So there are strong indications that Apple will release a new Mac Pro -after two years of neglect- next Monday. What will the new Mac Pro be like?
When Apple releases new products, there are always two main schools of thought: the hyper-optimists, which believe that the new product will cure cancer and achieve world peace, and the more restrained optimists, who expect the new product to be merely insanely great.
Pessimists (or realists, depending on your point of view) who dare to offer differing opinions in public are usually smothered in flames.
I’m going out on a limb here, by adopting the pessimists’ point of view. Apple has shown that it does not care about professionals, so I don’t really expect the new Mac Pro to be some new revolutionary design. The way I see it, Apple will probably do one of the following:
1. Update the current Mac Pro, keeping the same form factor.
2. Release a totally new design, which will have so many “Pro” features removed that will be suitable only for consumer use.
Let’s examine these two possibilities in detail:
Option 1: The safe road.
The safest -and most reasonable- option for Apple is to keep upgrading the Mac Pro as it has done for the last decade or so. Add a new motherboard with the latest server-class CPUs available from Intel, and leave the rest of the design unchanged (apart from removing some peripheral ports and offering others in their place). This will require the minimum amount of effort for a market that Apple is not really interested in.
The problem with this approach is that it retains all the problems of the current Mac Pro line: for the average professional, the Mac Pro is overpriced and overpowered. Apart from very narrow applications, no professional software for the Mac today needs (or indeed can even utilize) more than four CPU cores. Some high-end 3D and math apps might actually need eight cores, but the market for such apps is far too small.
Most professionals would be happy with a consumer-grade high-end CPU such as the Intel Core i7, which can have up to 6 cores. There’s no need for ultra-expensive server-class CPUs for most professional apps. What’s more, server-class CPUs require server-class RAM modules, which are more expensive and less easy to find.
I’m not going to go into further detail about the disadvantages of the current Mac Pro design. I already explained them in this article.
Option 2: The Final Cut Pro X approach.
This is what most professionals fear: that Apple will do to the Mac Pro what it did to Final Cut Pro X: take a serviceable professional product, and “simplify” it to the point of uselessness. There are indications that Apple may go this way; hopefully, it won’t.
A ‘simplified’ Mac Pro will have no optical drive (forcing the purchase of an external drive), less internal space for hard drive bays, or even -God forbid!- limit the drive bays to 2.5″ -sized drives. It will have no upgradable graphics card, and fewer peripheral ports; and it will probably ditch Firewire 800 for Thunderbolt.
Such a Mac would be very difficult for a professional to love. Having to find (expensive) third-party solutions for replacing all the Firewire peripherals alone would be a nightmare. Additionally, if there are fewer internal hard drive bays there will be an extra cost for buying new external hard drives, which can skyrocket if Thunderbolt is the only fast connector available.
Another fun possibility is that Apple will remove the dual DVI monitor ports, allowing only a single Thunderbolt monitor (i.e. the Apple Display) to be connected – unless you opt for the $100 Thunderbold to DVI adapter (sold by Apple, of course.)
And if Apple goes for a smaller form factor with only 2.5″ drive bays, the cost per GB will go way up for internal drives, and speeds will be lower since the most affordable 2.5″ drives are only 5400rpm instead of the standard 7200rpm of 3.5″ drives.
Of course, this is a ‘nightmare’ scenario, in which Apple completely disregards the needs of the average professional.
Apple would never do that.
Post WWDC keynote update.
As you probably know, Apple didn’t choose any of the above two options. Instead it did even less: just a silent update which increases the CPU speeds by a very small amount. So professional users are still left hanging.