The new Mac Pro: purpose-built for performance

The new Mac Pro: purpose-built for performance

The most frequently repeated joke at WWDC about the new Mac Pro is that it looks like a trashcan or a cigarette tray. There's nothing trashy about it: it looks more like a jet turbine - an example of form following function so evident throughout Jony Ive's design catalog.

Built for speed

Just about every aspect of the Mac Pro's performance is cued to reducing bottlenecks whenever possible. Internal storage via hard disk is gone and replaced with flash memory. Flash memory connected through PCI Express (PCIe). This isn't an SSD bottlenecked by SATA - you have the much heartier bandwidth of PCIe to work with - it's 2.5 times the speed of the fastest SSDs on the market.

Thunderbolt 2 is another practical example. Each of the six Thunderbolt ports on the Mac Pro has full bandwidth - 20 gigabits per second. That's why you can have three 4K displays running simultaneously with three more dedicated to RAID storage, storage area networks or whatever else you might need, daisy chainable on other ports.

Then there are the two workstation-class graphics processors built in to the system, to help drive pixels to the displays - up to three of them operating at 4K resolution. Unimpressed, gamers? I expect you are, because these aren't for you. AMD's FirePro processors are optimized for massively parallel operations - a boon to 3D designers, render farms and other businesses.

The four memory sockets are occupied by 1866MHz DDR3, Error Correcting Code (ECC) memory. With up to 60 gigabytes per second memory bandwidth. That's twice as fast as the current-gen Mac Pro. Apple's keeping mum about specific processor configurations for now, but has said that 12 core systems will be an option.

Four USB 3.0 ports encourage universal connectivity with commodity peripherals that aren't Thunderbolt-specific.

And all of this horsepower is designed in a compact device that's not even a foot tall. Built around a common thermal core, the Mac Pro's heat radiates inward and rises like a chimney. Mac veterans wince a little recalling the convection cooling of the Power Mac G4 Cube, but even the fan has been engineered for performance: the blades are curved backwards, to run slower with more efficient heat removal. That also means quieter fan operations.

From the top to the bottom, the Mac Pro is thoroughly optimized for maximum performance. Going into it, many feared that the Mac Pro was headed for oblivion. But based on what we're seeing, Apple is simply reinventing the category.

Is the Mac Pro the new iPad?

No, the Mac Pro is not going to sell as many units as the iPad. But the tablet market existed before the iPad, and it took the iPad to disrupt tablets enough into a real business. In that respect, the Mac Pro has the same potential impact where servers and high-powered workstations are the dominant market.

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Peter Cohen

Managing Editor of iMore, Mac and gaming specialist and all-around technologist. Follow him on Twitter @flargh

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Reader comments

The new Mac Pro: purpose-built for performance

17 Comments

it looks more like form over function rather following. For example; cooling looks subpar, limited expansion on every single component, and cable management appears to be non-existent. I also can't remember the last workstation that only had 4 usb ports (though I've never seen any computer with so many thunderbolt ports). Plus the CPU is the low end of the Ivy Bridge Xeons (The E5-2600), with the E7 eclipsing the E5 only three months after release (meaning the MacPro will have about three months of being somewhat competitive).

Apple is either going to ignore this product or have to get real aggressive with the pricing.

That said, it sure does look pretty and it's assembled in the USA.

It would be cool if they made a non-pro version; swap the Xeon for an i7, ditch the ecc memory, and swap the Fire cards for regular Radeon 7970s. Sell it for $2k and they couldn't make enough of them.

Seeing they have not announced what cpu, I'm curious how you know?

Cooling looks subpar? meh? Do you even understand thermal dynamics?

As for 4 USB 3.0 ports,.. you answered your own question with the shear number of TB ports which can drive a USB 3.0 hubs like it's going out of style..

>>Seeing they have not announced what cpu, I'm curious how you know?
Intel released a roadmap. It's pretty straightforward given the specs Apple announced.

>>Do you even understand thermal dynamics?
I do. Though it sounds like you do not as you seem to imply it being some sort of magical cooling solution.

>>You answered your own question with the shear number of TB ports which can drive a USB 3.0 hubs like it's going out of style..

Great. more dongles and wires. elegant.

>>> more dongles and wires.
Thats the first thing I thought. Why would I buy a non portable station that I cant put 4 drives in for space/backup. I like having it all tidy in one box.

However there will be a niche where people need mission critical Apple built stations with Apple software that are higher end than a 27 iMac but still need to be tight on space because they are in a medical lab that is tight on space.

You are my favourite type of commenter. Look at this computer, I have never used one, touched one, or seen one in real life! But, I can tell you for sure that it doesn't work! Those engineers that worked on it and tested it are idiots. They don't know anything.

but not enough power for gamers? I thought these were supposed to be the most powerful personal computers so shouldn't they have enough graphics horsepower for the most graphics demanding games? im not a gamer but just sayin

It looks really insane. What would REALLY be insane is if Apple actually included one of the new Thunderbolt monitors with the new Mac Pro AND dropped the price to below $2000. One or the other will happen, if both happens, then they embody the quote by Steve Jobs, "It's kind of fun to do the impossible".

I'm prepared to call about an $9K cost for a mid-range Mac Pro and a Apple 4K display. By 'Mid-range' I'm thinking 32GB of RAM, and a 6 core CPU. I'm not sure on the SSD, but let's just say 256GB is a reasonable starting point.

4K computer displays right now are sitting at about $5000. So, I would peg the midrange with 4K display at $6799.

It will be interesting to see reviews, once this new Mac Pro is released. Assumptions and complaints about the design aside, performance is what really matters.

It will perform great, and be a fantastic workstation for those who do not need peak expansion, or for those who do not need to upgrade and/or do not care about having to buy an entirely new machine every couple of years. The complaints are from the people who have those specific needs, as Apple has effectively declared they will no longer make devices for them.

Well, they might (and hopefully will), update the current style as well, or at least keep them around for people who need higher-end expansion.

I see two problems for a segment of the 'Pro' market that I've hardly seen addressed in any of these articles.

1) AFAIK, TB2 isn't fast enough to support high-end video cards in external chassis. People who do higher end video rendering, such as After Effects (3D pros use it, video pros use it, etc.) often use a couple of high-end nVidia cards with CUDA to speed up the process.

2) Even if #1 were possible (which is seems it isn't), how much would this add to the cost? A super-basic TB chassis is like $400... the good ones are closer to $1000. I've not even seen a TB2 chassis yet. So, if you need to put, a couple of nVidia cards in... you'd need (even at TB prices) like $2000 worth of external chassis. Currently, they would just buy a Mac Pro and put them in.

So, even if this machine is the same price as current models (I'm guessing it will be higher), a pro user in these market segments is going to have to add thousands to the cost, and lose quite a bit of GPU performance (I think TB2 is about like a PCIe x8 slot, rather than PCIe x16, of which the current Mac Pro has 2).