When Apple made its plans to move from Intel processors to its own custom-made chips known there was a lot of apprehension about whether Apple could compete with Intel - and for that matter AMD.
Apple's proven itself capable of making powerful chips - the M1 Macs are demonstrating that Apple is very capable of producing not only a benchmark-smashing processor, but also GPUs that make Intel's integrated solutions look weak. But what about the professional Macs - including Apple's Mac Pro workstation?
In this article we'll investigate Apple's plans for the next generation Mac Pro, which may feature a very powerful Apple made chip.
However, it's also possible that we might see a new Intel-powered Mac Pro before we see the Apple Silicon version, although Apple's recent changes to the graphics card options available for the Mac Pro seems to suggest that there are no plans to change the processor - after all, wouldn't Apple have done that at the same time? Read: Mac Pro gets new high-end graphics cards.
Will there be an Apple Silicon Mac Pro?
Apple said in June 2020 that it planned to transitioning all of its Macs to its own chips within two year. This can be interpreted as two years from June 2020, or two years from when Apple introduced the first M1 Mac: November 2022. So we can assume that, the Mac Pro will, at some point before the end of 2022, gain Apple processors (which Apple refers to as Apple Silicon - the first iteration being the M1 chip).
Soon we may see the rumoured 14in MacBook Pro and 16in MacBook Pro and the larger iMac gain the successor to the M1 - possibly the M1X or the M2. Finally we can expect the Mac Pro to gain an Apple-made processor.
Indeed, work on the Mac Pro is already underway. A Bloomberg report in November 2020 claimed sources had confirmed that Apple is "already at work on a redesigned iMac, the company's all-in-one desktop, and a new Mac Pro model, Apple's highest-end desktop."
Another Bloomberg report in January 2021 said that two new Mac Pro computers are in development at Apple. One will maintain the current design (from 2019) and may also retain Intel processors. The other is said to be smaller and utilise Apple's own chips. It is possible that this smaller model will be intended as a replacement for the now discontinued iMac Pro. More information about this redesign below.
With the wait for Apple Silicon for for the Mac Pro likely to take at least until the summer of 2022 what are those who require the power of a Mac Pro to do in the meantime? The current Mac Pro went on sale at the end of 2019, so it is already more than a year and a half old, and by the middle of 2022 it will be two and a half years since it launched.
Will Apple update the Mac Pro before it switches the silicon? Evidence seems to suggest it might: a reference hidden in a beta version of Xcode 13.1 that was released to developers after the WWDC 2021 keynote indicated that we could soon see an Ice Lake Xeon processor in the Mac Pro.
According to Apple leaker Yuuki Ans on Twitter, the upcoming Mac Pro will still have an Intel chip installed. Specifically the Intel Ice Lake Xeon W-3300.
Apple’s MacPro 2022 seems to use Intel’s Xeon-W 33xx series processors...— 结城安穗-YuuKi_AnS (@yuuki_ans) July 26, 2021
The Ice Lake chip will allow up to 40 cores and is already on the market (it replaces predecessor Sky Lake.)
However, Apple on 3 August updated the graphics options for the Mac Pro, seeming to suggest that there will be no processor update. Apple wouldn't make a graphics card update and not change the processor at the same time (unless the processor update has gone under the radar?)
Apple has replaced the Radeon Vega II graphics options, with new graphics card options for its high-end Mac Pro computer:
- Radeon Pro W6800X, from £2,400/$2,400
- Radeon Pro W6900X, from £5,600/$5,600
New Mac Pro launch date
If there is indeed a new Intel Mac Pro in the pipeline we are likely to see it soon, but don't expect much funfair. Apple will no doubt slip it under the radar as it isn't an upgrade the company will want to draw attention to.
As for the Apple Silicon Mac Pro, Apple appeared to give itself a deadline of two years from June 2020 - so at least that's how we interpreted it. But Bloomberg's Mark Gurman has taken it to mean two years from the introduction of the first M1 Mac - which would be November 2022. In an August Power On newsletter Gurman suggests that Apple is on track to meet the deadline of November 2022 for the Apple-powered Mac Pro. Read: Gurman: Apple iMac and Mac Pro to arrive by November 2022
We may see an update to the Mac Pro before that date though: Apple may update the Intel processors in the Mac Pro at some point in 2021. As discussed above this new Ice Lake-powered Mac Pro will probably be released under the radar. We anticipate it arriving in October 2021, but it could come sooner than that. Last August Apple introduced new Intel-powered models of the 27in iMac, so it could introduce new Mac Pro models in much the same way.
It's no real surprise that we will have to wait longer for Macs like the Mac Pro to start to use Apple Silicon: Apple's high end desktops and laptops will involve considerably complex development with Apple encountering more challenges.
Those Bloomberg reports we mentioned above had a great gem about this new Mac Pro: the November report indicated that it will be "Half the size of the Intel one".
The January report goes a step further and suggests it might recall the design of the G4 Cube from 2000 (below).
The November 2020 Bloomberg report stated: "Apple engineers are currently developing a new Mac Pro that looks like the current design at about half the size."
In February 2021 Jon Prosser made some comments about the smaller Mac Pro in a FPT video. He described the new Mac as a Mac mini Pro or Mac Pro mini. (This is the same video where he made the revelation that Apple would release new colour iMacs, which it did).
Prosser's source told him that the new Mac Pro mini will look like the old Mac G4 Cube or like three Mac mini's stacked on each other. He also described it as a: "Compute unit on the bottom and big heat sink unit on top".
A concept design by Róbert Hallon from Svetapple.sk imagines how a new, smaller Mac Pro might look. He based idea on the predictions from Prosser.
The result is reminiscent of a Power Mac G4 Cube from the year 2000. In addition, Hallon has integrated the popular 'cheese grater' look from 2019 (which was first seen on the Mac Pro in 2006). The metal handles are also present as is the large silver Apple logo.
This imagined Mac Pro has, among other things, six USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports on the back, additional USB ports, two HDMI and two Ethernet ports and a Magsafe charging port. The power button can be found in the concept on the top of the Mac.
Smaller Mac Pro or additional model?
We're not sure that making the new Mac Pro smaller would be a wise decision on Apple's part. One of the biggest problems with the 2013 Mac Pro was that Apple designed it in such a way that it became impossible to update it. Therefore when the 2019 Mac Pro launched it was no surprise that it was bigger (and more akin to the pre-2013 Mac Pro).
It would be strange to see Apple return to a smaller form factor in the wake of those issues.
There is a suggestion over on Bloomberg that: "It's unclear if that Mac will replace the current Mac Pro or if it's an additional model. Apple's chip designs could help the company reduce the size of its computers due to increased power efficiency, but the current Mac Pro is large, in part, to fit components like additional storage drives and graphics chips."
We hope that this smaller Mac Pro will replace the iMac Pro and that Apple will still update the larger Mac Pro, although we would like to see the company make a less expensive model (if the current unit isn't selling the high price has to be one reason for that!)
Those Mac users for whom the Mac Pro is targeted will be interested in the capabilities of the machine. Will Apple be able to make a processor to rival the workstation processors of Intel.
Currently the iMac Pro offers 18 cores while the Mac Pro offers up to 28-cores. Both machines feature the Intel Xeon processor.
In comparison AMD offers up to 64 cores for some of its high-end chips for gaming PCs.
A Bloomberg report in December claims that the new processor that Apple is working on for the Mac Pro will offer 32-cores.
That report states that these Apple Silicon processors will "will significantly outpace the performance of the latest machines running Intel chips".
Bloomberg's sources indicate that: "Apple is testing a chip design with as many as 32 high-performance cores."
The January 2021 Bloomberg report does suggest that the Mac Pro that will maintain the current design may also retain Intel processors.
Graphics is the other area of interest for anyone requiring a high-end Mac such as the Mac Pro. As we discuss in this article: Details of Apple's Silicon graphics plans. Apple's new GPUs will use tile-based deferred rendering technology. This Tile Based Deferred Rendering (TBDR) architecture will evidently be more efficient than current methods.
This is unlikely to stop concerns that Apple GPUs will struggle to complete with the discrete GPUS of AMD and Nvidia.
However, as per the December 2020 Bloomberg report, the Mac Pro could gain 64- and 128-core graphics processing. "Apple is working on pricier graphics upgrades with 64 and 128 dedicated cores aimed at its highest-end machines," according to Bloomberg's sources.
The new Mac Pro is unlikely to be any cheaper than it is currently - with prices starting at £5,499/$5,499. However it is possible that if the company does introduce the rumoured smaller model in place of the iMac Pro we might see something at a lower price.
Read more about how Apple's Silicon plans threaten Intel and AMD.