The £48,000 computer

Actually it’s £48,087.98. Can’t forget the 98p, am I right? If you’re in America, that’s $64,000 – though from what I’ve seen online it may be closer to $50,000 over there for you guys. Obviously we’re talking about the Mac Pro, the latest computer from Apple.

The Mac Pro starts at £5,499 for the “basic” edition, and even that is absolutely obscene by most people’s standards. Where I live, £48,000 would get you literally acres of arable farmland, or would be a sizeable deposit on a house. Or get you a very nice car. The list of things you could do with 48 grand could go on and on. But in the first line you missed the key point – “by most people’s standards”. This isn’t a machine for the likes of you and me.

Some time ago, I found myself working in government. Nothing fancy (I wasn’t an MP or anything) but I worked an office job in a small local government office. The work that we had to do in this office required the use of a spreadsheet – a programme like Microsoft Excel, which is part of their Office suite. Office costs around £120, maybe closer to £200 for a business edition. And of course, any big organisation gets a sizeable discount that scales with how many copies they need. For a big organisation, like the place I was working, Office was an essential tool and all the computers in our office had it installed. Yet, despite Excel being perfectly serviceable for what we needed, the department was paying several thousand pounds a year (in the mid-2000s, inflation will have raised the price since then) for the license to a different piece of spreadsheet software – one that was marketed at being designed especially for what we needed! It was, of course, essentially the same product as Excel. Just with less compatibility – it wouldn’t open Excel files, nor allow Excel to open its own files, and because other departments in the same building – as well as other departments doing the exact same job as us in other locations – didn’t use it, anything they sent to us or we sent to them had to be manually converted. What a colossal waste of everyone’s time – and money. Taxpayers’ money, in this case.

The point of this long story is that there is a whole world out there which most of us don’t ever see, or if we do it’s only a brief glimpse: the world of big business, and of powerful organisations for whom money is – for all practical purposes at least – no object.

These are the kind of people who Apple are targeting with the new Mac Pro. Because they know that people want to stay on the cutting edge, and upgrade their machines as often as possible. And these people will go to see their boss and ask for the upgrade – and it will be granted even if it costs £48,000 because the organisation they work for doesn’t even notice that amount of money. If you’re working in, for example, a film studio, where budgets regularly balloon past the $150 million mark, what’s 50 grand compared to that? And when you consider for someone who works in an industry like that, they would get a decent amount of work out of that machine over two or three years, working on multiple titles, why not spend the money?

I’m a paid-up member of the Apple “ecosystem” – by which I mean I’m an iPhone guy. And even though I have to concede that iPhones are generally more expensive, I’ve found them to be much better than Android phones, especially at the lower end of the market or on models a year or two old. So there is something to be said for choosing quality over price. But is that a fair argument when looking at a computer – one single computer – that’s the price of a brand new flash car?

I mean, for £48,000 you could buy close to 100 decent computers and kit out a medium sized business. Sorry, no more “you could buy X for that money”. But you could. Just saying.

For someone who’s already an Apple user, who uses professional software like Final Cut Pro or Logic Pro, and who needs a really powerful machine for work, if they’re bringing in the big bucks and this will help them do their work faster and more efficiently, there’s an argument to be made in its favour.

But despite this, despite the fact that I can see a potential user base – albeit a small one – some of the costs of components really seem inflated.

Adding wheels to the case costs £360 – that’s £90 per wheel. They might be good quality – I mean, they better be at £90 each – but are they so much better than anything else on the market? It’s possible to buy a wheeled computer stand for less than £10 on Amazon, and that would do basically the same thing.

It’s possible to get a 2TB NVMe solid-state drive for about £250. Apple wants £720 for a non-specified SSD. Is it NVMe (or Apple equivalent)? Because there’s a big performance difference between SATA and NVMe. And even if it is NVMe, what makes it so much better than other options on the market that it’s basically triple the price? Additionally, 2TB isn’t a lot of storage when you’re talking about video files, animation, rendering, audio work, and the like. That SSD will fill up pretty quickly, and the only other option, costing £1,260 more than the base model, is 4TB. I’ve seen folks with YouTube channels who have literally hundreds of terabytes of video – presumably anyone buying a Mac Pro still needs to pay extra for external storage.

I know there’s a market for a machine like this, and I know Apple will have taken the time to make sure every component is high quality and will work well with their software, and that has to be factored into the price. But it still seems excessive, and some of the choices – like £360 for a set of wheels for the case – are just obscene.

But hey, if anyone wants to get me one for Christmas I won’t say no. Not that I really need all that hardware for blogging.

This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.