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

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.
Written by David Morgenstern, Contributor

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). http://bmugwest.com 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.

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