Closer Look: RackMac Pro

Closer Look: RackMac Pro

RackMac™ Pro
Sonnet Technologies started shipping the new RackMac™ Pro in July of 2014 after announcing it earlier this year. Sonnet was already one of the best solutions for racking a Mac Mini with their RackMac Mini. Since the new Mac Pros came out in 2013, the rack world has been perplexed about how to rack them up. I got my hands on one of the first RackMac Pros off the assembly line and I am quite impressed with it.
 
Many media servers and companies rely heavily on the older generation of Mac Pros as their workhorse for a lot of their needs, particularly PRG and the Mbox Extreme. In the wake of the new Mac Pro design, which is exciting for many content creators and creative professionals due to its small form factor (so small it can travel in a carry-on), a challenge is posed for these companies who are used to the easier nature of racking the old Mac Pros. PRG even purchased as many old generation Mac Pros as they could get their hands on when the new one was announced.
 
The biggest problem with racking the new Mac Pro is circulation. It sucks in air from the bottom and sends the exhaust out the top. This works well and keeps the machine cool while pushing some serious power. All is well and good until your buddy puts a flat object over the top of the exhaust, blocking all air flow, and the machine thermal's out. (Seriously, don't cover it up!) There are some designs out there that rack the MP's vertically, allowing for optimal air flow while eating A TON of rack space, such as the new media server racks of XL Video. On the other hand, there are some goofy-looking rack solutions that seem to just be a band wrapped around the machine. Sonnet took a risk and mounted them horizontally with the bottom of the Mac Pro at the front of the rack sucking in air. Hopefully having them on their sides doesn't lead to any problems down the road. I benchmarked my Mac Pros so we can compare them in a year.
 
This configuration puts the exhaust in the middle of the rack, which would optimally be free of cables as much as possible. I put the RackMac Pro at the bottom of my rack so there aren't many cables blocking air from the back of the rack. It gets fairly hot down there but not to a concerning level.
Most of the connections are cleverly extended to the rear of the rack minus one USB which goes to the front. This includes USB, Ethernet, and HDMI. Unfortunately, this does not include the thunderbolt ports. I haven't seen anyone who makes a male to female thunderbolt cable, only mini display port, so I won't hold Sonnet accountable for this one. I ran an additional thunderbolt cable to the top of the rack to attach hard drives, which has been an acceptable work-around.
 
The system comes in two flavors. The first is a mount for one Mac Pro and PCI expansions. The second, a mount for two Mac Pros, is what I purchased. Installing the Mac Pros was simple and straightforward. They are held in tight with a foam lining that probably provides some minimal shock mounting. The cables then fit in snugly.
       
Each Mac Pro goes in a sleeve which houses all the connections and slides in through the front of the rack. This makes it easy to make adjustments to just one machine while the case is mounted. There is a piece of sheet metal that goes on after this, which feels a little too thick. This piece makes it hard to attach big USB devices, at least just enough to annoy someone who is OCD and is thrown off when the USB port isn't flush like the other 99% of USB ports we deal with daily. The mechanism that hits the power button works great, but you have to be gentle. It has a set screw that lets you adjust the pressure and find the sweet spot. The second time we powered the machine on, we pushed too hard and the power button got stuck, partially due to this mechanism, but I think the thick sheet metal was also to blame. Did I mention it is heavy? Like, really heavy? I don't know the exact weight but it is anything but light. Maybe this is the cost of protecting your trash can and I can get behind that.
 
All in all, I am very pleased with the product. It's much better than anything else out there as long as it doesn't fry my Mac Pros. It looks sleek; attention was paid to design. And I haven't even mentioned my favorite part yet. Because the Mac Pro gets rotated 45° to make all the connections without extending the rack height beyond 4U, this means the bottom of the Mac Pro that reads "Mac Pro" is also tilted: again, much to the chagrin of anyone with OCD. The box ships with two stickers that are a replica of the bottom but with the text angled correctly. There is also a little window that displays the serial number from underneath. Serious bonus points for that!
 
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