The Need for a Midrange Mac Desktop By Josh Blagden | JB - Mac Help | JBlagden

The Need for a Midrange Mac Desktop      By Josh Blagden


The problem with Apple’s current Macs is that most of them use mobile CPUs and GPUs, which can’t be upgraded or replaced and they don’t have PCIe slots for graphics cards. Along with this issue, Apple’s current Macs are barely upgradeable, having Solid State Drives which use a proprietary connection and RAM which is soldered in.

While the 2013/15 Mac Pro has an upgradeable CPU and RAM, the GPU cannot be replaced because  neither AMD nor Nvidia makes compatible graphics cards for the new Mac Pro. The Mac Pro’s GPU is for design, not gaming, and it uses a proprietary interface which makes it impossible for someone to buy a new Mac Pro and swap out the stock GPU for a gaming GPU or even an Nvidia Quadro card. So, if you were to play games on the new Mac Pro and either the CPU or GPU fried, you’d have to replace the entire logic board or Apple’s custom graphics card, both of which are very expensive to replace. That’s also how it is with the iMac and the 15” Retina MacBook Pro as a result of the lead-free solder and the use of AMD GPUs. AMD’s CPUs and GPUs are both known to generate a lot of heat, which cannot be sufficiently dissipated in a laptop, especially a thin laptop like Apple’s Retina MacBook Pros.

Some will say that the iMac is sufficient for gaming. That’s currently true, but it can’t be upgraded later and the case is too thin for effective cooling. The Mac Mini was similar to the iMac in that it had Configure-to-Order options for a graphics card and an i7 processor from 2011 to 2012. But that’s no longer true of the Mac Mini; now you can only get a 3 GHz i5 (mobile) and there’s no Configure-to-Order option for a GPU.  

Suffice it to say that none of Apple’s current Macs are suitable for gaming or have PCIe slots for graphics cards. Yes, you can add a PCIe slot externally with a Thunderbolt enclosure, but they cost ~$200 apiece and require some compression.  I actually have an eGPU. It’s great, but it requires a little more processor power due to the compression which is needed to send the graphics data over the Thunderbolt cable because Thunderbolt isn’t normally fast enough to be a proper substitute for a proper 16 lane PCIe slot. And that’s how it’ll always be; internal connections will always be faster than their external counterparts.

Now, the pre-2013 Mac Pro was pretty good, particularly because it had four hard drive bays, a replaceable CPU, 4-8 RAM slots (depending on the number of CPUs), and four PCIe slots. While it was primarily intended for professional video editors, it was pretty good for playing games because it had PCIe slots, and the extra hard drive bays were great just in case you needed a lot of storage. Even if you don’t need a graphics card, PCIe slots are also great for adding Network Interface Cards with encryption, new wireless cards, sound cards, and new interfaces. For example, if you wanted to add USB 3.0, you could just add a $20 PCIe card. But then Apple changed the Mac Pro and made it considerably less useful.


To solve this problem, Apple should make a midrange desktop with, say a 3.5 GHz i7 (desktop) CPU, a few PCIe slots and a couple of 3.5 inch hard drive bays. Of course, a Solid State Drive would also be a good idea. However, Apple’s idea would be to use their own proprietary NVME connector instead of using a standard NVMe connector SATA Express, or at least having more realistic Solid State Drive upgrade prices. Admittedly, Apple has moved away from upgradeable Macs, but their current course of planned obsolescence is causing Mac users to stick with their current Macs longer instead of replacing them and it has even led some Mac users to switch to Windows. It might see like Apple will never go back to making upgradeable Macs, but it experienced a 12% reduction in Mac sales this quarter (Q1 ’16), which is probably a direct result of planned obsolescence through minimized upgradeability. So, Apple is experiencing the effects of discontinuing the manufacture of upgradeable Macs and might decide to reverse course so they can sell more Macs. 12% might not seem like much, but that’s just one quarter and this sales trend might continue until Apple gives in to customers and goes back to making upgradeable Macs. There’s still a chance that Apple will turn around.

© Joshua Blagden & Justin Barczak 2013-2015
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