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The technology gap between the old and new Mac Pro could cost you a Mini

While innovation is certainly a good thing most of the time, it ends up costing more when the strides that innovation takes are long and wide.  The problem for old Mac Pro owners is that the innovation that went into the new Mac Pro is happening all at once.

The old Mac Pro for the most part has remained the exactly the same for the last four years. A few minor bump-ups in processor performance, memory speed and graphics, but its mainly the same machine.  Making the jump to the new Mac Pro will require some changes in how you operate and use it. Most notably will be how you choose to store your data.

Migrating all your storage to Thunderbolt

The one thing missing from the new Mac Pro is storage space. They may be fast, but they don’t have much space to store things. Especially if you have been utilizing the four internal drive bays of the old Mac Pro. Your two choices for accessing external storage on the new Mac Pro are USB 3.0 or Thunderbolt. If you have been using FireWire 800 external drives on your old Mac Pro, you will need to change. You will be hard pressed to find many modern drive enclosures that support both FireWire 800 and Thunderbolt.

Mac Pro and Drobo 5D

What you will likely end up with is something that supports both USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt like the Drobo. The Drobo 5D costs $850 and has five internal drive bays that would serve as a good desktop replacement for your old Mac Pro’s four internal drive bays. That, and it comes in matching black for those who pay attention to such things. Supporting both USB 3.0 as well as Thunderbolt, it can serve to bridge the data storage gap as you plan on upgrading to the new Mac Pro.

USB 3.0 for your old Mac Pro

The old Mac Pro however only supports USB 2.0, and that is not fast enough. In order to access your new external drive solution using a method that provides the best speed possible, you will need to utilize one of the internal expansion slots. All Mac Pros from early 2009 (MacPro4,1) forward have PCIe 2.0 expansion slots.

CalDigit SuperSpeed

To bridge the gap and access your data using USB 3.0 consider adding a CalDigit 2 Port USB 3.0 Host Adapter for $87.99. This will add two USB 3.0 ports to your old Mac Pro and allow you to access your new external storage solution as you wait to upgrade to the new Mac Pro.

Accessing your hard drives once they’re out

One of my favorite Mac Pro accessories is the NewerTech Voyager SATA drive docking solution for $74.99. It looks like a toaster and allows you to swap out SATA hard drives like they were removable media.  This solution will allow you to continue accessing your files stored on the internal drives after you remove them from your old Mac Pro.

Voyager Q

It supports both Firewire 800 and USB 3.0, which help it serve both the old and new Mac Pros right out of the box. Of the options available, it is certainly the cheapest way to bridge the external data storage gap. It also allows you to access all of your files via the fastest interface that comes with both the old and new Mac Pro.

Mountains of optical discs still exist

With the Mac Pro, Apple will finally remove the last computer from its lineup that comes with a SuperDrive. While burning discs may be a thing of the past, it is still likely that you have a formidable stack of old discs that you will want to access from time to time. Backups of old photos, documents and even music files that you thought you would never need access to again. When you do discover that you need to access these old discs, you will have to purchase something like the Apple USB SuperDrive for $79.00.

With a fully stocked new Mac Pro costing as much as $10,000 each, investing $1,000 in your old Mac Pro may be a more economically feasible, short term option.  This may even give you some time to make the transition to the new Mac Pro a much easier task.

17 Responses to “The technology gap between the old and new Mac Pro could cost you a Mini”

  1. “With the Mac Pro, Apple will finally remove the last computer from its lineup that comes with a SuperDrive.”
    The 13″ MacBook Pro non-retina is still sold and comes with a SuperDrive.
    A poor factually inaccurate article, trying to find a problem that isn’t there.

    • Somehow I did convince myself that the old Mac Pro was the last mac to have a Super Drive. The 13″ MacBook Pro completely slipped past me (must have thought that it went out with the last update of MacBooks).

      That does not however remove the ‘problem’. Having dual SuperDrives in the old Mac Pro was a feature that many still use (replaced one of mine with a blue-ray drive in fact). No optical drives at all in the new Mac Pros.

      Looking toward the new Mac Pros, if you still want to access or burn optical media, then you will need to purchase an external drive of some sort.

      I was lucky to snatch up one of the few remaining LaCie portable blue-ray slim drives. I would have listed them as an option, but after contacting LaCie, I was informed that they have indeed stopped manufacturing them. It’s a great little drive and allows me to read my blue-ray discs as well.

  2. Chuck Dotson

    Geoffrey, if you are so happy with your “old” Mac Pro why are you buying a new one?

    If you still want to use your PCI-E-based peripherals then get one of these: It’s a TB PCI-E expansion chassis. Done.

    I have to say that I am already fatigued by the whinging over the Mac Pro (not just you, but most of the articles written in general tech blogs). The Mac Pro is pricey, but it’s always been pricey. At the same time, for exactly the same price that I paid for my Mac Pro in 2007 (still running!), I can get a new one that has eight times the memory (running at a much higher speed), is incredibly quick in starting up and launching apps, and has orders of magnitude more processing power (some from the CPU, but mainly from the GPU).

    *These* matter to professionals, the target audience for the Mac Pro. The fact that the top of the line Mac Pro is $10k is a canard, because most people do not need that kind of performance, and those who do are willing to pay for it. Try speccing out a comparable workstation from a reputable vendor and you will find that the Mac Pro is priced very well.

    There is no question that switching to Thunderbolt for storage will be painful for some people. It’s an unfortunate but unavoidable part of life, and it comes with innovation. I keep remembering the quote attributed to Henry Ford: “If I asked my customers what they wanted, they would have said, ‘a faster horse and carriage.'” As it turns out, a lot of Apple observers are killing them on blogs for not just doing that (while many of them complain that Apple does not know how to innovate anymore). Personally, I’m intrigued by the new Mac Pro, although I won’t be buying one right away.

    I’m not speaking as an Apple fanboy or apologist but as someone who uses workstations professionally. You don’t have to like the new Mac Pro, but you also don’t have to buy one. If it doesn’t work for you then just say so, it’s ok.

    P.S. Stay away from Drobo if you are looking for performance storage. They are slow as molasses.

    • Thanks for the feedback. As to the ‘why consider a new Mac Pro if you love your old Mac Pro so much’, well, I happen to have had to replace both main boards earlier this year prior to the new Mac Pros being announced/available. As much as I would like to believe that my old Mac Pro will last forever, I do realize that it will not.

      These are the steps that I have chosen to take as I transition from old to new. As to which new one I may consider, I am stuck deciding between the 6 and 8 core CPU as well as the D300 and D500 GPU with 64GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD. But one thing at a time. I want to get my storage options ironed out first, and hope that my old Mac Pro lasts me a just a little while longer.

      If the replaced main boards in my old Mac Pro don’t hold up for very long, I may also consider looking to the used Mac Pro market for a good 2012 model if the prices come down a bit. But to be honest, I have not seen many 12-core Westmeres for sale yet. Such certified/refurbished models from Apple are still selling for $3.2K. At that price I may be better off with a 6 core D300 new Mac Pro instead.

  3. I opted to go with the “List Price” that various online stores were posting rather than a given sites sales or promotions prices. I was not sure how long various prices would remain online. The intention was not to be misleading.

    I also did not speck out various configuration prices that can send the total investment of a Drobo 5D north of $1.5K. Given that the theme was to maximize capacity without sacrificing performance, even with purchasing the Drobo 5D at $699, adding a 240GB mSATA Internal Solid State Drive for around $150 and five WD Caviar Black 4TB drives at $250 each would put the total price just over $2K. Forgoing the SSD and opting instead for five WD Desktop Blue 1TB drives at $60 each you would arrive at a total price of almost $1K. One may even have extra hard drives on hand, or opt to use the drives out of their ‘old’ Mac Pro to get started. There are a lot of configuration options to consider.

    So even going with the List Price rather than the currently available online sale price, the amount of $850 was perhaps too low of a price to mention if anything, not too high.

  4. To clarify a little, the intent was to have similar (or better) performance when accessing large storage capacity drives from the new Mac Pro compared to the old Mac Pro. Presently the ‘old’ Mac Pro that I am using has a series of WD Caviar Black drives in each of its four internal SATA drives accounting for a current capacity of 12TB of fast access storage space. FW800 and GB Ethernet access simply does not provide the same performance.

    Also, this is not just a theory or an observation, it is the path that is currently underway with hardware that is under my direct control. Not mentioned in the article (was not relevant for the purpose of the article) was the fact that the ‘old’ Mac Pro that is making this journey has been supercharged with internal SSD and an updated graphics card as well. I love my ‘old’ Mac Pro and have done what I could over the years to keep it as technically relevant as possible. It still performs very well.

    I had previously invested in eSATA drive enclosures by adding an internal PCIe card to connect to external drives. I was able to achieve similar performance to the internal drives. eSATA access to external drives does not appear to be a possibility directly from the ‘new’ Mac Pro just as Thunderbolt access is not possible from the ‘old’ Mac pro. USB 3.0 appears to be the best solution that bridges the old and new Mac Pros (again from a performance vantage point).

    If the five drive bay Drobo supported eSATA in addition to Thunderbolt and USB 3.0, I would have been in external drive heaven (and would not have needed to add USB 3.0 to my old Mac Pro).

    • Paul Laskin

      There are a few eSATA to Thunderbolt adapters out there. Check out the LaCie eSATA Hub which has Thunderbolt pass thru and two eSATA ports. Sonnet has (among other things) an express-card to Thunderbolt adapter. OWC Mercury Helios looks interesting in that it allows one to install a single ½ length PCIe cards into the enclosure. I’d consider it if it could accept two cards.

  5. Freddy Kruger

    Uhhh…. Do both the new Mac Pro and old Mac Pro have network adapters?? Sounds like someone forgot to mention that having them on the same network through a gigabit switch/router is a great way to access files stored on either machine. How about remote desktop even?

  6. Darren Allen

    The author is not being overly dramatic. He raises some great points. The Voyager Q is a great option to have and I’m very appreciative of the author mentioning it (yeah yeah, you can buy adapters up the wazoo and then you have to fish around for those adapters and figure out what’s what, and some adapters make the cables hang at angles which are not desirable with extra weight or tension on the cable). Don’t forget, some people run Mac Pros as servers such as in schools and even the Apple Stores themselves run their stores network on Mac Pros “behind the curtain” so to speak (do you really think each Apple Store is using a Mac Mini running OS X Server to run Open Directory Masters and Replicas for each store’s display Macs and iOS devices etc. not to mention e-commerce electronic cash register stuff and so on)? Yeah right, a Mac Mini for OS X Server in the Apple Stores, I highly doubt it (don’t believe me? Just ask one of the business staff at an Apple Store and they will tell you its a Mac Pro behind the curtain).

  7. Jason Kichline

    Just get a Thunderbolt to FW800 adapter. Done. No need to buy an expensive solution. While I can appreciate people that have all that storage built into the original MacPro, I would think that most people don’t (or shouldn’t) just because of the portability of the data. Even if they do, an enclosure to hold all of that is what? $200 for USB 3.0? You don’t need TB for the drive you probably had in the MacPro.

    If you are investing in a new MacPro, saving a buck or two is NOT your utmost concern. Your concern is a machine that gets the job done and gets it done fast so you can make more money. If you are considering one, you should also be considering your data storage solution as well. If you can’t figure it out now, you are not ready for this, or maybe you should stick with your old MacPro.

  8. random mouse

    I understand it’s the goal of writers today to be somewhat dramatic even if the article is mostly “pro” product but acting like FW800 doesn’t work with the latest technology is just disingenuous.

    I have a FW800 to Thunderbolt adapter and it works great. Additionally (I believe) Belkin has the the most affordable adapters for other thunderbolt “to things”.