If the rumor mill is to be believed, Apple will refresh four of their five PC form factors next week. Reliable sources have been reporting that updates are all but certain for the Macbook Pro, MacBook Air and iMac. So, the fourth refresh will either be the Mac Mini or the Mac Pro workstation. Over the last 48 hours, consensus has been building that we will, indeed, see a long-awaited refresh to the Mac Pro. And, if 9to5 Mac is to believed, it will be more of a transformation, rather than a simple refresh.
Some were declaring the Mac Pro dead, with the formal death knell to be sounded next week. Instead, it looks like production professionals and IT pros will get a box which serves both of their needs. Reading the tea leaves (rumor blogs), here is what we can expect from the new Mac Pro:
- Minimum 8 core/16 thread 64 bit processor (probably the Intel E5-2600).
- At least one model will probably have dual processors, bumping the core/thread count to 16/32.
- Thunderbolt ports
- USB 3.0 ports
- PCI Express 3.0
- Faster Graphics pipe.
- More available RAM
- 3U rackable, stackable form factor
All of this has me very excited but, odd as it might sound, “rackable, stackable” has me most giddy. Why? It is like a expandable Mac Mini on steroids.
This reimagined form factor makes perfect sense for the following reasons.
The discontinued XServe and the other four current Mac form factors are, arguably, single-purpose “appliances”. Only the Mac Pro can serve as an expandable, customizable platform for multiple high-end use cases. Among the possible uses are: video production (NLE), music production (DAW), 3D, CGI workstation, live streaming workstation, high-end render nodes and small/medium business servers. Because the Mac Pro is a platform, it’s hardware can be tailored to maximize performance for those use cases and more.
In combination with the multiple processors and reported high capacity for internal drives, the 3U rackable, stackable form factor allows incredibly dense ratios of storage and processing power per square rack inch of data center/server room space. A Mac “blade server“, while cool, would be overkill and the market would unsustainably small.
Where density serves the IT professional, mobility serves the production professional. Video production, in particular live event streaming, is a booming market, which will only get bigger. While Mac Minis and Macbook Pros both have their place in mobile production, both are hamstrung by their form factor. Neither are sufficiently expandable or fast enough to handle the quick turn arounds of live event production. A smaller, rack mountable Mac Pro solves that problem.Why is smaller and rack mountable so important to mobile? Ever shipped a current Mac Pro or iMac? It is cumbersome, expensive and requires custom hard casesto protect the gear. Production professionals deal with it (and the cost) because the Mac Pro is a stable, useful machine; but we do not like it.By moving to a 3U, or even 4U, rack mountable form factor, the new Mac Pro can drop into a standard, shock mounted, 19′ production shipping case, which we use for all of our other production gear, thus reducing configuration and shipping costs. Build one with SSDs instead of mechanical hard drives and you have an incredibly stable, compact mobile production power house.
Will the new Mac Pro be ugly because it rack mounts? No. It is an Apple product. It will be gorgeous. I imagine it will sit on/under an editor’s desk in it’s base, workstation form. This base design will probably include something similar to the “handle/legs” of the current Mac Pro, which improve airflow and, therefore, heat dissipation. However, in the new Mac Pro, I suspect we will be able to replace these “handles” with very stylish rack ears.
Finally, I am equally excited by what this news indicates for the future of Apple Pro Apps (Final Cut, Logic, Aperture). In committing to new professional production hardware, Apple would further illustrate their long-term commitment to the Pro App line.
So, if these stories are true, the rumored demise of Pro Apps, like that of the Mac Pro itself, will be highly premature.