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.