A new Mac Pro or JBOP, just a bunch of peripherals?

A new Mac Pro or JBOP, just a bunch of peripherals?

Summary: Apple appears to have forgotten its professional content-creation and high-performance computing customers, something that worried Mac managers at the recent Macworld/iWorld Expo. They bemoaned the lack of a next-generation Mac Pro.


Somewhat surprising was the Mac Pro refrain from a number of Mac managers at the recent Macworld/iWorld Expo in San Francisco. They were concerned over the missing piece in the current Mac lineup: a new Mac Pro. Apple gave the multi-multicore system a minor speedbump last summer, which one content professional called a "non upgrade."

Ron Hipschman, scientist, sysadmin and webmaster at San Francisco's Exploratorium science museum, hoped for a new Mac Pro "sooner rather than later." He suggested that Apple design a new enclosure that could work both on a workbench as well as be mounted in a rack.

Several system admins who work at bio-sciences technology companies (and who declined attribution) spoke of the same concerns and wondered of Apple's commitment to the performance computing market. This same question came from the content-creation pros I spoke with.

Following the release of Apple's new difficult-to-upgrade iMac models in late 2012, some content pros wondered whether Apple sees Thunderbolt as the only answer to professional-market concerns. Instead of a new Mac Pro with an advanced bus architecture and supporting highly-multicore processors, Apple would point to the iMac, which can be expanded with Thunderbolt. While the first products to support Thunderbolt have come in support for DisplayPort (Apple's ThunderBolt Display) and speedy storage, the transport technology can support dedicated coprocessor cards through PCIe support. This capability appears to really be arriving now with support from several vendors. 

Announced around the time of CES, (and not seen by me at the Macworld Expo), were CUBE lines of PCIe card cages from One Stop Systems of Escondido, Calif. The company sells the products in an online store named Max Expansion. The lines of expansion enclosures include The µCUBE line, which supports 1, 3 or 5 PCIe short cards; and a The CUBE line for full-length PCIe cards.

These enclosures are designed specifically for commercial applications that require lightweight and noiseless systems that can easily and economically increase the functionality and performance of their laptops and workstations, saving the user form having to purchase new computing systems that provide these same advantages. The variety of sizes, slot counts, power supplies, cooling, and connectivity options make these truly a first-of-their-kind expansion system. You can easily install the card of your choice in The CUBE and create a custom appliance for any application task. Install a Flash memory card in the µCUBE to create the ideal laptop companion for multimedia designers or any user that needs mobility and additional fast storage. The added advantage of using either Thunderbolt or PCIe connectivity allows the user a choice of high speed connections. Some applications may require the high speed connection of PCI Express, providing up to 128Gb/s data transfers with a PCIe x16 connection.

Sounds good, but the performance of these products, and the availability of PCIe coprocessor cards for specific content application acceleration are all question marks.

Check Out: Is Apple's on-shore manufacturing pledge good news for the future of the Mac Pro?

Lloyd Chambers, blogger and professional photographer, recently offered an interesting post on this topic at the Mac Performance Guide. He said readers were also considering the new iMac and preparing to add peripherals to replace what the Mac Pro is missing.

This is throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

The idea is summed up as a disemboweled Mac Pro: all the drives and SSDs and cards that could be internal to the Mac Pro made external to an iMac, in a tangle of cables. That can work, sure.

But if I were buying a workhorse Mac today, it would still be the Mac Pro.

Chambers points out that for tasks such as HD video transcoding, the iMac "can't be considered a serious choice; it just doesn't have adequate horsepower. It would struggle with the demands of 4K video. The 12-core Mac Pro, even though perceived as old fashioned is still the better choice.

Content creators want a new Mac Pro. Is Apple listening? And what is their strategy?

Topics: Apple, Hardware, Laptops, Operating Systems, Storage

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  • May be the market got too small.

    Maybe the content creators realized that it is there content that should look great and not the PC. Show me any Mac Pro and I will show you a similar speck windows/Linux rig at half the price.
    • And sometimes...

      ...it's not just the look of the hardware, but the OS.

      As a designer, I don't want to have to deal with a virus under deadline, I wan't something stable and reliable and I get that with OSX....and speed in a MacPro. And I hate to burst your bubble, but as a creative professional, aesthetics play a large part too...and NO Windows/Linux box can beat what Johnny Ives designs. People pay a premium for Mac for reasons that go beyond just the hardware specs.
      • ... and most of the times...

        Just to set the scene, this message is typed on the MBA 11" which is not the only Apple product in the house. As graduated designer I can only agree that MACs are the best designed products and I can not imagine to go around with anything else. Simply the MBA is like part of me. ...BUT...
        Being in the IT since last century and have dealt, professionally, with Macs anything else except hardware has huge room for improvement. Starting from OSX and then Apple built applications.
        For example Apple had podcast producer, we got the installation based on the Snow Leopard and everything was 'nice' till they discontinued it without warning and without alternative. So new users with Mountain Lions can't make podcasts and we have to re-think entire strategy. Time and money was wasted for the infrastructure and we will have to reinvest for the new system and to re-train the users. And this is just ONE example.
        Personally on my desk there are always one linux and one xp laptop and when I have to do something seriously my first choice is linux. MBA is always ON for e-mail and skype ;-)
        Of course tastes and colours we should not discuss, this is just my experience and I do not trust people from Cupertino!
      • Puh-lease

        "As a designer, I don't want to have to deal with a virus under deadline"
        ...so use Opera instead of IE, and have NOD32 installed. Better yet, on your design machine, don't do personal browsing on it, or use Portable Ubuntu, that makes a completely isolated yet transparent Linux environment. My laptop has been virus free for the two years I've owned it. It is possible to be virus free AND run Windows. It just admittedly takes a bit more effort.

        "I wan't [sic] something stable and reliable and I get that with OSX"
        I understand that, and agree, that OSX is generally very stable. So is Windows 7, and yes, Windows 8 (which admittedly requires the free Classic Shell to retain one's sanity). I'm mostly-convinced that may Mac users who complain about Windows' stability haven't used one since Windows 98, and/or ONLY see Windows machines that have been royally trashed by their users.

        ".and NO Windows/Linux box can beat what Johnny Ives designs."
        ...but your opening argument was "And sometimes it's not just the look of the hardware, but the OS". I'll assume that Johnny Ives' design does influence your purchasing decision...I know that designers are going to have that "Eye for design" thing going, and I know that in the design world, the cards are immediately stacked against you if you have a non-Mac in your office...but let's be serious, you can out-spec a Mac Pro with $1,200. For the same $3,000 a new Mac Pro will cost you, you can call the awesome guys over at Origin PC and get a desktop that out-specs your Mac Pro in every way, has a completely custom paint job, and has better support than Apple provides (...let me know when an Apple support rep calls you from his house phone on his day off to help you with a problem). If the case means that much to you, swap the parts out of your existing machine and keep the case.

        "People pay a premium for Mac for reasons that go beyond just the hardware specs."
        Of course they do. However, when the hardware specs are lackluster, the operating system stability gap is rapidly closing, and other companies can meet or beat Apple support and stay within the price range, then the only reasons I can really think of are "inertia" and "product loyalty". Those are PERFECTLY VALID REASONS for continuing to use the platform. It's why I still use Windows and can't make a viable switch to Linux, even though I REALLY like KDE.

        What gets my goat is when people state that they're willing to spend significantly higher amounts of money due to reasons that only apply in the Apple User Echo Chamber.

      • Not to mention

        the cheaper product will be filled with cheap components. (Remember the Mac clones and what junk they were?)
        Laraine Anne Barker
        • Define "cheap"

          Are you talking about the licensed Macs from the mid 1990's? A TWENTY YEAR OLD example? If you want to go down that road, then you have to discuss how awful Apple's exterior designs are, due to the ugliness of the beige-box units of the late 1980s, or how bad Apple's tablet designs are because of the Newton, or how unstable Apple's operating systems are unstable - remember OS9? Can we please have a statute of limitations in this regard? I'm willing to limit the rest of my examples to the past five years.

          If you're talking about Psystar, well that was a shady company with shady practices whose sole existence was due to a niche market desire for a computer running OSX that wasn't designed by Apple, at Apple prices. They didn't have to do it well, they just had to do it at all.

          If you're talking about PCs that outspec Macs at 1/2 to 1/3 the price, I can promise you that there's no magic pixie dust that Apple sprinkles on Western Digital hard disks to make them of higher quality. Nor is there any unicorn spit doused on their Quadro graphics cards that make them somehow better. Nor are Apple's motherboards made of Unobtanium. If you're comparing the guts of a Mac Pro to an el-cheapo Dell desktop from the Home Shopping Network, then that's not a terribly good comparison to make. Apple doesn't own the market on high quality desktop components. They exist, and they exist on shelves at Microcenter and in Newegg warehouses. I just build one for an architect client of mine. He's quite satistfied with it. It out-benchmarks your Mac Pro, and cost $1,000 less.

      • Apple vs competition

        "As a designer, I don't want to have to deal with a virus under deadline, I wan't something stable and reliable and I get that with OSX....and speed in a MacPro."
        I have customers in the design and architectural business, and they never had any issues with Windows 7. And regarding the speed of a Mac Pro, maybe you should do a little research and check out the workstations from HP, Lenovo and Dell. They are far more advanced than any Mac Pro.

        "And I hate to burst your bubble, but as a creative professional, aesthetics play a large part too...and NO Windows/Linux box can beat what Johnny Ives designs."
        Agree with you that Apple have some nice designs. But they fail with their internal designs. Compare an iMac to a HP Z1 Workstation. Both are all-in-one and the iMac is more nice from the outside. But when you look at the inside, the HP is more easy to service, is more expandable and has more options. And I won't even compare the Mac Pro to a HP Z820. The HP is far ahead.

        "People pay a premium for Mac for reasons that go beyond just the hardware specs."
        Too sad, since Apple competitors has excellent options, and many times better offerings.
    • Show me a Windows or Linux Rig for serious video & I'll walk away

      Sorry but I am producing HD & some 4K video from a 21.5" iMac and not even the latest model, not even thunderbolt.

      My current upgrade plan is a 27" iMac with thunderbolt as I want to use a Thunderebolt digitiser for uncompressed input of my archives.

      Yes OK maybe some have the need for the Mac Pro - but I no longer see it as necessary.

      As for Linux - only software I might consider on Linux I already have on OS X.

      As for price - no way - it has never been cheaper to get a Linux or Windows box once the lost time is factored in, not to mention the hardware life.

      And yeah I know all about time and cost of systems as I also have run companies providing support to Mac and Windows platforms. Windows is time consuming and costly. Linux has issues with config and comapatbility.

      I've just thrown out (OK recycled at an e-waste center) my last Windows box here as the last vestiges of a reason to have one have gone and it was no longer worth the electricity cost to have it on.

      And yes - the ability to take a call to do some work and being sure of having it done within minutes or hours as I know I have the tools or can get them almost instantly, and they will work first time is important.

      Saving not much money up front and losing work later is not efficient - it is cheap in the nasty sense of the word.

      I don't wish to spend my time keeping my system happy - I just want it to do it's work for me, and Macs have done that for me.
      • Not saying no need for MacPro

        I am not trying to suggest that there are not advantages for some uses for a Mac Pro.

        What I am saying is that for Video the reasons are disappearing slowly, and for most people really not there.

        For high end uses the reasons must shift as processor and cable interface speeds improve.

        What is on which side of the line is the question.

        Right now HD video editing is an iPad or iPhone app for some uses. Not many years ago it was a high end desktop only thing.

        Consider this process is continuing - so what is MacPro only now is iMac soon and in your pocket soon after.

        How long before the MacPro becomes obsolete? Or the potential user base becomes ridiculously small? It has to happen.
        • Depends on what you mean by editing

          I have used both a Mac Pro and a PC for video editing, and while I'll say that yes, you can do video editing on even an iPad, it really depends on the type of video editing you are doing. If you are mostly doing crossfades and other transitions, with occasional overlays, then sure. You can do it on an iMac or even an Air, really. You could do it on a Surface Pro. But if you're doing large, multi-layer productions or going to Motion/After Effects at all, then you really need a dedicated GPU to offload the processing. Like you say, there is a place for a Mac Pro, and the fact that Apple isn't touching it is a sad state for the OS, really. It's as if Apple is, as a company, slowly moving to the "cool consumer-grade" product and giving up their place in the elite raw power space. Five years ago, if you were getting a video editing rig (and you weren't locked into FCP where you were afraid to try something new), then I would have said get a Mac. Today? I say get a PC, especially since (in my personal opinion) Premiere Pro has somehow turned into a much better product than FCP.
      • Ready to walk away?


        ...or basically any of their custom-built desktops with an internal RAID-5.

        • come on

          Why does the RAID have to be internal to the box?

          That adds one thing for sure: makes the whole thing more proprietary, costly, prone to various bugs and difficult to reuse. Some of us have gone trough these nightmares many, many times.
          • Wait, what?

            That's fine - use eSATA or Thunderbolt or iSCSI or whatever your external flavor or RAID is. The point basically was that you can do a 4K workflow just fine on an Origin desktop, but you'll need multiple hard disks to sustain the capture rates and read speeds required with multiple layers stacked on top of each other.

            If you don't want internal RAID on a PC, your Drobo works just as well on your PC as it does on your Mac. If you want an internal RAID on a Mac, you can do so just fine on a PC. Either way, it's not a part of the equation based on platform.

            That said, I haven't the foggiest idea what you were doing if RAID was that much of a headache for you...

            "more proprietary"
            How do you figure? Because you're using a specific RAID controller? So use a host bus adapter and do it in software at either the BIOS level or as a dynamic disk or similar. "but that kills performance" ...not in any meaningful sense when disk i/o ends up being your bottleneck, but once again, that's the case on either platform.

            "prone to various bugs"
            Where are you getting your RAID controllers? Direct from Main Street in Shanghai? I've got a server room full of 'em, as well as a NAS at home running on one from LSI, that's all too happy to send bits back and forth without the slightest hiccup. I'm not saying it doesn't happen, but if it was as problematic as you're saying, RAID wouldn't really exist. Yet again, these bugs either exist on one platform, or don't on the other.

            "Some of us have gone trough these nightmares many, many times."

            I'm not saying that RAID issues don't happen. They absolutely do. What I am saying is that, from my laptop to my NAS to my desktop to my server room, a properly configured RAID is significantly more reliable than a single hard disk alone.

            Besides, the grandparent post's question was in regards to a video editing workstation. Again, if you're working with a 4K video editing situation, 2TBytes on a single SSD is going to set you back a cool $8,000. For that, you could get an Origin desktop with 10TBytes of RAID-6 storage, as well as two or three FreeNAS units to back it up, just in case.

  • Both concepts have their merit

    Many people discover, that the CPU/bus/memory (what is the "computer") is actually disposable and their huge investment is in fact in peripherals. In just few years, you just can't reasonable upgrade an old computer's component. Not at sane price. Or often it is not even worth it.

    This has lead inevitable to the 'sealed' computers such as the new iMac. Thunderbolt is actually just a PCI-Express bridge to let the CPU bus extend out of the computer's case. What today sits inside the MacPro case, can sit outside the case in a separate box. That part of your MacPro is usually the most significant expense and is particularly unique to your setup. When it is inside the case, when you need more horsepower, you often are forced to do forklift upgrade: invest in an entirely new system. When that same specific hardware sits in a separate box, replacing the "CPU" is trivial. Just buy a new iMac, or a new Mac mini, or a new "MacPro mini" (many CPU, many core box, twice the size of the mini). You keep your investment, your finely tuned configuration and.. your peace of mind.

    I believe the sole reason why we haven't seen the new MacPro yet is that Apple waits for the new version of Thunderbolt (based on PCI-Express 3.0 or later) with way higher bandwidth. Unfortunately, they depend on Intel for this and Intel has been awfully slow with LightPeak and then Thunderbolt. Perhaps Intel had hopes to bypass Apple via their "ultrabook" initiative, but that apparently has not materialised.

    Nothing prevents Apple from keeping the current "all-in" concept with the MacPro, of course, but it does not make much sense in the long run. The "computer" inside the MacPro is pretty tiny, in fact.

    Oh, and by the way, most "professionals" that comment on these issues are more on the "Prosumer" end of the scale.
  • The Tower is Dead

    A couple of years ago I did some freelance work for a client that had an in-house large format printing setup. After I did the work, I had a sizable invoice for him and he couldn't pay it. In an effort to save face and avoid the courts, he offered me a Mac Pro with an Apple Cinema Display. I can't remember the specs exactly, but it was a Dual Quad-Core setup with 32GB RAM and 3 1TB hard drives in it. I used that computer for about 3 months and then sold it for much more than he actually owed me and bought a pair of iMacs for my wife and myself. I maxed out the RAM in those iMacs to 16GB and never once found a task that either of them couldn't handle with their little Core i3 processors.

    Why would someone pay $4000 for a big, heavy, clunky system that requires monitor cables, cords, etc. when they could pay half that for a sleek, easily transportable machine with plenty of processing power and memory? So what if it's all integrated? Ten years ago, it wasn't uncommon for me to keep a computer for 5+ years. My first PowerBook G4 lasted me 6 and my very first computer that I ever owned (a Gateway of all brands) stuck around for almost 10.

    Now, I'm lucky if I keep a computer for more than 3 or 4 years. It's much easier to replace a $2000 machine after 3 years of use than it would be to replace a $4000 machine after 3 years of use.

    My wife edited over 100GB of video on her little 3-year-old MacBook Pro running a Dual-Core Processor and 8GB RAM using FinalCut Pro X without a hiccup.

    I think it has come down to a greater level of consumption and a desire for smaller, faster machines that are more "disposable". A MacPro with quadruple 8-core processors, 16TB of HD space and 128GB RAM is not disposable, nor is it realistic for most people purchasing a machine.

    On top of that, tell me one task that a multi-core Mac Pro can do that a modern MacBook Pro, iMac or MacMini can't do.
  • One thing...

    Build Rainbow tables in a reasonable enough amount of time to use them for a penetration test.

    There's one thing I could do on the new Mac Pro that I couldn't do on the MBP I'm writing this on.

    Run multiple Virtual Machines using different OS's to demonstrate vectors of attack when teaching Information Security concepts.

    There's another thing that this machine will be better at than my current MBP.

    The problem with your question is this:
    Software is going to get more complex. That software does not exist yet. But sitting there saying what can you do right this second that I can't is not just silly, it borders on ludicrous. The speed at which software requires more metal (higher stat hardware) is only increasing. I remember the day when I could run old DOS programs on a Pentium (a difference of 15 years). What software in its original form can I run on my MBP right now, that is 15 years old (without a virtual machine)? None. This isn't just an issue of backwards compatibility, it's an issue of things change and there are very real cases of, "we just don't do it that way anymore."

    Because we do it more efficiently.
    Because we have more power and get away with doing it less efficiently.
    Because we do it differently.
    Because we don't need to do it at all.

    Where is that blasted USB3.0 punch card reader, I know I left it laying around here somewhere???
    Everett Vinzant