Tuesday, June 11, 2013

It's a can, it's a coffeemaker, it's the new Mac Pro

Over the last few weeks, rumors have been flying about a new Mac Pro with a dramatically different physical design than the current model, which has been on the market with fairly minor changes for the last seven years. Yesterday, at Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference, the company took the wraps off of the new Mac Pro. It's a prototype for which Apple gave neither pricing nor a delivery date, but the industrial design seems solid enough that the final product isn't likely to change very much from the prototype.

Compared to today's big, bulky, heavy Mac Pro that's more of a "deskside" tower than a desktop PC, the new Mac Pro looks a lot like an oversize, black beer can. It's a 9.9" high cylinder that's 6.6" in diameter--small and light enough to easily fit into a backpack. To get to that size, Apple had to make almost all expansion options external. The new Mac Pro will come with one or two Xeon processors with as many as 12 cores, and two AMD FirePro GPUs that can support as many as three 4K displays. Internal storage is provided by flash on a PCIe interface; there's simply no room for hard drives.

Six Thunderbolt 2 and four USB 3 interfaces will provide high-speed connections to mass storage arrays, audio and video I/O devices, PCI expansion chassis, big-screen displays, etc. The Mac Pro will also come with dual FireWire 800 interfaces, a Gigabit Ethernet interface, HDMI 1.4 for an external display, an 802.11ac Wi-Fi interface, and Bluetooth 4.0, which Apple expects will be used for keyboards, mice and similar devices.

The primary design center for the new Mac Pro is video post-production. It can certainly be used for other applications, but video editing, color correction and special effects are where the Mac Pro really fits. The ability to support three 4K displays with even the entry-level model says that the new Mac Pro is aimed at motion picture-quality image processing.

That having been said, I have no doubt that we'll see other PC workstations in packages similar to the Mac Pro, probably as soon as next January's CES conference. Just as with the iMac and a legion of other all-in-one computers, MacBook Airs and Ultrabooks, iPhones and all the big-screen button- and keyboard-free smartphones, and even tablets, in which Apple was far from the first vendor of tablets but was the first to make them a huge business, the new Mac Pro will represent a new form factor that's first validated by Apple and then adopted by many other companies.

We don't know when the new Mac Pro will be released or how much it will cost. I suspect that it'll be released in late Q3 or early Q4, and it'll be priced comparably to the existing Mac Pro--which means that it won't be cheap, but also won't be priced out of line with other Xeon-based workstations.
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