The current Mac Pro was announced at WWDC in June 2013 and, for a top-of-the-range system, it's looking pretty long in the tooth. But here's the good news: a new Mac Pro is officially on the horizon at last.
Apple has announced that it's working on a completely redesigned Mac Pro for its loyal creative customers. But what will it look like, and how will it compare to the iMac Pro? How much more powerful can a Mac get?
In this article we weigh up all the news, clues and rumours concerning the new Mac Pro's release date, new features, specs and pricing. We've got some lovely concept illustrations of possible designs, too. (For information about the current Mac lineup, read our Mac buying guide.)
Mac Pro release date
We don't know for sure when the Mac Pro will launch - no new details emerged at WWDC 2018 or either of the September or October special events, for instance. But we know it won't be here until 2019.
At a briefing in April 2018, Apple confirmed to TechCrunch's Matthew Panzarino that the Mac Pro will not be arriving before 2019. Senior Director of Mac Hardware Marketing Tom Boger said: "We want to be transparent and communicate openly with our pro community so we want them to know that the Mac Pro is a 2019 product. It's not something for this year."
It doesn't sound like this is a delay - and to be fair, Apple never promised that the new Mac Pro would arrive in 2018. Apple's John Ternus stated that it's not that the "timeline has fundamentally changed" but rather that "this is very much a situation where we want to measure twice and cut once and we want to make sure we're building a really well thought-out platform for what our pro customers are doing today. But also with an eye towards what they're going to be doing in future as well. And so to do that right, that's what we're focusing on."
The company didn't reveal any more details about the design of the new Mac Pro, other than to confirm that they are still working on a modular system.
Apple's reason for confirming that there won't be a new Mac Pro in 2018 is simple: it doesn't want customers to put off buying an iMac Pro. "We know that there's a lot of customers today that are making purchase decisions on the iMac Pro and whether or not they should wait for the Mac Pro," said Boger.
Since announcing in April 2017 that it was going back to the drawing board with regard to the Mac Pro, Apple has made some changes to help it better understand the needs of pro customers and developers.
Apple has created a Pro Workflow Team that is run by John Ternus and works closely with the engineering team. Ternus said: "We said in the meeting last year that the pro community isn't one thing. It's very diverse. There are many different types of pros and obviously they go really deep into the hardware and software and are pushing everything to its limit.
"So one thing you have to do is we need to be engaging with the customers to really understand their needs. Because we want to provide complete pro solutions not just deliver big hardware which we're doing and we did it with iMac Pro. But look at everything holistically."
The strategy involves having their architects sitting with real customers, but there can be issues here if they are working with top secret material (such as footage for the next Star Wars movie). Apple's solution here is to actually hire the creatives - some on a contract basis and some full time. "We've brought in some pretty incredible talent, really masters of their craft," said Ternus.
Thanks to these new hires, Apple said it has been able to locate the "pain points" and bottlenecks.
Bogar added: "We've gone from just you know engineering Macs and software to actually engineering a workflow and really understanding from soup to nuts, every single stage of the process, where those bottlenecks are, where we can optimise that."
With regard to the Mac Pro, Boger said that the input from this Pro Workflow Team and the new hires is "Definitely influencing the architecture of where we're going, what we're planning for."
"We're getting a much much much deeper understanding of our pro customers and their workflows and really understanding not only where the state of the art is today but where the state of the art is going and all of that is really informing the work that we're doing on the Mac Pro and we're working really really hard on it," he said.
This work is useful not just for the Mac Pro, but also for the iMac and MacBook Pro: "I want to be clear that the work that we're doing as a part of the workflow team is across everything. It's super relevant for MacBook Pros, it's super relevant for iMacs and iMac Pros and in the end I think it helps us in dialogue with customers to figure out what are the right systems for you," said Ternus.
What Apple said about the new Mac Pro in April 2017
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. Back in April 2017 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."
What Apple said about the new Mac Pro at WWDC 2017
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 2017 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."
Why it is taking Apple so long to update the Mac Pro?
Speaking at the April 2017 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
The company didn't reveal any more details about the design of the new Mac Pro, other than to confirm that they are still working on a modular system. However, there is a lot of speculation about the design direction the new Mac Pro could take.
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 still a little early for that.
What we've got so far are concept illustrations - images created by designers unconnected with Apple. Such as this lovely effort from Benjamin Monnoyeur:
And what about this concept illustration by 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 2019, 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.
Alternatively Apple could design its own chips - there are rumours that the company is planning to ditch Intel and it may happen as soon as 2020 according to this Bloomberg report.
Apple designed chips
For some time now Apple has been designing its 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-designed 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, MacRumors 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.