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, but it's looking like we might see a new Intel-powered Mac Pro before we see the Apple Silicon version.
Will there be an Apple Silicon Mac Pro?
Apple has said that it will be transitioning all of its Macs to its own chips over the next two year. So yes, the Mac Pro will, at some point before the middle 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 fit for the Mac Pro likely to take us up 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 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? It looks like it might: a reference hidden in the new beta version of Xcode 13.1 that was released to developers after the WWDC 2021 keynote indicates that we could soon see a 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. As we had already predicted above, it is thought that the new Mac Pro will feature 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 new processor from Intel is already on the market and replaces its predecessor Sky Lake.
The Ice Lake chip will allow up to 40 cores.
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 has given itself a deadline of two years from June 2020 - so we'd suggest that we can expect the Apple Silicon Mac Pro by June 2022. It may be the star of the show at WWDC 2022.
We may see an update to the Mac Pro before that date though - as per the Bloomberg report mentioned above, Apple may update the Intel processors in the Mac Pro at some point in 2021. But WWDC 2021 passed with no mention of new Macs so we think it's quite unlikely for the rest of the year. (Apple did unveil macOS Monterey, though.)
One likely reason why we will have to wait longer for Macs like the Mac Pro to start to use Apple Silicon, is that Apple's high end desktops and laptops will involve considerably complex development with Apple encountering more challenges.
We wouldn't be surprised if Apple misses its deadline and we don't see the new Mac Pro until later in 2022, but we'd hope to see it by October 2022.
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.