve judgement until we see how they treat this current machine.

But back to SamuraiArtGuy’s comment, he mentioned a mid-range configurable Xeon tower with a robust graphics card. I would love for such a machine to exist, because currently anything half-serious for graphics goes onto a Windows tower I had to build on the side.

At the moment, your choice is a Mac Mini with junk graphics, a MacBook or iMac with meh graphics… chasm… an iMac Pro with workstation graphics you can’t replace, and the Mac Pro with graphics you can upgrade for the cost of a kidney.

The gap in the market, long since referred to as the Mythical Mid-Tower in forums, remains elusive. There’s a hint of change in external GPUs, but that’s an ugly solution for company touted for the elegance, if unaffordability, of their products. Perhaps Apple has been so stand-off about Hackintoshes because they fill that role without any work. But to me, the fact so many people do it shows there is a market for it.

Some people with deep pockets will buy the Mac Pro for a traditional desktop, and it’ll be overengineered but awesome kit for doing so. I also acknowledge it arguably makes even less financial sense for them to make the mid-range now than ever.

It doesn’t stop me wanting one as I dual-boot my FreeBSD tower into Windows to play a game. Maybe when I finally get around to my new bhyve build with PCI/VGA passthrough this will be a moot point.

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Ruben Schade is a technical writer and infrastructure architect in Sydney, Australia who refers to himself in the third person. Hi!

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