The Mac Pro teardown: Compact, yet easy to upgrade

The Mac Pro teardown: Compact, yet easy to upgrade

Summary: What makes the Mac Pro tick? The teardown team from repair firm iFixit have got their hands on a system hot off the production line and have taken it apart to show us how Apple has put together the ultimate workstation.

TOPICS: Hardware

Late last month – or last year if you want – Apple finally unleashed the updated Mac Pro, and while few people want or need a system that starts at an eye-watering $2,999, the workstation has generated a lot of interest.

But what makes the Mac Pro tick? The teardown team from repair firm iFixit have got their hands on a system hot off the production line and have taken it apart to show us how Apple has put together the ultimate workstation.

Inside the new Mac Pro
(Image: iFixit)

It's fair to say that iFixit were impressed by system. "Beneath the surface," wrote Kyle Wiens, CEO of iFixit, "the Mac Pro's compact, three-sided design is like nothing we've ever seen before — an example of what engineers can do when they think outside of the box."

But does the revolutionary design mean a system that's impossible to upgrade? Absolutely not. Both the RAM and CPUs are user-replaceable, and getting into the system doesn't involve having to get past any proprietary screws. Being able to upgrade the RAM and CPU means that buyers aren't tied to expensive Apple upgrades. For example, by doing a DIY upgrade to 12-core could save a buyer over $1,000.

Mac Pro
(Image: iFixit)

Don't let the diminutive size of the Mac Pro fool you into thinking that it is form over function. The system is packed with high-end components, including:

  • 3.7 GHz Quad-Core Intel Xeon E5-1620 v2 with Turbo Boost up to 3.9 GHz
  • Intel BD82C602J Platform Controller Hub
  • Elpida 4 GB DDR3L SDRAM
  • PLX Technology PEX8723 PCI-E switch
  • Intel DSL5520 Thunderbolt 2 controller
  • AMD FirePro D300 graphics processor
  • Elpida W2032BBBG 2 Gb GDDR5 VRAM
  • Samsung S4LN053X01-8030 (ARM) flash controller
  • Samsung K9HFGY8S5C-XCK0 flash storage
  • Samsung K4P4G324EB 512 MB RAM
  • Broadcom BCM57762 gigabit ethernet controller
  • Fresco Logic FL1100 4-port USB 3.0 host controller
  • Parade PS8401A HDMI jitter cleaning repeater
  • Cirrus 4208-CRZ audio codec

All these components are tied together using a proprietary disc-shaped daughterboard at the base of the machine.

Inside the Mac Pro
(Image: iFixit)

So, despite being compact, the Mac Pro is surprisingly modular and relatively easy to upgrade. The only downsides that iFixit point out is that there's no way to add extra internal storage, and that the use of proprietary connectors and tight cable routing could make working in this system a bit tricky.

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Topic: Hardware

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  • The only thing upgradeable in this Mac Pro is the memory.

    Just because it's technically possible to replace one component with another doesn't automatically qualify it as upgradeable. The ability to upgrade the Mac Pro was way down on the priority list. Form was at the top.
    • Re: Ye

      I don't want to be Trollish but what about the fact you can upgrade the CPU? Like my coworker's you suffer from skim-itis and didn't catch that. Happy New Year

      • What about it?

        Again: Just because something is possible doesn't mean it was intended to be possible. Likewise the only upgrade you'll likely be able to do is replace a lower core CPU with a higher core count Ivy Bridge EP.
        • So what is your point?

          iFixit folks are notorious for giving bad grades to systems that can't easily be upgraded, they apparently like this one very much. They don't ever make comments about how likely or unlikely a system is to be upgraded, and your comment about the CPU is soo lame, every motherboard has a fixed socket, duh! Limiting the possibility of newer CPUs. That falls on Intel, not Apple.
          • My point is that merely being able to replace parts doesn't...

            ...make a system upgradeable. The only thing designed to be upgraded in the Mac Pro is the memory.
        • "doesn't mean it was intended to be possible."

          What a ridiculous statement. Do you really think that using a socketed vs soldered processor was just an accident? Or maybe you think that the engineers just flipped a coin when it came time to decide. And for the record, "…only upgrade you'll likely be able to do is replace a lower core CPU with a higher core count Ivy Bridge EP" an upgrade is an upgrade, even if it's not a very major one. So, you managed to contradict your original post. Next time, save time and just don't say anything all.
          • How many Xeon MBs have you seen?

            I have seen plenty. None of them featured a soldered processor. That they are (sort of) upgradeable is more a feature of how Intel sells them than how Apple designed the logic board.
          • The fact the CPU is socketed doesn't mean it is intended to be upgraded.

            Care to try again?
    • Does it matter?

      I'm not agreeing with you for I don't think at this stage in Apple's history much in anything is left to chance, but say you hare correct and it's upgradeability is not design but an accident so? A good result even if accidental is still a good result right? Oops I did it again:)

      Pagan jim
      James Quinn
      • Yes, it matters.

        Again: Just because you can replace a part with another part does not mean it was meant to be upgraded. There's a difference between what you can do and what was intended. Replacing the CPU, even though you can do it, will void the warranty. Replacing/adding a video card, to the old Mac Pro, would not.
    • Nice to know you were sitting in on the

      Mac Pro design meetings so you could give us that information. In what bullet point of the presentation did Ivies say: "Remember, our top priority is how the thing looks.
    • Ye

      You are soo Stone Age. To keep you happy I suggest that we insist that all manufacturers use only transistors in sockets. Would that make you happy?

      This machine is a beautiful fusion of technology, function and design. Clearly a banner statement of Intel's chops as much as Apple's, but you can't have everything. I love it that the folks at iFixit weren't happy with the initial teardown as they hadn't found the Airport card. They had another look and found it nestled in the fan enclosure. If you don't think that is design to be proud off (check out what it looks like on the ifixit site), then you, like Ye, belong in the queue of sad sacks buying transistors... ;-)
  • Heaven help you if you ever want to upgrade the graphics card, though . . .

    Heaven help you if you ever want to upgrade the graphics card, though . . .
    • It seems like it can reasonably be replaced.

      Given it uses a proprietary form factor / connector the replacement would need to be specifically made for the Mac Pro. But I could see it being reasonably easy to replace a lower version (D300 / D500) with a higher version (D500/D700) if one could buy them separately.
      • Still limits your options.

        Still limits your options.
  • Re: CobraA1

    IF the market is there, I suspect that the manufacturers will provide cards to suit. Time will tell.
  • AKH may have mislead everyone by the term "upgradeable".

    Ye opines that "upgradeability" was low on Apple's design objectives with this Mac Pro version.
    To cut to the chase, I agree with that harsh assessment.

    Ye also opines that mere form appearance was a key design goal for the Mac Pro team. I disagree with that opinion. (But I won't explain that opinion in this comment.)

    Here is how I would have characterized the Mac Pro design. I would have said "repairability" was high on Apple's design goals since an easy design to repair implies a fast turn-around for professional customers. (That, and recyclability, too)

    And, let's make no mistake about what demographic was targeted with this design. It's professionals that use equipment as capital investments in their line of work. And the depreciation of capital investments on tax forms are an important financial business tool.

    Professionals and businesses that purchase the Mac Pro will purchase another machine in four to five years. And start the whole cycle of capital investment over again. IMO, a four or five year window for this version of a Mac Pro will be just fine. There will not be a need to upgrade this computer. It will simply be replaced.

    In a somewhat speculative note, I will opine that those consumers (or prosumers) wishing for a Mac Pro's computational capabilities (especially a "maxed out" $10,000.00 model) can simply wait those four to five years and technology will have advanced far enough along that, in Apple's case, an entry level 2018 iMac will have the same capabiliies as this Mac Pro for a tenth of the price.

    Or, just invest that $10,000 dollars in Apple Stock and in four years, if trends continue, a person should be able to purchase a very nice computer in 2018 with enough money left over to really be happy with that purchase. Grin

    BTW, I base that financial speculation on a story I read a few years back that said if a person who had invested the money used to purchase a top end "state of the art" Mac Book laptop in 1999 (about $5000 dollars) in Apple stock, he would have realized his investment had grown to over $300,000.00 dollars by 2010 while avoiding being saddled with an obsolete $5000 dollar "paper weight".

    Again, if a person is not incorporated or can take advantages of capital investment tax benefits, I would caution against a Mac Pro purchase. But we can always lust after one. Grin.