Apple's Mac Pro is the new black

The 'dark tower' cylindrical desktop is the newest tech status symbol, argues analyst

Apple's new futuristic-looking Mac Pro will be a status purchase, an analyst said today as she predicted the high-priced desktop will sell better than many expect.

"In a very real sense, this tower, this Darth Vader desktop, will be the high tech equivalent of the Air Jordan sneaker," said Laura DiDio, lead analyst at Information Technology Intelligence Consulting (ITIC). "It's certainly not going to sell in huge numbers, not with a three- or four-thousand dollar price tag, but it definitely will have high-end appeal as a status thing."

Apple first introduced the radically revamped Mac Pro, which resembles a 10-in. tall round trashcan more than anything else -- although some see similarities to the diminutive R2D2 robot from the "Star Wars" film franchise -- in June at its annual developers conference.

There, Philip Schiller, Apple's top marketing executive, seemed to go off script when, after showing the Mac Pro's striking design, he said, "Can't innovate anymore, my ass."

Schiller was referring to critics who had argued that Apple had lost its mojo after the death of co-founder Steve Jobs in 2011.

In October, Apple revealed the base prices for two Mac Pro configurations -- $2,999 and $3,999 -- but began taking orders for the system only today. Within hours, shipping dates slipped to February from the second-to-last day of this month.

Although DiDio repeatedly stressed that Apple would not sell large numbers of the Mac Pro, she saw it as further proof that the Cupertino, Calif. company can see machines at price points others wouldn't dare.

"You have to remember that no matter what the financial analyst community says, there is a distinction between what the cognoscenti say and what consumers believe about Apple," said DiDio. "Consumers never bought into the idea that after Jobs died, that Apple was cooked. They love the brand and they love the products."

Enough to drop several thousand dollars on a desktop cum workstation as a status symbol?

"Despite the fact that the desktop is in decline and under pressure, there is still a market for them," said DiDio. "And Apple knows better than any other company how to target buyers."

And how to appeal to status seekers as well as those who can put the system to productive use.

"They're giving the customers what they want: something different," said DiDio. "It has top-line Intel, top-line AMD, the best graphics, the best design and it will do things that other desktops cannot. And it will give you bragging rights."

Mac Pro
The new Mac Pro (right) compared to the old version (left).

The $2,999 Mac Pro -- a price unheard of for all but niche PCs -- includes a quad-core Intel Xeon E5 processor, 12GB of system memory, dual AMD FirePro D300 graphics processors (GPUs) and 256GB of PCIe-based flash storage. A six-core configuration with 16GB of memory and dual D500 GPUs runs $3,999.

But DiDio argued that even at those prices, Apple may be providing customers with a bargain. "Apple almost always uses top-of-the-line components, it never puts plain-Jane entry-level components in its Macs," she said.

There's some truth to what DiDio said.

According to estimates -- necessary because the graphics cards inside the Mac Pro are apparently custom-designed for Apple by Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) -- the two D300 GPUs in the lower-priced Mac Pro are worth about $1,200 alone. The same source, architosh, a website aimed at creative professionals who run CAD and 3-D software on Apple's OS X platform, pegged the higher-end Mac Pro's dual D500 GPUs at a $2,500 value.

The Mac Pro tops out at $9,599 if each configurable option is maxed at the highest-priced component. Such a machine would boast a 2.7GHz 12-core Xeon E5 CPU, 64GB of system memory, a 1TB SSD (sold-state drive), and dual AMD FirePro D700 GPUs.

At that price, a tricked-out Mac Pro would be worth the equivalent of about 46 pairs of Nike's most-expensive Air Jordan, the customizable Spizike iD basketball shoe, or enough to equip nine hoops teams, nearly a complete college conference.

Now that's status.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at  @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His email address is

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Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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