The anticipated Mac Pro will hit the market sometime in December following a queue of new Apple products including new iPhone 5 models (released in September), a new line of MacBook Pro laptops with 13-inch and 15-inch Retina displays (released last week), and the iPad Air going on sale Friday, November 1. After unveiling the computer at WWDC in San Francisco back in June, much has been said about the “revolutionary” design and performance of the new Mac Pro. But some wonder whether the 1TB storage cap (an optional upgrade from 256GB in the base model) will limit power users in the long term.
Apple says the new Mac Pro is “built for creativity on an epic scale,” so let’s look at 10 points that make the Mac Pro unique.
Let’s start with design since it’s no doubt the first thing you notice about the new Mac Pro. The overall cylinder shape of the Mac Pro resembles more a subwoofer than a PC tower. Some have called the design “space age,” while others (including my Apple-hating friends) just sort of laugh at the “roundness” of it. In either case, Apple has attempted to combine a fresh exterior design with a new approach to cooling the high performing computer. (See more on cooling below.)
2. 4k Support
Apple is really looking forward on this one. While 4k video is barely supported because of its write-speed requirements and sheer storage demands, that doesn’t stop Apple from designing this beast to handle up to three (yes three) 4k video monitors. High end videographers might consider the Black Magic 4k camera coupled with the Mac Pro a dream set up.
3. PCIe-based Flash Storage
Like the new MacBook Pros introduced last week, the Mac Pro upgrades the hard drive from Serial ATA (with optional 512GB SSDs) to new PCIe-based flash. The PCIe storage is rated up to 2.4 times faster than the fastest SATA-based solid-state drive, running at 1200MB/s compared to 500MB/s with a SATA drive. The Mac Pro will offer up to 1TB of storage.
4. Thunderbolt 2
Thunderbolt 2, a technology from Intel that’s new to the consumer market, incorporates PCI Express with DisplayPort 1.2. The technology (combined with 6 ports capable of up to 6 daisy-chained devices each) will allow you, theoretically ,to connect up to 36 external devices. Now wouldn’t that be fun? And, Thunderbolt 2 enables up to 20Gbps of bandwidth to each external device.
5. RAM memory
The Mac Pro will handle up to 64GB of RAM memory. Compare that to the current Mac Pro (2012) that caps out at
30GB 32GB (quad-core & 6 core). Bandwidth is also doubled, with a four-channel DDR3 memory controller running at 1866MHz. 64GB is a whole lot of Random Access Memory.
6. Unified Thermal Core
Instead of using multiple heat sinks and fans for cooling down the Mac Pro, a single piece of extruded aluminum maximizes airflow and thermal capacity. (See pic.) By design, heat is conducted away from the processor and graphics cards and distributed evenly across the core. As a result, extra thermal capacity can be shared among the processors even among those not being used. This is a unique Apple design that has not been mass produced before.
7. A Single Fan
What’s also unique about the Mac Pro is a single large fan. The fan pulls new air from the bottom of the unit, taking heated air through the core and out of the top of the unit. In a sense, the Mac Pro works like a portable air filter (and even looks like one), working from the bottom up. The large fan is also quiet for its size. Apple specs the acoustic level of the fan in idle mode at 12dBA.
8. Dual GPUs
The Mac Pro boasts dual AMD FirePro workstation-class GPUs. Each of the graphic processing units are available with dedicated vRAM in 2GB, 3GB, or 6GB configurations with up to 2048 stream processors. Apple rates the GPU performance at up to 7 teraflops compared to the last Mac Pro performing up to 2.7 teraflops. The dual GPUs also provide enough power to connect up to three 4k displays, as mentioned above, while doing graphics-intensive tasks.
Why is the Mac Pro unique in price? Consider the basic cost of the Quad-Core Dual GPU “tower” will be $2,999. Think about the PC tower you can build for $3k! But the Mac Pro is meant for specific audience with high demands in performance. That audience may want to throw in a 27-inch Thunderbolt display ($999), and Blackmagic 4k production camera ($3,995) for a really nice video setup for under $10k. (Of course lenses will be extra.)
You’ll also be able to get the Mac Pro with 6-core 3.5GHz 6-Core Intel Xeon E5 processor. That option, at $3,999, includes 16GB 1866MHz DDR3 ECC memory, Dual AMD FirePro D500 with 3GB GDDR5 VRAM each, and 256GB PCIe-based flash storage.
10. Annoyingly Different
Apple has had some really creative designs for computers over years that we may look back at with a smile: the G4 Cube (cool because you could stack them); the original rounded iMac (remember the “Flower Power” design?); the rounded mouse that came with the iMac (oh why did it take so long for Apple mice to right-click?); and even the upcoming iWatch (heh heh, look out Samsung). And while they have broken ground on product designs, in retrospect they can be annoyingly different. Apple calls the new Mac Pro “something radically different from anything before it.” While some Apple fans may disagree, the Mac Pro may go down in history books with the previous exploratory designs of the Apple products mentioned above. The previous Mac Pro model (see pic below) was really solid. So why change it?
Jeff Chabot has a background in web development and design, as well as working in broadcast television as a studio engineer, lighting director and editor. He frequently writes about technology, broadcasting, digital entertainment, and the internet.