Why the new Mac Pro might be the most exciting Apple product since the iPad

Why the new Mac Pro might be the most exciting Apple product since the iPad

Could the new Mac Pro be the most interesting piece of hardware Apple's fielded since the original iPad? Guy English, my co-host on Debug and Ad Hoc makes a great case for why it just might be so. From his Kickingbear blog:

This machine fascinates me not because it seems like it'll make everything I currently do faster. It fascinates me because it's fundamentally new. There's only one CPU socket and it bets heavily on the bus and GPU performance. While this looks to software to be just another Mac it isn't. It's capabilities aren't traditional. The CPU is a front end to a couple of very capable massively parallel processors at the end of a relatively fast bus. One of those GPUs isn't even hooked up to do graphics. I think that's a serious tell. If you leverage your massively parallel GPU to run a computation that runs even one second and in that time you can't update your screen, that's a problem. Have one GPU dedicated to rendering and a second available for serious computation and you've got an architecture that'll feel incredible to work with.

I'm now factorially more excited about this machine, and like Guy, not just because of what it is, but because of what it might allow to be.

More: Kickingbear

Have something to say about this story? Leave a comment! Need help with something else? Ask in our forums!

Rene Ritchie

EiC of iMore, EP of Mobile Nations, Apple analyst, co-host of Debug, Iterate, Vector, Review, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

More Posts



← Previously

Apps of the week: #nwplyng, Felix for App.net, Trakato and more!

Next up →

How to save battery life on your iPhone and iPad by tweaking Notification Center settings

Reader comments

Why the new Mac Pro might be the most exciting Apple product since the iPad


I have no use for full on Mac Pro at all but I need one!

I agree this is the start of a new design language from Apple, not a piece of brushed aluminium in sight! Now wheres my Carbon Fibre Macbook Air Apple?

You nailed it. The old Mac Pro always had pro appeal, and maybe some consumer appeal back when the aluminum enclosure was first rolled out. Back in 2006. You may have seen one on the Tony Hawk MTV Cribs episode. But Apple didn't do anything to increase its appeal outside the under-the-desk pro market. Sales declined over the years, in part because of zero consumer appeal. (High-end consumers, of course.)

The cylindrical Mac Pro fixed all that. It's an object of desire, something that iMac buyers will all want but that most won't be able to justify. I'm sure Tony Hawk will get one of the first, but not necessarily because he needs the power. Sure, he does some of his own video editing, but probably no more than an iMac or MacBook Pro could handle easily. He'll get the new Mac Pro because it's cool and because he wants it and can afford it. And he won't be the only one. The old Mac Pro just doesn't have that kind of appeal.

My guess is that there are many more affluent consumers out there than there are "pro" users. If so, Apple has expanded the market for the new Mac Pro far beyond its old market.

Agreed that was their intention...and, without sounding pejorative, making a sleek, fast "Mac Prosumer" is probably a smart business decision to move more units. The complaints are coming from actual pros with esoteric performance needs, who have, in the past, always been told "...for you we have the Mac Pro" and now have nowhere to go in the OSX world. As these people have been some of the strongest Mac backers even through Apple's darkest hours, they are naturally upset and angry.

The Final Cut Pro release is actually a good parallel. Like FCPX, the Mac Pro appears to be a strong upgrade in some respects that takes away features a large portion of the current customer base considers indispensable. Had they released FCPX as another application under a different name, consumers still would have bought it, and pros would have salivated at the prospects of those updates coming to their version over the next 18 months. The same goes with the Mac Pro; had it been called the Mac Torus, Tony Hawk would still buy it, and Mac Pro customers would not be looking for an out. Now, they are, because the difference between FCPX and the new Mac Pro is that in the former case Apple could restore missing features with software updates; that is impossible with the Mac Pro.

Am I crazy? I want one to basically be my iTunes/Apple TV/iDevice syncing media hub.

Sent from the iMore App

Yea, if all you need is CPU power, a couple of i7 minis will probably blow this thing out of the water. It's the GPUs (as the article indicates) and faster buss, RAM, etc that is where the difference will be. It isn't anything all that special outside of that other than the industrial design of the case. What remains to be seen is if Apple has worked the kinks out of OpenCL with the other software venders, and revamped their own pro apps enough to make CUDA irrelevant... otherwise, most pros won't touch it, from what I understand.

All the pros I've asked aren't all that excited about it. It's either going to have to be cheap enough for pros (as in people doing real work, but wanting a bit more power than a mini or iMac), or be convincing enough for the pros (video editors, etc) to spend lots of extra cash on externalizing stuff. And, even then, that can't really include, as far as I can tell, upgrading GPUs (external won't work for that either).

It will be a fascinating desktop computer, but the lack of expandability and upgradability, as well as the forced reliance on tb2 over cheaper and faster PCIe, shuts out a good portion of the people who to date have been Mac Pro customers.

This has been said before about floppy drives and Blue-ray. Please, at least be original. lol

- As stats have shown, large case based systems/desktops have been in decline for some time. It was bound to go to external based peripherals and chassis at some point. Apple jumped on Intel's TB train quickly once it realized the potential. Most Mac Pro users are after large amounts of data storage.

NOTE: Video Card upgrades don't happen but every 2-3 years on average, IF THAT.. By the time that happens, a Mac Pro user is looking at new cards that REQUIRE a whatever new PCIe bus technology that is currently out ANYWAY. In order to to take advantage of whatever new PCie bus version is out at the time they end up looking at a NEW system anyway.. So the PCIe port complaint is really mute in MOST circumstances because you can't upgrade the PCIe BUS itself ANYWAY.

Realizing that, Apple decided to focus on external upgradability.

After looking at the CURRENT price points of the Mac Pro, you should also realize that a large part of the cost is in the storage. They've basically pushed that to external bays that any vendor can get in on. This is good for 3rd party vendors and can drive prices down. Competition..

Because of the above.. I'm betting price of entry in to a new Mac Pro is going to be lower. I'm betting this starts around $1500-2k .. depending on the SSD/CPU/Memory/GPU.. Past that, added costs will all be based on the needs of what external SSD/HDD arrays and other peripherals will be required.

- Floppies and optical media were supplanted by better options. The jettisoning of expandability gives reduced performance and options in return for a smaller chassis -- for a market for whom speed and flexibility, not physical footprint, is a priority.

- You are not the type of user who upgrades video cards. Great. Don't speak for those who do, who now face getting an entirely new machine at a few thousand dollars rather than spending a few hundred dollars to extend the life of working equipment another few years. That assumes, of course, that Apple even offers regular replacements for the Mac Pro line, which, given recent history, is no safe bet.

- "Large part of the [current] cost is in the storage". 30 seconds at store.apple.com would show that you are wrong. If you buy a whole bunch of *extra* internal storage, that can get expensive. But it is still far less expensive than the equivalent amount of storage in external chassis. (And faster, too.)

- You do realize that any vendor can get in on external storage arrays now?

Actually many pros DO upgrade their video cards. PCIe x16 slots have been around for some time, if memory serves. Here's the thing. If you're doing 3D rendering or After Effects, etc... a 10% performance gain is well worth a few hundred dollars. Sure, even a few thousand isn't unobtainable, then, but it's harder to justify to the bean-counters than a new card (GPU) for the new computer you just got last year.

Re: "Have one GPU dedicated to rendering and a second available for serious computation and you’ve got an architecture that’ll feel incredible to work with."

Yup. Apple's hard work on OpenCL will help the Mac Pro immensely. And it points a finger directly at Intel. As in "See? Look what we need to do in order to boost raw processing power while you struggle with optimizing that excessively complex legacy CISC x86 instruction set. Just adding more CPU cores isn't enough any more."

Hehe, yea, I'm hoping Apple will pull off lowering the overall price for the Mac Pro line with this, as I don't think it's really going to compete on speed with other workstations based on similar architecture. But, it's going to be plenty fast enough for what most pros would do with it. Think of what making similar moves with SSD in laptops has done to the feel of Apple's laptops, despite, in some cases, much less actual CPU power (like MBA).

The hard-core pros who need multiple GPUs of a certain type, or lots of cards, or pure CPU computing power, etc. are probably going to look elsewhere. But, how many of those are there compared to pros who just need a bit more machine than a mini or iMac? I see this machine more aimed at the latter. And, if Apple really does pull off OpenCL, with the dual ATI GPUs in this thing, it just might be decent for some of the hard-core pros as well.

The CPU issue is a minor nit, the big problem is Apple not supporting CUDA and only going ATI and OpenCL. They basically choose the worse of the two solutions, then chose the worse of the two GPU platforms to support it.

I just don't feel like I'm in the right target market for this product. If it turns out to be a killer gaming rig, then I'm in. Otherwise I'll probably put an SSD in my early-2008 Mac Pro to keep it going a few more years...

You could easily best this machine with a $1000 Windows-based gaming rig, so why pay twice that if your only goal is gaming?

Hell, you could even dual-boot a custom rig with hackintosh OSX, or run it in a VM, if you're desperate for your Apple fix.

The only interesting aspect of this "Pro" system is the form factor; but, even that novelty wears off quickly once you realize that it's almost impossible to upgrade down the road without spending ridiculous amounts of money on breakout boxes or buying an all-new machine... screw that!

EDIT: Here's an example -- the Magma ExpressBox 3T thunderbolt breakout box for PCIe cards is over $1000!

I'd just buy a mini (or a few of them) and throw an SSD inside. This thing, outside the dual GPUs, doesn't really look like that much of a computing monster to me. A benchmark came out a bit ago, and a friend of mine remarked that his couple year old 'hackintosh' is nearly as fast, at least on Geekbench scores. It's only a single CPU. The bus is faster than the CURRENT Mac Pro, but not as fast as some other stuff already on the market. The flash-RAM storage is going to be fast, but again, my friend has something quite similar in his box (flash-RAM right on a PCIe bus card) in his box.

In other words, aside from the GPU setup, I'm doubting this box is going to be much of anything special speed-wise. It's going to be zippy, in the same way a mini or iMac is zippy with a SSD compared to the HD based model... but nothing all that special compared to the 'build-it' market or other workstation machines. There once was a time when Mac Pros WERE about the fastest thing that could be bought. I don't think this is going to be one of those times.

I'm looking at the feasibility for this as a home hub/server/workhorse for the next 5+ years.

Our kids are in primary, so good software is inexpensive to play with/use.

Pardon the reference, but I am looking at this as our family truck.

One interesting theory I read is that the new Mac Pro only has one CPU because Apple can't/won't get NUMA working in Mac OS X (NUMA comes into play when you have two CPUs, and is disabled in firmware in the current Mac Pro).

Also, it seems a bit much for Guy to describe the machine as "fundamentally new". There is nothing fundamentally new about a PC with two graphics cards. It may be a new standard config for a Mac, but if you look at systems from HP with similar specs (like the Z820) you can get a PC with two CPUs and three 16x PCIe slots - so you could stick three graphics cards in there if you so desired.

I think Guy thinks Apple invented OpenCL/CUDA or unaware that such feats are currently possible on the existing MacPro. Either way, Guy seems a bit ignorant on this.

I quite agree with the article. No one really weights now the impact this machine will have on this specific market. I also believe it will be huge.

Wasn't the PC supposed to have dead by now? I mean, Apple blogs have been telling us that we live in a post-PC world, that people supposedly work on tablets and smarthpones... (though no-one has witnessed such a shift, but still); so how can this be? Why is Apple releasing a PC?

I'm not sure about that "1 GPU is not even used for displays" comment. The new Mac Pro will drive (3) 4k displays. I doubt a single GPU can do that.

As for expansion, this is the most expandable computer on the market. Easily. True it has no /internal/ expansion, but if you need a PCIe card, just buy a breakout box and attach it. That's what thunderbolt essentially is; PCIe expansion.

If you need a new video card, buy a PCIe breakout box and plug in your new video card. It's that easy. What would be really cool, and I'm guessing it will work this way, is if an external video card is driving the displays, the OS X can use both GPUs for acceleration. 6 thunderbolt ports is incredible.

I'm hoping it's start @ $2k or $2200.

People who are into the whole "thunderbolt expansion" aspects of the new Mac Pro and think everyone should just "deal with it" are ignoring the fact that while some people are ok with external expansion, others are not, and that internal expansion for the current Mac Pro is more affordable than external expansion for this new Mac Pro for the simple fact that internal expansion on the current Mac Pro is PCI-e and external Thunderbolt expansion hasn't really gained any traction thus far in the two years that it's been on the market. Apple thinks it can drive Thunderbolt adoption with this thing, but that hasn't been proven yet and I remain skeptical about it. You may think that peripherals will arrive soon, but that hasn't happened in two years. What if, by the time external Thunderbolt2 devices show up, this non-upgradeable machine is obsolete? Sorry, I'll pass. Even if it turned out to be a super computer in a trash can shape, it's just not for me and doesn't meet my needs. I make no apologies for that, and can't be swayed by talk of "But it's more expandable than anything ever because it has Thunderbolt ports". You may like cable and device clutter. I don't, and have no intention of getting involved with it. I could possibly get past the shape of it if it allowed internal expansion but with none, it's just not for me and that's just the way it is.