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Hardware Tech

Mac Pro – Just how pro?

So Mac Pro day has come and gone. Its taken awhile to get my head around just what exactly the 2019 Mac Pro does and where it fits.

Workstation. HEDT. Theres a lot of categories and even more user expectations.

On the face of it. The Mac Pro, especially the base configuration, is an extraordinary bad value. The single core and multi core benchmarks are pretty average. Factor in the price of the base config in your country and, yeah. Its looks very hard to justify.

Apple have done themselves a disservice with the Pro name. Across the product range its applied to mean various things.

With iPads, its a nebulous range of additional features that don’t really distinguish the iPad Pro all that much from the more mundane models. There’s just the horrendous price.

Similarly, the Pro in the iPhone 11 range denoting the premium line. Again, the price to features being a little nebulous. Just expensive.

The Macbooks are a lot clearer. The Macbook Pros are the most capable. Especially the 2019 16 inch Macbook Pro. However they are priced as a mainstream device. The balance of processor, memory and storage for the relative price is bearable.

This diverges more with the iMacs. The iMac Pro is kitted out similarly to the Mac Pro with workstation grade internals. Running a Xeon processor and ECC memory. It offers a good value proposition in terms of processor, memory and storage, even for its steep base price.

Its biggest issue is that it requires an Apple technician to do upgrades.

As an aside, the elephant in the room for the iMac Pro is “Does it have a future?”. Theres been no update for some time.

Enter the Mac Pro. Its clearly a workstation and the price paid is for all the engineering thats gone into its design.

As Quinn’s video shows and iFixIt’s rating confirms. The Mac Pro is totally user serviceable. Initial testing is confirming that its capable of handling loads easily without sounding like a jet engine.

Viewed from this angle. As a purely commercial workstation. The Mac Pro makes sense.

The problem is that configurability is table stakes in the PC world. For general computing and hobbyists, its hard to justify. Its something thats a given with high end desktops.

Part of the overall problem is on Intel. The glacial pace of the Xeon roadmap and supporting chip set features. Its hard not to look at what AMD Ryzen and Threadripper bring to the table.

Performance is very much on par with the chip specs. Single core scores are tied to clock speed and multi-core scales out with the number of cores on tap.

There are still other trade offs. For example, Nvidia have done significant work to accelerate machine learning. However Apple have intentionally disallowing support for their GPUs.

The Mac Pro is competitive in key areas like video editing. Some features like the Afterburner card and custom dual GPUs are a clear advantage.

However its harder to say beyond that. There are as many options at any and all price points if macOS isn’t mandatory. All of which are flexible.

While Apple forces its customers to make sacrifices at all price points.

The Mac Pro comes at a huge premium for its flexibility. Hard to justify beyond the small market that can. Which is a shame as it still leaves a huge unfulfilled customer market.

Categories
Hardware Tech

We now return you to your regularly scheduled MacBook Pro

Finally.

Apple doesn’t like to admit that it’s wrong, but will be the first to let you know when it’s made an improvement.” – Jason Snell.

Apple having dialled the balance between form and function back some. They’ve continued the trend started with the iMac Pro.

Seemingly the same from the outside. The internals have been significantly changed. The MBP has now been allowed to grow slightly larger and heavier.

This is to accomodate:

  1. The largest allowable battery by the FAA.
  2. Redesigned thermals to handle the current Intel CPUs.
  3. Better speakers and microphone(s).
  4. New 16″ display.

The new default GPUs are the latest AMD 5000M series.

So the elephant in the room. The Magic Keyboard. The biggest talking point. Immediately obvious is the different layout and the return of the scissor switch.

The MacBook Pro has been my daily driver since its inception. Yes. I’m that old.

However this last generation of MacBooks have been difficult to live with. Even harder to recommend. Sure its a minor annoyance to deal with a soft escape key and a keyboard prone to jamming.

I’ve been grinning and bearing it rather then doing without my machine while its being repaired.

Laptops are inherently compromised. But the Macbook Pro’s combination of portability and power is just hard to beat. As much as I’ve researched alternatives. I keep coming back to it. Faults and all.

Its great to see Apple revisiting their usability decisions again. They’re actually taking on board customer feedback.

The biggest change is that I finally don’t feel like it’s constantly fighting me. Its design doesn’t feel spiteful.” – Marco Arment.

Then theres the pricing. Huge surprise. The 16″ replaces the 15″. Here in Australia, its only a small price premium over the outgoing models.

Guess I better go put an order in.

Categories
Hardware Software Tech

Platform + Services = Jackpot!?

Platforms. Thats the clear takeaway for computing as a whole.

No doubt, its been there for some time. Microsoft pivoting so hard just makes it clear as day.

With their October 2nd event, they laid out their hand. Taking a bet in a couple of directions.

The key ones being the Surface Pro X, Surface Neo and Surface Duo. Each going different ways. The later two being a technology showcase as they aren’t planned for release until 2020 at the earliest.

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The Surface Pro X is the rumoured ARM based 2 in 1 returned. It very much looks like a direct iPad Pro competitor and is priced similarly. Armed with LTE and good battery life (hopefully).

Interesting side note is that the storage can be user upgraded. Its using a new M.2 2230 SSD.

As with the original Windows RT, compatibility will be the big issue. Enough so that Microsoft put out some initial notes.

The Surface Neo has floated around Microsoft’s design studio for some time. This looks like Microsoft’s wildest bet. The demonstration was extremely hand wavy but showed the use cases.

Actual hardware details are scant. The promo video showing that it runs Intel so compatibility should be no problem. A customised OS to handle the 2 screens, Windows 10X. Apparently its pronounced, Windows ten ten?

The interesting part is the Windows UI customisation to the magnetic keyboard. The LCD panel switching to a track pad mode or a minimised screen / Touch Bar depending on where the keyboard sits.

Given the small size and internals, the battery life will be key. This looks pitched at a similar market to the Surface Go. The Go has been popular but one of the key knocks has been poor battery life.

Its an intriguing device nonetheless. Able to meet a wide variety of use cases while still being super portable.

The issue will be, will it find an audience. Where the Go neatly filled the low end, affordable portable niche. The Neo is likely going to fall between the Go and the regular Pro.

Again, price will be a major factor. Especially when the customer hears that the keyboard and Surface pen costs extra. (Pure conjecture but thats how the Surface Pro has rolled.)

Then for the almost “One more thing” moment. Don’t call it a comeback. Panos Panay jokingly had something left to announce.

It wasn’t presented as a phone.

Given how mature the smart phone market is. Microsoft having learnt a lesson from their first go round has partnered with Google. The special sauce being the work to allow Android to work with a dual screen UI.

It’ll be interesting to see just how much work was done. I’ve no doubt that Microsoft will have a uniform user experience within its own apps. But how soon does the UI fall apart as disparate Android apps are loaded.

The over arching issue here is development. Theres disparate versions of Windows on different architectures and then theres Android. I know Microsoft has been working hard on platform agnostic development tools.

Successfully so. At this point, they’ve managed to claw back a lot of developer mindshare. Delivering great open technology and tools. Even building Windows out as a developer OS. Can I get a high five for WSL!

However they’re all very different paradigms. Some like Windows 10X and the dual screen Android UI still in development.

To be successful, these products need to find an audience. Microsoft themselves have productivity covered. But a healthy App Store is needed. Even if its just to convert a sale.

Microsoft has always been a leader in development tools. So much so, that Windows always led in the desktop OS wars. Winning developer mindshare allowing it to dominate business and consumer markets with software alone.

However the computing landscape is very different today. The ubiquitous computing platform isn’t a desktop computer. <Billie Eilish>Duh</Billie Eilish>

At the core, each target platform has its own particulars and APIs / tool sets. Microsoft has clearly said they want developer input. The problem will be just how much work is involved in delivering to all these different devices and will it be worth it.

Users want a good selection of apps. Developers want a large paying user base to sell to. The issue is kick starting an App Store which has neither.

Third party developers will be faced with deciding on what to deliver to. Its a similar problem that Apple has been trying to address. Although from a very different angle.

Even Apple has struggled. When they have the advantage of a more uniform product set and significantly more control over those products. Along with one of the biggest App stores and largest paying user bases focused almost exclusively on the iPhone.

With Swift and unified APIs, Apple are hoping to make delivering macOS and iPadOS simpler and easier. Enough so as to entice iOS developers to broaden these smaller markets.

Microsoft has yet to address any of this in a significant way. Maybe the next Build ? If they can develop this into a platform then they can leverage those sweet sweet subscription services.

Categories
Hardware Tech

US tariff exemptions on some computer parts

Say, “Thank you Apple”. According to Reuters, Apple won some exemptions from the US trade regulators on certain computer parts.

Specifically around the new Mac Pro. Partially because they’ll continue to build the Mac Pro in Austin, Texas.

The knock on is that these exemptions look to be across the board as it benefits general PC makers and likely retail computer parts.