Still no new Mac Pro but Mavericks is free

Yesterday evening (UK time) Apple held their Autumn event which has traditionally (if you can call the last couple of years “tradition”) been where they unveil the latest iPad.

The release of the iPad Air (for “Air” read iPad 5) is welcome. It certainly looks the part but although it’s much faster than all previous generations I’m going to stick with my 3rd generation iPad because it has the main feature I want, namely a retina display. I don’t play games on it so that extra speed isn’t something I crave.

It was great to see the iPad Mini finally get a retina display. I think that makes it well worth buying if you’re in the market for a smaller tablet.

Despite this being an iPad event (normally) this year’s Apple Autumn get together covered Macs too. The new version of Mac OS X, version 10.9 “Mavericks” named after something to do with surfing in California (which means nothing to anyone outside of the USA, but they were running out of cats…..) was released to the public. The really big news is that it’s being given away for free.

More specifically, Apple have moved their desktop OS to work a bit more like iOS. If you have an iPhone or iPad that is capable of running the latest and greatest version of iOS then you can download it for nothing. That’s what Apple has now done to OS X. It makes no difference at all what version of the OS you’re currently using, if your Mac can run Mavericks then you can fire up the Mac App Store and download it for no cost.

This is great news and makes lots of sense if you stop and think about it. Apple are clearly playing to their strengths here. They make money out of people buying Macs and from a user and security point of view it’s good for everyone if they keep their OS up to date. So they made it free removing the main hurdle (other than compatibility) that could stop someone from upgrading.

After less than 24 hours, reportedly 7% of users have already made the switch.

I can’t because my Mac won’t even run Mountain Lion (the previous version) so I’m stuck on OS X 10.7 Lion until I can get my hands on a hardware upgrade. Which moves us nicely on to the other bit of news from the event: The Mac Pro.

The Mac Pro
For those who don’t know, Apple have been neglecting their Pro users for some time now. The Mac Pro last got a serious update over 3 years ago and hasn’t even been on sale in Europe since April because the current model doesn’t meed modern safety standards.

In June 2012 Apple CEO Tim Cook replied to an angry Pro user whinging about lack of updates to the Mac Pro at that year’s World Wide Developer’s Conference (WWDC) saying that an update would be on the way “later next year [2013]”. At WWDC 2013 the new model was unveiled. It’s a round “trash can” looking device that has no internal expansion but packs some serious processing power. At the time, it was reported as being available “later this year” and a brief page about the new device went up on the Apple web site.

Yesterday at the Autumn event, Apple gave out more details of the new beast. We now have much more detailed specs, prices and a (still slightly vague) release date.

The detailed specs show that the base model will include a quad core 3.7GHz Intel Xeon E5 processor, 12GB 1866MHz DDR3 RAM and dual AMD FirePro D300 cards with a total of 4GB VRAM. This will retail for £2,499 which is more than the old model’s base price but still less than many of us feared.

There are configurable options in the new Mac Pro. You can specify a beefier processor, GPUs and more RAM but we have no prices against these options yet. The only price shown on the Apple Store at the moment is for the other, higher spec starting unit. This has a 3.5 GHz 6-core Intel Xeon E5 processor, 16GB 1866MHz DDR3 RAM and Dual AMD FirePro D500 cards with a total of 6GB of VRAM. This costs £3,299.

Both units come with a 256GB PCIe-based flash storage device which will fly. If you think SSD is fast, it’s a tortoise compared to one of these babies.

If you want to go the full hog, then you can specify right up to a 2.7GHz 12-core processor, 64GB RAM, two AMD FirePro D700s with a total 12GB GDDR5 VRAM and 1TB PCIe flash storage. That will be a serious bit of kit with a wallet busting price to match.

My thoughts
Personally, the base model is fine for me, although I can see me opting for 512GB of PCIe storage. I have a 250GB hard drive in my Mac Pro 1,1 and it only has 23GB of free space with all my data on different drives – the 250GB unit only has the OS and software. So anyone thinking of buying a new Mac Pro better only get the base model if they’re really really sure that they can squeeze all they need on the boot volume into 256GB. Good luck with that if you decide to do it!

As expected, the RAM and PCIe card are user accessible so can be updated and it’s good to see that the base model has a free RAM slot so if the 12GB that it comes with isn’t enough then this can be boosted to 16GB without having to pay the Apple “memory tax”.

Release date
Like many people watching the live stream of the event yesterday, I was really disappointed that the release date for the new Mac Pro is “December”. We don’t know when in December it will be but just the fact that Phil Schiller said “December” makes me think it’ll be later in the month rather than sooner. My current Mac Pro is just about hanging on so it really can’t come soon enough for me.

My suspicions about the release date are that just under a year ago Apple brought out a new iMac and quickly ran out of stock leaving some people waiting for their new computer for many weeks. I feel Apple will want to avoid that with the Mac Pro, especially as some of us have been waiting many many MANY months for this new hardware to arrive. I shudder to think what would happen if someone tried to order one on launch to be shown a “4 week” or longer expected delivery time.

Closing thoughts
Finally, my overall feeling (once I got over the “December” bomb shell) is that the price point is fine, the specs look good and it really won’t be all that long until I can get my hands on one of these so I’m taking positives from the whole thing. I just hope that it comes out on December 1st. Or they change their mind and release it earlier than that.