We've had a long wait for a new Mac Pro. The current Mac Pro model was announced at WWDC in June 2013, shipping that December (actually in many cases it didn't ship until 2014) and, for a top-of-the range system, it's looking pretty long in the tooth. But here's the good news: all that is about to change.
Apple has announced that it is working on a completely redesigned Mac Pro - although we don't yet know if this will actually appear by the end of 2018 or in 2019 as Apple is being hedgy about when it will ship. In this article we weigh up all the news and clues concerning the new Mac Pro.
What Apple said about the new Mac Pro
In April 2017 Apple invited journalists to its Product Realization Lab and made a series of announcements relating to the Mac line, revealing among other things that Apple is working on a major revamp to the Mac Pro. Apple revealed that they are "completely rethinking the Mac Pro".
At the time, Apple's Senior Vice President of Worldwide Marketing Phil Schiller said: "We have a team working hard on it right now. We want to architect it so that we can keep it fresh with regular improvements, and we're committed to making it our highest-end, high-throughput desktop system, designed for our demanding pro customers."
It turns out that Apple's 2013 cylindrical redesign of the Mac Pro, which it took on when it was relaunched in 2013, made it too difficult for them to issue an upgraded system. More on that below.
The Mac Pro is very much a work in progress, though, with a launch date not pinpointed; Apple hasn't even confirmed it will happen in 2018.
Schiller said: "Now, you won't see any of those products [also including a Pro display] this year ; we're in the process of that. We think it's really important to create something great for our pro customers who want a Mac Pro modular system, and that'll take longer than this year to do."
The next we heard of the Mac Pro was in a press release following WWDC. Apple didn't talk in any detail about the Mac Pro on stage during the WWDC keynote in June 2017, but the press release regarding the new iMac Pro included confirmed that it is also "working on a completely redesigned, next-generation Mac Pro architected for pro customers who need the highest-end, high-throughput system in a modular design, as well as a new high-end pro display". Here's all the news from Apple's WWDC keynote.
When the iMac Pro launched in December 2017 Apple added a closing paragraph to the press release about the iMac Pro, stating that: "In addition to the new iMac Pro, Apple is working on a completely redesigned, next-generation Mac Pro architected for pro customers who need the highest performance, high-throughput system in a modular, upgradeable design, as well as a new high-end pro display."
New Mac Pro: Release date
Apple hasn't specifically said that the introduction of the new Mac Pro would happen in 2018 (perhaps to avoid accusations of delays), but that seems like the most likely year for launch.
What we do know is that it will take longer than a year from April 2017, so the earliest date we can conceivably expect is April 2018.
A summer 2018 launch, probably coinciding with WWDC 2018, seems likeliest. We expect to at least see a preview of the new Mac Pro at WWDC in June 2018 - and that would be exactly five years after Apple launched the current Mac Pro.
Speaking of which, the current Mac Pro was first shown off at WWDC in June 2013 but didn't launch until that December, so conceivably we could be looking at a similar timescale for the new Mac Pro, with availability coming at the end of 2018.
However, it could take even longer. We may be waiting until 2019 before the Mac Pro is relaunched, according to OSNews sources. Apparently, "the Mac Pro was in limbo inside Apple. The decision to go ahead and develop a modular Mac Pro replacement seems to have been made only in recent months, with development starting only a few weeks ago," according to the report which was published in April 2017.
The report author thinks that it will take a long time to develop a new Mac Pro, and concludes: "I think we can expect the new Mac Pro late 2018 at the earliest, but most likely it won't be until early 2019 before it ships."
The UK Tech Weekly Podcast team discussed Apple's plans for the Mac Pro in episode 60, embedded below, starting at 18:54.
The UK Tech Weekly Podcast comes out every Friday. Follow the podcast on Twitter for updates on new episodes and to suggest future discussion topics.
Why it is taking Apple so long to update the Mac Pro
Speaking at the April briefing, Apple apologised for the long wait for a new Mac Pro (the Mac Pro hasn't seen any hardware updates since the new design was introduced in 2013).
The reason for the wait: Apple's engineering team has been attempting to redesign the Mac Pro so that it can easily and efficiently be upgraded. The lack of customisation options is the biggest issue most have with the current Mac Pro, and it appears that Apple was facing the same issue.
"If we've had a pause in upgrades and updates, we're sorry for that," said Phil Schiller, Apple's Senior Vice President of Worldwide Marketing. He added: "What happened with the Mac Pro - we're going to come out with something great to replace it."
The company is rethinking the entire machine, it would seem.
"We designed ourselves into a bit of a corner," revealed Craig Federighi, Apple's SVP of Software Engineering.
"We've asked the team to go and re-architect and design something great for the future that those Mac Pro customers who want more expandability, more upgradability in the future," added Schiller.
It's not the first time that Mac Pro customers have had to wait a long time for an update to what is supposed to be the ultimate Mac. Prior to the launch of the redesigned Mac Pro back in 2013 customers had been waiting since 2006 for the update, and customers in Europe couldn't even buy the older Mac Pro at that point because it no longer complied with EU regulations. The old version of the Mac Pro was banned in Europe because it didn't comply with EU safety laws.
Then, just to make matters worse, when Apple launched the redesigned Mac Pro back in 2013 it was plagued by delays in availability. 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 some cases not until February, or March, or in a few cases April.
New Mac Pro: Design
Given the fact that Apple has found it necessary to go back to the drawing board with the Mac Pro it seems likely that we can expect a whole new design for the 2018 Mac Pro.
Apple revealed that it was the unique triangular design of the Mac Pro's thermal core that proved to be the limiting factor in offering updates to the Mac Pro this seems likely to change in the new model.
During the April 2017 briefing with journalists about the plans for the new machine Federighi revealed that, while Apple set out do so something that was new and different with the Mac Pro, "we didn't start with a shape and say, 'well, here's the fastest machine we can put in that box.' We actually started with a target for performance and came up with what I think was a very clever design of that thermal core and thermal architecture to accommodate what we thought was the right power architecture."
Unfortunately it seems that the shape was what limited Apple when it came to building a Mac that met the actual needs of the pro audience.
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.
Leaked photos & concept illustrations
Ahead of the launch we expect to see photos of components and prototype models to start leaking out of Apple's supply chain (although if it's manufactured in the US like the trashcan Mac Pro, Apple will be able to keep more of a lid on the leaks than if it's made in Asia). But it's too early for that, and we've not seen anything yet.
All we have so far is this concept illustration by a designer named Pascal Eggert. It's simply a design he's come up with, rather than anything with concrete evidence behind it, but we think it looks pretty great.
Current Mac Pro specs and UK prices
In April 2017 Apple updated the Mac Pro range with new configuration pricing.
Apple bought some high-end options down into the standard two configurations at the same price points. So, for $2,999/£2,999 you will now get a 6-core Intel Xeon processor, dual AMD FirePro D500 GPUs and 16GB of memory, and for $3,999/£3,899, you will now get an 8-core processor and dual D700 GPUs. Click here to browse the options.
New Mac Pro: Specs
Apple has suggested that the new Mac Pro will be a modular system, which means that the components should be user upgradable.
Below we will look at some of the components expected to appear in the new Mac Pro.
The Xeon E5 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.
To get some insight into what could be in store in terms of the Mac Pro processor we can take a look at what Apple has used inside the iMac Pro. If you need to brush up on your processor knowledge, you'll want to take a look at our Mac processor explainer.
The iMac Pro is shipping with 8-, 10-, 14-or 18-core Xeon W processors. So we can certainly expect to see an 18-core option for the new Mac Pro, or maybe even more, perhaps 20- and 22-core options could be available. Maybe even 28 cores or 32-cores could be on offer.
The processors Apple is using with the iMac Pro will max out at 4.5GHz with Turbo Boost - that's on the 3.0GHz 10-core model. The 8-core 3.2GHz model will offer 4.2GHz Turbo Boost, and the 14-core 2.5GHz model and 18-core 2.3Ghz models will both offer 4.3GHz Turbo Boost. We expect to see similarly impressive numbers for the Mac Pro.
In August, benchmarks for a Mac Pro appeared online and seemed to suggest that it'd come packing a new Intel i9 7900X processor. The benchmarks appeared on Geekbench and caused quite a stir, although it was later debunked by wccftech.
However, given the fact that the Mac Pro isn't expected to launch until 2018, we could be looking at a new, as yet unannounced, processor generation: Cascade Lake is set to follow Purley, but isn't expected until 2018. That seems a better fit for the Mac Pro. Another possibility is the Cannonlake Xeon, which isn't expected to arrive until 2019.
Apple designed chips
For some time now Apple has been designing it's own system-on-chips, starting with the A4 chip which found its way into the iPhone 4 back in 2010 (and subsequently the iPad, iPod touch and Apple TV).The company has also designed and developed Motion Co-Processors, which since the introduction of the M7 in 2013 with the iPhone 5s, have been used to track steps (and later on elevation). Then in 2013 Apple's chips gained a Secure Element where payment and biometric data is stored.
The first Mac to gain one of these Apple desidned chips was the MacBook Pro in 2016. The T1 chip in the MacBook Pro manages the Touch Bar and Touch ID, as well as the Secure Enclave.
In 2017 Apple gave the iMac Pro a T2 chip. The T2 secures the Core OS with Secure Boot and acts as the disk controller for the SSDs, as well as the image signal processor for the FaceTime camera.
It seems likely that Apple will be including a similar home-made chip in the Mac Pro when that machine launches.
Indeed, a Bloomberg report from 29 January 2018 claims that Apple is developing coprocessors - with a view to adding them to a Mac desktop and a Mac laptop in 2018. It is possible that one of these chips could be destined for the Mac Pro.
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.
It's certain that the new Mac Pro will offer Thunderbolt 3 ports, which helpfully double up as USB Type-C. So users will get the best of both worlds. (Read more about Thunderbolt and the Mac Pro here). Thunderbolt 3.0 will enable the Mac Pro to power two additional 5K displays and connect up to two high-performance RAID arrays.
We can also expect the new Mac Pro, like the new iMac Pro, to boast 10Gb Ethernet, which will offer 10 times faster networking.
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. They may be in luck if Apple fulfils its promise to make a modular Mac Pro.
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).
We did speculate a while back that the AMD FirePro W7100, W5100 could find their way into the new Mac Pro, however, AMD showcased this FirePro W-series at Siggraph in August 2014, so they may be a little dated now.
In terms of the iMac Pro, Apple has announced that that Mac will ship with the new Radeon RX Vega graphics card with offers up to 16GB on-package high-bandwidth memory. So it is entirely possible that Apple will look to the AMD Radeon Vega range for the Mac Pro.
Apple could move away from AMD with the next Mac Pro though (it has tended in the past to flit between the two graphics card manufacturers). And this time there may be a good reason: 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 Pros, 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.
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.
The iMac Pro will offer 1TB SSD as standard, but is configurable to 4TB SSD, so we would expect to see a similar option on the Mac Pro.
You can expect even faster memory in the new Mac Pro.
The current models 16GB in the 6-Code model as standard. You can add 32GB RAM at point of purchase for £360, or 64GB RAM for £1,080.
The new iMac Pro offer 32GB ECC memory as standard, but will be configurable to 64GB or 128GB, according to Apple. So we can expect to see a similar spec for the Mac Pro.