At the time of recording the above video in May 2019 we could be less than a month away from discovering what Apple’s revamped top of the range desktop Mac will look like. In this video I talk about what we might see and why not everyone is likely to be happy. Make sure you watch right to the end of the video because I offer a couple of opinions on the new Mac Pro that you probably haven’t heard.
When Apple released the first Mac Pro in August 2006 on the outside it looked very much like the Power Mac gee five it had replaced, however inside it was a totally new machine. It used the traditional tower format that most computers came in at the time but in a modern solid all metal chassis. It felt and looked premium. This computer would become affectionately known as the cheese grater. Outside it had plenty of ports five U S B two , 2 firewire 400, 2 firewire 800, optical, audio in and out and a dual layer super drive, It was a fully featured top of the range machine.
For professionals at the time, alarm bells rung because despite the Mac Pro being a great computer it was the last Mac to be transitioned from Power PC to Intel processors, the Mac Pro having two dual core Xeon chips at its heart. This was unfortunately a sign of things to come as the machine received little attention over the next few years with just a handful of spec bumps and generally unimpressive updates until even those stopped in 2012 with that update being barely noticeable from the version that had shipped in 2010.
This lacklustre support led many pro users to suspect that Apple didn’t care anymore and was only interested in selling phones and to a certain extent despite what the company says, there’s probably an element of truth about that. However at the Worldwide Developers Conference in 2013 a replacement machine was finally unveiled.
The new Mac Pro resembled a bin which is why it’s unaffectionately become known as the trash can. This computer has modern specs, internal SSD, fast RAM, thunderbolt 2 as well as USB but it has no internal storage and apart from RAM you’re pretty much stuck with how it leaves the factory, However that’s not the worst of it. Inside, the trashcan has 2 GPUs (that’s graphics cards to you and me) with Apple banking on software developers using the second ultra fast card for processing data – which is precisely what didn’t happen. In development terms it’s made much more sense to have a CPU (the processor) with lots of cores. It’s easier to program and has less of an overhead meaning that the expensive second GPU sits in the trashcan acting merely as part of the elaborate cooling system. Which incidentally does work rather well.
I bought a cheese grater Mac Pro in 2006 and upgraded to a trashcan in 2013. Well 2014 as it took weeks to get here.
In 2017 Apple admitted that they had got it wrong and the trashcan’s second graphics card is not the way to do it. But worse than that the architecture can’t cope with faster CPUs with more cores. In their own words they’d engineered themselves into a thermal corner.
Which is quite an achievement when you work in round building.
They said that a new totally revamped modular machine would follow in 2019. And although nothing can be certain, June’s WWDC seems a fair shout for a sneak peek at it.
But what exactly does modular mean?
Some commentators have speculated that a modular Mac Pro will be like some kind of lego computer made up of different boxes that you can slot together like some kind of silicon jenga. You want a faster Mac Pro, buy a CPU upgrade box. You want faster graphics, but a graphics module. For a while I thought there may be some merit to that argument even if I didn’t think that it would work quite like that, however the release of the 2018 Mac Mini gave me serious doubts. After all, why release a pro oriented mini when an entry level lego Mac Pro would probably be the same kind of machine?
It all seems a bit far fetched to me, to be honest, I feel that it’s far more likely the modular refers to the factory assembly line, how Apple put together and build the machines and later change elements of it without having to re-tool large parts of their production line.
At the other end of the scale there are vocal supporters of bringing back something akin to the cheese grater. It’s certainly possible that this will happen, although if it does I feel it’ll be far more compact and I also think that the one big thing that cheese grater supporters often want, which is to be able to plug in just about any piece of internal update that they want to into the chassis just won’t happen, Not on your nelly. No. No No. You won’t be able to plug an nvidia card into the new machine. It just won’t happen. It’ll be upgradable, for sure, however it’ll be with a limited set of Apple supplied components. Perhaps that’s the modular element after all?
There’s one other thing to bear in mind about the new Mac Pro. The old machine was many things to many people. I’m an app and web developer and no other Mac was really up to the job for me, however that’s just not the case now. There are plenty of options out there if you use a Mac professionally. I now use an iMac Pro and think it’s wonderful, other professionals would find a laptop or the new pro oriented Mac Mini would do the job for them very nicely.
I think the new Mac Pro will be for the very highest demanding customers that Apple has. People who need such extraordinary processing power that mere mortals don’t need on a day to day basis, People in science or with multiple simultaneous demanding tasks. Most people just won’t think it’s worth it.
So why make it at all? They probably won’t sell that many, but McClaren don’t sell many F1s. That doesn’t stop them making them.
There’s one other part of this that is my own opinion and not one I’ve heard anybody else mention. What if the new Mac Pro is also a perfect machine to be a server? A modern day XServe? Why not get back into that market? Yes, MacOS server is a seriously crippled and basically useless update not worth getting out of bed for, but that could change? A powerful space grey Apple Server would be something to seriously lust after. In a totally non pervy way, of course. What do you think?
Another really off the wall idea is that the new Mac Pro will ship with Apple based ARM processors and be the first Mac to ship without Intel on board. It’s inevitable that Apple will shift to their CPUs at some point and now may be a touch too soon, however it’s got to happen at some point…!
If Apple do make an announcement in June then I’ll follow up later that month with my thoughts.
What do you want from the new Mac Pro, be sure to leave your comments on my YouTube channel and don’t forget to hit that subscribe and like buttons as that encourages me to make content for the channel.