Back in June 2012, Apple attracted criticism and concern after it made a very minor update to the Mac Pro. In response to that criticism Apple CEO Tim Cook promised that new Mac Pros would be released in 2013, so we know that something is on its way.
A likely Mac Pro release date and venue would be at WWDC, Apple's worldwide developers conference that they hold on a yearly basis in San Francisco. We expect that it will take place around the beginning of June, last year it started on 11 June. In previous years this event tended to have a Pro focus, although in recent times it's rather been taken over by the iPad, iPhone and iOS. Hopefully this June we will get back to the Mac.
The current Mac Pro
At last years WWDC Apple quietly released a new Mac Pro, but this resulted in a lot of criticism, lead by Andy Hertzfield (a member of the original Mac development team) and a Facebook page, MacProsPlease, was set up by a freelance editor/animator to plea with Apple to address the issue.
In response to the fears that Apple was abandoning the pro Mac user, Apple CEO Tim Cook promised that new Mac Pros would be released in 2013. In an email, Tim Cook replied to one concerned Mac Pro user, saying: "Our Pro customers like you are really important to us. Although we didn't have a chance to talk about a new Mac Pro [at WWDC], don't worry as we're working on something really great for later next year."
Backing up Cook's claims that a new Mac Pro is in the works, hidden files within a Boot Camp configuration file in a recent version of Mountain Lion appear to confirm the next generation of the Mac Pro. It mentions the MacPro 6,0, a machine that doesn't currently exist.
There are two versions of the current Mac Pro (along with various build-to-order options and a Server model): a 3.2GHz, quad-core Intel Xeon chip, with 6GB of RAM; and a high-end model with two 2.4GHz, six-core Xeons and 12GB of RAM. Both sport a 1TB hard drive and AMD's Radeon HD 5770 graphics cards. Prices start at £2,049.
As noted by Hertzfield, there is: "Still no Thunderbolt, still no USB 3.0, no SATA III or RAM speed improvements - it seems like it's stuck in time in 2010." The top-end graphics option is a pair of 2009 ATI Radeons - that cost around £100.
It's no wonder Mac Pro users were concerned.
New Mac Pro rumours – processors
The processor inside the current Mac Pro is the Intel Xeon E5645 CPU - a two-year-old Westmere-EP chip - not the Xeon E5 processor that many had expected would make its way into the new Mac Pro.
Intel's Xeon processors are targeted at workstations and servers, so that chip family seems the most likely for any future Mac Pro. Enter rumours that Apple is waiting for Ivy Bridge E.
Ivy Bridge E processors are actually going to be marketed as Xeon E5 V2 processors. There is no corresponding Sandy Bridge predecessor rather it will follow on from the older Westmere-EX processors.
Apple looks set to adopt Intel's next-generation of CPU, codenamed Haswell, for its consumer machines, but don't expect to see these in the new Mac Pro.
Rumours have suggested Apple may be moving away from Intel chips for its Mac line-ups, but given the progress of Intel's CPUs and the difficulty of making such a switch, it's unlikely that Apple will abandon Intel processors in the near future.
A rumour from last summer suggested that the new Mac Pro's onboard memory controller will be moved to the CPU, so the link between the CPUS will be faster, up to 8GT/s. The memory will also be upgraded from 1,333mhz to 1,600mhz to allow for 25 per cent more memory with 8 physical memory lanes.
New Mac Pro graphics rumours
The past year has seen Apple transition from AMD graphics to Nvidia graphics in its iMac and MacBook Pro, the only Mac model currently shipping with graphics from AMD (ATI Radeon HD 5770 and 5870) is the Mac Pro.
This doesn't indicate that the new Mac Pro may drop AMD graphics, indeed, a recent Apple job ad for a Systems Electrical Engineer for the Mac Desktop Systems Engineering team notes that the applicant should have experience with AMD as well as Nvidia GPUs and Intel chipsets. In addition, driver support the Radeon HD 7900 series of powerful discrete graphics cards from AMD was referenced in an OS X 10.8.3 beta back in November, along with references to MacPro 6,0 models mentioned earlier. The Radeon HD 7900 series, codenamed Tahiti LE, includes both the Radeon HD 7970 and 7950. These graphic cards offer 3GB of GDDR5 memory and are based on a 28-nanometer chip manufacturing process as well as featuring AMD's Graphics Core Next architecture.
For many pro users the graphics card is crucial. Most significant is the fact that the Mac Pro is the only Mac that allows a user to update the graphics card. According to one report, it would be a disaster for the video world if users were no longer able to upgrade the graphics processor in the Mac Pro. "With every other Mac (iMacs/Mac mini/MacBook Pro) you cannot upgrade the card. Apple wouldn't kill the video industry by stopping the Prowould they?" writes LogicRumours. Some users upgrade the graphics card in an old Mac Pro model to extend its lifespan.
New Mac Pro hard drive rumours
One thing is certain; the new Mac Pro will offer a Fusion Drive option. Fusion Drive is Apple's new data storage technology that combines a hard drives with flash (or SSD) storage. The Mac operating system manages the contents of the drive so the most frequently accessed files and applications are stored on the faster flash storage, while infrequently used items are left on the hard drive. Unfortunately the technology Apple uses to make the Fusion Drive work is proprietary, so any Flash storage inside the Mac Pro will have to be fitted by Apple when you buy the machine. (And Flash from Apple is more expensive than elsewhere.)
New Mac Pro networking rumours
Apple also looks likely to add superfast networking technology 802.11ac to the new Mac Pro. The new technology will bring superfast WiFi connectivity to Macs, speeding up throughput as well as improving coverage (it can increase the distance from which you can connect to an access point), and also supercharging Apple's AirDrop features and WiFi syncing.
New Mac Pro RAM rumours
Where the high-end iMac is capable of supporting a maximum 32GB RAM, Mac Pros can already handle 64GB. That's probably more than enough for most, but in the pro area there are already workstations offering more. Take the Dell Precision T7600 Workstation or the HP Z820 Workstation, which already offer 512GB RAM.
Thunderbolt in the new Mac Pro
One thing about the Mac Pro update in June really didn't make sense. It didn't include a Thunderbolt port. Given that it's the Pro market that is most likely to spend money on Thunderbolt accessories this was a strange omission. For example, Thunderbolt lets you connect four HD screens at a time, who, other than a pro user, would want to do that. Unless Apple has given up on Thunderbolt, it seems likely that the new Mac Pro will feature more than one Thunderbolt port.
Thunderbolt (previously called Light Peak) is a peripheral-connection technology, developed by Intel with collaboration from Apple, that combines data, video, audio, and power in a single connection. Based on the PCI Express and DisplayPort architectures, Thunderbolt allows for high-speed connection of peripherals such as hard drives, RAID arrays, video-capture solutions, and network interfaces, and it can transmit high-definition video using the DisplayPort protocol. Each Thunderbolt port provides up to 10 Watts of power to connected peripherals, and up to 10 Gigabits per second (Gbps) of data throughput (faster than USB 3).
USB 3.0 in the new Mac Pro
Speaking of which, the new Mac Pro doesn't even offer USB 3. Apple's pro Mac is still stuck in the dark ages of USB 2. Another reason for the assumption that Apple is waiting for the Xeon E5 V2 processor to launch is that it will support USB 3. The current Sandy Bridge chipsets do not support USB 3.0 natively, according to LogicRumours.
FireWire in the new Mac Pro
One thing that the current Mac Pro has that future Mac Pros may not is FireWire. It seems likely that by in gaining Thunderbolt and USB 3, that FireWire will be culled. The standard has already disappeared from all of Apple's other Macs, with the exception of the Mac mini, although the first time Apple attempted to remove it the creative world was in uproar.
PCI Express expansion in the new Mac Pro
One thing that Apple's Mac Pro offers that no other Mac offers is PCI expansion, and that is a key reason for the appeal to professional users. These expansion slots are essential to users who wish to add video cards, sound, networking, RAID arrays, and other connectivity options to their Mac. There are currently three such slots.
There are some fears that Apple could reduce this to two PCI ports in its desire to make the machine thinner.
However, Apple may update to the PCIE3 standard, which will offer 40 lanes per socket, rather than the usual 36, we wrote in June 2012.
SATA III/SAS connectivity in the new Mac Pro
We've also seen reports that claim that SATA III/SAS connectivity will be native in the new Mac Pro.
Will there be a SuperDrive in the new Mac Pro?
Another potential for culling is the Mac's optical drive. "There will be no optical drive. Face it, if you are still holding out for Blu Ray then you haven't been paying attention," writes LogicRumors.
We certainly agree on the lack of Blu Ray, but we aren't completely convinced that Apple will remove the optical drive from the Mac Pro. The pro Mac user is probably the one and only Mac user remaining that could honestly say that they require an optical drive. For one thing, some professional creative software isn't widely available as a download.
New Mac Pro rumours – born in the USA?
Apple CEO Tim Cook recently announced that Apple would shift production of one Mac to the USA. Most industry watchers expect this Mac to be either the Mac Pro or the Mac mini. The odds are good that it is the Mac Pro though for a number of reasons. For one thing, shipping the Mac Pro from China is expensive because it's such a bulky item. The other reason why moving production of the Mac Pro to the USA makes sense is that Apple sells fewer than one million a year (it makes sense to manufacturer the high-demand products where labour is cheaper and voluminous. In addition, any extra labor costs associated with manufacturing in the US can be more easily absorbed by a $2,500-$3,800 Mac Pro than by a MacBook or an iMac that sell for $1,000 to $1,300, noted Fortune.
Will the new Mac Pro live up to expectations? Iit's been a long time coming and the traditional user base has a hell of a big wish list. Many fear that the update will not meet their needs.