Wonders never cease. Apple, normally secretive to a fault and allergic to talking about future products before it considers them ready, summoned a small group of journalists from outlets including TechCrunch and Mashable to its headquarters earlier this month to tell them that the Mac Pro will once again be completely redesigned. But it isn’t saying what the redesign will look like, and a new Mac Pro is not launching until sometime “next year.”
The 2013 Mac Pro was controversial right from the jump. It replaced a hulking desktop with multiple expansion slots, multiple CPU sockets, and multiple internal drive bays with a tiny shiny computer that looked more than a little like a high-end designer trash can (“can’t innovate, my ass,” a defiant Phil Schiller said when it was announced). Users could still upgrade the RAM and the SSD themselves relatively easily, but most internal expansion space was replaced with a whopping six Thunderbolt 2 ports. Brave buyers could also pop in a new CPU if they were comfortable tearing the system apart, but the machine offered only one CPU socket, and its proprietary graphics cards couldn’t be upgraded unless Apple released new versions (something it never did).
We don’t know much about the new design except that we can expect it to be a response to the old one. Apple acknowledges that the new Mac Pro design will be “modular,” which could mean anything but hopefully at least means that users will be able to swap out their own drives and GPUs if they want. The company wants to be able to “keep [the machine] fresh with regular improvements” and to make the Pro Apple’s “highest-end, high throughput desktop system.” The system will also be introduced with a new first-party external display, a business that Apple said it was leaving last year when it discontinued its Thunderbolt Display and leaned on LG to provide external screens for the new MacBook Pros.
Apple says that the current Mac Pro’s design ended up being too thermally limited and inflexible. In particular, it wouldn’t be possible to redesign that system around a single powerful GPU instead of the two more modest graphics cards it currently ships with; the side of the system that housed the GPU would just get too hot. Workloads that benefitted from two GPUs “didn’t materialize to fit that as broadly as [Apple] hoped,” meaning that many Pro workloads just didn’t benefit as much from two GPUs as they would from, say, one big GPU or multiple processors.
Apple also broke out a few stats for its Mac lineup to demonstrate that sales are still healthy, overall: the user base is approaching 100 million users (for reference, Apple sold 212 million iPhones in 2016 alone, and that was a “bad” year), notebooks represent 80 percent of sales and desktops just 20 percent, and the new design has driven MacBook Pro sales specifically up 20 percent year over year.
In the meantime, we’ll see an upgraded version of the iMac later this year—Apple says that many of its “pro” customers have moved to Apple’s all-in-one, whether because it meets their needs better, it gets more regular updates, or both. Again, we have no details on what that upgrade will entail, but there are already newer CPU and GPU options out there that are suitable for the iMac.
Back to the current Mac Pro: starting sometime today, you should at least be able to get more bang for your buck. The base $2,999 model will now include a 6-core CPU, FirePro D500 GPUs, and 16GB of RAM, while the $3,999 option steps up to an 8-core CPU and D700 GPUs with the same amount of RAM. It’s a small comfort after over three years of silence, but it’s better than nothing.
The Mac Mini, as usual, didn’t merit a mention beyond boilerplate, as relayed by Daring Fireball: “the Mac Mini is an important product in our lineup and we weren’t bringing it up because it’s more of a mix of consumer with some pro use.” It’s still around but Apple isn’t ready to say anything about its future plans.