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The New Mac Pro -- the Mini-Tower of the Future

by Sam Morris view profile

posted 06/11/13 at 4:05 pm

Apple's annual World Wide Developers Conference (WWDC) is in full swing in San Francisco and Monday's keynote speech certainly delivered the goods. Apple unveiled several new products and updates to its mobile and desktop operating systems.

While the latest iteration of iOS and OS X (named iOS 7 and OS X Mavericks) were intriguing, it was the seminal announcement of the new Mac Pro computer that grasped my attention the most.

The Mac Pro has been Apple's flagship computer since it's debut in 2006 (replacing the former Power Mac G5) and, in most configurations, is their fastest and most expandable computer. The computer is ubiquitously used by graphic designers, photographers, film producers, and programmers.

Thus, the fact that the Mac Pro has not had any major upgrades in over three years led many to speculate that Apple was going to kill the line. That is, until Monday's keynote at WWDC.


Previous generation Mac Pro

The new Mac Pro has an entirely different, radical design not resembling any desktop computer on the market. Leaving behind the silver aluminum unibody that design that Apple has been known for the last 6 years or so, the new Mac Pro has a sleak black cylindrical body built around thermal core.


2013 Mac Pro (front)


Internally, the computer has the newest generation of 12-core Xeon E5 processors, up to 40GB/s of PCI Express gen 3 bandwidth, and 256-bit-wide floating-point instructions - making it twice as fast as the previous generation.


There are four memory chip slots in the new Mac Pro that runs 1866MHz DD3 and delivers up to 60GB/s of bandwidth - again, twice the speed of the previous generation.

Personally, while the specs for the memory are much better, I see a downside in that there are only 4 memory channels in the new Mac Pro, while the previous generations had double that at 8. Thus, it appears that future memory expansion will be noticeably limited. (To be fair, Apple hasn't announced the peak capacity of the RAM yet, but previous generations maxed out at 32 gigs.) 


Mac Pro memory slots


The new Mac Pro offers the newest dual AMD FirePro workstation-class GPUs with up to 6 gigabytes of dedicated VRAM. According to Apple, this means that you'll be able to "do things like seamlessly edit full-resolution 4K video while simultaneously rendering effects in the background — and still have enough power to connect up to three high-resolution 4K displays."

The current gen Mac Pro has a max of 2.7 teraflops computing power while the newest iteration is capable of up to 7 teraflops. The graphics appear that they're going to be blazing fast with these dual GPUs.


This is one of the more intriguing aspects of the new Mac Pro. Apple has left behind the traditional method of providing multiple slots in the tower for HDDs, and instead has decided on the next-gen method of using PCI Express flash storage (the same type of storage used in the MacBook Airs, iPhones, and iPod Touches) that goes up to 1250MB/s read and 1000MB/s write. While it is much faster than traditional HDDs (and 2.5 times faster than solid-state drives), traditionalist may be upset that they won't be able to internally expand their storage like they used to be able to.


Perhaps the most important feature that the new Mac Pro offers is its expandability through USB and Thunderbolt. Many of the problems and issues that people will have with the computer can be solved through the expansion ports. The computer offers 2 gigabit ethernet ports, an HDMI port, four USB 3 ports, and six Thunderbolt 2 ports. The latter being the most influential.

With this many Thunderbolt 2 ports, storage expansion shouldn't be a problem as massive external hard drives will be able to run at blazing speeds (20 gigabytes per second!) Likewise, through the Thunderbolt 2 ports many peripherals can be daisy chained - allowing up to 36 different devices running at once. Therefore, you could theoretically run 36 displays or monitors off of one computer, or add on up to 36 extra external hard drives.


Mac Pro expansion ports

Thermal Core:

The reason for the new Mac Pro's unusual shape is its internal thermal core and fan system. The computer is built around a single piece of aluminum with an empty tube in the center topped with a large fan that sucks the heat out of the machine from the bottom through the top.


Ultimately, this machine will be polarizing to many. While it's hard to deny that the specs on the computer are top of the line, many people will want a larger tower that is more expandable internally. Apple has moved away from this theory by providing the Thunderbolt 2 expansion ports and emphasizing external expansion.

With the amount of desk (or floor) space saved by the new Mac Pro being only 1/8th the size of the former generation, it shouldn't be much of a problem to expand the computer externally. Likewise, with most people expecting things to be more mobile, the new Mac Pro offers mobility by simply unplugging the desired peripheral and taking it with you. Also, the computer itself is much more mobile because of its size reduction. The older Mac Pros are extremely heavy and can not practically be traveled around with because of this.

While I doubt this computer will win over any PC lovers, it seems that the die hard Mac Pro users of the past will welcome the newest model. All in all, the new Mac Pro (assembled entirely in the USA) looks like a fantastic addition to the Apple family and will be widely used by digital artists far into the technological future. It will be released to the public later this year.


Size comparison betwen previous and current Mac Pros


2013 Mac Pro sans outer cover






All images via Apple Co.

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