No, you don’t need the top-end Mac Pro

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Apple showed off a lot of flashy new things at its annual WWDC event Monday, including a new iPadOS, the death of iTunes and a beefy upgrade to the Mac Pro, last refreshed in 2013, opting to forgo the trashcan resemblance of the previous model in exchange for a striking similarity to a large cheese grater.

At $6,000 for the base model (an 8-core, 3.5 GHz Intel Xeon W, AMD Radeon Pro 580X, 32 GB of RAM and 256 GB of SSD storage), Apple continues its tradition of providing admittedly solid hardware specs, but for a severe markup just because it’s Apple. I was able to scrap together a similar build on PCPartPicker for roughly $3,000, though several of the parts, including the AMD Radeon Pro Vega II and Intel Xeon W-3225 do not have official pricing yet, so it’s a bit of a shot in the dark.

Outside of the SSD, those specs should be more than suitable for most Mac Pro users, which, ignoring those with just money to burn, are often professional videographers who need powerful hardware to handle 4K and even 8K video editing and rendering. 32 GB might be a bottleneck for 8K footage, but in large part, the new Mac Pro should work just fine.

There is, of course, the ability to upgrade the build to up to a 28-core, 2.5 GHz Intel Xeon W, two AMD Radeon Pro Vega II Duo graphics cards, a 4 TB SSD and a whopping 1.5 TERABYTES of RAM.

And while many in the tech writing community, myself included, had their jaws drop at the idea of that much RAM in a quasi-consumer-grade computer, I’ll be the first to tell you this:

No one needs it.

Apple’s just showing off.

Sure, Moore’s Law is still relatively intact, but that’s processors. Videos continue to grow in quality and file size, computer game files easily top 100 GB nowadays, but that’s storage.

We have yet to reach, and hopefully won’t for quite a long time, reach a place where we need 1.5 terabytes of RAM.

No one needs that much RAM.

I harped about it on Twitter to a couple tech blogs about misleading their readers about the necessity of RAM (or system memory, as they confusingly liked to call it).

But Nate, don’t people always joke about Chrome using a lot of RAM? Isn’t more better?

In most instances when it comes to computer hardware, yes, more is better, and yes, Chrome is known to be a memory hog. It certainly doesn’t use as much as, say, Photoshop, but for simply browsing the web, it’s quite bloated.

But a bit of perspective is warranted for that. Right now, with a few news articles, my Twitter feed, a YouTube video and my blog’s edit page open, seven tabs in total, Chrome is using about 1.3 GB of physical memory on my laptop. That’s approximately 200 megabytes of RAM per tab. Scaled up to 1.5 terabytes of memory, the Mac Pro could theoretically support nearly 7,900 Chrome tabs, otherwise known as “for God’s sake, clear out your tabs!”

There are, of course, applications that are more RAM-intensive than Chrome, including photo and video editing software that the Mac Pro is specifically built for. When it comes to video editing, a lot of people like to talk about rendering times, but that’s largely up to the CPU and GPU. We’re talking about RAM here, which for the most part does not impact rendering speeds.

RAM serves as temporary storage, taking files from a much slower hard drive or SSD and holding them in ultra-fast system memory for usage by applications. In theory, with 1.5 terabytes, you could store whole raw video files entirely in RAM and subsequently feed it to the CPU and GPU faster. In most average builds, however, while the RAM can’t store entire files, it’s fast enough that it can collect and feed files with little perceptive delay to the application.

Let’s take an extreme example here to demonstrate. The RED Weapon 8K VV MONSTRO camera records 8K footage (8,192 x 4,320 pixels) at 60 fps. Assuming that’s uncompressed, 16-bit footage, one second of footage from that camera is almost 32 GB. 1.5 TB of RAM, surprisingly, wouldn’t be enough to store a whole minute of raw footage from that camera, but again, you would never need to store it all in RAM.

How about another over the top example? Remember when I said that 1.5 TB is amazing for consumer grade hardware? That’s because non-consumer grade hardware (meaning enterprise servers) often run far more than that. You could, right now, go and rent an Amazon EC2 High Memory server instance with up to 12 TB of RAM for three years for only $802,575.

What I’m getting at is, we’re not at a place yet where professional video editors, much less the average consumer, needs 1.5 terabytes of RAM, and where most businesses probably don’t have servers that overbuilt.

It’s just another one of Apple’s “build it because we can” spectacles that rightfully has done its job. Every tech enthusiast in the world went to bed Monday night dreaming of staring at a little “T” next to their RAM specs. Hopefully they all woke up realizing that it’s just not worth it.

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