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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.

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Looking at iMac versus Mac Pro for pro desktop workflows

The last part of our survey was aimed at getting participants to tell us why they feel the iMac or the Mac Pro are not entirely meeting their needs. “What’s missing?” in other words. If any of the current models are actually meeting their ideal needs, then the participants were asked to select a choice labeled Skip Question (and then move on to the next question).

For the iMac question nearly 30 percent said the current iMac is meeting their professional desktop workflow needs. Hence, 60 percent had something to say about how to improve the iMac.

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For the Mac Pro question 62 percent said the machine currently meets their professional desktop workflow needs. Just less than 30 percent had some critical comments to make about the new Mac Pro. What this tells us broadly is that the new Mac Pro is more “ideal” for the pro user’s needs than the iMac, yet the iMac has grown greatly in popularity for some Mac professionals in fields such as Architecture.

Question 12: If your software needs can run natively on Mac OS X, what current version of Apple’s Macs best serve your current professional workflow needs?

Just under 3 out of 10 (28.4 percent) said the iMac best serves their needs. While nearly 6 out of 10 (57.2 percent) said the Mac Pro best served their needs. Not surprisingly, 14.4 percent of users said neither desktop systems best served their needs because a Mac Mobile computer was best suited for their workflow. (see image 12: If your software needs can run natively on Mac OS X, what current version of Apple’s Macs best serve your current professional workflow needs?)

Given the very high percentage of participants in the Architecture market, a market that has taken to the iMac in large numbers in the past few years, we found these results telling. There is a set of schisms in particular on the Architecture side. It goes like this.

12 - Architosh workstation survey. Question 12:

12 – Architosh workstation survey. Question 12: If your software needs can run natively on Mac OS X, what current version of Apple’s Macs best serve your current professional workflow needs?

Architects have grown uncomfortable with the high cost of a Mac Pro in order to obtain the higher performance they deem warrant for the price range. Yet, part of the problem is they can’t get the performance out of a Mac Pro they want because so much of their common workflows are dominated by single-threaded oriented software.

Architects who do their conceptual design using say, SketchUp, will not see a terribly big improvement with a Mac Pro over an iMac system. Likewise, even BOXX, the dedicated workstation maker aimed at the same pro markets as this survey, make wise note of the optimal Revit workstation being a single, high frequency Intel i7 processor—like the one used in the latest new iMac. And the BIM program that makes the most use of multi-threading and multi-cores is Graphisoft’s ArchiCAD and that system too does not benefit much beyond 4-6 cores.

Yet recall the desire for 8-12 cores as being prevalent in the data. A lot of users desire more cores than their actual software makes good use of. While Apple may be aware of this, at the same time Apple seems to be underestimating the legitimate users who actually can tap out 32 cores.

Another schism is that many architects are using Mac Pros or want the new Mac Pro. Yet that system, for its cost, is only well suited for the type of architect who is doing a lot of rendering work as part of their weekly workflows.

The mobile systems preference is likely go to grow as “mobility” itself grows in enterprise workflows in general.

Looking at iMac: Where is it Weak?

Question 13: If the iMac series does not presently meet your “ideal” pro desktop needs what are the primary reasons? 

The top reason cited at 35.32 percent was that the CPU is not powerful enough. Clearly this answer does not apply to the standard BIM user in architectural practice, nor the 2D CAD user. The next top reason (34.89 percent) was that the GPU is not powerful enough. And in third place was the issue that the GPU cannot be upgraded in the iMac. (30.21 percent). (see image 13: If the iMac series does not presently meet your “ideal” pro desktop needs what are the primary reasons?)

13 - Architosh workstation survey. Question 12:

13 – Architosh workstation survey. Question 13: If the iMac series does not presently meet your “ideal” pro desktop needs what are the primary reasons?

To summarize, of the nearly 6 out of 10 users who feel that the iMac is not suitable for them, the primary reasons are centered around lack of power and not being able to upgrade that power in the GPU. The fourth reason, by the way, is that the user needs multiple CPUs (or implied more CPU cores).

Only 10 percent said the iMac lacks their IO requirements. And only 18 percent said it was because the screen is integrated. Users can add displays to iMac scenarios. Importantly, 17.45 percent said they need multiple GPUs. Again, that is about power.

A few final comments about the iMac data. There were more than a handful of comments about how the iMac has become a more reasonable power per dollar pro desktop for users. The lion’s share of these comments were from Architecture market participants, or from those not in 3D, visual effects (VFX) and film markets. We will study this chart in more detail relative to markets later in the report.

Looking at the new Mac Pro: Where is it Weak?

Question 14: If the Mac Pro series does not presently meet your “ideal” pro desktop needs what are the primary reasons? 

On the matter of the Mac Pro 6 out of 10 users felt the present series meets their ideal professional desktop needs. However, for approximately 30 percent of participants, the following criticism was most important. 18.3 percent said the Mac Pro does not meet their GPU requirements (centered on lack of CUDA support). This was followed by 15.18 percent who said the GPU units are not able to be upgraded. And finally, 13.39 percent said the Mac Pro does not meet their CPU requirements. Explanations for these choices were: (see image 14 below: If the Mac Pro series does not presently meet your “ideal” pro desktop needs what are your primary reasons?)

  • Does not meet my GPU requirements (e.g.: no CUDA support)
  • Does not meet my CPU requirements (e.g.: need more cores, AMD or Intel i7 option)
  • GPU units are not able to be upgraded

In terms of IO only 5.36 percent said it did not meet their requirements. And in terms of memory, only 3 percent said it lacked the memory capacity it needs. Interestingly, just 10.71 percent said the Mac Pro did not meet their internal storage requirements, a surprise given some initial ramblings on the Net about that issue.

14 - Architosh workstation survey. Question 14:

14 – Architosh workstation survey. Question 14: If the Mac Pro series does not presently meet your “ideal” pro desktop what are the primary reasons?

The new Mac Pro supports 64 GB of memory at 60GB/s. It’s total internal storage capacity is just 1 terabyte but it uses PCIe Flash storage which is more than twice as fast as SATA flash drives and 10x faster than a normal SATA hard drive.

If you recall the IO chart, users desire and need Thunderbolt 2 (more than 50 percent), so the use of external storage is likely the high driver of this requirement, relieving the new Mac Pro of having to have so much internal storage capacity.

Question 15: What is the brand of your current desktop computer for professional needs?

Finally, in our last question we asked what users were currently using for a desktop computer for professional workflow needs. Not surprisingly, 88.89 percent were using Apple Macs. This followed by nearly 5 percent using Dell computers, HP at 3.29 percent, Boxx at 2.06 percent and IBM-Lenovo at just under 1 percent.

next page: Looking at Variances in Data by Industry

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