There’s been surprisingly few detailed rumors about a new Mac Pro compared to Apple’s other products. Over the past few years there’s been speculation about a Mac Mini Pro or xMac, which is basically a beefy Mac Mini with a user-replaceable GPU and not much else. I would post a link, but there’s as many descriptions of this phantom Mac as there are registered users of the Macrumors forums. Use your imagination.
There’s been discussion of ideals, like rack mounting, built-in Thunderbolt, USB3, and maybe even 10Gb Ethernet. But nothing concrete. The best guess I heard for the unprecedented 1000 day wait, is that Apple has been waiting on Intel for chips. All past Mac Pros have used server-class Xeon chips, which are released after Intel’s mobile and desktop equivalents. Even though features like Thunderbolt have been available in the mobile and desktop chips for sometime, they have not been available in the server-class chips. Thus, no new Mac Pro. At NAB I heard people saying that something would be announced in June and shipping by September. That makes sense – announce at WWDC, and ship when the new Xeons are ready. But today had possibly the most concrete rumors I’ve come across.
Lou Borella, who runs the Facebook page We Want A New Mac Pro wrote:
…this post is not a guess or an assumption. I actually have a source or two that has some credibility.
Here is what I’ve been told about the new Mac Pro.
– It will be heavily reliant on Thunderbolt.
– There will be no internal expandability.
– It will have support for Dual GPU’s with three monitor support right out of the box.
– No FW800 or Optical drive
– It will be released in the fall
– It will be a completely new design
The reactions on Twitter and elsewhere have been swift and damning. And yeah, I’m bummed too. But lets take this one bullet point at a time:
It will be heavily reliant on Thunderbolt
Good (and duh). Using Thunderbolt drives in the field has been a godsend. But they’ve been a huge PITA back at the post house. I worked on a TV show last fall that used 4 Promise Pegasus Thunderbolt drives for field media (and four G-RAID Thunderbolt drives as backup), which were then shipped to a facility using Avid Media Composer on an ISIS. So we had to buy an iMac and a Promise SANLink (Thunderbolt to Fibre Channel adapter) to hook up the iMac to the ISIS to offload the Pegasus RAIDs.
Each Thunderbolt connection is the equivalent of a 4x PCIe connection. Theoretically, two of these replace the two 4x PCIe slots in the Mac Pro. If the new Mac Pro has four Thunderbolt ports, then we’re gaining two “slots” over the current Mac Pro. But it does add the expense of Thunderbolt to PCIe enclosures, and the space they take up. For some users, this could make the new Mac Pro more expensive. I would like to see the same number of slots we have now (two 16x and two 4x) along with the new Thunderbolt ports.
There will be no internal expandability
Yes, I’m bummed by this. In my current Mac Pro, I have four drives in the internal bays in a software RAID0. This way I can have RAID0 speed without taking up a PCIe slot for a RAID controller (all four slots are full). I also have an SSD in the lower optical bay. But if the new Mac Pro has more Thunderbolt ports, then this isn’t a huge limitation. It does add to the number of external boxes necessary though. And an external Thunderbolt RAID is more expensive than an internal RAID (but cheaper than an SAS-based RAID with similar performance). Losing the internal expansion would be the biggest knock to Apple and their ability to call this machine “Pro”. For me the jury is out because the loss of expandability is weighed against the number of Thunderbolt ports (and possibly eSATA ports) that are added. More on eSATA below.
It will have support for Dual GPU’s with three monitor support right out of the box
I perked up when I saw this. That (edit: could) mean there’s two 16x PCIe 3.0 slots in there. That means I can build editing stations optimized for Premiere Pro with kick ass GPUs and 10Gb Ethernet cards (in slot 2). So if this rumor is true, most of my edit bays will be able to benefit from these new Mac Pros. Now I’m not as bummed. If the Mac Pros have 10Gb Ethernet ports built-in, even better. But based on what I’ve heard from people smarter than me who read and write 10Gb drivers, Apple is not doing that. 🙁
If there are two 16x PCIe slots and two Thunderbolt ports, then on a PCIe lane by lane basis, it will be equivalent to the current Mac Pro. If there are more Thunderbolt ports, then it’s a gain. Yes, we’ll still have to buy Thunderbolt to PCIe chassis for some of our cards. But looking at my edit suites, most of the Slot 3 and Slot 4 cards are for video capture cards (AJA Kona and Blackmagic Decklink), and USB3 and eSATA cards. Blackmagic and AJA now have Thunderbolt and USB3 capture cards (I guess that’s not the correct name for these things anymore), so we could just switch to the USB3 and Thunderbolt versions for some suites. And hopefully the new Mac Pros will have USB3 and eSATA built-in.
The flurry of new drivers and cards from nVidia and AMD that are OS X and Mac Pro compatible means this is likely.
Half of my production life is spend as a colorist, which means I spend a lot of time with PCIe expanders. If the new Mac Pros have two 16x PCIe 3.0 slots, then expanders are still an option (albeit a pricey one) and the reality.
Edit: A few Twitter followers have noted that Dual GPU’s could mean a similar setup to the current iMacs and MacBook Pros that have separate discreet and integrated graphics. But this doesn’t quite jibe with the nVidia and AMD GPU card updates. Maybe it’s a single PCIe 3.0 slot for a GPU card along with integrated graphics. Boy, I hope not as that would be a major step back.
No FW800 or Optical drive
No real surprise here. FW800 is very slow compared to USB3, eSATA and Thunderbolt. I had to get the CalDigit FASTA-6GU3 card for my Mac Pro months ago because of all the USB3 drives clients were sending me. I’m getting very few FW800 drives through the door. I swapped out the Superdrive in my Mac Pro for a LG Blu-Ray Burner as soon as I bought it. Switching to NO optical drive just means I have to put it in an enclosure. And no, I’m not really liking the theme here of more and more external boxes. It seems less elegant and Apple-like. The new Mac Pro really needs eSATA ports. I shouldn’t have to write any more about that. It just is. We need them.
It will be released in the fall
This is what I heard at NAB and makes sense with Intel’s schedule
It will be a completely new design
Call me old-fashioned. But the current Mac Pro design is timeless and damn near perfect. Take the existing enclosure, throw in a modern motherboard with 6G SATA, PCI 3.0 and new kick ass processors with Thunderbolt, and I’m a happy camper/editor/photographer/colorist. It’s everything I want. Personally, I think the new thin iMac is dumb. They took a dimension no one could see, and make it thinner. Oooh. Don’t care. The new iMac and Retina MacBook Pro are much less user-upgradable due to their design. This is anathema to a “Pro” design. Personally, I like that I can shoehorn five hard drives, a Blu-Ray burner and four PCIe cards into my Mac Pro without needing a single cable or power supply.
Conclusion (damn, I hope so. Been waiting too long for this stupid machine)
The pro community has been talking about the death of the Mac Pro for years. Apple has done quite a few things to piss off the community, the most major of which was Final Cut Pro X. Many new amazing apps, technologies and machines have been released in that time. 2 years ago, I was putting Mac Pros in every edit suite I designed. Now, not so much. iMacs are more powerful. There’s less of a demand for capture cards with HD output as more people are editing for the web. Premiere Pro and Media Composer have taken the throne from Final Cut Pro, so more people are receptive to PCs in their production facilities. More and more software is either cross-platform or internet-based. In the new facility designs I’m working on there’s more iMacs and fewer workstations. For those workstations, it could be a Mac Pro or an HP Z820 or something from Dell. Since consumer products have become more powerful, the “heavy iron” is needed in fewer rooms. I could easily transition a six Mac Pro facility to a four iMac and two Z820 facility and not miss a beat.
Yes, I’m bummed about this latest rumor because it doesn’t fit my ideal. But, neither did the original Mac Pro. It’s always a compromise. The great thing about today is that Apple’s previous missteps have allowed the market to grow as companies take advantage and fill the cracks. As a consumer, do the same. Take advantage of the variety in the marketplace.
To Apple: Please make a kick-ass Mac Pro. I hate Windows…
For what it’s worth – a couple of months ago I received a call from Douglas Brooks, Apples project manager for the new Mac Pro to address my concerns about the new machine. Obviously he didn’t tell me anything about the new MP, but asked me what I wanted to see. I told him expandability for extra graphics cards support, and memory expansion were at the top of my list amongst other things. His reply was simple:
“You are going to be really glad that you waited [to buy a new tower]. We are doing something really different here and I think you’re going to be very excited when you see what we’ve been up to. I can’t wait to show this off”.
That conversation gave me enough confidence to wait for the new machine. I’m looking forward to the announcement. Hopefully the wait will be worth it.
This sounds a bit like when Steve Jobs called the upcoming Final Cut Pro X, “awesome”. Hopefully this turns out better.