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Apple Graphics on New Macs: Possibilities

Graphics project on new Macs apparently in the work for over a year

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The latest set of rumors, and even changes to Apple’s refurbished Mac items, all continue to point to Apple introducing new Mac Pros next Monday at its 2013 Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco. Moreover, we’ve heard a nugget that a graphics project for the company has been in the works for over a year.

Recapping the Rumors & Promises

Before we go into details let’s recap the very latest pieces of information circulating as of late Friday on the Net. Nothing new has come over the Net since that day. We’ll enumerate here why we believe the Mac Pro is due for a spotlight at WWDC, in reverse chronological order:

  • As of  last Friday Apple has put up a massive amount of Refurbished Mac Pros, reported in MacRumor’s forums.
  • Apple’s entry level Mac Pro is either out of stock or very low at many major Apple resellers
  • And The Next Web published a blurb Friday on a reported insider who claimed a direct comment from a Mac Pro product manager named Douglas Brooks
  • Recently there have reports of new upcoming highend GPU cards that would make more sensible insertions into a new Mac Pro line with later spec than the aging line we have today. (see our page after the turn for indepth details on graphics technologies and what we mean by “later spec.”)
  • Forbes confirms from Apple that new Mac Pros are in the works for 2013, following Tim Cooks remarks in an email that they are committed to pros and their desktop needs and are working on something amazing for 2013.

While there are other notable posts on Mac Pro rumors and possibilities–including this well-thoughtout post by Marco Arment of Instapaper–let’s just go back to this time last year when Tim Cook responded to a disappointed pro user named Franz. Here’s what Tim Cook wrote:

“Franz,

Thanks for the email. Our Pro customers like you are really important to us. Although we didn’t have a chance to talk about a new Mac Pro at today’s event, don’t worry as we’re working on something really great for next year. We also updated the current model today. 

We’ve been continuing to update Final Cut Pro X with revolutionary pro features like industry leading multi-cam support and we just updated Aperture with incredible new image adjustment features. 

We also announced a MacBook Pro with Retina Display that is a great solution for many pros. 

Tim”

So it on this total basis that we strongly believe Apple will be introducing new Mac Pros at WWDC 2013 on Monday. Inventory signals, a comment from a product manager, continuous buzz about an imminent release of a new model, new GPU cards and Tim’s promise a year ago.

A Year Ago: The Story on the Graphics Side

We find it more than curious that we heard a tiny bird tell us that somebody (cough cough AMD…cough cough Nvidia?) has been working on a graphics project for over a year. Could that major graphics project have something to do with why the Mac Pro line hasn’t been updated in a few years and further, why Tim was confident to tell Franz in his email that “something really great” is coming the following year?

We think there is possibly some connection. If the special, long-duration graphics project makes it in time for WWDC there is no guarantee it has something to do with the Mac Pro. On the other hand, it might.

Graphics Possibilities

We agree with Marco Arment that if Apple is going to release a new designed Mac Pro that scaling it down and going external with Thunderbolt doesn’t make the most sense.

While we believe Apple is capable of designing a tighter and smaller sized Mac Pro with all the same internal storage flexibility, many pro customers would be just fine with the current sized towers. What might matter more is a lower pricing entry point and more flexibility with GPUs.

This brings up the slew of new GPU cards spotted or now available for the current shipping Mac Pros (and their older siblings). Here is what is interesting about these nex-gen cards: they all support PCI-Express 3.0 or have the capacity to do so. Yet the current Mac Pro design is designed around PCI-Express 2.1 Furthermore, the current motherboard design doesn’t match the PCI-Express flexibility that you can today find all over the PC industry. While the current Mac Pro contains (4x) four 16-lane PCI-Express slots only one can support an x16 card at full maximum speed. (refer to this Apple support document).

We think Apple could do a lot better. And we hope to see that this coming Monday. (More details after the turn…)

next page: PCI-Express 3.0 and Apple’s OpenCL

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