The New Mac Pro – Why?

Apple announced their long awaited new Mac Pro at WWDC today. It’s different. Very different.

There are, of course, many differing views on the new design, and it certainly wasn’t the complete failure that some cynics (myself included at times) expected. Indeed, the new machine boasts some decent specifications – new Xeon E5 processors, super-fast SSD storage, dual GPUs, 1866MHz DDR3 RAM. It also offers six Thunderbolt 2 ports and four USB3 ports.

But there is one fairly big feature that it is missing: expandability.

The existing Mac Pro, and desktop workstations in general, are powerful computers with capacity for expansion to meet differing needs of high-demand applications.

So, when I look at the new Mac Pro design I think, why?

Why make it that way? There is no obvious benefit – no compelling reason. All you do by creating an entirely custom form factor is make it practically impossible to upgrade, expand or improve the system. For what benefit? There’s no reason, as far as I can see, that Apple couldn’t have built a new system with the same high-end specs into a more traditional form factor that would still allow for regular expansion.

The new design, with almost all connectors at the back, pretty much guarantees you’ll need to put it on top of the desk rather than underneath. We’re also going see a return to wrangling a mess of cables and external devices. With the new Mac Pro everything is external. So, if you’re an editor, you’re likely to have, at least, a RAID array, a couple of external drives and a video I/O device connected most of the time. That’s four separate devices, four cables, probably four power adapters, all vying for desk space.

Why is a cool cylinder case more important than simple practicality and configurability? In your existing Mac Pro (or HP Z820 perhaps) you can easily have a large RAID, two GPUs and video I/O hardware, and it can all sit tidily under the desk. What are we gaining from a weird cylinder that makes the loss of that simplicity worthwhile?

Overall I can’t fault the specifications of the new Mac Pro – it’s got good hardware. But it just lacks the flexibility that I’ve come to expect from a pro workstation, and fundamentally that’s all because of the choice to build it into a small cylinder.

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  • Alex Elkins

    Pretty much the conclusion I’ve come to, Dylan. My thinking is that perhaps the ideal layout will be for the Mac Pro (plus the myriad of Thunderbolt adapters and cables) to sit in a rack/cabinet next to your desk. Then all you want on the desk is a Thunderbolt hub with all a load of USB 3 / FW800 / Ethernet ports plus the monitor, keyboard and mouse. Could potentially look tidier than the currently design, assuming you have space to hide everything away in a rack – the tiny form factor makes that a possibility.

    I can’t see this ‘solution’ being particularly cost effective though.

    • lin2log

      Clearly someone who has never had to buy a FIBRE CHANNEL array or any other high-performance hardware that not only costs 10+ times more, also needs external cabling but STILL doesn’t even get CLOSE to the performance of a single Thunderbolt RAID for 1500 bucks.

      Not particularly cost effective, my ass.

      • Alex Elkins

        Just to clarify, I manage a multi-suite post facility. We have 2 large fibre arrays which are shared across a 10GbE network. I can’t replace that relatively expensive infrastructure with a load of direct-attached thunderbolt RAIDs, even if they are quite cheap. I need our machines to slot into the infrastructure we already have in place. The only way I can do that with the new Mac Pro is with an overpriced Thunderbolt to 10GbE adapter, which then also needs to compete for desk/rack space.

        This machine sounds like an amazing solution for single-user environments. I don’t think it’s a great solution for shared systems.

  • lin2log

    Oh puh-leeeeeeeze… lack of expandability… LOL!! Edit Geek my ass! You clearly must be some small time hack if you still haven’t caught the fact that INTERNAL expandability (that you speak of) is a thing of the NINETIES. Try getting with the program and maybe go for less click-bait nonsense.

    “No obvious benefit”?? What are you smoking?? I work in a FIFTEEN edit-suite environment and if each one in fact had everything or ANYTHING that was essential to getting things done (storage, video I/O etc.) INTERNALLY then we would be like an altar-boy at a catholic convention if ANY of it, especially THE MACHINE, went down! Pulling everything and getting it all running again with a replacement could mean HOURS. Which is why even today we have EVERYTHING external and it’s been that way for YEARS…. pop off…. pop on… done!

    Try finding a REAL job to know what reality is all about. This machine is a god send.

    • Shane Ross

      Looks like you have no idea the kind of work Dylan does. He works in post for a company that pushes out hundreds of TV shows a year. Not only does he edit, but he builds and maintains systems.

      Here you are taking advantage of “internet anonymity” and trolling…talking like you think you know what you are talking about.

      Having peripherals or add on items organized neatly, ie inside a machine in slots, is highly efficient, and creates less clutter. When a design works, it works, why change it? Apple at times decides to change things only for change sake…not because it improves anything. Sure, their computer is now nice and small and compact and will look cool on your desk (if you keep waste baskets on your desk). But then all the peripherals one might need are snaking off of it like a mutant octopus. More cables to keep track of and tie down and weave about the desk.

      “lin2log,” there are constructive ways to have a discussion. Please learn how to do this so that ideas can be exchanged productively. And not end up like a shouting match the likes we see on cable news. There’s too much of that as it stands. Using real names, to show who you really are…helps.

      Shane Ross

    • http://dylanreeve.com/ Dylan Reeve

      That’s an astonishingly dramatic response for what I thought was a pretty reasonable point. And that point is that there is nothing about the new design that couldn’t be offered while still retaining some of the advantages traditionally offered by a workstation computer.

      I’ve also worked in large shared environments and never found the use of internal hardware to be an issue. I’m not sure how often hardware fails for you, but in my experience it’s not a common thing, and people seldom have hot-spares lying around. That said, it would take me less than five minutes to pop out the various expansion cards in my current workstation and put them into another machine.

      I look forward to any future comments you wish to make that don’t result to insulting me or questioning my experience and employment when you clearly have no idea what I do or have done.

    • https://twitter.com/c0ina Alastair Tye Samson

      Take your meds, dude.

  • Dan
  • Randy Noland

    Applications drives the design that accommodates various needs. So I do agree with Dylan’s point. But there are other applications that drive different configurations as well. Perhaps this is one reason Apple has designed the new Mac Pro as a robust “hub” component concept. The new Mac Pro has the base super features to address a base portion of the pro market (& upper prosumer market) with additional components offering a highly customizable system. Yes there are cables but at least through put is no longer an issue with Tbolt 2. Working storage, backup storage, audio devices, other arrays can be easily stored in a rack or even in another room.

    Corning has also announced long range optical fiber based cables up to 98+ feet (http://www.electronista.com/articles/13/01/04/usb.30.cable.also.planned/)

    I have to admit, the new Mac Pro does seem to empower the single user moreso than a shared user environment. There is more to learn over the coming months with many unanswered questions. But all in all, Im excited about the new system. For my application, the refresh is welcome and will work very well. (www.randynoland.com)

  • MarcB1969

    The new MacPro is an innovative design, but it’s just not a very practical for people with legacy hardware and who don’t want an octopus sitting on top of their desk. And the TB2 throughput isn’t something I’d want to be locked into if I was editing 4K matieral.

  • DrBalthar

    Well the answer to why it has zero expansion option is simple Apple is trying out the iPod/iPhone/iPad business model which requires you to update to a new machine every year or two. Shorter device life-cycles more ca$h for greedy Apple, its executives and their shareholders. Apple never gave a shit about their high-end customers since the iPxxx boom.

    • alysdexia

      You can plug 36 Thunderbolt devices into it, fuckwit. And I read the chip is on a socket.

  • leo

    it’s simple because all the genii at apple stores are kids w/o experience. when i worked for apple years ago, i was one of the last remaining guys who could fix a Mac Pro. this new design allows apple to push any 3rd party troubleshooting back on the customer, test JUST their trashcan, er, Mac Pro.
    For Apple, this design is a win.
    For the PowerUser, this design just sucks. I’ll take a Lenova ThinkCentre or HP z4/6/800. And this is coming from a guy who LOVES apple stuff. Apple just is abandoning their pro market, period.

  • Tommy Taylor

    If you take a different perspective TB2 ports adds flexibility be it storage, monitors or (i’m assuming) add on cards (audio/video processing). Now I would say what time will tell if this type of flexibility is the step in the right direction or if it is a total flop. It will all depend on how companies/Pro users adapt to the change.
    What’s the difference between internal and external storage or even external and internal AV processing cards.

    My Rant: Stop saying it has no expansion options or flexibility. It does, Breakout boxes via TB2. It does not have any internal expansion, well maybe RAM and the primary PCi-e drive. But that’s it.

    • http://dylanreeve.com/ Dylan Reeve

      There’s no right answers. TB2 does add expansion, but it’s not very flexible and it does require a lot of cabling. For many people that is probably going to be fine. For some people it will not be okay.

      Personally I remember the frustration of multiple daisychained Firewire devices and I’d rather avoid a repeat of that. For a workstation I can reasonable internalise a lot of hardware.

      But like I say – no right answers, just personal preference and a whole lot of varied needs.