The Mac Pro will remain an important product in Apple's high-end computing lineup, said Peter M. Fine, who runs the consulting firm FinePeter Consulting in New York. He recommends Mac Pros to clients who need high-end machines or require PCI-Express slots or the SCSI (Small Computer System Interface) bus to connect components inside a computer.
"I think it is essential that Apple adds any new chip architecture to the Mac Pro in order to keep it in the upper echelon," Fine said, adding that Thunderbolt is needed on all Mac hardware.
But until the upgrade comes, he is recommending high-end iMac models with quad-core processors to replace some Mac Pro towers for his clients. The iMac supports up to 16GB of RAM and comes with 21.5- and 27-inch Apple displays. The overall package is less costly than a Mac Pro for Fine's clients, who are in desktop publishing, marketing communications or computer graphics, and do not need expansion cards or multiple internal hard drives.
"With the corresponding reduction in RAM cost, the Mac Pro has truly moved to niche market use," said Fine, who is also a cofounder of the Metropolitan New York Macintosh Alliance (MetroMac).
Beyond hardware, Apple customers also had a rough time converting to the latest Final Cut Pro X video-editing software that was released in June last year, said Rusty Auto Productions' Huff. Compared to the predecessor, the latest version was not directed toward "uber professionals" who would invest in the Mac Pro, Huff said. The software is getting better, but users who work with a lot of multimedia under deadline pressure may instead want to upgrade from Mac Pro to faster Windows workstations with Adobe or Avid tools, he said.
Apple's lax approach to the Mac Pro has opened an avenue for PC makers like Dell and Hewlett-Packard to compete in the workstation market, said Alex Herrera, a senior analyst at Jon Peddie Research (JPR).
Taking advantage of the Mac Pro uncertainty, Dell earlier this month sponsored a discussion on how to switch from Final Cut Pro on a Mac to Adobe Creative Suite 5.5 on a Windows workstation. Final Cut Pro is Mac-only, while Avid and Adobe tools work on Windows and Mac OS, providing users more flexibility to use either platform.
Apple bristles at the notion of comparing Mac Pros to generic workstations and doesn't provide shipment numbers for the product, Herrera said. JPR this week issued workstation shipment numbers for last year's fourth quarter, but did not include Apple's numbers. Herrera estimated that Mac Pro shipments are likely in the ballpark of workstations shipped by HP, which had a 41.3 percent market share in the fourth quarter, and Dell, which held a 33.4 percent share.
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