I Bought A Brand New 2013 Mac Pro in 2020
The pinnacle of Apple’s obsession with form over function
I have been collecting Macs for a few years, but it’s rare to pick up a computer for my collection that can still run modern software. So after writing an article for The Startup on creating a workspace for my hobbies, I had this bright idea to find a collectible computer that would still work with my new drawing monitor. Then it dawned on me that I haven’t owned a Mac Pro in over a decade; my last one was a G5 tower. So, I planned to buy one of the last-model cheesegrater Mac Pros (5,1) since I had been watching a lot of videos on how to max them out. In the end, I wound up buying a 2013 Mac Pro instead.
The 2013 Mac Pro has always appealed to my design aesthetics. It’s a beautiful computer yet entirely impractical for professionals, exactly like the G4 Cube. The Cube is one of my favorite Mac designs of all time, but the 2013 Mac Pro is something entirely different. I almost bought one a few years back, but the price versus value never made any sense. So, with the idea in my head to get a new Mac for my collection, I started scouring eBay for deals. I was surprised to see there were none to be had for the Mac Pro 5,1 or the 2013 model. My original budget was under $1k, including any CPU and GPU upgrades. But, I quickly had to increase my budget to get a computer with enough power to run my modern software.
After a few failed attempts at low balling sellers for used 2013 Mac Pros, I came across a listing for a brand new, unopened one for $2.2k. While this computer was over my budget, the specs were good enough that I figured I could use it as my main computer. I ended up getting the price down $100, and I pulled the trigger feeling like I got a great deal. This Mac Pro had a 6 core processor, 32 GB of ram, 1 TB SSD, and the dual FirePro D500 graphics cards. In the end, what sold me was getting an opportunity to experience unboxing the Mac Pro.
Based on my research, the 6 core with D500 GPUs appeared to be the sweet spot for 2013 Mac Pros. The 12 core single thread performance is not great, and I’ve seen the D700 GPUs have issues with overheating when coupled with a faster CPU.
I usually work on a laptop while traveling for work, but with Covid19 grounding me, I figured it was time to go back to desktops. On paper, the computer I ended up ordering was comparable to my Core i5–7600K PC with a GeForce 1080ti, which I built back in 2015. I’ve used this as my gaming PC for years, but there are still times when I need to use macOS. Unlike my gaming PC, which I built into a rather small DAN A4 case, the 2013 Mac Pro is all about its looks. Apple prioritizes a luxury experience while ignoring the raw performance a comparably priced PC could deliver.
The unboxing experience for it is something else. I am so glad I was able to find an unopened Mac Pro. Considering this is the last Apple desktop from an age still heavily influenced by the ghost of Steve Jobs, unboxing this computer it is more like getting an expensive watch. While every part inside of my game PC was handpicked and assembled by me, that experience could never compare to unboxing a fully functioning computer ready to go within minutes. So I was eager to get the new Mac Pro out of its packaging to see how it stacked up to my expectations.
While I had seen numerous pictures of the Mac Pro and even admired it a few times at the Apple Store, I still wasn’t prepared for how small it is. Even more surprising is the weight; this thing is dense. Of course, I had wanted to take photos of the entire unboxing process, but the computer is impossible to photographs without reflections. The best I could do with the case on was a few at odd angles, and even those didn’t come out how I wanted. When you remove it from the box, the entire computer is covered in a plastic wrapper like an iPhone to protect it from being scratched. Upon removing the plastic wrapper, the case immediately becomes a dust and fingerprint magnet.
Before I wired everything up, I wanted to check out the inside of the Mac Pro. The attention to detail is unlike any computer I have seen. It looks like a work of art. For example, the unique air vents at the top resemble the grill you’d find in a Mercedes than a computer. These vents are not visible when the outer shell is on and would typically be made of plastic or unfished metal if any other company had built it.
Apple completely overengineered the dual ram bays flanking the device. Each side contains a tray for two ram chips that extend out at the press of a button to make them easier to access. For the past ten years, I’ve had computers with 16 gigs of ram, so having the stock 32 GB is a nice bump, but I want to max this thing out at 128 GB. I usually don’t care about such things, but there is something about this computer that feels decadent; it makes you want to push it to the extreme.
On my list of things to do at some point is upgrade the CPU to an Intel Xeon E5–2690 v2 10-Core 3.0GHz processor. I would lose .5gz of the top of my current 6-core processor, but the extra 25 MB of cache and four additional cores would probably be a fair trade-off. Again, I don’t even use Apps that push this computer in a way that would require more power, but the challenge of installing a new CPU in a closed-off system like this might be fun. Too bad the CPU is hidden behind one of the GPU bays and is tied directly into the cooling system.
The inside of the Mac Pro looks almost alien. It’s the most futuristic-looking computer I have even seen taking into account that it’s seven years old. Most of my other Macs are a product of their time. The G4 Cube, with it’s floating plastic design, screams turn of the millennium. My Quadra 700 is a perfect example of the early 90s beige towers. And of course, my Macintosh Classic II is the culmination of the late 80s Apple design. However, the 2013 Mac Pro is so unlike any of its counterparts; I have a feeling it will continue to look timeless.
With the outer shell back on, I was finally ready to set it up. The back has lights built into the outlines of the input banks that glow to help you see what you are doing in the dark. Again, no other company has this level of attention to detail. These lights aren’t superficial, like the ones on most of the parts in my gaming PC. I was connecting all of the wires up under my desk, and I was able to see exactly where all of the ports are.
In the end, the biggest challenge with using the Mac Pro was that the HDMI port doesn’t support 4k @ 60hz. The highest refresh I could get with my monitor was 30hz, which felt like I was moving the mouse underwater. After I purchased a mini-display port adaptor, everything worked perfectly. This is probably one of the biggest downfalls with the 2013 Mac Pro or any Macs for that matter. Their port selection is so minimal and limited that you eventually end up needing multiple dongles or adaptors, which completely ruin the aesthetics of the computer. Luckily in the case of the Mac Pro, I can easily bundle these wires and wrap them since I’m using a single USB-3 cable to a hub hidden under my desk and one video out. I could only imagine the mess you would have if you were using all 4 USB, 6 Thunderbolt, and two ethernet ports.
It’s hard to tell that this is technically a 7-year-old computer. Not only does macOS run smoothly, but Windows 10 is incredibly responsive as well. And once again, I now have the best of both worlds; Mac and Windows on the same machine. Even better is the empty space under my desk where my old gaming PC and laptop used to live. And now, I have my Mac Pro on my desk with my other classic Macs so I can admire these functional works of art.