Mac Pro

Ap­ple hasn’t given much away about its plans for the Mac Pro, but we have an inkling of what to ex­pect. Karen Haslam re­ports

Macworld - - Contents -

The last time Ap­ple up­dated the Mac Pro it made a big deal about how it was rev­o­lu­tion­ary and proof that Ap­ple could still in­no­vate. That Mac Pro is now four years old and Ap­ple hasn’t been able to up­grade it since be­cause, in the words of Ap­ple’s se­nior vice pres­i­dent of Soft­ware En­gi­neer, Craig Fed­erighi: “We de­signed our­selves into a ther­mal cor­ner”.

This reve­la­tion was made at a brief­ing with a se­lect few jour­nal­ists in April 2017. At the meet­ing Ap­ple ad­mit­ted that it had made a bit

of a mess of the Mac Pro and ex­plained that it was “com­pletely re­think­ing” the de­sign and its ap­proach. Cre­atives cheered, or at least those ones who were still lis­ten­ing.

What went wrong with the Mac Pro

The 2013 Mac Pro was built around a ther­mal core that cooled a 12-core Xeon pro­ces­sor, a 256GB flash drive, up to 64GB RAM, and two GPUS, all squeezed into a tube that was 9.9x6.6in.

While some joked about its re­sem­blance to a trash can, the 2013 Mac Pro cer­tainly did have all the looks. But when Ap­ple had made its de­sign choices it had made some as­sump­tions about the path that fu­ture work­sta­tion tech­nolo­gies would take, and un­for­tu­nately, while the de­sign of the

Mac Pro did a great job keep­ing it cool, thanks to the ther­mal core, the in­ter­nal de­sign just couldn’t ac­com­mo­date the pro­ces­sors and GPUS that were to ar­rive over the years that fol­lowed, and as a re­sult Ap­ple was un­able to up­date the Mac

Pro in its cur­rent form.

This might have been for­giv­able but for the fact that those peo­ple who did pur­chase a Mac Pro couldn’t up­date their mod­els ei­ther. Much bet­ter pro­ces­sors and GPUS have ar­rived since the ones that Ap­ple used in the 2013 Mac Pro, but no Mac

Pro user was able to take ad­van­tage of these.

One of the big­gest crit­i­cisms of the Mac Pro when it launched back in 2013 was the fact that it was not user upgrad­able. The old ‘cheese grater’ Mac Pro (pic­tured be­low) had been pop­u­lar be­cause

it could be up­graded with faster graph­ics cards, bet­ter CPUS, ex­tra stor­age space thanks to the in­ter­nal drive bays and PCI Ex­press ex­pan­sion slots. With the 2013 Mac Pro Ap­ple tried to tell pros that the Thun­der­bolt 2 ports pro­vided on the Mac Pro would give them all the up­grade­abil­ity they needed. Pros laughed at the idea and won­dered how they would find the desk space.

As a re­sult, in the four years since the in­tro­duc­tion of the trash can Mac Pro many Pros have been cre­at­ing their own ‘hack­in­toshes’ with the CPUS and graph­ics cards they need. Those pros who aren’t des­per­ate to run macos (or

Mac OS X) have just switched to the Win­dows of Linux work­sta­tions that have left Ap­ple’s Mac Pro for dust.

Ap­ple’s plans for the new Mac Pro

There were only two things Ap­ple could do. Ei­ther it had to pull out of the work­sta­tion space all to­gether and face the on­slaught of bad press about turn­ing its back on the cre­atives who made the com­pany pop­u­lar in the first place, or it needed ad­mit to its fail­ings and go back to the draw­ing board and start again with the Mac Pro.

The com­pany an­nounced that it would be do­ing the lat­ter at a brief­ing with a se­lect few jour­nal­ists in April 2017. Ap­ple told jour­nal­ists that it was “com­pletely re­think­ing” the de­sign of the Mac Pro.

But what do we know of this “com­pletely re­designed, next-gen­er­a­tion Mac Pro ar­chi­tected for pro cus­tomers who need the high­est-end, high­through­put sys­tem in a mod­u­lar de­sign, as well as a new high-end pro dis­play,” as Ap­ple’s VP of mar­ket­ing Phil Schiller de­scribed it?

It would seem that when it made its an­nounce­ment in April 2017, the com­pany wasn’t far along in its rein­ven­tion of the Mac Pro. Nor was there any pro­to­type to show off at WWDC in June 2017, and no more in­for­ma­tion given at that event, other than a re­it­er­a­tion of the prom­ise that some­thing is in the pipe­line.

How­ever, while Ap­ple has re­vealed very lit­tle about the new Mac Pro, in De­cem­ber 2017 the com­pany re­leased the other new pro ma­chine that it promised at the same April 2017 brief­ing. The imac Pro of­fers some clues as to what we can ex­pect from the new Mac Pro when it ar­rives. In ad­di­tion the com­ments made by Schiller and the two other

Ap­ple VPS present at the brief­ing in April give us some in­sight as to just how much of a re­vamp Ap­ple is con­duct­ing. Ap­par­ently it’s a ‘rad­i­cal re­vamp’ if you were won­der­ing.

The most im­por­tant as­pect of the re­design is that Ap­ple’s not go­ing to back it­self into a ther­mal cor­ner again (surely some­one else has made that joke). Schiller said: “We want to ar­chi­tect it so that we can keep it fresh with reg­u­lar im­prove­ments, and we’re com­mit­ted to mak­ing it our high­est-end, high-through­put desk­top sys­tem, de­signed for our de­mand­ing pro cus­tomers.”

So that’s great; Ap­ple won’t take an­other four years (prob­a­bly by the time it launches, five years) to up­date the Mac Pro with the next round of pro­ces­sors and GPUS… But what about user up­grade­abil­ity. That’s that the pros have been cry­ing out for.

Up­grade­abil­ity

Ap­ple does prom­ise that it will be a mod­u­lar sys­tem. This sug­gests that the Ap­ple work­sta­tion will have eas­ily re­place­able parts that use stan­dard­ized in­ter­faces. Ap­ple be­ing Ap­ple, the fear is that the com­pany will use pro­pri­etary con­nec­tors, mean­ing that the com­puter can only be up­graded with parts that it ap­proves. We can only hope that this won’t be the case.

There is some in­di­ca­tion that Ap­ple is go­ing to al­low users to up­grade the new Mac Pro: the cur­rent imacs are upgrad­able, at least to a point: It’s pos­si­ble to ac­cess and up­date some com­po­nents in

the stan­dard imacs, although the RAM in the imac Pro is less ac­ces­si­ble than the RAM in the stan­dard 27in imac, Ap­ple rec­om­mends that if you want to do so then you should prob­a­bly ask an ex­pert.

De­sign

It seems likely that, in or­der to meet the de­mands of a mod­u­lar sys­tem, the new Mac Pro will be larger than the cur­rent ‘trash can’-style Mac Pro. We don’t think that it will re­vert to the old cheese grater-style Mac Pro though, if any­thing, we ex­pect that the

new de­sign will fall some­where be­tween the two. How­ever, some con­cept de­signs have ap­peared that imag­ine how the Mac Pro might look is Ap­ple looked to the Mac mini for in­spi­ra­tion.

Il­lus­tra­tors at Ger­man magazine Curved have come up with some im­pres­sive con­cept de­signs for a more mod­u­lar Mac Pro. The con­cepts mimic the Mac mini de­sign, but il­lus­trate a way in which users could ac­cess and re­place the pro­ces­sor, graph­ics card and other com­po­nents.

We love the de­signs, but think it’s un­likely that Ap­ple would unify the Mac mini and the Mac Pro de­sign in this way, plus it doesn’t re­ally al­low for ther­mal cool­ing, the is­sue Ap­ple has with the cur­rent Mac Pro.

That said, there is no need for Ap­ple to make a Mac Pro that is as large as the old-old alu­minium

Mac Pro. The old ma­chine needed space for a 3.5in drive bay, in­ter­nal stor­age bays, and op­ti­cal drive bays. The new ma­chine will just need room for the SSD cards, GPU, a CPU socket to feed mul­ti­ple cores, four RAM slots, and a moth­er­board. In ad­di­tion to that some Thun­der­bolt 3 pros and, the pros will be hop­ing, some PCIE ex­pan­sion slots. All that should fit neatly in­side a rel­a­tively small case.

An older con­cept il­lus­tra­tion, from Jan­uary 2017 – so be­fore Ap­ple re­vealed that it has plans for the Mac Pro – came up with an idea for a Mac Pro that would be slightly big­ger than the cur­rent model, though not as large as the older ver­sion.

In that case, the Mac Pro was reimag­ined by graphic de­signer Pas­cal Eg­gert. At the time he told Cult of Mac: “At it’s core this is re­ally just a very quick as­set I made to try out new ren­der soft­ware, but I also wanted to find out just how

big or ugly a Mac Pro would have to be to fit stan­dard com­po­nents.”

He said that, ac­cord­ing to his cal­cu­la­tions, the small­est the Mac Pro could be was 150x270x330mm.

Cool­ing

Cool­ing is ob­vi­ously the key with the Mac Pro de­sign. Ap­ple said that it had de­cided on the com­po­nents of the 2013 Mac Pro be­fore it set upon the black cylin­dri­cal de­sign, rather than try­ing to squeeze the com­po­nents into some­thing with an in­flex­i­ble de­sign.

We ex­pect that the com­pany will also take the same care over the de­sign of the new Mac Pro: en­su­ing that the ma­chine is built around the com­po­nents, and in such a way to ac­com­mo­date

fu­ture com­po­nents, rather than the de­sign com­ing first and the com­po­nents be­ing squeezed in.

Fun­da­men­tal to the de­sign will be the ther­mal core, as was the case last time. Ap­ple spoke about the ther­mal cool­ing of the new imac Pro at WWDC in June 2017, which em­pha­sises just how im­por­tant it is. We can take a look at the de­sign of the imac Pro and the way it is cooled to at least get an idea of how ef­fec­tively Ap­ple will ad­dress the is­sue of cool­ing in the Mac Pro.

Noise

Re­lated to the way the Mac Pro keeps it­self cool is the noise it makes, and this was one of the things

Ap­ple did get right with the Mac Pro in 2013. The cur­rent Mac Pro re­mains silent even dur­ing the most de­mand­ing op­er­a­tions, mean­ing it is ideal for au­dio work­flows and mu­sic pro­duc­tion. It’s the rea­son why some au­dio pro­fes­sion­als are still choos­ing the Mac Pro over the Macbook Pro, which can get pretty noisy when it’s work­ing hard.

You can ex­pect Ap­ple to place sim­i­lar em­pha­sis on keep­ing the noise down with the new Mac Pro.

Pro­ces­sor

Since Ap­ple in­tro­duced the 2013 Mac Pro there have been a num­ber of new gen­er­a­tions of pro­ces­sors from In­tel that Ap­ple hasn’t been able to take ad­van­tage of.

When the Mac Pro was first un­veiled in 2012 it used In­tel’s Xeon E5 V2 Rom­ley pro­ces­sors, a pro­ces­sor gen­er­a­tion from 2011. Since then In­tel has in­tro­duced Xeon’s un­der the code names of Grant­ley (Xeon E5 V3), and now Purely, with Sky­lake (V5) and Can­non­lake (V6) branded vari­ants. Those Can­non­lake Xeons may not ar­rive un­til 2019 though, which might co­in­cide nicely with the launch of the Mac Pro. Although, Ap­ple may not be so keen on wait­ing for In­tel to make the new chips avail­able.

The cur­rent Mac Pro of­fers 6, 8, or 12-core ver­sions. The imac Pro of­fers 8, 10, 14 and 18-core In­tel Xeon W pro­ces­sor op­tions. Given that nextgen­er­a­tion Xeons are head­ing to­wards 28, or even 32 cores, it is a fair bet to sup­pose that the new Mac Pro will of­fer more than 18 cores as an op­tion.

The clock speed is likely to start from 3.8GHZ and go higher.

An­other pos­si­bil­ity: the sys­tem could be based on the next-gen­er­a­tion Ryzen (or Thread­rip­per) CPUS from AMD.

Also, look out for the next gen­er­a­tion EFI BIOS, which will ad­dress some of the lim­i­ta­tions of BIOS in­clud­ing mak­ing bet­ter use of fea­tures in 64-bit op­er­at­ing sys­tems and sup­port­ing more than 2TB of stor­age.

Graph­ics

The 2013 Mac Pro uses Dual AMD Fire­pro D500 or D700 graph­ics pro­ces­sors. Since this

was a prod­uct name cre­ated for the Mac Pro, it’s nec­es­sary to do a lit­tle sleuthing to find an equiv­a­lent that could be used for the next Mac Pro.

The D700 matches the AMD Fire­pro W9000, which at the time was AMD’S best per­form­ing work­sta­tion GPU.

AMD has since in­tro­duced the Radeon Pro as a suc­ces­sor to the Fire­pro line up and Ap­ple is al­ready us­ing the Radeon Pro Vega 56 graph­ics pro­ces­sor in the imac Pro.

But when it comes to pre­dict­ing what the next big thing will be af­ter the Radeon Pro Vega we’d need a crys­tal ball and since we don’t have one we’ll have to wait.

That said, maybe what re­ally mat­ters is whether pro users will be able to up­date their Mac Pro to take ad­van­tage of the lat­est and great­est graph­ics cards when they launch. If Ap­ple al­lows this then it mat­ters less what’s in­side the Mac Pro at launch.

High-end users will be look­ing for GDDR5 graph­ics cards that sup­port Directx 12 and Opengl 4.5. Ex­pect at least 10GB on-pack­age high­band­width mem­ory.

This might not come from AMD – Ap­ple could look else­where for the GPU in the Mac Pro, es­pe­cially af­ter is­sues with faulty AMD graph­ics cards in the first batch of 2013 Mac Pros meant that Ap­ple had to of­fer re­place­ments to some users.

RAM

Of­fi­cially the 2013 Mac Pro han­dled up to 64GB RAM spread over four slots (four 16GB RAM

mod­ules). How­ever, it is pos­si­ble to up­grade it to take 128GB RAM with third party so­lu­tions.

Given that the imac Pro is con­fig­urable to take up to 128GB of DDR4 mem­ory, it would be very pe­cu­liar if the Mac Pro didn’t of­fer that op­tion this time round. There is also the pos­si­bil­ity that it could be con­fig­urable to 256GB RAM.

We’d hope that Ap­ple con­tin­ues to make is easy to in­stall more RAM when re­quired.

Stor­age

There have been re­quests that Ap­ple should pro­vide some bays for in­ter­nal hard drives in the new Mac Pro. This might seem a bit back­wards, but while flash mem­ory is still ex­pen­sive, the most cost ef­fec­tive op­tion for any­one work­ing with large file sizes is go­ing to be a hard disk. Per­haps Ap­ple will of­fer a Fu­sion Drive as a build to or­der op­tion, although such a sce­nario is un­likely due to the amount of space it would need to al­lo­cate if hard drive op­tions were to be in­cluded.

As for solid-state stor­age, this was the only op­tion on the 2013 Mac Pro and while the ma­chine shipped with 256GB as stan­dard, it was pos­si­ble to

opt for 512GB or 1TB build to or­der op­tions. Given that the imac Pro of­fers

1-, 2- or 4TB of fast flash stor­age the new Mac Pro will surely top that.

Ports

The cur­rent Mac Pro sports six Thun­der­bolt 2 ports. The new Mac Pro is ob­vi­ously cry­ing out for an up­grade to Thun­der­bolt 3 which has the added ben­e­fit of dou­bling up as USB Type-c.

What Mac Pro users have been ask­ing for since the 2013 Mac Pro ar­rived is PCI slots though. If Ap­ple shipped a Mac Pro with PCI slots (a fea­ture the prior Mac Pro had) this would al­low users to eas­ily add faster SSDS and bet­ter video cards.

Of course this may be less nec­es­sary than it was when the only ports on of­fer were Thun­der­bolt 2, be­cause Thun­der­bolt 3 is be­ing widely adopted by the rest of the PC in­dus­try due to the in­te­gra­tion of USB Type-c. This should pave the way for a di­verse and com­pet­i­tive ac­ces­sory ecosys­tem.

An­other fea­ture that’s ar­rived with the imac Pro is 10 gi­ga­bit Eth­er­net, we have no doubt that we’ll be see­ing this with the new Mac Pro too.

Ver­dict

Just how will the Mac Pro dif­fer from the imac

Pro? We think one key way will be Ap­ple’s de­sire to make this a mod­u­lar sys­tem, al­low­ing users to per­form their own up­grades to keep the model fresh for years to come.

We are quite con­fi­dent that Ap­ple won’t fall into the same trap as it did with the 2013 Mac Pro – Ap­ple is sure to de­sign it with fu­ture up­grades in mind so that its own up­grade cy­cle for the ma­chine doesn’t slip. We would hope not to see the Mac

Pro miss out on gen­er­a­tions and gen­er­a­tions of graph­ics pro­ces­sors and CPUS just be­cause Ap­ple couldn’t fit them in­side.

“We want to ar­chi­tect it so we can keep it fresh with reg­u­lar im­prove­ments,” said Ap­ple’s Phil Schiller and we’re pretty sure it will be at­tempt­ing to do ex­actly that.

First­gen­er­a­tion Mac Pro

imac Pro

imac Pro’s cool­ing sys­tem

Cur­rent Mac Pro

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