The current Mac Pro was first unveiled two and a half years ago at WWDC in June 2013. It took another six months before Apple was able to start selling it (and a few more months for some customers to start to receive their units). Two years on, for a 'top of the range Mac' the Mac Pro is looking rather long in the tooth.

In this article we will be looking at rumours surrounding the new Mac Pro  release date, and features and specs we hope to see in the 2016 version of the Mac Pro.

The good news, for those hoping to upgrade to a new Mac Pro soon, is that code in El Capitan is hinting that a new Mac Pro with 10 USB 3 ports could arrive soon; new Intel Xeon Skylake chips have arrived.

On-the-other-hand, perhaps the Mac Pro should just be discontinued. A Mac Observer story suggests that it's been a flop. It might just be time for Apple to go back to the drawing board if it is to save what appears to be an unpopular Mac.

Also read: Apple rumours and predictions for 2016

Read our Mac Pro reviews:

New Mac Pro 2016 rumours: When is the new Mac Pro coming out?

Apple hasn't announced a launch date for the next generation of Mac Pro systems, so we have to do a little detective work.

First up, code in OS X El Capitan is hinting that a new Mac Pro may be on its way soon. There is a reference to a new Mac that is code named "AAPLJ951" within El Capitan, according to Pike’s Universum.

The current Mac Pro is codenamed AAPLJ90 so there is some logic to this new reference being a new version of the professional-level workstation.

Another clue that this is the Mac Pro is the fact that the code hints that there are 10 USB 3.0 ports. Currently there are 4 USB ports and 6 Thunderbolt 2 ports on the Mac Pro. We think that adopting Thunderbolt 3 on the Mac Pro may make more sense as it brings Thunderbolt to USB-C at 40Gbps, for the best of both worlds, more on that below...

There are rumours that Apple wil hold an event in March 2016 at which it will unveil the new Apple Watch 2, an iPhone 6c, and possibly an updated MacBook Air. Although it is possible that Apple would also show off a new Mac Pro at that event, it seems unlikely, given the fact that the Mac Pro is a professional Mac and that event sounds very consumer focused.

Will Apple discontinue the Mac Pro?

Maybe the Mac Pro will never be updated. As The Mac Observer writes: “The ‘New’ Mac Pro is a Failure”. That site compares it to the ill fated Cube which was available for less than a year in 2000/2001.

Many professional Mac users are still using old Mac Pros from pre 2012 mainly because they are easily upgradable, with options for larger capacity drives (2TB or 4TB or more). You can even get a 12-core 3.46GHz processor in the older model that could give the newer, 2.7GHz 12-core processor in the 2013 Mac Pro a run for its money. As for video card options, the old Mac Pro has many more.

Those who did upgrade to the ‘new’ trashcan-like Mac Pro are also finding that the need for multiple expansion cards and external drives are cluttering up their desks, where previously these extras could be neatly concealed inside the Mac Pro chassis.

For all Apple’s claims about it being a powerful machine, it appears that the Mac Pro is just not considered a professional workstation by the intended market.

Incidentally, Apple has been granted a patent for the Mac Pro, specifically for the structure and organization of internal components and external interfaces for a compact computing system, according to a report on Patently Apple.

Possible delays with the new Mac Pro

If the new Mac Pro is delayed, it wouldn't be the first time. Apple first unveiled the Intel Xeon (Ivy Bridge-E)-based Mac Pro at it's WWDC (Worldwide Developers Conference) in June 2013, although the unit didn't actually start shipping until December that year - in fact for most shoppers the supply of Mac Pro was so constrained that they didn't receive their new Mac until 2014 - in come cases not until February or March.

One reason for the delays back in 2013 was thought to be the fact that Apple was building the new-look Mac Pro in the USA. It may well be that updates to the current model are also being plagued by the same issues that slowed the production lines back in 2013.

We had hoped to hear news about a new Mac Pro in the summer of 2015, so we're growing impatient and are hoping for an update soon.

That said, the reason for the delays in updating this Mac could be lack of interest in this workstation-style Mac. Apple may be focusing attention on other projects such as the Retina iMac, which was updated in October. It's possible that Apple doesn't intend to update the Mac Pro at all. It has launched several other new Macs since the launch of the Mac Pro, including impressively powerful iMacs that can sometimes perform better than the current entry-level Mac Pro can. Video editor Max Yuryev tested Final Cut and Premiere Pro rendering on both the 5K Retina iMac and 6 Core Mac Pro and found that the iMac performed better in some cases, although did suffer from heating issues that the Mac Pro avoids thanks to its design.

But we don't think Apple is trying to phase out the Mac Pro in favour of a more powerful iMac line-up. It's more likely that it's just spending a long time getting the new Mac Pro just right before it launches after the issues it experiences with the previous launch. There is still a market for the more powerful Mac Pro, which is upgradable and if you've got the budget for a high-end model can be incredibly powerful, fast and reliable.

New Mac Pro 2016: ports

The current Mac Pro sports six Thunderbolt 2 ports, which means this Mac can be connected to up to three 4K displays.

There’s also 4 USB 3 ports; Dual Gigabit Ethernet; and an HDMI 1.4 UltraHD, as well as a combined optical digital audio output/analog line out mini-jack; headphone mini-jack with headset support; HDMI port supports multi-channel audio output and a built-in speaker.

Code in the El Capitan beta actually suggests that the next generation Mac Pro will offer 10 USB 3.0 ports. Currently there are 4 USB 3 ports and 6 Thunderbolt 2 ports on the Mac Pro.

We think that it would make more sense if Apple adopts Thunderbolt 3 on the Mac Pro - this standard of Thunderbolt supports USB Type-C and offers 40Gbps transfer speeds, so Mac PRo users would get the best of both worlds. Thunderbolt 3 offers double the speed of USB 3.1, which is only 10Gbps.  

Another thing Apple could add is a Lightning port as seen on the iPhone. Yes really. There are rumours that the lightning port will be used on Macs for plugging in headphones which could allow for high-res audio.

However, many traditional Mac PRo users are still calling out for PCI slots whcih would allow users to add faster SSDs and better video cards. Some even ask for internal drive bays, with Mac Observer noting that a 3.5in hard drive bay would allow for archival space to be added.

New Mac Pro 2016: new Xeon E5 v3 'Grantley' processor

The 2013 Mac Pro features Intel's Xeon E5 V2 processors (code-named Romley) offering up to 12 cores (as a build-to-order option). Back in September 2014 new Xeon E5 V3 chips (code-named Grantley) started shipping - bringing the Haswell architecture to pro workstations. At the time we thought the processor would soon make their way to the Mac Pro, but no upgrade emerged.

Those Intel Xeon E5 V3 chips were being used in Dell's new Xeon Precision Tower (5810, 7810 and 7910) - find out more on Dell's website. These Dell workstations use the Intel Xeon E5-2600 v3 processor series featuring either 14 or 18 cores per processor.

The processors in the current Mac Pros are configurable up to 3.5GHz for a six-core option, 3.0GHz for an 8-core option, and 2.7GHz for a 12-core option. We may see a slight boost in these numbers, but we could equally see the same clock speeds, with the processors themselves being faster.

It is possible that the new Mac Pro will, like the Dell above, offer an option of 14 or 18 cores.

New Mac Pro 2016: new Xeon E5 v4 processor

It is likely that Apple has been waiting for the next generation of E5 chips. Intel's Xeon E3-1200 V4 (Broadwell) launched this summer and these may be destined for the Mac Pro. Alternatively the equivalent E3-1200 V5 (Skylake) Xeon processors launched at the end of October and may be Apple's processors of choice for the new model.

According to WCCFTECH, these future Xeons will offer a greatly improved micro architecture, better graphics, better DDR4 support and capactity for more RAM.

The Xeon E3-1200v4 launched at Computex 2015 at the beginning of June 2015, but Anandtech stated that: "It looks like the current Xeon E3-1200 v4 is somewhat a niche product", emphasising that along with being a chip for workstations with moderate graphics power, it should be ideal for video transcoding."

Read: i5 or i7? What is turbo boost? Here's how to choose the best processor for your Mac

New Mac Pro 2016 specs

Currently there are two standard Mac Pro models available along with various build to order options:

Quad-Core and Dual GPU: 3.7GHz Quad-Core Intel Xeon E5 processor; 12GB 1866MHz DDR3 ECC memory; Dual AMD FirePro D300 with 2GB GDDR5 VRAM each; and 256GB PCIe-based flash storage.

6-Core and Dual GPU: 3.5GHz 6-Core Intel Xeon E5 processor; 16GB 1866MHz DDR3 ECC memory; Dual AMD FirePro D500 with 3GB GDDR5 VRAM each; 256GB PCIe-based flash storage.

It seems likely that Apple will update the Mac Pro with the next generation Intel Xeon E5 processor described above, we may also see more RAM in the entry-level version, now that the 15-inch MacBook Pro range ship with 16GB as standard. We'll go into more detail below.

New Mac Pro 2016: graphics

The 2013 Mac Pro features dual workstation-class GPUs. The Dual AMD FirePro D300 with 2GB GDDR5 VRAM each in the Quad-Core version, and Dual AMD FirePro D500 with 3GB GDDR5 VRAM each in the 6-Core model. There’s also a build-to-order option of the Dual AMD FirePro D700 GPUs with 6GB of GDDR5 VRAM each (an extra £480).

AMD showcased new its new FirePro W-series at Siggraph in August 2014. The FirePro W7100, W5100 may find their way into the new Mac Pro.

Alternatively there are significantly faster graphics based on AMD's Fury platform that may be destined for the new Mac Pro.

Read: Mac Pro versus iMac

New Mac Pro 2016: storage

Currently you will find 256GB PCIe-based flash storage as standard in both standard Mac Pro models, with an option to add 512GB SSD for £240 or 1TB SSD for £640.

We’d like to see more storage as standard on the Mac Pro as the target audience do tend to be working with very large files. We’d like to see an option for 2TB flash storage.

New Mac Pro 2016: RAM

The new Xeon E5 V3 Grantley chips are said to have DDR4 memory controllers, so you can expect even faster memory in this year’s new Mac Pro.

The current models offer 12GB RAM in the Quad-Core model, and 16GB in the 6-Code model as standard. You can add 32GB Ram at point of purchase for £320, or a massive 64GB RAM for £960. As we mention above, the 15-inch MacBook Pro now comes with 16GB RAM as standard, so we would hope that the updated entry-level Mac Pro would match that.

64GB RAM might sound like a lot to you, but some of these Dell workstations can accommodate up to 1TB of DDR4 RAM. We hope that the next generation of Mac Pros will be configurable to more than 64GB (four slots of 16GB). Yosemite is apparently able to make good use of the extra RAM.

Read:

Availability of the Mac Pro - delays

When Apple launches the new updated Mac Pro there may well be delays in availability as there were in 2013-2014, as the company attempted to ramp up production in its new, US based, facility.

When the new look Mac Pro launched it was plagued by delays, with availability slipping initially to January, then February, March and eventually April in some cases, before Apple was able to meet demand.

Having previewed the Mac Pro at WWDC in June 2013, the company promised availability before the end of 2013, but it wasn’t until 19 December that the Mac Pro became available. Then, following the launch, stocks were so limited that only a lucky few, US based, customers were able to purchase the new professional Mac workstation before the end of 2013.

Customers in the UK who ordered their new Mac on 19 December 2014 found that they would have to wait until January 2015 for the new Mac Pro. Some lucky UK customers finally received their Mac Pro around 12 January. This was almost a year after the old version of the Mac Pro was banned over in Europe because it didn’t comply with EU electrical safety laws.

Luckily the wait for the current Mac Pro isn’t quite so long now, with shipping for the standard versions “within 24 hours” according to Apple’s website. If you want a build-to-order version the wait will be about 5-7 business days.

The fact that Apple is no longer struggling to meet demand would suggest that when it launches there will not be the significant delays in getting units out to customers that there were with the Mac Pro at the beginning of 2013. Apple had a new design which was being produced at an entirely new factory in the US, so the delays were understandable, although maybe not excusable.

Where can I buy a Mac Pro?

Other than directly from Apple, you will be able to buy the new Mac Pro from Apple Premium Resellers such as Stormfront, Square Group, Solutions Inc, iStore, Western Computer, MR Systems, KRCS, HardSoft, and PC World. You can find an Apple Premium Reseller near you by searching on Apple’s site.

UK pricing for the Mac Pro

Currently the Mac Pro starts at £2,499 (£2,082.50 ex VAT) in the UK for a quad-core 3.7GHz Quad-Core Intel Xeon E5 processor with 10 MB L3 cache and Turbo Boost up to 3.9 GHz, 12GB RAM, Dual AMD FirePro D300 with 2GB of VRAM and 256GB of flash storage. 

There is also a 6-core model with 3.5GHz Xeon E5, 16GB RAM, two AMD FirePro D500 cards with 3GB of VRAM, and 256GB flash storage for £3,299.

We expect that prices won’t change significantly when Apple updates the range for 2014, although we could see a price drop as Apple has been dropping UK prices across its range of Macs in recent months.

Current pricing for the Mac Pro build to order options 

The build-to-order options that will push the price higher. The following specifications are available for the 2013 Mac Pro:

Build-to-order options on the 3.7GHz Quad-Core Mac Pro 2013:

3.5GHz 6-core option (add £400), 3.0GHz 8-core processor (add £1,600), or 2.7GHz 12-core processor (add £2,800); 16GB (add £80), 32GB (add £400) or 64GB- (add £1,040) RAM memory; dual AMD FirePro D500 (add £320), or or dual AMD FirePro D700 (add £800); 512GB (add £240) or 1TB flash storage (add £640)

Build-to-order options on the 3.5GHz 6-Core Mac Pro 2013:

3.0GHz 8-core processor (add £1,200), 2.7GHz 12-core processor (add £2,400); 32GB (add £320) or 64GB (£add £960) RAM memory; dual AMD FirePro D700 (add £480); 512GB (add £240) or 1TB flash storage (add £640).

A Mac Pro with the maximum 12-core 2.7GHz processors, with 30MB L3 cache, 64GB RAM, 1TB PCIe-based flash storage, Dual AMD FirePro D700 GPUs with 6GB of GDDR5 VRAM each currently costs £7,779 including VAT (£6,482.50 ex VAT).