Is the Mac Pro still a viable platform for Apple?

Is the Mac Pro still a viable platform for Apple?

Summary: The Mac Pro (affectionately known as "the cheese grater") hasn't received a major update in 2.5 years, and Thunderbolt expansion chassis technology could render the tower architecture extinct.

TOPICS: Apple, Hardware
Is the era of the tower Mac over? - Jason O'Grady

The Mac Pro, Apple's only computer with expansion slots and bays, is on its last legs. 

Apple last updated its venerable tower PC in July 2010 (adding 12 cores and SSDsmore than 2.5 years ago, 932 days to be exact. While the Mac Pro received a minor CPU speed bump in June 2012, it didn't receive critical upgrades to technologies like Thunderbolt and USB 3.0 that pros need. 

While there have been some hints of a new Mac Pro (123) there has been no official word from Cupertino short of a vaguely worded email from Tim Cook last summer, saying that "we’re working on something really great for later next year." If Apple does upgrade the Mac Pro, it might even make it in the United States.

My question is: who needs a Mac Pro anyway? 

I understand that video professionals and major pixel pushers need as much horsepower as possible. This often includes copious amounts of RAM (the current Mac Pro can support up to 64GB of RAM), four drive bays, a discrete GPU, and of course, slots. 

The iMac maxes out at 32GB of RAM, has an anemic GPU, no bays and no expansion slots. However, as my colleague David Morgenstern points out, an iMac can be expanded with "JBOP" (Just a Bunch of Peripherals). It can support PCIe expansion cards via a breakout box connected to its Thunderbolt port. While not as elegant as a spacious tower, it can be done. 

So, while use cases exist for high-power Macs loaded to the gills with drives and cards, what percentage of Mac users actually buy them? I suspect that most professional Mac users that got tired of waiting for a new Mac Pro upgraded to either a retina MacBook Pro, an iMac JBOP, and/or a Mac mini connected to a massive storage array like the new Drobo 5D

You: Apple CEO

Put yourself in Tim Cook's shoes. Would you invest the R&D time necessary to create a new Mac Pro? Or would you put those resources on more profitable product lines? 

Apple could probably squeeze another year of life out the current Mac Pro ("cheese grater") form factor and simply release an invisible upgrade with support for the latest Intel chips, Thunderbolt and USB 3.0, but that's not really Apple's style. Apple likes to go big with hardware re-designs and the Mac Pro is overdue.

Enough people have complained about the lack of a new Mac Pro that Apple will probably have to act. If Apple releases a new Mac Pro I would vote for a new enclosure that works as a tower but could also be rack mounted. This would get pro users back into the fold and potentially delight enterprise users as well.

While we anxiously await Apple's decision, here are some Mac Pro concepts from Scott Richardson to drool over:

Mac Pro concepts - Jason O'Grady

Further reading:

Topics: Apple, Hardware

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  • I'd like a rack friendly tower!!

    I'd like a rack friendly tower!! I miss the Xserve.
    • yes

      Make it a rack friendly size
      Half the PCI slots--we have thunderbolt
      Half the hd slots--we have thunderbolt
      Maybe even half the memory slots
      Keep all the USB-Thunderbolt ports
      Add SATA port and SD-card slot.
      • Synth

        And throw in a FW 400 & FW 800 for old times sake.
        • No.

          Firewire 800 is backwards compatible with FW 400; all you need is the proper cable, so there's no use in adding an entirely separate port for this purpose. This isn't 2001 and we don't need to pay the overage costs for VGA and Parallel and PS2 and every other I/O ever invented simply because some cheap jerk doesn't want to take the time to buy a new stinking cable. Not to mention to the fact that Apple makes a Thunderbolt to FW adapter, which renders FW largely moot as it is. However, as this is a Pro machine and there are many Pro users that still likely still have FW hard drives, I can see Apple adding a legacy port simply to ease their frustrations, as they'll probably have the space.
    • Ditto

      I miss the xserve, how can you have OS X server and clients and no server hardware. Especially when iOS is so popular and the Macs are growing, doesn't make any sense to drop the Xserve like they did. They need to bring the pricing down as well on the Mac Pro and needs to be rack mountable and a true server, redundant power supplies, etc. i would love to see the ability to have 8 drives in it. The Xserve all they had to do was make it a 2U and go back to the 4 drive bays and add 4 more and done!
  • Apple is simply being lazy with the current Mac pro.

    Apple really needs a new Mac Pro. The current $2500 quad core is an embarrassingly bad value, even for Apple. I would like to see a personal desktop apple computer. A iMac is not a serious computer because having to stack all the hardware that you can't put in the computer next to the computer is retarded. Oh look! isn't my computer nice and slim? Ignore the tower of crap next to it, and the rats nest of usb and thunderbolt cables running across the desk. Yes, a personal desktop computer that can hold a blue ray drive, and a couple of hard drives, and something better than a laptop gpu would be nice. The Mac pro with intel's overpriced industrial cpu is simply too big, to expensive, and to damned slow. I can put ten hard drives, a extended dual cpu motherboard, and a couple of optical drives, and 4 graphics cards in my silverstone case that's still smaller than the mac pro. Did Apple fire the Mac pro team five years ago and haven't bothered to replace them?
    • Make yourself a Hackintosh

      Because of the expense for a new MacPro that is already outdated I built a Hackintosh. It's far faster and much cheaper and more functional than a MacPro. Yes, it has a few minor drawbacks, but not enough to justify Apple's prices.
  • Here's a fun idea

    They recreate the Mac Pro it with a large-ish CPU and RAM as is normal, all supported by a bunch (8?) of ARM systems (each with a decent amount of dedicated RAM and SD etc). That would be interesting I reckon.
    • Huh?


      Michael Alan Goff
      • Well

        iOS on ARM seems to be quite snappy for individual applications, so it would be interesting to see (I think) a bunch of ARM subsystems each responsible for just one thing, all controlled by something disgustingly powerful.
        • Computing power aside

          You do realize tat ARM and x86 don't play well together, right?
          Michael Alan Goff
          • So?

            It is (to me at least) an interesting proposition. That and it's rather interesting to think of all the things that don't play well together that end up working together. Personally, I think any problems aren't really all that big of a deal in getting them working together. Easier than tossing a Kiwis and Ozlanders together during rugby season and expecting tranquility and effectiveness to happen.
          • Try it with the air

            but the Mac Pro is meant to do heavier lifting.
            Michael Alan Goff
    • ARM?

      are you nuts? if you're compressing video, ARM processors are going to suck at that task. they simply cannot handle the workload of HD 1080p.

      only Intel XEON processors make sense in a pro-level machine, because the i3/i5/i7 are designed to work in isolation; the XEON is designed for multi-cpu use. this is especially handy on my DAW which uses ProTools, Logic, Cubase, hundreds of plugins, and a host of other audio processing software.
      • Hence my mention

        The bit about a big, nasty heart (not ARM).
  • Overpriced machine that runs outdated software

    Good for people who are clueless about technology
    • Amazing

      I think it's a shame you are so critical of Microsoft Surface + W8.
      • Actually

        Right now, the Mac Pro is overpriced.

        Maybe it will be worth it after they update it this year.
        Michael Alan Goff
  • iMac JBOP

    And where do you stick the second processor and the missing cores in the first processor?

    The other problem with an all-on-one (and laptop, tablet etc. for that matter) is that if machine becomes too slow, you have to throw out a perfectly good monitor to get more performance. My old iMac (2006 24") is too slow and creaks under the strain of Lion with Mail and Safari running, but the screen is still good enough, but if I want to upgrade the "PC" side of the equation, I need to buy a new machine and a new monitor.

    And as shiitaki says, the external Thunderbolt may allow external peripherals to be connected, but that is the problem, they are external, need their own power supply and need a connecting cable, so you end up with a pile of hardware next to the sleek device and a pile of power supplies vying for plug space under the desk and a spaghetti of cables all over the place!

    On a Mac Pro, most of those would probably disappear inside the case and use the power supply of the Mac.
  • Mac Pro RAM Limits

    You are wrong about the max RAM a Mac Pro can use. Dual processor Mac Pros can use up to 96GB of RAM using 16GB chips. Single processor Mac Pros max out at 48GB of RAM with 16GB chips. The 96GB RAM limit for the dual processor Mac Pro is an OSX limitation. When using Bootcamp, the dual processor machines can use up to 128GB of RAM using 16GB ships in all eight slots when running 64 bit windows applications or Linux.