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The Initial Reaction — This Doesn’t Come Cheap
Indeed, the initial reaction for many, us included, is this may cost a fortune. Greg Conyngham, an architect and the president of Integrated CADD Services, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, a specialized Apple VAR (value-added reseller) put it this way: “Price may be an issue as all of this processor and GPU power doesn’t come cheap.” Optimistically he added, “But I think a moderately configured version of this new Mac Pro will provide the speed and productivity increases that our users have been looking for in an updated Mac Pro and then some.”
Stephane Laroye, an architect and urban designer and once longtime IT director with DIALOG, a large architecture firm in Vancouver, Canada, also expressed concerns about cost and “fit” issues for various segments of the CAD and 3D communities on OS X. “The device [new Mac Pro] tries to capture all of its pro level users, the prosumer, and pro user, into one category,” he said, “but I believe that these are different users.”
Laroye further clarified: “The Prosumer will likely spend once, keep the Mac Pro for a very long time and wish to upgrade for years, while the pro user will spend as much as they can once, get the fully loaded Mac Pro, and keep it for a year (or one product upgrade cycle) and never upgrade.”
Too Much for the CAD Market
Laroye’s comments are interesting. In our own research here at Architosh we have found over the years that what the vast majority of architects need for a workstation is typically a bit different than what 3D professionals typically need. Those doing 3D rendering work can always make good use of additional power. However, with the transition to Building Information Modeling (BIM) well underway, more and more architects are working in 3D OpenGL views all day long, as opposed to 2D line rendered views common in AutoCAD.
Laroye explains further. “The current iMac fulfills our CAD workstation needs for around the 2,000.USD mark,” he continues. “Years ago, we consistently spent between 4-5,000.USD per workstation but now, we can get so much more for less. Perhaps we have become Prosumers?”
In contrast to that view, it may have been more likely that architects were actually Prosumer users all along back in the days of 2D CAD. It just wasn’t the case that there was a machine like the Intel i7 -based iMac with its luxurious 27 inch display to work on. But we have that today and, for many, it works exceptionally well.
The CAD Market is Changing: How does the Mac Pro Fit
The new Mac Pro 2013 may actually be better positioned for the CAD and 3D markets than people may actually realize. “This was not the Mac Pro I was looking for,” said Greg Conyngham, whose large metro Boston client base includes hundreds of architects, landscape architects and other design and 3D professionals, “but after seeing how the thermal core and single fan work in such a simple design the genius of Apple’s industrial design has grown on me again.”
The CAD market in AEC has been transitioning to BIM (3D, and nD based CAD) where intensive geometry databases need much larger storage while more and more users are accessing pieces of these database models from cloud servers. A lot of data today is being kept in cache files, and this says nothing about the benefits of cache files for 3D.
“The PCIe based flash storage eliminates the bottleneck of previous SATA bus connected storage systems,” adds Conyngham, “and greatly improves the performance of applications that utilize cache based files.” Indeed, many of the improvements in the new Mac Pro are ideal for where the CAD/BIM market is migrating to. Conyingham also noted the importance of multiple displays, a growing and important area of productivity improvement for CAD and 3D professionals.
[see: Architosh, “Product Review: Matrox Dual HeadToGo DP Edition,” 29 Nov 2010.]
“Out of the box ability to connect three hi-res displays will be great for those looking to further increase productivity by working in a multi-display environment,” continued Conyingham, “Users can now have a monitor for the plan view, axon or elevation view and a rendering window all at the same time–if you can afford three monitors.”
Stephane Laroye admitted he watched the WWDC keynote with great anticipation. “Mac OS X is the most modern and, in my view, the most approachable Enterprise operating system for a company,” he states, “who wants reliability, ease of deployment and does not want an IT department.”
The major concerns folks we spoke to about the new Mac Pro have centered around flexibility, future expandability and cost flexibility. With the twin advanced “workstation grade” GPUs, this is the first Mac Pro in the history of the company to be ideally positioned to target high-end 3D CAD workflows in addition to 3D animation artists, film editors and compositors, scientists and other high performance compute users. The trick to success for this machine in the CAD and 3D industries will likely fall in its scalability in price. The pro user, as Laroye has mentioned, will likely buy a new Mac Pro at the most powerful configuration he can afford and keep it for one cycle.
But for this machine to be a large-scaled deployed workhorse within AEC and engineering CAD companies, it will need to beat all rivals in performance-price ratios, and scale down as far as it can on price to tempt those who are today currently very happy with i7-based iMacs.