• New Mac Pro 2013 processor and graphics card upgrades
  • Can you replace the hard drive in the new Mac Pro
  • How easy is it to upgrade and repair the Mac Pro 2013

So you’re tempted to buy a Mac Pro when it comes out in December? Let’s face it, who isn’t?  But should you pay the extra for custom options and max out the system, or look into upgrades down the line? These are important questions when roughly £2,500 of your money is on the line.

The new Mac Pro will be a barnstorming computer, it’s packing some serious hardware and it looks gorgeous, but that’s for here-and-now: what will you be able to upgrade in two-years time? Apple’s range of computers have principally been integrated units for many years now. Ever since Jony Ive introduced the 20th Anniversary Macintosh  back in 1997 the idea behind an Apple Mac is to be an integrated unit.

Mac Pro upgrade options

The Mac Pro has always been a slight exception. Although the processor was locked, it allowed numerous enhancements. The first generation Mac Pro had four hard drives with easy removable slots, slot loading RAM cards for easy upgrades and clip on the back that allows the case to quickly come off and PCI Express cards to be added.

The new Mac Pro (aka the Mac Pro Second Generation) has a radically different design. Although its internal components are faster – much much faster – than the model it replaces, it has gone down a similar path to other Macs. Everything is integrated into a small, curvaceous exterior, and user upgrade options are limited.

Indeed, the only confident upgrade option is the RAM, which puts it in the same upgrade area as the Mac mini and 27-inch iMac (both of which are reasonably easy to upgrade the RAM) but very little else. You can’t quickly change the graphics card, CPU and there are no PCI Express card slots. We expect the hard drive to be replaceable, but like the iMac it’ll require you to strip down the case.


Mac Pro

What you get with a Mac Pro 2013

You should ask if you need to upgrade the Mac Pro. In the first instance, probably not. It comes packing state-of-the art innards to match its modern exterior.

What do you get with a standard new Mac Pro model? Macworld’s Roman Loyola breaks it down: “The £2,499  configuration includes an Intel 3.7GHz Xeon E5 processor with 10MB of L3 cache and Turbo Boost up to 3.9GHz, 12GB of 1866 MHz ECC DDR3 RAM (installed as three 4GB modules, leaving one RAM slot open), 256GB of PCIe-based flash storage, and two AMD FirePro D300 GPUs (2GB of VRAM each) … Apple also offers a £3,299 model, which has a six-core 3.5GHz Xeon E5 processor with 12MB of L3 cache and Turbo Boost up to 3.9GHz, 16GB of 1866 MHz ECC DDR3 RAM (installed as four 4GB modules, filling all of the Mac Pro’s RAM slots), 256GB of PCIe-based flash storage, and two AMD FirePro D500 GPUs (3GB of VRAM each).”

That should be enough to edit 4K video and perform most other tasks.

Can I upgrade the RAM in a new Mac Pro 2013?

Yes. The new Mac Pro has user-upgradable RAM and the stock £2,499 model comes with a slot free. It uses 1866MHz ECC DDR3 RAM. Crucial is offering a 32GB Mac Pro upgrade kit for £272.99 (£327.59 inc. VAT).

See: Crucial 32GB Upgrade Kit

As far as we know this is  the only user-upgradable part of the Mac Pro. The only part Apple expects people to upgrade at home. From here on in everything is upgradable is either external or will depend on your skill with a screwdriver.

Mac Pro external slots

Can I upgrade the new Mac Pro Hard drive

The new Mac Pro 2013 has a PCIe-based Flash storage drive up to 1TB in size. This is a fairly new type of storage. Whereas the current Mac Pro uses mechanical drives, and the MacBook Air uses flash memory soldered to the motherboard the new Mac Pro has something new entirely. The next-generation of PCI-Express Flash storage is (according to Apple) 2.5 times faster than the fastest SATA-based solid-state drives (1250 MBps versus 500 MBps); it’s up to 10 times faster than a 7200rpm SATA hard drive (110 MBps).

Macworld’s Jason Snell explains that: “it sits on a small card that connects to a socket on the motherboard (or in this case, it appears, a socket on one of the GPU boards). This means you can pop out that card and replace it with a new one.”

It’s still a far cry from the four slots available on a current Mac Pro, however, and until the device appears and is taken apart we won’t know for sure how easy this process is, or what drives will be compatible. So it looks like you should pick the right hard drive you need if you’re planning to buy one this year.

Outside of the internal upgrade you can, of course, add an external hard drive. And Thunderbolt 2 offers a fast external drive connection.


Can I upgrade the new Mac Pro 2013’s CPU

It doesn’t seem likely. In this sense the Mac Pro 2013 is as solid as the model it replaces. According to French website Mac4Ever (Google Translate) “The CPU part is completely inaccessible and it seems unrealistic to imagine that we can replace one day. Apple has not provided space for a second processor, unlike the previous range.”

Can I upgrade the Mac Pro graphics card?

This is actually a heavily requested feature from potential purchasers. The Mac Pro model had a replaceable graphics card, and although many people stuck with the one supplied there are many high-end 3D and medical professionals who want to arm the Mac Pro with the latest graphics card.

The jury is out on this one: we certainly don’t think you’ll be able to pop-out and slot in a new graphics card like you can (apparently with the RAM and hard drive). And all the literature from Apple suggests that the dual graphics card supplied are a permanent addition.

Having said that the French site website Mac4Ever says claims the GPU on the Mac Pro is placed on an independent daughter card with a proprietary connection, which would make sense as it would make warranty-repairs of broken GPUs significantly easier. Other World Computing released a MacBook Air SSD upgrade kit. Maybe a GPU upgrade kit will appear down the line

Also: MacRumors: Graphics Cards in New Mac Pro May Be User Replaceable

PCI Express  3.0 vs Thunderbolt 2

It is worth noting that the new Mac Pro 2013 features six separate Thunderbolt 2.0 sockets. Thunderbolt is a fast and powerful two-way connection that is designed to replace much of the need for internal upgrades. Why bother taking the case apart when you can connect whatever you want and upgrade from there. Having said that remember that Thunderbolt isn’t as fast as PCI Express 3.0:

  • Thunderbolt 2 offers 200Gb/s
  • PCI Express 3.0 offers 8 GT/s bit (985 MB/s per lane with 16 lanes available)

Tested.com explains the difference: “You've probably heard that PCIe 3.0 is twice the speed of PCI 2.0, but as we've seen above, its per-lane theoretical throughput is 8GT/s, which is only 60 percent more than PCIe 2.0's 5GT/s … The next version of Thunderbolt, cleverly named Thunderbolt 2, will let you combine both channels into one, with a theoretical maximum of 20Gbps (2GB/s, post-encoding), allowing devices to take advantage all four PCIe 2.0 lanes in the Thunderbolt connection. It also brings increased bandwidth to the display side of things; you'll be able to stream 4K video to that fancy 4K monitor you've got lying around.”

See: Theoretical vs. Actual Bandwidth: PCI Express and Thunderbolt

Belkin Thunderbolt

Most Thunderbolt connections at the moment are storage-based and we do expect to see a 4K monitor from Apple at some point. But there is potential for a much wider array of devices. Here are some of the Thunderbolt devices you can currently get:

Belkin Thunderbolt Express Dock review - Thunderbolt dock

Apollo 16 Audio interface

Avid Pro Tools HD Native

Dwindling Apple Thunderbolt Display supplies suggest 4K update is coming soon

And when the Mac Pro starts to arrive and push out the Thunderbolt 2 connection to the mass market we expect many more manufacturers to start considering Thunderbolt-based versions of their current upgrades.