Will the new Mac Pro make your office look like an episode of Hoarders?

Will the new Mac Pro make your office look like an episode of Hoarders?

After years of wringing our hands and wondering what was to become of our beloved Mac Pro, Apple finally gave us an answer last month. While we won't see it until later this year, the Mac Pro has already made an impact, because this year's model is a radical departure from anything that's come before.

Gone is the cyclopean aluminum-framed tower whose industrial design dates back to the bad old days of the PowerPC. In its place is a cleverly-designed machine that takes up only one-eighth the volume and more closely resembles a kitchen appliance or a trash bin than a computer.

The Mac Pro: Small But Powerful

Despite its diminutive dimensions, the Mac Pro is by Apple's account quite powerful, equipped with up to twelve microprocessor cores, dual workstation-class GPUs and all-flash PCIe-based storage. It's the same fundamental design philosophy that's drive Apple's development of the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro with Retina Display, taken to a logical extreme.

The new Mac Pro is tiny and the industrial design looks phenomenal. And Apple claims that the new Mac Pro is the most expandable Mac ever, thanks to its inclusion of six Thunderbolt 2 ports and four USB 3.0 ports.

But the new Mac Pro is also less internally expandable. This point was driven home to me when I looked at a recent editorial and photo on German language tech site Giga.de.

The image compares the aluminum Mac Pro of yore with its descendant, this year's forthcoming model. Except the new Mac Pro is surrounded by an avalanche of cables and peripherals, including a set of external hard drives, optical drives, video capture interface, fibre channel interface and more. All in an attempt to provide similar functionality to what you can do built in to the old Mac Pro, using its internal drive bays and PCIe expansion slots.

The Mac Pro's external expansion: An Ugly Mess?

The old Mac Pro was a big block, the editorial explains, while the new Mac Pro equipped with external peripherals looks like something you might find underneath a stack of newspapers and old food containers at a hoarder's place.

That might be overstating it just a skoshe.

I have little doubt that peripheral makers are feverishly working on new Thunderbolt 2-equipped products designed to work optimally with the Mac Pro and look good in the process. But I suspect it's going to take a while. The Mac Pro will be one of the very few computers equipped with Thunderbolt 2 when it debuts - in fact, it'll be one of the first. Intel isn't expecting more widespread availability of Thunderbolt 2 controllers until 2014. Without an installed base of users, peripheral makers don't have a huge incentive to build products. And let's face it, Thunderbolt hasn't exactly set the world on fire - it remains much easier to get USB 3.0 or FireWire 800-compatible devices than it is to find Thunderbolt, despite the interface's ubiquity across the Mac platform.

I also know that external boxes aren't going to satisfy some prospective Mac Pro buyers.

One of the first things that I heard when the new Mac Pro was introduced was, "What are we going to do with all the stuff that's we're going to have to connect to it?"

And this was from WWDC attendees, who, by and large, are developers and IT folks. Not even the creative pros who really push what the Mac Pro can do, especially when it comes to exotic, high-bandwidth media conversion and storage area networking.

And there still isn't a really good answer for that.

Apple has historically let third parties settle this question, sometimes offering some guidance early in the product's life cycle to give a sense of what direction it wants them to go in. Take Apple's iPod Hi-Fi, for example, which was axed about a year after it was introduced, once it was clear that third-party vendors were on board with Apple's Made for iPhone/iPod/iPad (MFI) program and were producing products whose quality Apple was happy with. It didn't help that Apple's product cost more and didn't sound as good as the competition's, but it still gave vendors some sense of what target they were expected to hit.

So maybe we'll see some guidance from Apple when or shortly after the new Mac Pro makes its way out into the world - maybe Apple will step up to the plate with what it thinks is an appropriate answer for new Mac Pro buyers who are looking to expand their machine's potential beyond what can just fit inside.

Ultimately, I'm afraid that an office with a new Mac Pro is going to look like a glossier, less mucky version of the egg scene from the movie Alien: a central pod connected to other devices using a nest of Thunderbolt cables. Less H.R. Giger-style biomechanical, more mechanical. But you get the picture. Aesthetically, it's a displeasing image any way you think about it.

What I can say beyond a shadow of a doubt is that the Mac Pro won't come furnished from the factory adequately for a fairly significant cross-section of potential customers. Users who have specific networking needs - connecting to a Storage Area Network or Fibre Channel, for example, or some users working with digital video and audio, will need additional boxes to connect the Mac Pro to the rest of their workflow. That means more wires and more cables and more mess.

Will the new Mac Pro suit you just fine out of the box, or are you as worried as I am that it's going to make a big mess of your desk? Please let me know in the comments.

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Peter Cohen

Mac Managing Editor of iMore and weekend Apple Product Professional at a local independent Apple reseller. Follow him on Twitter @flargh

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Reader comments

Will the new Mac Pro make your office look like an episode of Hoarders?


It's still a big ugly thing that attaches externally to the Mac Pro. Say what you want about the current/obsolete design - it hides a lot of stuff inside.

I understand Apple provided a one-size fits all utilitarian tower to hide extra stuff and now they don't. So now you have buy your own tower / case / rack but you get to choose based on the not 'one-size fits all' reality and it doesn't have to be ugly. If the decision to buy the new MacPro is based on mere aesthetics or the lack of a tower, I question whether or not the person needs such a system.

The Mac Pro is not going to be easily rackable, because a) it is vertical, and more importantly, b) it relies on unimpeded air flow, rather than muscular fans, for much of its cooling needs. It is going to be impossible to rack them up against other equipement as densely as most "pro" users currently do without cooking them. It may even be impossible to have them in some sort of meta-case enclosure, as well.

I'm using all four bays in my early 2008 Mac Pro. First is an SSD, so that will just migrate to 2013 Pro's internal storage, but that leaves three drives with all my video and Time Machine backup, stuff that's well-suited for spinning drives and not for expensive SSD. So when I buy the new Pro, I'm going to have to price in buying external expansion and then think about where this crap is going to sit. Pretty as the new Pro is, I'm seriously considering hiding it and all its expansion clutter *behind* one of my monitors.

So am I, and I'm in the same boat. For example, I don't feel comfortable leaving Time Machine backups on the Pro to a Time Capsule - I want a local backup I can restore quickly from if necessary. Right now I've actually got my Time Machine backup inside the Pro in one of the SATA bays. That's going to go external when I upgrade.

Uh. If I upgrade. :\

Exactly the same here. I used to back up all the Macs in the house to an always-on Mini, but that proved unreliable, and I just drifted into backing up the Pro to an internal drive, even though this only protects against failure of the boot drive (and not against, say, catastrophic damage to the machine itself)

But the big question to me is how big the built-in SSD is going to be by default. If it's only 256 GB -- not bad by current SSD standards -- then Mavericks, your iTunes collection and Mobile Applications folder could quickly consume most of it, leaving little room for the large media assets you presumably bought this device to work with.

I also don't recall hearing the term "Fusion Drive" mentioned at all in a Mac Pro context -- it's plausible that Fusion Drive is incompatible with the idea of a removable HDD -- so I have to assume that either everyone's going to keep their video files on large external drives or SANs, or that we're going to do the dance of copying our media to the internal SSD prior to an editing session, and moving it out afterwards. "Reconnect Media", anyone?

Two questions: When you were using the Mini as your backup, were you running Server? I've found that Time Machine can be pretty flakey over a network if its not using Server.

Why would you want to put your iTunes library on the local SSD, especially if you have a large library? That's the kind of thing that just begs to be on a Drobo, RAID, or NAS. Just as an extreme example, my iTunes library is currently 1.9TB, so I keep it in a Drobo with 4 2TB hard drives connected to a Mini running Server. In any case, an iTunes library can hardly be considered a "pro" use.

As for the external storage, that's hardly onerous or even novel. People who work with "large assets" already use RAID 0 setups for daily drivers and big iron for long-term storage. Speaking from personal experience in science, our storage needs weren't that great, but we still used a data center for our long-term storage, in addition to a local RAID.

As for the fusion drive, I wouldn't combine a local PCIe storage with any external drive. Very Bad Things could easily happen.

"Why would you want to put your iTunes library on the local SSD, especially if you have a large library? That's the kind of thing that just begs to be on a Drobo, RAID, or NAS."

Right, but that gets back to the very premise of the original article: that you're going to have all kinds of external drives and other Thunderbolt / USB3 accessories hanging off this thing, NAS being a potential exception.

Well, my point was that having a big iTunes library in on-device storage is not what this machine is meant for. This is a pro machine, as in movies, pro audio, science, etc, where having a bunch of breakout boxes is not only not a problem, its already the norm. There's a reason why the WWDC demo used a $2000 app (http://www.thefoundry.co.uk/products/mari/). This is *not* a prosumer machine. Unless, of course, you're using software that will make use of the unique hardware features, otherwise, Apple clearly believes you're better off with a different machine.

unfortunately, its the g4 cube all over again. both incredible looking machines, just not sure its the answer pro users want. we want more slots for ram, more expansion, more upgrade options. as big as the current tower is, i can jam it full, & if need move my whole workstation in 2 trips. the new mac pro will require me to reconnect dozens of cables for all the expansion. the design is beautiful, but i'm not sure it solves my needs.

No, Peter, you're not overstating it. This thing is an abortion of design. It aims at thoughtless "oh, pretty, something different", instead of functional, usable design. It has no internal space for backup drives or other items, which means more power adapters, cords, drives, etc. It will probably be way over priced. I would never invest that much money in something that limits me so much. There's a reason power machines have been basically boxes for many years, so you can put stuff in them, upgrade them, repair them, and move them without disconnecting a dozen other items.

You can literally fit the new Mac Pro into the old one. I can see somebody building a peripheral case with a big hole in the middle- throw into the chute (obviously it would have an ingenious transport mechanism of easy removal) and voila, everything in one place.

I can see expandable HDD/SSD enclosure in the same shape/size that fits beautifully underneath the Mac Pro. Most people I know place the current MP on the floor. You can get available boxes or even use the current MP and have it on the floor, drill holes onto the desk to run cable(s) through and keep the desktop as clean as you want it to be. Essentially, the only limiting factor is the imagination.

Re: "Will the new Mac Pro make your office look like an episode of Hoarders?"

Not until there are about 4 or 5 of them on my desk. With displays.

So, now that the Mac Pro is a shiny black aluminum cylinder, will the next-gen Mac mini be a shiny black aluminum donut?

And looking down the road, will more Apple computing products begin to have circular forms like the next-gen Apple headquarters building?

Have you seen a professional shop or post house?

Even with the current Mac Pro... there can be cables and external boxes everywhere.

External hard drives, RAID arrays, card readers, capture boxes... none of that stuff fit neatly into the current Mac Pro anyway...

The good thing about capture boxes and RAIDs is that, depending on where you're sourcing them, they can fit in racks, which can clean things up quite a bit. I agree with you that things can get messy now, but my point remains the same - the old Mac Pro has quite a bit more internal expandability than its replacement.

-- "the old Mac Pro has quite a bit more internal expandability than its replacement."

No doubt.

I was just saying there are more peripheral than just internal SATA drives and PCI Express cards.

Your desk may already look like an episode of Hoarders with the current Mac Pro ;)

Personally, I don't think it will be a problem. With Thunderbolt daisy-chaining you can have one cable coming off the back of the Mac Pro to connect everything you need. I have my MBP in a 12South stand with only two cables: power and T-bolt. The t-bolt connects to my 2TB disk and on to my 24" monitor. I'm more concerned about the dust build-up on the fan, but we'll have to see how that works out when one lands on my desk!

Doesn't this totally depend on the size of the internal drives offered (which we don't actually know yet)?

Also, it hasn't been reported anywhere that I've seen, but there is totally a space on the motherboard of the new Mac Pro for a second hard drive connector. The new Mac pro could in fact ship with *dual* internal drives of a very large size so you could do the standard Time Machine backup on the second drive. We just don't know yet.

Right now you can outfit a Mac Pro with four 4TB SATA hard disk drives - that's 16 terabytes of internal storage. Even with that second flash drive bay, the new Mac Pro isn't going to come close. And even with the highest density Flash drive imaginable, it will be astronomically more expensive per GB.

Yeah, I know it's a step down, I have 8 Terabytes in mine at the moment.

I'm just saying that for a lot of folks if the new one has two drives of a Terabyte or so each, then that will go a long way towards de-cluttering the desktop. The true pros users are already using external storage anyhow.

i wish they would have stuck with the full sized tower for Mac Pro's, this would have been a great consumer-level desktop replacement (drop an i5/i7@3.3ghz-3.5ghz and 2 AMD 7970's in that and it would be a great, powerful, consumer machine for an affordable cost), the lack of upgradability (single CPU, proprietary graphics card slots, non-standard hard drive connectors, etc) severely limits the longevity of the system.

2012 Mac Pro - sexy, powerful (dual xeon's), upgradable (standard PCI-E slots and Hard Drive connectors) - the desktop pro's want

2013 Mac Pro - sleeker small form factor, no real perks other than that

If you use an iMac, you already experience this. I love the new Mac Pro, and will probably buy at least one. And as an iMac user, I already have a slew of cables coming out of the back of it. I think things like 4-8 bay RAID systems will become very popular.

The new Mac Pro doesn't do it for me. For starters, I don't see anything "phenomenal" about the way it looks. Looks like a trash can or R2D2 without legs. The fact that it requires external storage and connectivity options that don't currently exist and won't exist for a year or two, makes it even less "phenomenal" to me. Who is "feverishly" working on thunderbolt 2 peripheral and storage options to support one manufacturer of what for all intents and purposes, is a niche and low percentage product for a niche market of professional customers that is even lower in number than consumers? Demand isn't there to inspire anyone to "feverishly" work on Thunderbolt 2 accessories. Thunderbolt has already been around for two years and no one "feverishly" worked on Thunderbolt peripherals yet, but you think because one computer manufacturer has produced one niche computer that won't achieve mass adoption, that there's some feverish push to produce expensive peripherals for it? I'll believe that when I see it, but I don't see anyone rushing to make that happen, yet.

It is always fun to see comments when Apple comes out with some radical in design.
iMac, dead
iPhone dead
Nedermyer, dead!
"Did we back down when the germans attacked Pearl Harbor?"

This new Mac Pro is incredible. And anyone who thinks different, you're not a true artist, designer, or creative genius.

I mean really? REALLY?

... in the words of Jobs, "it's gorgeous!"

It just mean for some, time to clean up the clutter.

it is gorgeous, & don't get me wrong, i'd love one. i just wish they added a few more expansion options. make it a 1/3 bigger & add more bays for ram, let me install an ssd harddrive along with the pcie storage, even if its just for time machine or my itunes library, or, develop a hub that allows me to store some of the needed expansion in a single matching enclosure, or into the back of a new pro version monitor. i view this more as a prosumer device vs the replacement for the pro platform.

So you want it "bigger" for (reason?), you don't know the memory options yet, but you want to be able to add more, and you want to install an SSD hard drive in it somewhere that's half as fast as the internal drive.

I like your idea about the hub, but your completely backwards on everything else. What you suggest doing would turn it into a "prosumer" machine in fact, and the way it's currently design is what actually makes it a "Pro" machine.

I think the general problem here is that a lot of folks use the pro and consider themselves to be "Pro users" when in fact they are dilettantes or "prosumers." I've got a tricked out Mac pro at home and I will admit that I'm in that category myself. I think people should just be more honest about the fact that they aren't really "pros" but just users desirous of a high end machine.

This thing is designed for the *real* Pros, the guys who work at Pixar etc.

Design for design sake. The old Mac Pro also appealed to folks simply looking to future proof their investment. The ability to change out the processors, add upgraded drives, have access to PCIe slots, etc. allowed a Mac Pro to last much longer than other Macs. I for one was looking to purchase a Mac Pro with the old case over a new iMac just because of potential heat issues with the skinny design of the new iMac. Add major expandability to the package and I could easily justify the added cost of the Pro. Now... not so sure. I'll have to wait to see what options appear for Thunderbolt 2. With few options for Thunderbolt now, I think it's going to be a while before anyone is jumping on the Thunderbolt 2 wagon.

I for one will say, I used to have the big Mac Pro. Loved it, but I never wanted to move it.
It stayed on the floor in the crawl space next to my legs under my desk.

I hated having anything to do with moving it or expanding, etc.

The thing was gianormous!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

As for Thunderbolt, those that use Pro are not the masses. It is a select group, and there will be select products as in the past. It is a viable option and it may catch on.

But those that upgrade will make it catch on.