New Mac Pro Thoughts

When Apple finally announced the new Mac Pro on 10 June 2013 I didn’t blog about it at the time mainly because my new blog hadn’t launched yet. I tweeted about it but otherwise left my thoughts to myself. It’s now time to say what I think!

The background
First of all (for those of you who aren’t as nerdy as I am) a quick recap about where we’ve got to.

The Mac Pro is Apple’s flagship product – it’s the one that’s the most expensive to buy and has, until recent years at least, carried the most up to date technology and raw horse power. The computer received updates to its spec every two years since it’s initial launch in August 2006 (as the final Apple desktop to be transitioned from a PowerPC architecture to Intel) up until August 2010.

I purchased an original Mac Pro 1,1 in April 2007 and had come to the conclusion by Spring 2011 that I would probably need to upgrade the machine in 2012. Happily, I thought at the time, this would likely coincide with an update to the machine. By the time 2012 came, however, many analysts were predicting the demise of the Mac Pro. Desktop sales had been falling since the introduction of the iPad, technology such as Thunderbolt and USB 3 had been added to most of Apple’s other desktop and laptop computers but the Mac Pro had received no love from Apple in some time. “It’s dead” said the experts.

Personally I thought otherwise. There were valid technical reasons why the Mac Pro hadn’t been updated to Thunderbolt. Worryingly the technical roadmap didn’t point to Thunderbolt compatibility being ready for mass-market until late 2013, however I thought that Apple might have a trick up its sleeve. They’d pulled a rabbit out of the hat several times in the past so I was hopefully they’d do it again!

However, I was to be disappointed. June 2012’s Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) the ideal place for an announcement came and went without a mention. I’m not a fan of Facebook, but a page on there asking for “(New) Mac Pros Please” started by video professional Lou Borella, received a massive number of likes and this, coupled with a rather full in-box for Apple CEO Tim Cook berating him for lack of innovation in the Pro market, forced something really unusual to happen. Shortly after the WWDC “no-news” keynote, Tim Cook replied to one of these email messages saying that a new Mac Pro was on the way; or at least “Something really great … later in 2013”.

The “later in 2013” bit wasn’t good news, but being a cup half full kind of a guy I was pleased that “something” was on the way. That “something” was announced on 10 June at WWDC 2013.

Darth Mac
Mac Pro 2013

The new Mac Pro that will launch some time before the end of the year is a radical new machine. It bears no resemblance to the old model other than its name. It’s a cylinder with what’s been described as “thermal core” around which 3 PCBs sit in a triangular formation. The new machine has dual GPU’s, on-board PCIe Flash storage and what looks like 4 ram slots. It has 6 Thunderbolt 2 ports, 4 USB 3, an HDMI slot and dual gigabit ethernet as well as the latest “ac” spec WiFi. There’s one big fan right at the top. It’s also really small – just one eighth the volume of the previous model.

It also looks like Darth Vader’s helmet (the one on his head).

The big questions
I’ve written a follow up blog post about my biggest question – the one of storage. The old Pro had 4 internal drive bays, 8 ram slots and 3 PCIe express slots whereas the new model has no internal drive bays, 4 ram slots and no PCIe expansion at all.

Some may say that’s a step backwards, but Apple’s answer is that you can plug in any amount of expansion (well not any amount, but more than you’re likely to ever need) into the various slots on the back (these even light up as you turn the machine around although I’ll have more to say on that in my next post).

It looks like you’ll be able to update the RAM in the 4-slots. The PCIe Flash looks as if it may be on a replaceable card (although the capacity of this initially is likely to be limited). Other than that, there doesn’t look to be any other internal expansion – it’s all outside of the box (which is what Apple what us all to think like).

In summary
I’ll have more on this next time as the announcement (while welcome) threw up as many questions as it answered. In summary, however, I must say that I’m pleased that Apple are sticking with the Pro market, delighted that they’re trying to innovate in what is a shrinking market and above all intend to embrace it as much as I can taking the challenges that it offers as a chance to improve and move forward rather than stagnate and complain.

What do you think? Post your comments below.