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Apple Updates Mac Pro, Confirms New ‘Modular’ Model In the Works

[Updates: 04/04 Apple also discusses future of iMac, Mac mini; 04/06 TechCrunch publishes entire transcript of Mac Pro round table]

After skipping its usual March hardware refresh event, Apple made some unexpected headlines Tuesday morning to the surprise of many.

In addition to the first spec bump for the current model in more than three years, Apple confirmed that a “completely rethought” Mac Pro as well as Apple-branded pro displays are in the works for a release sometime beyond 2017.

Here is the entire quote (emphasis is ours) from Apple marketing chief Phil Schiller via Daring Fireball:

“With regards to the Mac Pro, we are in the process of what we call ‘completely rethinking the Mac Pro’. We’re working on it. We have a team working hard on it right now, and we want to architect it so that we can keep it fresh with regular improvements, and we’re committed to making it our highest-end, high-throughput desktop system, designed for our demanding pro customers.

As part of doing a new Mac Pro — it is, by definition, a modular system — we will be doing a pro display as well. Now you won’t see any of those products this year; we’re in the process of that. We think it’s really important to create something great for our pro customers who want a Mac Pro modular system, and that’ll take longer than this year to do.

In the interim, we know there are a number of customers who continue to buy our [current Mac Pros]. To be clear, our current Mac Pro has met the needs of some of our customers, and we know clearly not all of our customers. None of this is black and white, it’s a wide variety of customers. Some… it’s the kind of system they wanted; others, it was not.

In the meantime, we’re going to update the configs to make it faster and better for their dollar. This is not a new model, not a new design, we’re just going to update the configs. We’re doing that this week. We can give you the specifics on that.

The CPUs, we’re moving them down the line. The GPUs, down the line, to get more performance per dollar for customers who DO need to continue to buy them on the interim until we get to a newly architected system.”

Apple’s Unexpected News
This news could be considered surprising on many levels. Aside from breaking from its tradition of deafening silence when it comes to its future product roadmap, many Mac Pro users will be pleased (and perhaps shocked) to hear Apple acknowledge that their needs haven’t been met by the current cylindrical Mac Pro.

But perhaps most surprising of all, is Apple’s decision to revert its Mac Pro to a modular system, reversing its trend of creating consistently thinner systems with built-in and locked components. We’re particularly excited by this development and the possibilities it could bring back to the Mac Pro.

Related: My Upgrades tool shows exactly which upgrades are available to your Mac

Senior Vice President of Software Engineering Craig Federighi elaborates, via TechCrunch:

“I think we designed ourselves into a bit of a thermal corner, if you will. We designed a system that we thought with the kind of GPUs that at the time we thought we needed,  and that we thought we could well serve with a two GPU architecture… that that was the thermal limit we needed, or the thermal capacity we needed. But workloads didn’t materialize to fit that as broadly as we hoped.

Being able to put larger single GPUs required a different system architecture and more thermal capacity than that system was designed to accommodate. And so it became fairly difficult to adjust. At the same time, so many of our customers were moving to iMac that we saw a path to address many, many more of those that were finding themselves limited by Mac Pro through a next generation iMac.. And really put a lot of our energy behind that. [But,] while that [upgraded iMac] system is going to be fantastic for a huge number of customers — we want to do more.

Time will tell what Apple’s “modular” Mac Pro will look like, but there is now hope for frustrated Mac Pro users who have felt limited by Apple’s current offering.

Mac Pro 2013 Specs Bump
As for the spec bump that will soon come to the 2013 mac Pro, the $2999 model will now feature 6 Xeon cores and dual G500 GPUs. The $3999 model will feature 8 CPU cores and dual D700 GPUs. All ports and other specs remain the same.

Three Paths Apple Could Take the Modular Mac Pro: Part 1

Three Paths Apple Could Take the Modular Mac Pro: Part 1

Further Reading: iMac vs. Mac Pro Shootout: See How Beneficial More Memory Can Be

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  • It is believed that Apple & All that has been done for the pro users of FCP, MOTION, LOGIC PRO X apps which CONTINUE to get upgraded, Yes, they are not leaving here anytime soon. With all the innovativeness that we have enjoyed even with the 2013 which we own maxed out beautiful in many ways, yes we also felt some of the side effects but not enough to look elsewhere indeed. Apple engineers are THE FINEST in the world. We are staying on board with hope of The Modular blowing all the gain sayers away, just like this machine did for the Most Part. These people are serious. We shouldn’t under estimate them. Everyone should be given some wiggle room. They will put forth with a fury 4 the good. This is what we totally believe.

  • I myself am crushed, by the expected timeline for release. I have a 2007 Mac Pro Model 1.1. I can only run up to OS 10.7.5 on it and have accepted the fact that the machine is obsolete. I am absolutely not a power user but I love the expandability of my Mac Pro. I cannot wait until 2018 or 2019 for a new Mac Pro. I’m not down with the fact that on the IMac, there are no user replaceable parts besides the RAM. Plus the fact that I’m still using my perfectly good 23″ Apple Cinema display, for which I paid $2000. Otherwise, I’d by the 27″ IMac Model with the 5K screen, upgraded processor and graphics card, for only $2800. I’m not going to buy a current Mac Pro, with a 4+ year old design. What to do?

    • You can run el Capitan on a 1,1. The biggest expense is a new video card. Add some more RAM and a solid state hard drive and you will be surprised at how fast and functional your 1,1 can be. That’s what I did for my 1,1 and I’m still using it daily.

      • Yep. My Mac Pro 1,1 is still going strong. I don’t use it myself anymore, but my mother does. She was using Mac OS 10.7.5 and I juryrigged Mac OS 10.10 onto it, but eventually problems led me to simply replace the Mac OS with the latest version of Ubuntu (and know I won’t have to jump through hoops to upgrade it later, etc.)

        But the computer itself is still rock solid having only the Video Card upgraded from stock (well and more RAM installed of course.)

  • Translation: Someone in Apple just brought to our attention how unhappy customers are with our zero attention to the Mac Pro and Mac Mini and that almost no one was impressed when we only refreshed a single laptop. Tim wanted me to come out and tell someone something, so it didn’t look like we just started thinking about this last month.

    Talk about losing your way.

  • As a graphic pro artist, my 2012 Mac Pro tower is showing it’s age. I have added everything I can add to it to speed it up, however the power of graphic programs is increasing and the tower is not.

  • Perhaps the new “Pro” display will have a longer useful life than that dog of an Apple Cinema Display with the power supply problems… I can say with certainty that I’ve not been 100% happy with the current MacPro, and when my 4 year old Apple Cinema Display went dark, I bought an ASUS at half the price.
    Apple needs to really think through who got them to this point. Is it the hordes buying iPhones, or the pro users who built the brand in the first place?

  • Like they are just waking up and now the new Mac Pro is a year off? A lot of really unhappy creatives. Mac Pro creative users should be Apple’s race team where top performance is tested, and street cred is developed that benefits the whole brand. Linux for Davinci resolve users? Hackintosh? Some PC maker stepping up? We are all looking now.

  • I agree with the previous poster. A model lineup shift and call it an update. To quote C-NET’s Brian Tong, “That’s a sad Apple!”

    Modular? Modular from the aspect that it will be easier for Apple to configure shippable products with proprietary components easier. Probably with all Thunderbolt3/USB-C external interface (get ready to dongle!).

    I think Apple’s decision to base the Pro design on a “Pretty Factor” has sent it down the road of fading away. If the “Complete rethink” is not a product that will literally blow the doors off the competition on all aspects of performance and be highly USER configurable, the Pro will die a painful death.

  • not really a spec bump. There are no new CPUs or GPUs. They have simply eliminated the 4 core 12gb ram model from the lineup and scooted things down a tier pricewise. This does not address the need for Graphics/Design depts to refresh their desktops, as most do so every 3 years like clockwork. Are they supposed to be content that they are paying 20% less than they did 3 years ago for the same performance? A lot of corp graphics depts are looking at Dell & HP workstations.