All about Apple’s optional ‘Afterburner’ accelerator card for the Mac Pro

Malcolm Owen for AppleInsider:

As part of the launch of the new Mac Pro, Apple introduced a piece of hardware called Apple Afterburner that could be added to the configuration.

Afterburner is a card for the new Mac Pro that is designed for use in video production. Rather than relying on the processor or graphics cards for some tasks, the Afterburner takes over for some tasks, specifically those relating to video processing between formats, freeing up the rest of the system components to perform other tasks.

Afterburner includes over a million logic cells, allowing it to process up to 6.3 billion pixels per second.

The card is built to accelerate ProRes and ProRes RAW codecs, namely the encoding and decoding of the codecs, which is a processing-heavy task in most cases… The card is capable of handling up to three streams of 8K ProRes RAW video simultaneously at 30 frames per second, making it extremely useful for video editors working at the highest possible level. On less demanding video specifications, it is able to work on up to 12 streams of 4K ProRes RAW video at 30 frames per second, or at 4K ProRes 422, up to 16 video streams.

As Afterburner is highly specific in what it can do, the only potential buyers of the card are those in the video editing field… There is also little need to get the card if the user does video editing, but doesn’t use the ProRes or ProRes RAW codecs.

MacDailyNews Take: The card is programmable, meaning new uses could be introduced for it by Apple (think new codecs, perhaps) over time. Craig Federighi more than hinted at such during his interview with John Gruber for The Talk Show this week at WWDC.

[Thanks to MacDailyNews Reader “Fred Mertz” for the heads up.]

13 Comments

  1. One would think even Afterburner might make the Mac Pro worth buying to some professional users. It’s so early for people to have so many negative opinions about the Mac Pro due to the cost. It it can save pro-users a lot of time it would pay for itself in a short time. How can some people say it’s not worth the price without ever actually using it.

    1. How can anybody know that it is overpriced without being able to compare Mac Pro with the alternatives for their own workflow? Time is money, and nobody knows how much time Mac Pro might save them.

      1. It can only save Pro users money if those Pro users refuse to leave the Apple OS and ecosystem, offered exclusively through Apple devices. Leaving that for Windows, or even a Hackintosh, you’ll discover that there are so much more savings in both time and money to be had from AMD (and soon, Intel), ranging from 12, to 16, to 24, to 32, even up to 64-core CPU’s with the upcoming Epyc processors, and up to 2TB of ram. And dual-GPU’s are just around the corner from Intel, AMD, and Nvidia. You could probably build a system more powerful than the top-of-the-line Mac for half of whatever Apple (and Intel) over-charges you for.

          1. That link will take you to PCPartPicker. Feel free to adjust it to your preferences. This Hackintosh build is a:

            1x 32-core AMD Threadripper CPU (more than the Mac Pro)
            1x High-end Motherboard
            1x 4-way NVME Raid add-in card (Comes with the motherboard)
            1x 360 AIO Liquid Cooler
            8x 16GB (128GB Total) of RAM at 3200 CL 16
            1x Intel Optane 905P 1.5TB Boot drive
            4x 1TB 970 PRO NVME SSD’s in Raid 0 for 4TB at 12,000 Read/Write speed
            3x 2TB 970 EVO NVME SSD’s for a total of 6TB of day-to-day storage
            7x 10TB HHD (70TB of Storage)
            1x 10GB Lan
            1x 32″ 8k Display
            1x Be Quiet Case for quiet operation

            Add about another 400 dollars for keyboard, mice, fans, fan-controllers, custom cables, RGB, or whatever other niceties you want to add to make your PC look beautiful, and more Mac-like, and you’re still barely over 16,000 dollars. Also feel free to throw in another 8k display, or add in another 10GB Lan, or throw in a second Radeon VII GPU. For the overwhelming majority of Mac Pro users, there’s no comparison between building your own Mac Pro Hackintosh, vs the overpriced designer piece that Apple is trying to sell us here. If you need a CPU that is twice as powerful as the one I have above, with 2TB of Ram, then move up from Threadripper to Epyc.

            The Mac Pro is beautiful.The dual-chamber design is innovative, and I hope the PC world moves in that direction. The 4-way GPU layout is incredible. However, it’s just a horrific value for what you’re getting.

      2. It really depends on what one’s workflow is.

        With this week’s announcement, I’ve been updating my pricing on Windows boxes and the KISS summary is that I can get a loaded-with-what-I-need PC box for $5K, which is $1K less than the stripped-down Mac Pro starts at. I’ll still need to add probably at least another $2-3K to match specs, so call it $5K vs $8K = $3K (per seat) for the ‘Apple Tax’.

        Similarly, for an iMac Pro, the bill is pushing $8K again, although I do get a 27″ display in that deal – – along with an ugly trash-can-esque pile of externals required for my workflow, as well as reduced options for expanding capabilities after initial purchase. Again, per seat.

        BTW – – – “one more thing” – – –

        Where’s there been any Apple disclosure on this new system’s maintainability over the next …oh, say, half decade … by Apple? We were assured of a ‘modular’ approach that would be more suitable for refreshes, but with things like PCIe 3, it sounds like this Motherboard is going to have a relatively short lifespan potential.

  2. “The card is programmable, meaning new uses could be introduced for it by Apple”. I would like it even more if owners of this can custom program their own codecs. If that is possible, then how about building my own encryption algorithms and having a sub layer secure network running underneath a network of Mac Pros?

    Apple has me daydreaming the possibilities on what this Mac Pro monster can be capable of.

    1. This is the kind of foggy thinking that Apple has its customers doing.

      This is a piece of stock PCIe hardware. Not unlike the REDRocket card which has served the same purpose for the last 10 years. They haven’t invented a new technology.

      But their customers are talking about it like it’s opened new possibilities — the only new thing is that Apple has stopped denying their customers the PCIe bus. Like how good it feels when you stop banging your head against the wall.

      But lots of people haven’t BEEN banging their heads and they’re doing great.

    1. The DSP-equipped Apple av Macs were barely out the door when Apple announced they would be transitioning to PowerPC processors without a DSP. It is no wonder that those DSPs were never really adopted.

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