Before you pick up your pitchfork, here me out. There was a rumor floating around that Apple was considering removing the Lightning port altogether and that is NOT what I’m proposing here. I actually think there are times where using the physical port is better/faster than doing things wirelessly. We can certainly debate this at another time.
The one thing I never hear anyone complain about is having too much available storage space. No matter how big your hard drive is, you’ll likely fill it up at some point. My everyday work computer is a MacBook Pro 15″ Retina Display with a 1TB SSD and I’m always having to manage the space on it. If I had a 2TB drive at some point I’d need to manage the space on it. This usually means moving older projects, photo shoots, demo files, etc. off of it onto my network file server or trashing stuff I just don’t need anymore. Then I can usually breathe for a while before having to repeat the process. Sure I have a few external USB 3 and Thunderbolt drives I can plug in in a pinch, but there are times where that’s not feasible due to the ports being used for other devices or being in a mobile situation where having a hard drive dangling (not really dangling) off the side doesn’t work either. Apple builds the drives into the logic boards of MacBooks these days. Therefore replacing the internal drive with a larger capacity is not possible.
The Transcend JetDrive is what I wanted
For years now my MacBook Pro has been my primary computer. Now my only desktop computer is my Mac OS X Server. Having a MacBook Pro doesn’t mean that I don’t have a ton of peripherals that I need to connect. The last thing I want to do when I leave or return from a trip is connect a bunch of cables. That’s where a Thunderbolt 2 dock comes in. Although I’ve used a Belkin one for years now, people are always asking for a lower priced alternative. Elgato has created one the fits the bill nicely. For a hundred dollars less than the competition you still get 2 Thunderbolt 2 ports, 3 USB 3.0 ports, 1 HDMI port, 1 Gigabit Ethernet port, and an audio in and audio out port. Really the only thing missing is more USB 3.0 ports and a legacy port like Firewire 800 or eSATA. Since I connect more than 5 USB devices anyway I would still need a USB 3.0 hub. Also most people at this point have probably replaced their older Firewire 800/eSATA devices with newer tech. If you fall into that category then I would save save the hundred bucks and use part of it to buy a USB 3.0 hub.
The design is nice and compact and it’s great having the audio ports on the front as well as the 3rd USB 3.0 port capable of charging your mobile device.
The Bottom Line
If you have a MacBook Pro then having a Thunderbolt 2 dock is a big plus. You’ll enjoy the single Thunderbolt connection and the additional ports. The one thing I wish that these devices offered are more Thunderbolt ports. You really don’t gain any because you have to connect the dock to one of your existing ports taking up a Thunderbolt port on the dock and one on your computer. That leaves you with the same number of Thunderbolt ports that you started with. I would like to see a model with 3 or 4 Thunderbolt ports for true Thunderbolt expansion.
You can get the Elgato Thunderbolt 2 Dock here on sale.
For a few bucks more you can get this one by OWC that has 5 USB 3.o ports and a Firewire 800 port.
Back in 2012 I did a review of what I consider to this day to be The Best USB 3.0 Hub. I still have this hub on my desk to this date with zero problems with it. It just works! While this USB 3.0 hub is great, it’s a bit too large for my travel tastes. Yes they do make this 4 port version but it’s still larger than I wanted for travel. The big decision you have to make when going with a travel USB 3.0 Hub is whether or not you want/need a powered hub or not. Obviously a powered hub is the way to go when you have the ability to plug it in to a power supply and you don’t mind carrying yet one more power supply in your bag. However, USB 3.0 offers more juice than USB 2.0 does. Therefore you may be able to get by with a self powered hub especially for occasional use during travel. When I’m using my MacBook Pro or MacBook Air on the road, I’m usually in need of one extra port. I usually have my Wacom Intuos Pro tablet plugged in and an external USB 3.0 hard drive. At that point I may need to plug in a document camera/scanner or a Lightning cable to sync/copy something from my iPhone or iPad. Or I could simply need to plug in a thumb/flash drive to copy a quick file. These are the kinds of things I need to do via USB 3.0 on the road from time to time. The hard drive can be plugged into Thunderbolt. That frees up the USB port if needed, but not all of my portable external drives are Thunderbolt equipped.
I went with this portable USB 3.0 Hub
Although Anker makes this 4 port USB 3.0 Hub, I went with this Satechi 4 port USB 3.0 Hub. It seemed to have high ratings across the board on multiple sites. I havent’ been disappointed as the Satechi 4 Port USB 3.0 Hub has been GREAT!. It performs as advertised as long as you keep in mind that it’s NOT a powered hub. So let’s get the rules of using a bus powered hub out of the way. First off if you plug in too many devices that require USB power you will likely run into issues where the devices may not work or may not work at their top USB 3.0 speed. So when I want to use a bus powered USB 3.0 hard drive I plug the hub into my computer first and then I plug in the hard drive. Lastly I plug in any slower devices. If you stick to these rules (plug in the hub first, and the most power hungry devices next) then you’ll be more successful. I was able to easily plug in my USB 3.0 G-Tech hard drive, and my Wacom wireless module and lastly my Ziggy document camera with one port on the hub to spare. This is likely more than I will actually use on a regular basis, but I wanted to test my worst case scenario. Also keep in mind that I have one more available USB 3.0 powered port on my MacBook Pro/Air. With this Hub I could easily have two external bus powered hard drives (one in the USB 3.0 hub and the other in the built-in port) and still have other ports available for less power hungry devices. Since I only travel with three external hard drives on a regular basis, this is exactly what I needed as I never need to plug in more than two at a time and If for some strange reason I need all three, I can plug at least one of them in via Thunderbolt.
The Bottom Line
If you need a powered USB 3.0 Hub for travel, then you should probably get this one. However, if you’re looking for a smaller one that can be used even if you don’t have an available AC power port nearby or you don’t want to carry one more power brick, then you could go with this Satechi 4 Port USB 3.0 Hub and get the extra ports you need.
There I am at my desk at 5PM on a Sunday and I can hear the rain outside. Next I hear the wind really whipping by and bam, there go the lights. After a few seconds the lights came back on and then after a few more seconds they went off for good! Sure my APS UPS Systems kept my Server and Internet Router going for a while before they eventually ran out of juice. Since I was headed out of town the next morning I just decided to relax and take it easy for the rest of the evening. However, the one thing that I definitely wanted to keep charged and running the entire night was my iPhone. I have a battery that I keep in my backpack which is good for a couple of charges, but I had never tried to go all night with it. Also while I was sitting at my desk I hadn’t plugged my phone in so it was already down to around 40% battery left. That’s when I remembered my HyperJuice battery that was also in my office and fully charged!
I commend DTE Energy for having a nice App to not only report the outage, but get status updates and see what other areas are affected:
The HyperJuice to rescue!
This battery is really designed to power your MacBook for long periods of time when AC power isn’t readily available. However, it also has a USB port for charging/powering phones and tablets. I plugged my iPhone into the USB port and not only did I wake up fully charged 8 hours later, but the HyperJuice still had plenty of juice to top off my MacBook Pro as well! When I originally bought this battery it was for long flights and being at seminars where there were no plugs nearby. I hadn’t carried it in a while and never thought that I’d be using it to get me through the night because of a power outage.
You can get/find out more the HyperJuice here.
BTW, it’s 2014! Can’t we agree that power lines should be buried? Sigh…
Rather than just do a review of the new Mac Pro and tell you how fast it is vs. any other Mac that Apple has made, I decided to approach this review from a different angle. There was a time when I bought Mac Pro towers because I wanted the fastest Mac available. However, I soon realized that as much as I didn’t want to admit it, the Mac Pro is “overkill” for what I do on a day-to-day basis. Sure, faster is always nicer than slower when it comes to waiting for a process to complete, but honestly I’m rarely waiting for a process to complete these days. Sure, I render video on a weekly basis and it would always be nicer to have those videos render faster, but is the faster render worth the money for a Mac Pro? The answer will of course depend on how much you find yourself waiting on your computer and not being able to do anything else while you’re waiting.
Let’s get some ground rules out of the way first
If you don’t like Macs or don’t want a Mac for whatever your reasons are, you can pretty much stop here and find something else to do with your time. I find it entertaining when people feel compelled to tell you/me how much they don’t want the thing you’re reviewing or writing about because they use something else. This is not a Mac vs. _______ post. If you’re happy with a Windows PC or Linux, or anything else, I’m happy for you. If you’re reading the rest of this post then I’ll assume that you’re a Mac user or thinking of becoming one.
The next thing I’d like to get out of the way is that if you’re looking for a Mac Pro review that tells you this new Mac Pro is better than the previous Mac Pro with all the benchmarks to back it up, then you’d probably be better served by other reviewers who have targeted the performance of the new model vs. the older model. I’m doing this review/comparison simply to answer the question, “as a photographer would I be better off spending my money on an iMac/MacBook Pro or a Mac Pro?” If you’re a videographer and you’re a Mac user then you probably already have the new Mac Pro because you demanded the fastest Mac you could get to render your videos.
When I saw the rumors that Apple was going to release a radically different design for the Mac Pro, to be quite honest I was only mildly interested. As I stated above, I realized with my last Mac Pro that I wasn’t really a Mac Pro customer. Sure I appreciate the faster performance, but I found myself only using my Mac Pro when I knew a process was going to take a long time to complete. Otherwise I was quite happy just using my MacBook Pro simply because I could use it in any room at any time. I could take it with me on the road. However, I said to myself perhaps if the performance (for what I do) is significantly better and the price point for an entry model was $2,500 or less, I’d consider getting one. Well we know the latter didn’t happen, so now it was time to test the performance. I got the opportunity to test a Mac Pro standard configuration in my studio for a few weeks. I loaded the latest version of my Adobe Creative Cloud applications on it as well as a few utilities that I use such as ScreenFlow. Next, I began running side-by-side tests of the things that I do daily that take more than a few seconds. My assumption was that the Mac Pro would certainly be at least twice as fast at everything I threw at it than my 2012 MacBook Pro Retina Display Mac. Actually I was wrong!
When will a Mac Pro significantly outperform any other Mac?
As I said above, I was wrong in my assumption that the Mac Pro would be at least twice as fast at everything. Actually it is faster at everything! Just not by a margin of two. On every test I threw at it the Mac Pro outperformed my now two-year-old MacBook Pro, but in some cases it was only slightly faster. This is when I realized that in order to see significant speed improvements the software you’re testing not only needs to be optimized for the faster processors, but also it would need to take advantage of the multiple cores. Even then, the MacBook Pro is no slouch. It’s got multiple cores too. Where I saw the biggest differences was in (no surprise) video rendering and processes that take longer than a minute or so anyway.
What I do as a photographer
As a photographer I spend most of my time in Adobe Lightroom 5 and Adobe Photoshop CC. Photoshop CC definitely takes advantage of multiple cores and now has Open CL support. So filters will run faster on the new Mac Pro. All of these applications are 64bit native and that means that they’ll take advantage of additional RAM.
My first test was one of the things I do after every shoot. I convert my RAW files into .DNG (Digital Negative) format. This is one of the few times that I see a progress bar in Lightroom because it does take time to do it. I converted 435 16MP Nikon .NEF RAW files into DNG format.
First on the MacBook Pro it took 14 minutes 35 seconds
On the Mac Pro the same conversion took 12 minutes 12 seconds.
Yes it was faster! However, it was only about 2 minutes faster. I must say that I was a little disappointed. However, I moved on to the next test.
The next test was using the Web module in Lightroom to export a web gallery using the Client Response Gallery Template from The Turning Gate.
On the MacBook Pro this export took 7 minutes 41 seconds
On the NEW Mac Pro it took 4 minutes 9 seconds.
Ahhhh, much better. Almost half the time.
The next test was a simple HDR (High Dynamic Range) conversion in Photoshop CC using three RAW files. This is a two-part process. The first part is simply combining the three (or more) images together and aligning them. Then the second part of the process is applying whatever settings you want to control how your HDR looks.
The first part on the MacBook Pro took 12.70 seconds and on the Mac Pro it took 9.10 seconds
The second part on the MacBook Pro took 13.00 seconds and on the Mac Pro it took 11.13 seconds.
The next test was stitching a Panorama together using Photoshop CC and 10 RAW files
On the MacBook Pro this process took 1 minute 12 seconds
On the Mac Pro this process took 51 seconds.
I could have gone on running other tests and other filters, but these are the things I do on a regular basis. If it was faster at something that I rarely do, then I really don’t care as much. As you can see from the results above, the Mac Pro wins on every test as you would expect it to, but the results (even if it was twice as fast in every case) may not justify the difference in cost. We’ll get to that at the end.
Next it was time to look at what I do as a Photographer when it comes to video
I use video in a couple of different ways. The first as a photographer is to tell my story. This means capturing video with my DLSR, GoPro, iPhone, etc. I use Adobe Premiere Pro CC to assemble those videos and then output them to share (usually on YouTube). The next way that I use video and probably the way that I use video the most often is to record my Creative Cloud TV video podcasts. These screen recordings are done with ScreenFlow and since the editing I do is pretty simple I can edit these right in ScreenFlow. Of course I need to export those videos out and this can take a while depending on the length of the video. I had no doubts that this is where the Mac Pro would really shine. After all these are the kind of processor and resource intensive tasks that the Mac Pro was built for. I was not disappointed.
The first test I ran was an export of an hour-long edited video out of ScreenFlow.
On the MacBook Pro this export took 60 minutes
On the Mac Pro this export took 33 minutes.
It gets better in Adobe Premiere Pro CC and the Adobe Media Encoder CC. I needed to convert this video into a different format using the Adobe Media Encoder CC.
On the MacBook Pro this conversion/export took 34 minutes 36 seconds
On the Mac Pro this conversion/export took only 12 minutes 36 seconds
The Bottom Line
The NEW Mac Pro is the fastest Mac that Apple has ever created. The question you have to ask yourself is, “Is the speed difference worth the difference in price?” For me the answer is no. Sure if I spent my days rendering video all day every day, I’d already have the Mac Pro. There would be no question. However, as a photographer I can’t justify the difference in price. Hey! Wait a minute, you said in the title of this post “iMac or Mac Pro?”, yet all you’ve talked about is the MacBook Pro vs. the Mac Pro. This is true. I didn’t have a new iMac to compare it with. However, if you’re looking for a “desktop” Mac as a photographer, I’d seriously consider the current iMac. The current iMac will be as fast or faster than my 2012 MacBook Pro in every case. So here are some prices and specs to look at:
The Mac Pro model and configuration that I tested above is here. (Now keep in mind that if I was going to buy one I’d start with this configuration and I’d go with a bigger internal drive and more RAM)
The base configuration 4th gen 21.5″ iMac is here. However, this model is not a fair comparison. It’s probably a little slower than my MacBook Pro as it has a slower processor, less RAM, and no Flash Drive.
This would be the configuration that I would recommend and would be more of a fair comparison: 27″ iMac here.
If you’re interested in a similar configuration (using the current model) to my MacBook Pro 15″ Retina, it would be this one.
Why an iMac? Although I don’t use one, an iMac makes sense because you’re getting a fast Mac with a nice big 27″ display all in one.
Why a MacBook Pro? For me the MacBook Pro makes the most sense because when I’m at my desk I have connected to a nice 24″ HD Wacom Cintiq display/tablet. When i get ready to go I disconnect it and go. I have a computer with a nice 15″ Retina display when I’m on the road. If I didn’t travel for a living then I’d probably have an iMac. Since I travel a lot, a MacBook Pro makes more sense.
If you want the fastest Mac and you don’t mind spending $3,000-$4,000 (or more) on it, then definitely go with a Mac Pro. Everything you do will likely be faster than the Mac you’re currently using. Keep in mind that you’ll also need to buy a display, keyboard and mouse/tablet to go with it. At the end of the day I realize that computers have become “fast enough” and that I don’t spend a lot of time waiting these days. Even when a process such as a video render/export is going to take a few minutes I can toss it to the background and work on other things in the foreground. My last Mac Pro once configured set me back over $5,000 and while it was a beast, I found that I wasn’t really using it as much as I had hoped I would, so I sold it. The new Mac Pro is faster, but is it $4,000 faster? For me it’s not.
UPDATE: Now that the iMac Retina 5K is out I got my hands on one and did a comparison here.
As a frequent traveler I’m always looking for ways to charge my multiple devices with fewer chargers or taking up less outlets in a hotel room. I saw an ad for PlugBug and decided to order one and see if I liked it or not. The idea behind PlugBug is that it replaces the standard plug of your MacBook Pro or MacBook Air Adapter with one that has a USB (2.1 Amp) port built-in. This way you can charge both your laptop AND any USB power device at the same time. The concept is simple and it takes all of 2 seconds to install. I opted for the PlugBug World, which comes with all the necessary adapters to plug into various outlets around the globe. It works as advertised and although it’s “short” on the 85w MacBook Pro adapter, it doesn’t hender its use.
How could it be better?
The 1st thing that I wasn’t crazy about was that it replaces the “extended cord” on the MacBook Pro adapter. I know that you can simply plug the adapter into the wall with or without a PlugBug, but I prefer using the optional extended cord that comes with the MacBooks so that I don’t take up so much space on a power strip and I get a longer cord.
That’s a personal thing with me, but the product works as advertised. Although I CAN use the extended cord, it’s clear by the way it sticks up over the PlugBug that they didn’t design it to be used this way. While we’re at it, I’d also like to see TWO USB ports instead of just one. It would make it much more useful to me if I could use one plug to charge my MacBook, iPhone and iPad at the same time. So make it a little taller to accomodate the extended cord AND a second USB port and I’d “love” it.
We are excited to announce our plans to optimize a selection of our products to display your content on HiDPI displays, including the Retina Display available on the new MacBook Pro! Learn more on our blog
The MacBook Pro Retina Display is the 1st “Pro” Mac to ship without Firewire. However, Apple also announced that they would ship a Thunderbolt to Firewire Adapter in July. Although the adapter did ship a few days late, it’s here and no surprises – it works!
I was shopping for USB 3 drives, but I kinda just stopped looking. I figured that I could get by with connecting my existing drives via USB 2 until the adapter shipped. I’m glad I waited, because out of the box I just plugged in my existing Firewire 800 drives and up they came onto the desktop. This makes my MacBook Pro Retina Display complete.
One of the downsides with going with the MacBook Air in the past was that you’d be giving up high speed connectivity to external drives. The original MacBook Air only came with USB 2. The last two models included Thunderbolt, but Thunderbolt drive availability was far and few between. This adapter also brings Firewire connectivity to the MacBook Air for the 1st time! I plugged in my LaCie Rugged 1TB drive into my MacBook Air via the Adapter and it just worked.
Although I haven’t done any speed tests, the speed should be the same as Thunderbolt is faster than Firewire. It should therefore be able to keep up with Firewire drives.
You can get the Thunderbolt to Firewire Adapter here.