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.
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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?