Apple's Mac Pro computer is due to be taken off the European shelves in just 10 days time, and Apple is due to launch a new model this summer. Nobody has any true idea what it'll be like, but we're hopeful that Apple is finally going to fully redesign the Mac Pro. On balance we're reasonably sure it's going to look different this time.
The Mac Pro has to be redesigned to meet EU regulations (the exposed fans on the rear pose a risk). And a redesign is long overdue on Apple's part, the Mac Pro's current design was introduced 10 years ago at the WWDC June 2003. Call it a design classic by all means, but the Mac Pro case is still long in the tooth. We expect a refresh in June this year, and a French reseller claims that Apple told it a new Mac Pro would come in Spring 2013.
Ten years is a heck of a long time in computing. Since the launch of the G5, which introduced the classic Mac Pro tower design, much has changed in the world of desktop computers. Bear in mind that Apple introduced the G4 Sunflower iMac in the same year, and look at how much the iMac has changed in that time.
Some key changes that have happened to computing are:
- Components are much smaller and more efficient so they take up less space, and require less cooling
- Input/Output is now much faster (Thunderbolt and USB 3.0) making external components as viable and easier to use than internal upgrades.
- Optical technology (DVD-Rom) is being put out to pasture, and drives are being removed from most newer computers.
- SSD Flash has replaced/augmented traditional hard drives.
- RAM has become integrated with motherboards.
- Wireless technology has replaced many cable connections
All of this has made computers that are much smaller and thinner before, you only need to take a look at the MacBook Air and latest iMac to see that in action.
With newer technology a redesigned Mac Pro could be substantially thinner than the current model. And Apple certainly tends towards thinner as its natural design progression. Sometimes it's hard to see how a thinner device is in any way more practical, such as the latest iMac. A Mac Pro that's just 1-inch wide and sits vertically on a desk would look incredible next to the older, 8.1inch wide model.
But a thinner Mac Pro would have have a big practical advantage as well: with the thinner case comes the prospect of Apple creating a Mac Pro that is capable of being both a desktop computer and a replacement for the Xserve Rack that Apple discontinued in 2010. This would come as heady relief for both Mac OS X power users and system administrators, who have been left in a state of limbo following Apple's recent announcements.
Whether Apple can pack the power of the Mac Pro into a 1in thinner case is debatable. Although if you look at something like the HP Z1 Workstation you can see how HP have got workstation power into an iMac-esque case. Get rid of the screen and you've got the sort of thing we're looking for, although we'd imagine Apple would want to include dual processor power.
The thinner form factor may impact the upgradability of the device, however. Especially with regard to the PCI Express sockets used for graphics cards. Apple could include space for an upgradable card, maybe two at a push. Or Apple could elect to have fixed graphics along with the CPU at the time of purchase. After all it already has fixed CPU options in the Mac Pro, and many MacBooks and the 21.5in iMac have fixed RAM. Upradability across the board has never been the only, or most important, issue - and this is as true for professional organisations as it is for consumers.
We think the Mac Pro should still have easy upgrade slots for RAM and hard drives, however, and we'd expect Apple to include an SSD (perhaps Fusion Drive) as standard.
In terms of grunt horsepower the Mac Pro is almost certainly going to feature a new Intel Ivy Bridge E CPU. this is due to launch in Q3 2013, although Apple has often got exclusives on Intel technology. Ivy Bridge E replaces the Ivy Bridge B technology in the current Mac Pro. It offers 6-12 Core processors, which means Apple could theoretically produce a 24-core Mac Pro. Double the 12 cores of power in the current model.
According to Guru3D.com: "IB-E will feature 6-12 cores (IB-E/EP) large amounts of cache, quad channel memory controllers supporting 8 GB of DDR3-1066/1333/1600/1866 per DIMM slot, along with PCI-E 3.0 (40 lanes) and 4 lanes supporting PCI-E 2.0. It's believed that four CPUs will be launched, bearing the following names: Core i7-4930, Core i7-4960, Core i7-4970 and Core i7-4990. The CPUs will be compatible with the Socket LGA 2011 and X79 chipset platform and while the clock speeds and TDP aren't known, the TDP is expected to be around the current Sandy Bridge-E level."
So that's the sort of thing we hope Apple is working on. Of course, there could also be some merit in the modular Mac Pro computer idea, although we think it's a bit leftfield and the rack mountable skinny Mac Pro sounds more in keeping with previous Apple designs. This could also be the Mac that is going to be completely made in USA.