Customers of the new Mac Pro workstation must get over their tower obsession

Customers of the new Mac Pro workstation must get over their tower obsession

Summary: Mac Pro owners have been rightly proud of their advanced enclosures, which offered plenty of room for storage and cards, and had the cooling systems to keep everything humming. But the architecture of the forthcoming Mac Pro is the opposite of the big-, bigger- and biggest-tower concepts.

TOPICS: Apple, Hardware, Storage

Potential Mac Pro customers may have trouble adapting to the new culture of outside expansion found in the forthcoming model. Apple's new workstation provides no internal expansion slots for cards and storage, so everything and anything that needs to be added to the black-cylinder enclosure — we can't say "box" anymore — will be external.

This concern was voiced by attendees at the recent BMUGWest user group meeting in San Francisco (held at the Exploratorium museum, Pier 15, on the first Monday evening of the month). The worry was all about the expectations for a "real workstation" that held everything under one enclosure and whether end-users and IT managers will accept the new, external-expansion paradigm.

Apple's old Mac Pro had internal storage bays and slots for expansion cards.

In a thread about the new Mac Pro on Macintouch, professional photographer Skot Nelson, suggested that it's all about perspective. Some pro users will likely want a smaller footprint for their system.

[But...] the spaghetti's always been there, it was just inside a case. What Apple's traded is an enormous case, which often sat half empty, for a more compact unit with an external bus, which means it takes up as much space as you need.

That enormous case also meant that there were people who really didn't have room for it. Like your old rear projection 60-inch screen, you had to build your office around your computer to a great extent. Not anymore.

There's no longer a single massive cooling system that's designed to cool an entire system at maximum capacity regardless of what you actually have, and devices can now have appropriate levels of temperature control.

So, you know, it's all a matter of perspective.

One storage engineer, I spoke with (and who declined attribution) said some people will need some time to adjust to the tower-less future. "These machines will be everything [video editors] will need for the next year or two."

However, the reliance on Thunderbolt 2 for expansion presents some questions for the near term. Color-calibration developer C. David Tobie points out in his blog that there are no Thunderbolt 2 products yet on the market.

Another unique decision was forcing all other high-speed functions to Thunderbolt 2. This is an external data transfer system so fast it vies with the fastest internal data protocols, with the added flexibility of not having the components be internal. This allows the device to be small, and the expansion to be totally fluid, as it does not need to fit specific expansion bay sizes and numbers.

The risks of this forward-thinking strategy include the current lack of Thunderbolt 2 accessories, the long lag time it took before Thunderbolt 1 accessories trickled onto the market, the premium cost of Thunderbolt devices, the small market size (which may not lure as many third parties to produce such accessories) and the need for companies accustomed to creating only internal products, such as video cards, to create external products. Which leaves those companies responsible for their own heat dissipation schemes for those external enclosures as well.

Tobie has a great point about Thunderbolt 2. It's a question of how long vendors will take to roll out the next-generation products. Certainly, it will take less time than we had with Thunderbolt 1 versions. I expect we will see some introductions at the Macworld Expo in San Francisco early next year. However, the new Mac models and the new interconnect presents a chicken-and-egg problem that can slow down the market: Vendors may wait on the Mac Pro sales and potential customers may wait on the availability of expansion devices.

On the Mac Pro performance front, John Poole at the Primate Labs blog, offered some estimates based on cross-platform results from the Geekbench Browser distributed tests. He compared these estimates to the current Mac Pro lineup.

The upcoming Mac Pro will have significantly better single-core performance than the current Mac Pro. For example, the upcoming 4-core model will be between 50 percent and 75 percent faster, and the upcoming 12-core model between 16 percent and 32 percent faster, than the equivalent current models.

Multi-core performance is also significantly better. The upcoming 4-core model will be between 58 percent and 78 percent faster than the current 4-core models, and the upcoming 12-core model will be between 17 percent and 47 percent faster than the current 12-core models. The 6-core and 8-core models are also quite speedy. The upcoming 6-core model will only be 10 pecent slower than the current base 12-core model, and the 8-core model is faster than most of the current 12-core models.

These are simply processor results and don't include expected vastly-greater video speed bumps. We all look forward to the introduction of the machines and the real-world tests.

Topics: Apple, Hardware, Storage

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  • That is the problem...

    For a lot of users the new form factor is going to be a great space saver.

    Having external devices means that you don't have to buy so many, you can plug and play them on the Macs that need them at the time.

    But for the users of fully packed Mac Pros, they are stuck with no upgrade path, until the manufacturers adopt TH2 and many manufacturers will probably hold off until sales of the Mac Pro (round) take off. It might take a while for the Mac Pro to catch on with the stuff-it-full Pro users. I can see the prices for the last of the towers escalating on eBay for a time, until the external peripherals catch up to the old internal ones.
    • Less space available with new design.

      With the tower design, it could be placed under the desk, with extra drives installed internally. preserving your entire work surface for doing *gasp* work. This new design will sit on your desk. Further, every drive you add will also sit on your desk. For a lot of Mac Pro users, this will mean 3 or 4 external devices with all of their cabling taking up half of your desk. I tried the external upgrades route earlier in my career. Frankly, it stunk. A roomy tower device is far superior and conserves precious workspace. The new Mac Pro embodies sleek design without regard for functionality. Yeah, it looks sexy, at least until you start upgrading it.
      • Thunderbolt 2 copper cables can be 3 meters in length

        Forthcoming optical cables can be tens of meters in length, although won't provide power. So nothing NEEDS to be on your desk, other than keyboard and mouse. As for the "new Mac Pro embodies sleek design without regard for functionality", pull your head out!
      • The point

        is that many users don''t put any additional drives or other hardware in their machines. For them, they get a new combined wastebasket and paper shredder on their desk.

        Those that actually make use of the form factor are the ones left in the cold
    • TB2 Peripherals already available for preorder
      I'm really looking forward to this paradigm myself, getting rid of my tower and having facilities for 3x 4k monitors, etc. Plus its hugely expendable internally so theres nothing bad about it.
      • internally?

        Don't you mean externally? AFAIK the isn' any internal expansion.
    • The economics are different - and better

      Fully loaded Mac Pro users can upgrade with an external Thunderbolt PCIe card cage for their cards and moving their hard drives to Thunderbolt arrays or USB 3.0 drive enclosures.

      But the real difference comes in 3 years when you upgrade to the newest Mac Pro while keeping all your current external drives, interfaces, PCIe cards and, of course, all your data that resides on them. This makes upgrading a much simpler and economically appealing process if you have a lot of connected gear, as many professional users will.

      In short, the Mac Pro is neither a traditional PC or traditional workstation. It is more like - in the economics - a traditional mainframe. See for more.

      Robin Harris
      ZDNet contributor
      R Harris
  • Good luck with that

    Great spin. So having to buy external peripherals for a desktop computer is now considered "progress" in AppleLand.

    I shudder to think what it will cost to replace that proprietary cooling fan when it grinds to a halt.
    • Probably less than the power costs of running a stuffed Mac Pro

      Even if it's not, you are, ostensibly, a professional using it to generate revenue, so WHO CARES? You write it off your taxes like any other business expense.
      • Have you not noticed the increased emphasis on energy efficient...

        "Even if it's not, you are, ostensibly, a professional using it to generate revenue, so WHO CARES?" in the data center?
  • You get what you get?

    So you get what you get and don't throw a fit? I am not sure design and taking up less space is the priorities of someone using a Mac Pro? I still say its going to be a very attractive dust sucking machine that will end up being a very expensive throw away Mac pretty much like everything else Apple makes.
    • How did you arrive

      At the conclusion that Apple makes "throwaway" tech? I'm curious.
      • apparently

        You havent paid attention to Apple tech since 2000 or so.. Whenever they started making the throwaway iPods etc.
        T Hughes
        • Umm, as opposed to say,

          throw away fridges, TVs and stereos right?

          The idea that we would realistically expect an iPod to be repairable is laughable. The level of integration is what gives it reliability in the first place. And, btw, by 2006 iPod is still going great...
      • No

        internal expansion. No replacing procssors, graphic cards etc. when they are no longer up to the job.
  • Waste of money

    A system that can't be upgraded without costing a fortune, its an easy guess who will buy it.
    • It's not as much of a waste of money as the

      Surface R/T tablets. Stick to your MS blogs owlnet.
    • You know nothing

      Before writing anything I suggest you do your research. All you do is show yourself up as being ignorant of the facts. Practically everything inside it is upgradable. And just because you can't afford it doesn't mean no one can. You probably can't afford a Ferrari and have to make do with a saloon. You need to see these machines in the same light - out of your reach, and for good reason. You wouldn't know what to do with it if you had it. Far too powerful for trolls
      • Hilarious

        The new Mac Pro was leapfrogged 9 months ago by 16-Core PC workstations with FAR greater hardware power. At best, the Mac Pro is a mid-range version of those very workstations. The hardware is a gigantic fail. Sorry, but I expect more than 12-Cores in an era of 16-Core PC workstations, and I expect Quadro6000 cards for professional rendering capabilities as opposed to equally priced FirePro W9000 cards that lost in every single benchmark test against said Quadro.

        Far too weak for professionals.
        • irrelevant

          It's certainly more current than the current mac pros. Apple doesn't play leapfrog at the bleeding edge of this market, and it once got by with powerpc, you know?