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Architosh publishes Mac professional workstation survey results

In this special feature report, Architosh publishes the results of its first workstation survey conducted in late 2014 and aimed at understanding the pro (professional) desktop needs of numerous customers Apple refers to as Mac pros. Not to be confused with the product Mac Pro, today Apple’s Mac pros work across its iMac range in numerous industries, including and importantly to this publication, the Architecture industry.

Continued from page 1

Gauging the Ideal Mac pro Desktop

In this next section of the Architosh Workstation Survey study we asked questions that were aimed at gauging what workstation pros desire in their future Mac. In particular we wanted to know the following:

  1. How many GPUs should Apple ideally target for pro users? (range?)
  2. What kind of product mix should Apple provide in GPU offerings?
  3. How many CPU cores should Apple ideally target for pro users?
  4. How important is the ability to upgrade a GPU card?
  5. What IO ports are most important to pro users?

While we provide a detailed summary of recommendations at the end of this report (page 5), we will provide a general analysis for these next questions here below.

Question 8: What is your ideal preference for GPU configuration in your pro desktop?

In short, on the GPU matter, Apple’s pro customers are scattered across the board in terms of what type and number of GPUs they desire for their next ideal Mac pro desktop. Take a look at (image 08) and you will see a wide diversity. If anything, it shows that Apple really has responded well to the real needs of the Mac professional user with their latest new Mac Pro (nMP) in particular. (see image 08: What is your ideal preference for GPU configuration in your pro desktop?)

08 - Architosh workstation survey. Question 8.

08 – Architosh workstation survey. Question 8. What is your ideal preference for GPU configuration in your pro desktop?

Dual GPU systems slightly out-paced single GPU systems, with dual high-end GPUs desired the most at just under 26 percent of all participants (1 in 4). The next highest favored choice was a single high-end GPU based system, at 17.56 percent. Not surprising, nobody really wants low end GPU systems in any configuration and folks don’t want ultra high-end GPUs in single configurations either.

This means when Apple offers Nvidia’s high-end Quadra boards, users who are interested in such ultra high-end cards tend to want more than one. In fact, slightly more than 10 percent of participants would like a dual, ultra high-end GPU configuration. And 8 percent would like a triple configured option of the same calibre. To put that in perspective, 1 in 5 participants want ultra high-end GPU cards (the very top of the line GPUs) for their Mac professional desktops.

The results of the GPU study data gets a bit more interesting when we look at it by industry. We examine this on the page 4 in much more detail (and the chart is quite cool to review as well).

Question 9: How many processor cores are in your ideal pro desktop? (e.g.: cores in CPUs help you tackle many tasks at once and particularly multi-threaded applications like rendering and visual effects run best when given many cores.)

On the matter of CPU cores we found an interesting array of answers and excellent feedback on the issue. For a survey whose participants were dominantly in the architecture market, we were curious about the high percentage of users who wanted 8-12 cores in their future pro desktop Mac. This resultant, coupled with our interviews, has led us to believe that the architecture market is mis-informed on the matter of ideal CPU configurations. We’ll discuss this further in the report. (see image 09 below: How many processor cores are in your ideal pro desktop?)

09 - Architosh workstation survey. Question 09.

09 – Architosh workstation survey. Question 09. How many processor cores are in your ideal pro desktop?

10 - Architosh workstation survey. Question 10.

10 – Architosh workstation survey. Question 10. How important is the ability to upgrade your GPU(s) in your ideal pro desktop?

When it comes to Mac pros and their professional desktop computer, nearly a third (29.06 percent) would prefer an 8-core system. Another quarter of them would prefer a 12 core system (24.91 percent). And believe it or not, 15.47 percent of participants would like a 32 core system. In fact, several participants complained that the new Mac Pro isn’t a dual processor system providing up to 32 cores or more. The current new Mac Pro is a single CPU system with 12 cores max, leaving the 23 percent of participants unsatisfied.

With a diversity of participants in markets such as architecture, engineering, film and VFX, product design, engineering, science and medicine, clearly one would expect to see this diversity of needs. Apple offers a spectrum of possible options for users, from 4-6 core iMacs to 6-12 core Mac Pros. But tapping out at 12 cores maximum is leaving many Mac pro users unhappy.

Again, we’ll dig into industry related differences at the latter half of this report.

Question 10: How important is the ability to upgrade your GPU(s) in your ideal pro desktop?

While the new Mac Pro has been well received, one initial stunning complaint was the inability to upgrade the GPU cards in it. As can be seen from chart above, 32.71 percent say upgrading the GPU is important. Another nearly 10 percent said it is mandatory. The remaining participants can likely deal with the inability to upgrade the GPU, whether that be inside a Mac Pro or iMac configured for pro desktop needs. (see image 10 above: How important is the ability to upgrade your GPU(s) in your ideal pro desktop?)

Question 11: Select all the IO ports that are mission critical to your present and future workflow needs. 

When looking at IO concerns for Mac pros, as one might expect Mac professionals need a wide range of options. At the top of the heap was the need for USB 3, while two gigabit ethernet ports was required by 1 out of 4 participants. (see image 11: Select all the iO ports that are mission critical to your present and future workflow needs.)

11 - Architosh workstation survey. Survey question 11.

11 – Architosh workstation survey. Survey question 11. Select all IO ports that are mission critical to your present and future workflow needs.

Thunderbolt 2 is required by half of all participants, which bodes well for this standard championed by Apple. Alas, Firewire 2 is still an important and forward looking necessity for more than a third of pro users on Mac, largely stemming from investments in storage, film industry equipment and other external devices.

Reviewing Questions

It is clear from the data that Apple should be delivering a wide spectrum of GPU configuration options for its pro users. The data supports Apple’s decision to ship all Mac Pros with dual GPU cards. What’s missing is that some users, who find the iMac ideal for their needs, would also benefit from a dual GPU configuration—something not offered by Apple. (On the next page we review iMac versus Mac Pro data in detail)

With regard to CPU cores, a surprising number of participants want more cores. Yet, many of these users are not aware that a high-percentage of their primary tools today are not taking advantage of all these cores. Perhaps, these users are being future-oriented, but in our interviews what was revealed more was a lack of knowledge. On the flip side, many tools do use every single core available (rendering, image processing and science software in particular) to the fullest extent. For many users, Apple is not meeting their needs.

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Many interviewers attested that their belief in the need to be able to upgrade their GPU is often not backed up by their history of actually doing so. On the other hand, a third of all participants use their machines for three years before replacement, while another 1/4 each replaces on the 4th and 5th year, respectively. That means that half of all participants keep their machines long enough where a GPU upgrade would give their computers a good boost midway through their life span.

Finally, Apple pros want access to a ton of ports. Apple has been a consistent provider of numerous IO options for years and also a leading driver of newer IO technology.

In the next section we examine the iMac versus the Mac Pro for pro desktop needs across our demanding pro industries.

next page: Looking at iMac versus Mac Pro for pro desktop workflows

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