When will Apple release a new Mac Pro? And what new features, specs and design changes should we expect when Apple updates the Mac Pro line for 2016? Is there any chance Apple will discontinue the Mac Pro instead of updating it?
Apple's Mac Pro line-up could do with an update. The current Mac Pro model was announced at WWDC in June 2013 and, for a top-of-the range system, the Mac Pro is looking pretty long in the tooth. But when will Apple announce a new Mac Pro? And what hardware improvements, design changes, tech specs and new features will we see in the new Mac Pro for 2016? (Or 2017, or...)
There's some good news for expectant Mac Pro fans: code in Mac OS X El Capitan hints that a new Mac Pro (one with 10 USB 3 ports) could arrive soon. But nothing is certain at this point, and some pundits believe the Mac Pro should simply be discontinued.
Whatever the future holds for the Mac Pro, in this article we will be looking at all the rumours surrounding the next update of the Mac Pro line: the new Mac Pro's UK release date and pricing, its expected design, and the new features and specs we hope to see in the next version of the Mac Pro.
For more discussion of upcoming Apple launches, take a look at our New iMac rumours and our big roundup of Apple predictions for 2017. And if you're considering buying one of the current Mac Pro models, read Where to buy Mac Pro in the UK and our Mac buying guide.
New Mac Pro 2016 release date & new features rumours UK: Launch date
The present Mac Pro was unveiled at WWDC 2013, and it's been three years since it went on sale. It's about time, then, for an update to the Mac Pro. Of course, Apple hasn't announced an official launch date for the next generation of Mac Pro systems - the company is known for its code of silence when it comes to upcoming product launches.
We had entertained hopes of a Mac Pro update at Apple's 27 October press event, but no such luck. In the event Apple unveiled a new MacBook Pro instead: a rather lovely new laptop with a customisable touch bar above the keyboard. (You can read more about that device here - New MacBook Pro 2016 review - and here: New MacBook Pro on Apple Store.)
Despite the lack of news about the new Mac Pro at Apple's 27 October press event, we remain optimistic that Apple will refresh the line in the near future. A few months back a source at one of Apple's partner companies confidently told us to expect this by the end of November, which was evidently wishful thinking; but it seems likely that March 2017 will see the Mac Pro updated alongside other Apple products. (However, we suspect the update will only feature updated internal components and not a full-blown re-design of the Mac Pro.)
New Mac Pro release date: El Capitan code hint
The current Mac Pro is similarly codenamed AAPLJ90,1 so it's plausible that the code refers to 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 on the new machine, and only the Mac Pro has anywhere near that many ports. (Currently there are 4 USB ports and 6 Thunderbolt 2 ports on the Mac Pro, while the iMacs have 4 USB and 2 Thunderbolt.) 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.
El Capitan has been around for a year now, and now Apple fans are enjoying macOS Sierra. We'll update this if any smoking guns are discovered.
New Mac Pro release date: Delays in 2013/2014
When Apple launches the new updated Mac Pro there may well be delays in availability, as there were in 2013-2014. Apple first unveiled the Intel Xeon (Ivy Bridge-E) Mac Pro at WWDC in June 2013, but 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, or in a few cases April.
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 in Europe because it didn't comply with EU safety laws.
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: 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.
New Mac Pro release date: New delays
We had hoped to hear new developments about a new Mac Pro, so we're growing impatient and are hoping for an update soon. Could updates to the current model face the same issues that slowed the production lines back in 2013?
We think probably not. If you check Apple's website, you'll see that the wait for the current Mac Pro has come down to 24 hours (although 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 the next Mac Pro there will not be the significant delays in getting units out to customers that there were at the end of 2013.
Instead, the reason for the long wait for an update to the Mac Pro could be simple 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 2015. It's possible that Apple doesn't intend to update the Mac Pro at all.
The company 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.
Yet 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 right before it launches, after the issues it experiences with the previous launch. There is still a market for the more powerful Mac Pro, we think. But not everyone agrees with us, as we'll see in the next section.
New Mac Pro 2016 rumours: Will Apple discontinue the Mac Pro?
Maybe the Mac Pro will never be updated. MacObserver argues that the current Mac Pro is a failure, and compares it to the ill-fated Cube, which was available for less than a year in 2000/2001. (We look at more interesting failures and controversies in our roundup of the worst Apple products.)
It's possible, indeed, that Apple will update its iMac line to the point where it satisfies the needs of pro users, rendering the actual Pro line irrelevant. As a thought experiment, TechRadar has imagined the specs of an 'iMac Pro' - "that glitzy, 27-inch 5K display paired with a 10-core Intel Xeon E7 (or two) and the latest and greatest AMD FirePro W9100" - and in this day and age the number of Mac buyers who really need the top spec appears to be dwindling.
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, 4TB or even 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 - which does raise uncomfortable questions about its future as a product line. But with its status as Apple's flagship Mac, and the hoopla surrounding its reinvention in 2013, the US assembly plants and so on, we'd be surprised if Apple threw in the towel just yet.
New Mac Pro 2016 specifications: New Mac Pro 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 specs: 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, which 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 specs: Current 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 specs: New Xeon E3-1205 v6 or Xeon E3-1585 v5 processor
It is likely that we see brand new Xeon processors in the Mac Pro. It's expected that we see a late Skylake (Xeon E3-1585 v5) or the new Kaby Lake ( Xeon E3-1205 v6) processors included. The Intel Skylake processor features a base clock of 3.5GHz, four cores and eight threads - it has 8MB of cache and features the Iris Pro Graphics P580 - a powerful in-built GPU that will help low-profile renders.
However, with Kaby Lake already being shipped to OEMs and manufacturers, we are more likely to see these new processors shipped with the new Mac Pro. The rumoured Xeon E3-1205 v6 is a base model - featuring 3GHz of processing power - we expect more powerful and optimised CPUs to be included within the Mac Pro.
New Mac Pro specs: 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 £540).
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.
Update (08/03/2016): After a thread on the Apple Support Communities website amassed a huge response when complaining about faulty graphics cards in the Late 2013 Mac Pro, Apple admitted that a number of Mac Pro's have faulty cards and that affected customers could have the issue fixed free of charge. To be legible for a free repair, you must have encountered "distorted video, no video, system instability, freezing, restarts, shutdowns" or system startup failure.
It's not all Mac Pro's though, only those manufactured between February 8 and April 11 2015, and the issue can be fixed by taking your damaged Mac Pro to an Apple Store. Interestingly, MacRumours notes that the issues are known to exist with the AMD FirePro D500 and D700 GPUs, with the AMD FirePro D300 being completely unaffected.
Will these issues force Apple into choosing another graphic card manufacturer for the next Mac Pro? While there are no rumours online that suggest so, we think a change could be on the cards for the Mac Pro GPU.
Read more: Mac Pro vs iMac
New Mac Pro specs: 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 £180 or 1TB SSD for £540.
We'd like to see more storage as standard on the Mac Pro, as the target audience tend to be working with very large files. An option for 2TB flash storage would be nice.
New Mac Pro specs: 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 £360, or a massive 64GB RAM for £1,080. 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).
New Mac Pro specs: Internal design
Here's one last titbit that may offer clues about the Mac Pro of the future. Apple has been granted a patent for the Mac Pro, specifically for the structure and organisation of internal components and external interfaces for a compact computing system, according to a report on Patently Apple.
New Mac Pro 2016 rumours: Buying guide for current Mac Pro models
While we wait for the next Mac Pro to arrived, it's worth quickly walking through the current line-up - both for the benefit of those who need a pro-standard Mac desktop right now, and for the clues it gives us to likely future updates.
Where can I buy a Mac Pro?
The most obvious place to buy a Mac Pro is from the Apple Store.
Other than directly from Apple, you can buy the 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 £2,999 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 £3,899.
We expect that prices won’t change significantly when Apple updates the range, although we could see a drop in the old model and a rise in the base 2016-2017 model - as we've seen through other Apple products. See: Apple price increases UK.
Current pricing for Mac Pro build-to-order options
The build-to-order options 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 £450), 3.0GHz 8-core processor (add £1,800), or 2.7GHz 12-core processor (add £3,150); 16GB (add £90), 32GB (add £450) or 64GB- (add £1,170) RAM memory; dual AMD FirePro D500 (add £360), or or dual AMD FirePro D700 (add £900); 512GB (add £180) or 1TB flash storage (add £540)
Build-to-order options on the 3.5GHz 6-Core Mac Pro 2013:
3.0GHz 8-core processor (add £1,350), 2.7GHz 12-core processor (add £2,700); 32GB (add £360) or 64GB (£add £1,080) RAM memory; dual AMD FirePro D700 (add £540); 512GB (add £180) or 1TB flash storage (add £540).
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 £8,759 including VAT.