Apple Mac Pro users feel the heat

Overheating renders device almost useless for intensive post work, users claim
Some users have questioned whether the cylindrical housing of the Mac Pro is too small to allow heat to dissipate adequately.
Some users have questioned whether the cylindrical housing of the Mac Pro is too small to allow heat to dissipate adequately.

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Postproduction professionals in the UAE have expressed their frustration with the latest version of the Apple Mac Pro, which they claim overheats and malfunctions when performing intensive tasks such as rendering 4K footage.

Dan Mitre, managing director at Dubai-based postproduction house Mile Studios, is just one frustrated Mac Pro user. Mile Studios, which specialises in colour grading, invested in a new 12-core Mac Pro (pictured) in mid-2014, but Mitre and his colleagues soon started to have doubts about the reliability of the machine.

Mitre, a self-confessed Apple fan (until recently), said: “We noticed it wasn’t working properly after about two months when rendering a 4K film. That’s when it started showing weakness. When rendering it starts to show black frames or different colour frames.”

Mitre and his business partner Leo Joseph, also managing director at the company, first suspected that the problem was related to the very high temperature that the Mac Pro reached when performing intense tasks. “You can burn your hand by touching that machine when it is really hot,” Joseph said.

The pair initially thought that the problem was a one-off fault with their unit and returned it to Arab Business Machine, Apple’s authorised service centre in the Middle East. But the technicians at ABM found no problem with the device and suggested that the software was to blame.

Mitre took the machine back to ABM and demonstrated the problem to the technicians. “I rendered something and in less than five minutes I showed them the problem. I explained to them it doesn’t matter what kind of software you use – the software was designed for this platform. It’s a Mac application which runs on an Apple system.”

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ABM acknowledged the problem, changed the graphics cards and returned the unit. But the problem persisted, with the machine continuing to overheat and malfunction during heavy work.

While the unit was with ABM, Mile Studios purchased two more Mac Pros, an 8-core and a 6-core version, but these machines also experienced the same problems as the 12-core machine.

Another Dubai-based postproduction specialist, who preferred not to be named, also has experience of the problem and shared his own theory about the cause. “The GPUs overheat. It seems to be the highest-spec Mac Pro with the dual D700 GPU that has the problem. It’s a strange one because there are mixed reports in some cases of a GPU replacement fixing the problem, but that doesn't solve it for everyone.”

He added that the Mac Pro “cooks” when running Blackmagic’s DaVinci Resolve software with 4K or higher RAW media and heavy correction after 15 minutes.

The problem has been compounded by Apple’s apparent lack of recognition of the issue, the specialist said: “Apple’s official stress tests don't seem to stress the system enough to recreate the problem. So when people take the Mac Pro into Apple with complaints, Apple run their tests and give it back saying there is nothing wrong with it.”

But for Mitre and his colleagues the burden continues. Having invested heavily in a workflow based on Apple, the management at Mile Studios is unsure of its next move but is mulling a switch to Linux or Windows-based platforms.

At present, the only solution for Mile Studios is to limit the speed at which the Mac Pro operates and keep a high-end lap top ready as back-up. As Mitre points out, the issue has already cost the company valuable time and effort, and has had a direct impact on its ability to serve its customers.

“When something like this happens it affects your business and the quality of the service that you are offering. We have to take it seriously and even consider moving on to another platform,” he said.

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When Digital Studio asked Apple about the problems that Mile Studios and others were facing with the Mac Pro, it was reluctant to answer any questions, and instead asked for contact details of the customers. “We would like to initially to have Apple Care speak to those customers to identify the exact issue they are facing…Apple Care is available in the UAE to address any customers issues and will be able to help with any problem,” a representative for Apple said in an email to Digital Studio.

Arab Business Machine also preferred not to speak about the issue and referred Digital Studio to Apple.

In the meantime, technically-minded Mitre continues to experiment with fixes and “work-arounds” to get his Mac Pros to function better. When Digital Studio visited Mitre at his office, he was busy rigging up the faulty Mac Pro to his older version of the machine, which features a more traditional desk-top style housing and is unaffected by the over-heating problem.

Mitre explained that he could not simply revert to using the older version of the Mac Pro directly because it lacks the Thunderbolt connection necessary for transferring 4K files rapidly.

Apple launched the current version of the Mac Pro in October 2013. The company states in its marketing material that the device allows users to work “pixel-for-pixel in 4K without slowing down” thanks to its dual AMD FirePro workstation-class GPUs and the latest Xeon E5 processors.

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