The 2013 Mac Pro Computer and the Dodo Bird have a lot in common.
The 2013 Mac Pro has what seems to be a history of disappointment to both Apple and some customers as well. So, before I laid down some cash for one of these computers, I thought I’d better do some research into the computer’s history and see if the 2013 Mac Pro will make a usable desktop computer in 2023.
As I began looking into this Mac’s history, it reminded me of the story of the dodo bird. For thousands of years, the flightless DoDo bird survived on Mauritius, an island off the coast of Africa, in the Indian Ocean. The island held no predators for the DoDo. As a result, the bird evolved without any of the usual predatory defenses. Unencumbered by threats from other animals, the DoDo’s population flourished. For an animal in the wild, the DoDo’s life held a rather idealistic existence. In about 1507, when Portuguese sailors first arrived on the island, that all changed. Humans, cats, and rats from the ship quickly became predators, and more shipping traffic to the island brought more predators. The defenseless DoDos didn’t stand a chance. There seemed to be no interest in any intervention to save the DoDo. By 1684, the DoDo became extinct.
The Mac Pros from 2006 thru 2012 were big towers. They had space for two optical drives, four hard-drive bays where drives were mounted to be hot-swappable on separate trays, and four PCIe slots. The video cards offered were, put kindly, anemic, but there were after-market upgrades available. After-market memory could also be added. All in all, 2006 through 2012 Mac Pros were “tanks”, durable, and with major components that for the most part were easy to repair/upgrade. With these machines, Apple pretty much owned the high-end and high-tech commercial computer market.
For 2013, Jony Ive, Apple’s very gifted product designer, completely redesigned the Mac Pro from a “Tower” to a Cylinder format. Apple literally created the 2013 Mac Pro to be a desktop device. Its size is roughly one-eighth that of its predecessors. The computer’s shape was designed to help with thermals. A fan on the top of the little cylinder computer pulls air all the way “up” from vents on the computer’s bottom.
From Apple, here are the specs for the 2013 Mac Pro (Note: the “red arrows” point to how the computer I purchased is configured):
Initially, PC Magazine, Endgadget, and other publications gave the 2013 Mac Pro favorable reviews. Many of the Pros (Predators???) were quick to condemn the computer. Most of the 2013 Mac Pro’s design contained proprietary hardware. Though the chipsets for both the CPUs and GPUs were made and sold by other vendors, the chips were limited in their upgradability because board they were permanently mounted to a daughter board and specific to the cylinder chassis of the computer. Even the PCIe SSD had a proprietary mount. With exception of swapping memory, replacing parts on these machines could be tedious, and difficult to be done quickly. Also, with no room inside the case for upgrades, Apple felt the end-users would use the numerous ports on the back of the computer to attach peripherals. Though this worked, it was messy and cluttered the clean design of the external metal mac. Here is a peek-a-boo picture of my Mac Pro during the initial setup (it doesn’t look much better now):
When new, the price of the 2013 Mac Pro ranged by configuration from $3,000 to nearly $10,000. Many Pro-Buyers felt there were too many limitations at these prices and either stayed with their older Mac Pros, went elsewhere for a suitable computer, or created Hack-N-Toshes.
The proprietary problems aside, like any new design, there were some bugs. The biggest was in the thermal design itself. This appeared mostly in the top two-tiered configurations. There were also some issues with a batch of chips. A few of the entry-level configurations shared these problems as well. If my memory serves me well, Apple did a recall for these issues; a recall that out the bottom (entry-level) Mac Pros.
Apple seemingly walked away for the 2013 Mac Pro. Aside from some repairs, the computer remained the same through the end of its production run. Sometime, I believe, in 2016 or 2017, Apple deleted the entry-level configuration and added another top-tier configuration (a computer with more processors). Late in the 2013 Mac Pro’s life, Apple pulled the computer from its stores (though still sold it on Apple).
The DoDo survived for thousands of years yet died because it wasn’t equipped for the “new” world that it had to live in. The “new” 2013 Mac Pro, went 2,182 days without an upgrade, and as well, died because it was not equipped for the world it was designed to live in. It was a Pro computer not wanted by the Pros. For both the DoDo and the 2013 Mac Pro there simply was little or no human interest in keeping them alive.
Why I bought a 2013 Mac Pro
Reason #1: What you want and what you need
What I wanted was an M2-powered Mac Mini. I needed a computer to movie editing, some light graphic work, creating csv formatted spreadsheets to upload to my commercial website, and some random light-duty programs. The new Mac Mini has way more power than I need to perform my work tasks with my software. Actually, even the 2013 Mac Pro I purchased “used” is more powerful than I need; however, as configured, it works perfectly with the work that I am doing, and it does so with little or no stress.
Reason #2: Design and durability
Mac Pros are designed to function in high-production environments. They are meant to be used……a lot. For what they cost, they should be used a lot. The 2013 Mac Pro I bought in its current configuration when new was listed in the neighborhood of $3,300 dollars, and this is for the “entry” level computer. A well-optioned one could get to $10,000. In the end, the functionality of the 2013 Mac Pro as a computer isn’t an issue, its design simply limited its functionality in a production-oriented environment. On the other hand, even at its current age, it is still a well-designed Jony Ive computer, and it is sitting on my desk in a small home office, not in a large production department.
Some of you might say, “Wait a minute. Didn’t you say there were some bad chips and thermal issues that led to recalls?” I did say those things, but this was for a small percent of the total production of the computer, so……a large percentage of the production did not have these problems. Also, these computers had a production run spanning over 5 years, meaning a specific computer’s age could be between 5 and 10 years old by now. This means that by now, the odds are that the issues mentioned either never occurred in the computer, occurred and were repaired, or the computer is now a paperweight.
Reason #3: The right price
Yes, sooner or later, it does come down to money. A year ago, a used 2013 Mac Pro configured like mine would be around $600. Fortunately, with the M2 Macs (and now the newer M3s), prices for the 2013 Mac Pros have finally dropped. I have seen the entry-level configuration running around $300. I paid $275 for mine on EBay. To me, regardless of a 2013 Mac Pro’s configuration, I wouldn’t pay more than $350 for one. The closer you get to $600 (the price of a new Mac Mini with the M2 chip), the 2013 Mac Pro becomes dramatically less of a value. That being said, for $275 this little Mac Pro runs all my software without a hitch, is reasonably fast, and in short, does what I need it to do. Hard to beat for the money.
Maybe the 2013 Mac Pro was born ahead of its time.
When one looks at the current line of M1, M2, and M3-powered Apple computers, excluding the existing Mac Pro Towers, but like the Mac Mini, Mac Studio, and the iMac you see they are less upgradeable than the 2013 Mac Pro. Makes me wonder how upgradeable an M3-powered Mac Pro would be.