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New Mac Pro looks like a trash can, goes like a rocket

Thursday, December 19th, 2013 | Posted by Jim Thacker

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Originally posted on 11 June 2013. Scroll down for updates.

Apple has announced the specfications of its new Mac Pro workstation, promising “breakthrough performance” in a unit an eighth the size of its current desktops – and a completely different shape.

Announcing the new Mac Pro during his presentation at Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference (above), Apple SVP Phil Schiller drily commented: “Can’t innovate any more, my ass.”

As anyone who remembers old Mac workstations like the ill-fated Cube will know, ‘innovative’ doesn’t necessarily mean ‘practical’, ‘expansible’ or ‘affordable’.

Fortunately, the information so far suggests that the new Mac Pro fares well on at least two of those fronts.

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Sleek power tool, or space-age trash can?
The most obvious talking point is the shape: the new Mac Pro is a sleek aluminium cylinder.

Detractors have already been having fun mocking the design as a ‘trash can’ or an ‘ashtray’ – but whether you love or hate the look, you can’t argue that it isn’t distinctive.

And at 9.9″ tall and 6.6″ in diameter, it lives up to Apple’s claim to be “a pro desktop computer that can actually sit on your desk”.

(Of course, whether you actually want it on your desktop depends on how noisy it is – about which, more later.)

But being cylindrical, this is definitely a workstation, rather than a machine to put in a farm: as one CGTalk user put it: “How the hell do you rack mount this thing?”

Good on CPU cores, great on memory
Inside, the new Mac Pro uses the Intel Xeon E5 chipset, “with configurations offering up to 12 [processing] cores”.

That’s pretty impressive, although existing top-of-the-range Windows workstations go up to 16 cores. It will be interesting to see how easy Apple makes it to upgrade.

Memory looks good, though: the Mac Pro features a four-channel DDR3 controller running at 1866MHz, as opposed to the standard 1600MHz; and delivering up to 60GB/s memory bandwidth – up from 30GB/s on the current model.

Top-of-the-range graphics
For graphics, the new Mac Pro uses two “state-of-the-art” AMD FirePro GPUs with 6GB of dedicated VRAM.

That’s also pretty cool, although we’re not sure whether “state-of-the-art” means that these are AMD’s existing top-of-the-range W9000s or a small form-factor equivalent – again, with implications for upgrades.

Fast storage – but not cheap or internal?
The Mac Pro uses PCIe flash storage. Apple notes that this is “up to 2.5 times faster than the fastest SATA-based solid-state drive and up to 10 times faster than a 7200-rpm SATA hard drive” – but it probably won’t come cheap.

And since the size and casing design of the workstation limits internal upgrades, it’s probably also going to mean that most grahics professionals will wind up using external drives.

Fortunately, the new Mac Pro comes with a lot of ports: six Thunderbolt 2, four USB3, two Gigabit Ethernet and an HDMI 1.4 port. Since you can daisy-chain up to six peripherals via Thunderbolt 2, that should mean a lot of external storage capacity without having to create a cat’s cradle of cables.

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Innovating cooling design
One of the most intriguing things about the new Mac Pro is the cooling system (above): rather than using individual fans and sinks, the system is built around a single piece of extruded aluminium designed to maximise airflow.

Since the CPU and GPUs share the core, if one processor isn’t running under high load, the ‘spare’ cooling power can be used by the others.

According to Apple: “No computer has been built this way before. And yet it makes so much sense, it’s now hard to imagine building one any other way.”

How well that claim stands up depends on how well the system functions when everything is under load – and, given that the Mac Pro is specifically designed to sit on a desktop, how much noise it kicks out: good cooling is little comfort if your workstation sounds like a jet engine.

Powerful on paper – and maybe more?
Unsresolved details aside, the new Mac Pro looks to be a powerful machine, and on paper, one that should hold its own against existing top-of-the range Windows workstations from vendors like HP and Dell.

In fact, reports from the privileged few working on test units suggest that it may even be better, with The Foundry product manager Jack Greasley commenting: “It [has] the best off-the-shelf performance I have ever seen.”

Ingriguingly, Greasley also responds to a comment noting that you could build a Windows machine with more processor cores and RAM by noting: “Don’t assume that there will be just one of anything.”

Updated: Jack Greasley has been in touch to expand on his forum post. He notes that while he has no specific information on the Mac Pro specifications, “the architecture seems to be flexible … and I think that this machine could be even more powerful”.

No shipping or pricing information yet
Apple hasn’t released any information about pricing or shipping dates yet, beyond simply ‘later this year’.

Whether it’s quite the revolution in workstation design the company is claiming remains to be seen – but from what we’ve seen so far, the new Mac Pro is a machine that a lot of people will be very interested to get their hands on.

131023_MacProPrice
 

Updated 23 October: Apple has revealed the prices and base specs for the Mac Pro.

The basic model, which features a 3.7GHz quad-core Intel Xeon E5 processor, 12GB of DDR3 memory and dual AMD FirePro D300 GPUs, will set you back $2,999.

In terms of compute performance and memory bandwidth, the D300 is broadly in line with AMD’s existing high-end FirePro W7000 – although the W7000 has more on-board memory: 4GB compared to the D300’s 2GB.

$3,999 gets you a Mac Pro with a 3.5GHz six-core E5 processor, 16GB DDR3 RAM, and dual 3GB FirePro D500 GPUs: again, similar to the W7000 in terms of compute performance, but with much higher memory bandwidth.

A competitive offering?
There have already been rumblings online about lack of extensibility and price – but for an off-the-shelf professional machine, the new Mac Pro holds up reasonably well.

While it’s difficult to make an exact comparison, the prices are (very) roughly what you’d expect to pay for a similarly specced Windows-based professional workstation from a large vendor like HP or Dell.

The most unusual part of the spec is that you get dual GPUs as standard, but only a single CPU. How useful that is to you really depends on whether your key software can take advantage of those graphics processors.

Updated 19 December: The new Mac Pros are now available to order. Read Apple’s news release, or visit the company’s online store. According to Apple, orders placed now should ship in February.

Read more about the new Mac Pro on Apple’s teaser site

Watch Engadget’s video showing the internal workings of a new Mac Pro

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  • warex3d

    i’ll pass

  • Trilabite

    Going to wait for the price/final specs before I decide on this one. I like the design. Something different. Reminds me of the old sgi days. Love the designer systems back then.

  • avi shovakar

    Love the design, computers don’t have to be boxes form and function are both important, I look at my workspace at home with my Mac in it and its a place of zen, I am a visual artist. I look forward to it, I hope it stays in the General Mac Pro price range, but apple is always known for this, they don’t hike their prices every time a new product comes out.

    Bravo loved the machine, external expandability is the way of the future .
    It’s how we also function in life .
    Avii

  • Alessandro Rivoira
  • Chris Rodinis

    Compare this Dell for more power and functionality: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AL_OuqsXNrA

  • RazorXcom

    Despite the marketing hype from Apple, this machine is neither revolutionary nor competitive. You can already build a Windows PC that will outperform it, and I don’t call being unable to upgrade my graphic cards or processor revolutionary by any means.

  • Dave

    I wrote a first look article if anyone’s actually interested in reading about it.

    http://arstechnica.com/apple/2013/06/a-critical-look-at-the-new-mac-pro/

    I’ll be doing a full review. It will be interesting to see how it compares price-wise to HP/Dell workstations because Apple’s Mac Pros are always cheaper than those at the same specs. As always, if you don’t go for a max-core config, a Xeon makes no sense compared to a highly-clocked desktop part but I’ll be getting the 12-core 2.7GHz machine, which comes in just under a 2.4GHz dual socket HP Z820 for rendering. The Z820 is $8k, so if Apple can stay under $6000 for that machine, it’s competitive, especially with two FirePros.

  • John Trotter

    The design worries me, because it doesn’t look enough like a pc. What if someone sets a book on top of it, and because the fan is on the top, one spilled coffee and COMPLETE DISASTER.

  • FrankSilvaHM

    Anyone who has a modest amount of pc-building chops (which also includes knowing how and where to shop) could take three grand and build a win workstation that would completely smoke this thing in every way imaginable… And be water-cooled and dead silent too, for under $3,000.

  • Mike Conners

    From Square to Round… now that is real innovation. The G4 Cube (which also had a shared thermal core) flopped because of some of the same limitations found in the New Mac Pro.

    Back in 2000 Jobs said the Cube was ‘The Best’ for making movies, and Jony Ive called it a ‘Super Computer’. Fast forward 13 years, Schiller is saying the same exact thing.

    Yes the Mac Pro is state of the art today, but so was the Cube back then – it was pulled from the market within less than 2 years…

  • Mike Conners

    The New Mac Pro is fan cooled…

  • FrankSilvaHM

    Thanks Mike. We all already knew that though. Water-cooling is better. You can build a beast of a pc, water-cooled, for less than $3000, that would make this toy crawl away in shame.

  • Nicholas Mills

    not everyone wants water swishing around inside their tools. and kudos on pointing out the undying rhetoric of pc vs mac. awesome stuff.

  • Hardy Stevenson

    you clearly dont know what youre talking about. Windows and OSX have nothing in common. They are entirely different platforms. Mac pro is in a class by itself.

  • Imhotep Osiris

    OS X memory management smokes everything else out there, which means large projects get done no matter what. Also, unless you’re in love with Metro, like the one person that does, or you like the idea of having Metro use up precious resources for marketing nonsense you may want to choose a more professional solution or work in a mixed environment. The other issue is that most places that have Macs are multiplatform and use OSX machines, because they’re rock solid reliable.

  • Imhotep Osiris

    There are some things I don’t like (like the automatic legacy GPU vertical mounting) but as networked as everything is now and as mature as OS X is at this point I doubt this is going to be a G4 disaster. I suspect it’s going to be pretty popular. In fact it won’t surprise me if some group designs and constructs cylindrical rack mounting unit just for these and builds a Mac Pro “Bee Hive” cluster.

  • johnw100

    In my experiences Dell doesnt function to well. Have used Workstations ,Precision and XPS laptops models and had major problems with them all.

  • Dave

    I’m loving the talk about building a cheaper machine. Try and get two FirePro W9000 GPUs ($8800) and see if you have anything left over to make a Xeon E5 machine to compete with Apple’s offering. http://www.amazon.com/AMD-FirePro-Retail-Graphics-100-505632/dp/B0093HV38O/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1387580239&sr=8-1&keywords=firepro+w9000

  • RazorXcom
  • RazorXcom

    And once you order it with a D700 GPU config. how would you upgrade it going forward?

  • RazorXcom

    Only a minority care about the new Mac Pro. OS X is only a small portion of the desktop market share at 7%, while Windows is 90%. http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Usage_share_of_operating_systems&oldid=586633650

  • Dave

    ok – but that’s still more than I paid for the Mac Pro with two of those with a 1GB/s PCI SSD, 32GB of RAM and 8-core Xeon 1680 E5 v2.

  • Kurt Drubbel

    :)

  • RazorXcom

    Agreed, but that’s only in the situation of adding the D700 since the W9000 is unproportionately expensive to the other FirePros. Not so if selecting a D300 or D500. The concerning issue is how would a person upgrade the GPUs or CPU once they have purchased a set configuration?

  • Mike Weber

    Where is this device you speak of? Is there one that be can ordered online? with a warranty?

  • Imhotep Osiris

    A critical minority…you know, many of the ones that make the media we watch everyday, the signage you see everywhere, the web pages we read on our phones, computers, tablets etc?

  • RazorXcom

    Hardly. A Mac is not a requirement for media development. All of Adobe’s media creation software runs on Windows too. Programs like 3ds Max and Softimage don’t even have Mac versions. Most VFX houses develop on Linux. It’s funny how Mac people think the entire media world revolves around them.

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