A closer look at the new Mac Pro

The Mac Pro
The Mac Pro

Over the past few weeks I've spent a lot of time writing about the Mac Pro - how to keep it alive a while longer, its importance as Apple's most high-performance computer, and what I thought the future was likely to hold for the aging but still powerful machine.

Well, Apple finally gave us a glimpse of that future today. The new Mac Pro is a huge departure from the old one - Apple started with a fresh sheet of paper and really rethought what the purpose of a "pro" computer is. In the process, they're giving us something completely new.

The new Mac Pro won't ship until later this year, but when it does, it'll immediately jump to the front of the Mac line in overall performance. Despite the ten year old design of the aluminum-clad Mac Pro, it was no slouch - Geekbench reports show that Mac Pros dating back to 2010 still kick the ass of Apple's next-fastest machine - the 27-inch iMac.

The new machine uses Intel Xeon E5 processors, which won't ship until the third calendar quarter of 2013. This generation of Xeon E5 is based around Intel's Ivy Bridge-EP microprocessor architecture. Apple says the new Mac Pro's floating-point performance alone is twice as fast. Faster Error Correcting Code (ECC) memory running at 1866MHz, connected through a four-channel controller, means the new Mac Pro has twice the memory bandwidth of its predecessor as well.

This move to an Ivy Bridge-EP-based Xeon microprocessor finally allows the Mac Pro to have USB 3.0 and faster a PCIe bus, which Apple is using specifically for Solid State Drive (SSD) storage, eschewing the internal SATA interface used in previous Mac Pros all together. That PCIe-based flash storage is more than twice as fast as a SATA-based SSD and up to 10 times faster than a SATA-based hard drive, according to Apple.

This is liable to disappoint some Mac Pro enthusiasts who enjoy the internal expandability of today's model, but Apple says all expandability on this new machine is external. That's because in addition to four USB 3.0 ports, the new Mac Pro has a total of six Thunderbolt 2 ports.

Thunderbolt 2 offers twice the bandwidth of the original Thunderbolt, which is now standard issue across the Mac line, with half a dozen ports to use - three times as many as any other current Mac model. I anticipate that the Mac Pro will be one of the first, if not the first production computer to have Thunderbolt 2 installed. Intel says that Thunderbolt 2 controller chips (previously code-named "Falcon Ridge"), would go into production later this year, with widespread availability not expected until 2014.

Thunderbolt 2 will be used to channel external video, and the massive bandwidth will enable Mac Pro users to drive up to three displays at 4K resolution. 3840 x 2160 is a lot of pixels, and you need more than just bandwidth to push them, so Apple's put dual graphics processors in as standard equipment. The new Mac Pro uses AMD's FirePro GPUs. FirePro isn't a consumer-oriented chip: these are workstation-class graphics processors, and the new Mac Pro comes with two of them. (Plus there's an HDMI cable if you'd like to hook up your Mac Pro directly to a big-screen TV - and with HDMI 1.4 support, that connector will work with the 4K TVs that are coming to market now.)

The cylindrical design of the new Mac Pro eschews an internal SuperDrive. That was an obvious evolution: at this point, the only Macs that still have internal optical drives are the non-Retina Display-equipped MacBook Pros. But that design provides some interesting properties - essentially, the interior of the Mac Pro is a giant aluminum heatsink, wicking away heat from the CPU, GPUs and other components and channeling upward like a chimney. On top of the Mac Pro is a fan to help vent the heat, and Apple says it's quiet. Current Mac Pros can be noisy, so this is a welcome change, especially for digital audio pros who need a quiet studio to record.

As is customary with the Mac Pro, there's not one but two Gigabit Ethernet connections on the new box. Mac Pros often are connected to two different hard-line networks, but those two ports can also be used for link aggregation for even faster data transfers over a Gigabit Ethernet network. And, of course, the new box will support 802.11ac - Gigabit Wi-Fi - and Bluetooth 4.0.

The most amazing part of the new Mac Pro is just how much power Apple has crammed into so small a space. The system measures less than ten inches high, with a diameter of six inches. You could stack eight of these things together in the space of the current Mac Pro. Plus it's got a cool black design that's unlike any other Mac at present, though it's right at home with a black iPhone.

"Can't innovate any more, my ass," said Phil Schiller at WWDC today. He's right - this new Mac Pro shows that Apple still has amazing design skills, and I'm excited to see what the new hardware can do.

The biggest questions I have right now is when is it going to be available and how much is it going to set me back. Apple said nothing about the price of the new machine. Whatever it is, you can count on it being fairly dear - the Mac Pro has always been Apple's highest-priced system. As far as availability is concerned, the Xeon processors that power it won't be out until the third quarter, but Intel is still saying "before the end of the year" for Thunderbolt 2, which could mean anything.

To have a closer look at the box, please check out Apple's preview site (opens in new tab).

Peter Cohen
  • Thanks for the great writeup Peter! Re: "This is liable to disappoint some Mac Pro enthusiasts who enjoy the internal expandability of today's model..." I expected Apple to use Thunderbolt for external expandability, but I was expecting just a slightly smaller perforated aluminum box-with-handles all over again. The new MP is the result of Ive literally thinking completely "out of the box." Re: "Plus it's got a cool black design that's unlike any other Mac at present..." Love it. And the motion-sensor-triggered illumination on the back panel is awesome. Extrapolating a bit, do you think it's possible that Apple could eventually apply the same shiny metal enclosure technique to, say, the MacBook Pro? I think they might, if the surface is sufficiently scratch-resistant. Mac Pros tend to be handled and moved around far less than any MacBook, so durability is a requirement. I'd be equally happy with a slate finish on the MacBook lines, as on the current iPhone and iPad mini. That seems to be durable enough for laptop duty.
  • They've dabbled with black before, with the pre-polycarb MacBook. I dunno. It's a slick look. Harkens back to the NeXT Cube days. I like it. :)
  • Yeah, I remember the old black plastic MacBook. Vaguely. Didn't see too many. Kevin Rose had one.
  • Tech specs > phsyical design for sure. I like the quaintness of it but that hole in the top makes me want to toss some trash into it. :-) With that said, I want one but I doubt I'll pay that much. My iMac is holding on just fine.
  • As I said on Twitter, I can't remember the last time I was this aroused by a trash can.
  • Haha. Agreed!
  • I think you misspelled "puzzling" In a professional workstation, size is not at a premium. What is at a premium is power (which this has) and space. Space for airflow, space for dust management, and yes, space for expandability. Yes, the usual peanut gallery will chime in with "yes, but Apple makes machines for the rest of us" -- but the Mac Pro is *specifically* the model targeted at the people who need these things. And this design kneecaps them.
  • Space for airflow and dust management seems to have been taken care of by the central heatsink design. As to expandability, what concerns me the most is internal storage capability - it appears there's only room for one SSD stick in there. I really expected a new Mac Pro to continue with a multi-bay design, even if it meant thinking beyond SATA for maximum performance. As to Thunderbolt 2 versus PCIe, here's the thing - just about any manufacturer currently producing high-performance PCIe cards for the Mac Pro has, over the past year, migrated to developing Thunderbolt products as well. I don't think that having internal card expansion is that important. And while you can drop a new video card in a Mac Pro now, very few people actually do.
  • Except that those people who *do* use PCIe cards are precisely those people who are the most die-hard Mac Pro users -- the video editors. While Thunderbolt undoubtedly has the chops to handle video streams as well or better than PCI cards, they are more expensive and will be more difficult to rack than an internal solution. I am not saying Apple's design is *bad*, by any means. But Apple's compressed design trades away expansion possibilities in favor of a small footprint, and since, for the target market, footprint is virtually irrelevant, it is a puzzling choice to foist upon your customers.
  • I'd counter that the "target market" won't mind spending a few percentage points more on Thunderbolt 2 accessories. And eventually Thunderbolt 2 accessories will come down in price.
  • A Thunderbolt capture device can be 50-200% more expensive as its PCIe counterpart -- more than a few percentage points, even if you are factoring it against the overall machine cost. Even if it were as smaller, it is still imposing an extra cost in exchange for a factor (space) that the "target market" does not care about.
  • Well, and then premium priced RAM (lot less slots, so need higher density), external storage required, external optical drives (for those who use those), etc. Unless you're good with the basic unit, and already have a RAID, this starts getting a LOT more than a few percentage points, quickly. More like how many TIMES the cost.
  • I'll just leave this here.
  • So...instead of paying $500 for a TB capture device, the cheaper solution is to pay $700 for a chassis and then $275 for a PCIe card?
  • Yes, for some things, it will make sense to just buy a new TB device. But, if Apple hadn't changed the setup so drastically, they could just pop the cards they already have over... so $0 extra expense. (They already have the PCIe card) And, I don't know much about what kind of chassis is needed, but I've seen various models in the $300ish range too. The other problem I keep hearing is the lack of CUDA with the ATI GPU. Maybe they will offer other GPU options? And, it doesn't seem TB2 will fully support the bandwidth of GPUs (it is probably fine for other stuff). That spells big trouble for many pros (ones who use After Effects, etc.) From my understanding.... we're talking like the difference between 15 minutes to render something, or under a minute. It's not slight.
  • The danger is that careless users could stack books or something on the top of the Mac Pro, which might block all airflow. That sometimes happened with the old Power Mac G4 Cube.
  • That's a really good point. Discussions about space/expandability aside, if they are going with the "trash can" design, it might be smart to make the lid have enough of a point or incline that people are not tempted to do that.
  • Or maybe a ring of perforations around the lip, to match the perforations on the bottom. Or maybe have some kind of over-temp alert. (Audio warning by OS X's eventual version of Siri?)
  • ...until some hipster saw the perforations on top and said "look -- built-in cigarette holders!" But I suppose you have to drawn the line somewhere :)
  • No need for Siri -- this picture (taken from reddit) shows an elegant, and, dare I say, festive, solution to the problem: http://i.imgur.com/2fC2ThM.jpg
  • TB products are WAY more expensive (which will only come down in volume if TB becomes popular). And true pros who rely on their GPUs for their living DO upgrade every couple of years at minimum.
  • To me it doesn't look like a trash can. It's only 10 inches tall. Anyone ever seen a useful trash can that small? I mean come on. I think the design is one of the best Apple designs ever, and that's saying something. Obviously beauty is in the eye of the beholder, tho.
  • I don't know about "living out of the box." But as long as thunderbolts fast enough, I won't worry. I'm pretty sure someone will find a way to internally mod it anyways and make replacement components small enough and fitting.
    The only thing I was worried about was a iOSfication and lock down of MAC. But after seeing the GUI from iOS, I'm really liking it and kind of wished it was the MAC theme. But other than that, seems like they didn't iOS it too much and fixed some power user stuff. Honestly, it seems like it's worth updating to MAverick.
  • Will they (TB2) be fast enough? Notice that the internal bus is much faster than TB2. So, wouldn't an external GPU be bottleneck'd by TB2 (even if one didn't care about the cost)?
  • Looks like Apple has hitched it's future to Thunderbolt2 but Thunderbolt didn't exactly take off like crazy and this probably won't cause it to take off now. Some will surely be impressed with this thing but I'm sorry, it's just too ahead of it's time (like the Cube). Apple's only real hope of selling many of these is product placement on TV and in movies.
  • As a video and film editor, and once G4 Cube owner, I find this a step backwards.
    Rather like dropping the Xsan and making the XFinalCut(non)Pro.
    This is 'looks over functionality/upgradeability'.
    I love my iPad and iPhone; simplicity and "it just works" is great for my home and home-office use.
    But IMHO a 'MacPro' should be a grunt machine that is modular and industrial.
    It is the true modular aspect of professional machines that define them.
    I have added new video cards, HD capture cards, USB3 and more to very old MacPros; making them live for well past 10 years of full service. A G4 cube lasted about two years full service, then become a nightmare of compromises and cable hell!
    This new MacPro will have more cables running out of it then any before; SAS adapters, SATA Adapters, Firewire Adapters, USB Hubs.... argghh This MacPro will be great for lots of Professional work I am sure.
    And may well sell many units.
    But it just reminds me of the G4 Cube; a beautiful machine that was not well recieved. The new Mac Pro tells me that I will be working on PCs again in edit suites in the future.
    Apple is aiming for mass market, and seems to be not interested in the upper end of Professional users; which I imagine is good for their bottom line, but sad for me.
  • What Apple also needs, IMO, is a decent mid-range box. This might be it, but I'd guess it's not going to be cheap. So, unless the TB2 expansion meets the pro needs, this seems more like a wicked-fast mid-range model that will probably be far overpriced. The Pros don't want to run hackintoshes any more. I'm wondering if this will really solve that, any more than the iMac is a solution for us mid-range folks.
  • Sadly as I was conversing with a friend about where to go next for machine upgrades he reminded me of what a total piece of rubbish Windows8 is.
    I used a Windows8 Machine just last week, we had it as a cheap presentation machine. Worst experience I have had with an OS in years. I am really happy with iOS7, and yet deeply sad about this machine.
    I can just not justify this as a purchase to anyone as a business machine.
    Yes, I know not all the specs are out, but this looks just as bad as the G4 Cube and I really have a bad vibe just thinking about that.
  • Yea, it's kind of sad if the only thing keeping people on the Mac platform is the horribleness of Windows. Sheesh, Apple had the entire creative industry in the palm of their hand at one point... hardware and software. They had the best stuff, period. They blew that for iOS. Financially, it worked out quite well for them... but I worry about the long-term effects.
  • Looks like a sweet ashtray! But seriously, I want one! Sent from the iMore App
  • Tell people not to smoke, because someone is going to think this thing is an ash tray, for sure.
  • Osnap
  • Was there any mention as to onboard memory and storage? They mentioned speed but I see no mention of capacity. Any thoughts??
  • No, there wasn't. I'd be guessing. But from what I can see, there's only space for one SSD and there are four memory slots. Previous machines could be upgraded to 64GB of RAM, so I bet that's at least the threshold, if not more.
  • "The most amazing part of the new Mac Pro is just how much power Apple has crammed into so small a space." OK, but how many pro users were really concerned with how large the computer is? The new Mac Pro is essentially a workstation-classs Mac mini! I think having easily-upgradable parts was much more of a priority. Those graphics boards in the new Mac Pro look anything but standard, and so will users be stuck with them for the lifetime of the machine? Plus how does having a small base machine help when you have to use external drive arrays for the terabytes of storage you might want and an external PCIe chassis to hold the video I/O cards or whatever else you need? Instead of being contained within a single, neat, self-contained box (i.e. the current Mac Pro) we'll end up with various small boxes and their associated cables all over the place.
  • I like the workstation class mini comment... I agree. That's not a bad thing though... I'd LOVE one! I guess that's the beauty of it. If that alone works for you, no clutter, nice size, quiet, etc. If you're a pro, you're probably looking at external arrays anyway (at least I don't know many pros who don't have them). The GPU thing, seems problematic at this point. As far as I've been able to tell, nVidia is pretty much it for much of the creative industry due to CUDA. Maybe they will offer GPU options? I have no clue how they went with ATI, or what they have up their sleeve there. One could put a GPU in an external TB chassis... but I don't think you'd get full speed out of it. That's the biggest problem I see with the plan. Also, for people with lots of cards and stuff they'd typically swap into the new machine, it will quickly get quite expensive to do so with this box. But, many pros just keep existing systems, which get passed down...and add new stuff... so they will just probably buy TB based peripherals rather than cards.
  • So will it, or will it not keep my coffee warm?
  • I am impressed. Makes me want to get back into the editing biz just to have a reason to buy one.
  • As a long time scientific computer modeler, this is a bit of a retro design. It reminds me of the old Cray supercomputer design. As far as the machine itself is concerned, I think it is a winner. For my pro work this would be great. It appears to be fast and expandable. While the expandability is external, TB2, I don't have a problem with that. I like the dual pro video cards. Yes, it would be nice ti have cuda cores, but these will be great. I am interested to see if it will be a single CPU but if it has 12 cores... RAM is a concern but i am sure it will have more than enough. Yes it will be expensive but look at its speed! As usual Apple is way ahead of the pack in both design and performance. And as far as price is concerned, it is a high end pro machine. When you ride the edge of technology it costs more. When I replace my current Mac Pro it will be with one of these. I will have to juggle my research budget and make sure I include this in future industry grants but I am looking forward to getting one of these.
  • While it is slick I can't help but think of my car's oil filter everytime I look at it lol
  • I love it! It's gonna look great on my desk with some fluttering red ribbons dancing on top, like an air conditioner.
  • It has so many features!! :D https://www.facebook.com/WhatNewMacProShouldBe
  • The Force is Strong with this Duel GPU https://pbs.twimg.com/media/BMl5VUqCEAIDvWb.jpg
  • Does this mean my 2 year old, $20,000 Fibrechannel (ATTO Card) RAID array for video editing is not usable in the new mac or are those external PCI/Thunderbolt devices an option? I am not sure how "transparent" these would be to the current drivers. I have an ATTO. I wonder what they are going to do. I for one don't like losing a bus if I have to get a new RAID configuration. Thoughts?
  • I'm pretty disappointed about the storage limitations. Unless I'm mistaken, it sounds like they put flash drives internally (which I don't know how much, or if you can take them out) and then all other storage must be plugged in externally through either USB3 or Thunderbolt. Thunderbolt is great, fast, etc. but when it comes to mobility this new MacPro and not what I need. I like to be able to have everything all in one. I like that about my current MacPro. Now, I'm going to need to have this thing plus like 5 other external drives sitting around it. Very sloppy looking. I don't understand why they couldn't just make it a little bigger and fit docks for additional drives. Does the OS run on the internal flash drives? Does anyone know how much space that is? Any clarification would be great. Thanks! (and by the way, nice article) Additional Note: I wonder, is all the memory designed specifically for this new machine? Which means it requires all users to have to buy memory all over again... Overall this is a super fast machine and I'm excited to see it in action. It's just the price will be super expensive when you think about all the pieces that go along with it.
  • So Phil Apple has come up with a fancy box, you call this innovation well in my book you have not gone far enough and you know the critic is always right. Two things I love to see Apple do to take the Mac Pro to the next level. 1. Allow parallel processing/computing by running app and pluging new Mac Pro in series via Thunderbol. 2. You can connect 2 screens and have 2 accounts and run many applications already on a mac so why can you not plug in 2 keyboards and allow 2 accounts to be accessed on separate screens. The last request would make the Mac Pro the first computer ever out of a box to do this since the Wyse server with dumb clients.