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The chip the new Mac Pro may have been waiting for is out and ready!

Intel’s new 14nm Xeon E5-v4 Xeon processors are out. While not the biggest update in recent memory, the new lithography process means less power to more cores and thus higher performance. This is a great time for Apple to update the Mac Pro. Perhaps the only time.

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While news, or lack of news, regarding the much needed update to the new Mac Pro (nMP) has been a sore point within the larger pro Mac community, and particularly within the CAD, 3D and AEC communities this publication serves, the Intel Xeon update that some folks back in 2015 pointed to as the next best time for Apple to really update their professional desktop has recently become available and is shipping.

Broadwell EP Family—A Great Point to Update the Mac Pro

Server and workstation providers are starting to make announcements about new gear armed with the very latest generation of Intel Xeons, known as the 14nm “Broadwell-EP” family CPUs with units with up to 22 cores. As shown below, these are known as E5-2600 v4 generation Xeons.

MORE: The Mac Pro: So what’s a D300, D500 and D700 anyway? We have answers

On the Windows side of the world, workstation maker BOXX—who came out swinging at Apple’s new Mac Pro in the past—has recently touted new models with these latest Xeons now available. Now HP with its Z-series workstations has come out pushing both replacements and virtualization as a way to get their workstations, soon shipping with the new v4 generation Xeons, into the hands of Mac pros.

Not Just for Cloud & Solving Core Problems

A VentureBeat report noted that Intel’s new server-oriented Xeon line would make the cloud faster; however in the workstation world the new Xeons are important performance boosters as well.

01 - This is the chip, the new Intel Xeon E5-2600 v4 that ships with up to 22 cores on a single CPU, that Apple may have been waiting for on the much tardy Mac Pro update.

01 – This is the chip, the new Intel Xeon E5-2600 v4 that ships with up to 22 cores on a single CPU, that Apple may have been waiting for on the much tardy Mac Pro update.

In our workstation survey work conducted at Architosh over a year ago, many professionals complained that the new Mac Pro didn’t have enough cores since it was only a single CPU system. It remains to be seen whether Apple would redesign the Mac Pro to support dual CPUs, as least for a high-end option. The new E5-2600 v4 comes in many configurations but purposes useful to a discussion about workstations like the Mac Pro we have outlined the following: (you can peruse more info at Intel Ark web server page here) (see: ark.intel.com)

  • E5-2699 v4 — 2.20 Ghz / 3.6 Ghz Turbo, 22 cores, 145W, dual-processor capable
  • E5-2687W v4 — 3 Ghz / 3.5 Ghz Turbo, 12 cores, 160W, dual-processor capable
  • E5-2667 v4 — 3.2 Ghz / 3.6 Ghz Turbo, 8 cores, 135W, dual-processor capable
  • E5-2637 v4 — 3.5 Ghz / 3.7 Ghz Turbo, 4 cores, 135W, dual-processor capable
  • E5-2643 v4 — 3.4 Ghz / 3.7 Ghz Turbo, 6 cores, 135W, dual-processor capable

These five models cover the steps from 4, 6, 8, 12 and 22 cores at the highest frequencies supported in this release range. Lower frequency versions could theoretically be installed into the new Mac Pro if Apple chose a dual CPU option in an update, taking the Mac Pro up to 44 cores just like its Windows server rivals. Such a move would quiet the fervor among many of its loyal customers who were disappointed that the current Mac Pro shipped with only a 12 core option. (see, Architosh, “Viewpoint: Mac Pro, What Does Apple Mean by Pro? A View from a Professional in 3D, Animation, VFX and Video Games,” 17 Feb 2014)

Where is the 5.1 GHz Model?

Three months ago a rumor circulated that Intel would launch a 5.1 Ghz version of the Xeon E5-2600 V4 as part of the family. Trust me when I say this: if Apple had Mac Pros running at 5+ Ghz for quad core versions, you would have a run on the Apple Stores for such machines.

Why?

Because the majority of AEC workflows utilize software that is still single-thread optimized. Programs such as the very popular Trimble SketchUp, for example or Autodesk’s Revit, run actually faster on high-frequency, 4-core Intel i7’s—not on Xeons with many cores. As a result many folks in AEC (architecture, engineering and construction) turned away from the new Mac Pro because it represented a poor investment for these types of users. And an even worse investment with the lack of GPU and CPU expandability for down the road.

If Intel’s rumor of a 5+ Ghz Xeon had any teeth whatsoever, this is something Apple’s Mac division should be focused on.

If the Update Doesn’t Come Now, It Never Will

In the old Tick-Tock CPU delivery cycle, Intel would release a new chip based on a new process implementation (meaning smaller nano meter sizing) every other cycle, or roughly every other year. While the company has reportedly dropped the Tick-Tock cycle in lieu of “Process-Architecture-Optimization,”

The new Mac Pro debuted in late 2013 but didn’t ship on mass until late in the first quarter of 2014. That machine, which is the one still available today, contained either of these processors—all “Ivy-Bridge-EP” based Xeons:

  • E5-1620 v2 — 3.7 Ghz / 3.9 Ghz Turbo, 4 cores, 130W, uniprocessor
  • E5-1650 v2 — 3.5 Ghz / 3.9 Ghz Turbo, 6 cores, 130W, uniprocessor
  • E5-1680 v2 — 3.0 Ghz / 3.9 Ghz Turbo, 8 cores, 130W, uniprocessor
  • E5-2697 v2 — 2.7 Ghz / 3.5 Ghz Turbo, 12 cores, 130W, uniprocessor

All of these Xeons above, and shipping in the current new Mac Pro, are on a 22nm process and all of them are uniprocessors. Hence, the resistance and frustration by some who needed more than 12 cores in their Mac Pros.

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These processors came to light in the fall of 2013. Apple skipped over the “Haswell-EP” variant that came out in the same time period a year later, again following the old Intel Tick-Tock release cycle, alternating process and microarchitecture improvements. By skipping over Haswell, which was the same lithography process but a different microarchitecture, some believed that Apple was going to take a conservative approach on these, admittedly, lower-volume Macs, and only update the machines when the lithography process changed.

Well, that time has come. Intel Broadwell-EP Xeon chips are not just a new microarchitecture but a new 14nm process to go with it. If Apple doesn’t deliver an update now, it will never deliver an update to the presently shipping Mac Pro computers. [Editor’s note: the Mac Pro is widely available in stock across Apple’s retail stores as well as ready to ship from Apple via its online store, see image above). 

Possible Broadwell-EP Configurations for Mac Pro Update

Let’s now imagine how Apple could update the new Mac Pro, designing around the current model’s thermal design limitations. This assumes nothing has changed with regards to the heat-generating elements such as the GPUs onboard, nor any improvements with its fan or cooling systems. The fan, by the way, is arguably one of the coolest features of the new Mac Pro. (see image 02)

02 - A top-down view of Apple's Mac Pro. Partially maligned, the new workstation class machine is still hoped for within the industry and just needs some attention and love from Apple's best and brightest.

02 – A top-down view of Apple’s Mac Pro. Partially maligned, the new workstation class machine is still hoped for within the industry and just needs some attention and love from Apple’s best and brightest.

Designing around the TDP, or thermal design power (sometimes called thermal design point) means working around the maximum heat generated by the CPU that the cooling system is required to dissipate in typical operation.

The four processor options available today all yield 130 watt limitations. 130 watts doesn’t quite fit the Broadwell-EP lineup but 135 watts does. Let’s imagine that a 5 watt difference is manageable within a tweaked new Mac Pro.

Frequency and Frequency-Mixed-Oriented—Good for Architects and Visualization Pros

Here are the new Xeons that fit that 135 watt limit well and are optimized for fastest frequency range. The 6 and 8 core option are ideal machines for BIM professionals using tools like ArchiCAD which scales across cores quite well but levels out around 8 cores.

  • E5-2637 v4 — 3.5 Ghz / 3.7 Ghz Turbo, 4 cores, 135W, dual-processor capable
  • E5-2643 v4 — 3.4 Ghz / 3.7 Ghz Turbo, 6 cores, 135W, dual-processor capable
  • E5-2667 v4 — 3.2 Ghz / 3.6 Ghz Turbo, 8 cores, 135W, dual-processor capable

If Apple responded to what customers have been saying about number of cores the new Broadwell-EP 14nm Xeons could provide some options around this. Keeping with a 130-140W TDP, here are some options that serve Mac Pros quite well for machines over 12 cores but but still keep frequencies reasonable:

  • E5-2698 v4 — 2.2 Ghz / 3.6 Ghz Turbo, 20 cores, 135W, uniprocessor setup
  • E5-2695 v4 — 2.1 Ghz / 3.3 Ghz Turbo, 18 cores, 120W, uniprocessor setup *
  • E5-2683 v4 — 2.1 Ghz / 3.0 Ghz Turbo, 16 cores, 120W, uniprocessor setup *
  • E5-2690 v4 — 2.6 Ghz / 3.5 Ghz Turbo, 14 cores, 135W, uniprocessor setup

Note, that those marked with (*) above are running less than 135W TDP and Apple would scale up their frequencies. Think 2.2 and 2.4 Ghz, for each model, approximately.

High Core-Oriented—Good for Film, Science, Medicine, VFX Workloads

For dedicated film and visualization professionals, for science and medical research workflows, Mac machines having massive core counts can be highly beneficial. It would behoove Apple to provide for this segment of the market. Given the TDP limitations around the Apple Mac Pro a decision to support dual Xeons might be a tough sell since Windows workstations don’t have as tight a TDP constraint like the Mac Pro currently appears to have.

Regardless, here are some Broadwell-EP dual processor setups:

  • E5-2650L v4 — 1.7 Ghz / 2.5 Ghz Turbo, 14 x 2 = 28 cores, 130W, dual processor setup
  • E5-2628L v4– 1.9 Ghz / 2.4 Ghz Turbo, 12 x 2 = 24 cores, 150W, dual processor setup **

Note, the unit marked with (*) might need to be scaled down slightly frequency wise to lower the TDP to 130-140W. Likewise, the 28 core unit above might be 1.75 Ghz and scaled to reach 135 watts.

Re-Thinking the Mac Pro

It isn’t likely Apple would simply modify the current Mac Pro a bit to make it support dual processors in such limited TDP scenarios. A smarter decision would be to redesign it to support much higher thermal design points, so the Mac Pro could rival Wintel workstations and feature dual 22 core Xeons. However, the amount of customers Apple has that need these types of machines is a small percentage of those who have overall interest in the Mac Pro.

02 - The Mac Pro's main board holding the Xeon may be large enough to hold two Broadwell-EP Xeons.

03 – The Mac Pro’s main board holding the Xeon may be large enough to hold two Broadwell-EP Xeons. In the view the E5-V2 generation Xeon is in the lower middle.

One could argue that the amount of customers Apple likely has interested in such high-core count machines is much lower than the amount of potential customers that would love a high-frequency 4 core version of the Mac Pro, in combination with its multitude of “workstation class” GPU options. A dual CPU variant of the new Mac Pro likely isn’t worth making.

MORE: Architosh publishes Mac professional workstation survey results

A more interesting option would be for Apple to develop a version of the Mac mini that could contain such high core Xeons and make them daisy-chainable so they could combine into one Mac supercomputer. This would free the Mac Pro up to do what it may do best: deliver scaled workstation class dual GPUs in combination with lower to mid-range core count Xeons.

A worthwhile addition would be for Apple to add a high-frequency Intel i7 class CPU. Looking at Intel’s latest generation (Skylake) i7, we could imagine this:

  • Intel Core i7-6700 — 4 Ghz / 4.2 Ghz Turbo, 4 cores, 91W, uniprocessor *

Apple could ask for a version of this chip at a faster frequency up to the 130-140W TDP framework in the Mac Pro. This might allow the chip to reach up above 4.3 Ghz base frequency.

In Closing–Putting It All Together

This is the Intel Xeon stopping point for Apple—the best place for Apple to upgrade the Mac Pro. If the company does not announce a new update with Broadwell-EP E5-v4 Xeons we can all be sure that, despite continuing to sell Mac Pros, the company has internally taken a different path. But what path?

Let’s not go there yet…though one can think of many ideas. Apple’s latest faux pas that it may be about to rebrand OS X as MacOS isn’t—in this author’s view—simply for consistent naming reasons. But we’ll get to that in another post.

Do you want to see the Mac Pro updated to these latest E5-v4 Xeons? Let us know below.

Reader Comments

  1. I have mixed feelings towards software that still are single-threaded, like Revit, or SketchUp (even if I still consider SketchUp as a toy in many ways…).
    Ok, it’s not the most important features, but Graphisoft’s ARCHICAD 19 manages to use multi-core really well, on BOTH Windows and Mac platforms, so I wonder, when you have the power of Autodesk, how come Revit is not a better product.

    As for rendering softwares such as Cinema4D, I don’t understand either why some of them are still not using CUDA and/or OpenCL (or Vulkan in the near future). And the MacPro would be good for that kind of rendering technique.
    The Blender Foundation is developing Cycles, which support CUDA and OpenCL, and even if the renderer is still young, it performs really well!

  2. The Mac Pro needs far more than a new chip. Expandability for one, like the previous design. Do that and count me in. Ignore that and hello Hackintosh on my next purchase.

  3. Nicolas, you are touching on the fact that leading AEC apps are lagging in multi-threading. So true.

  4. Also Nicolas, “types” of AEC users might logically be split into: (a) dominant single-threaded app users, (b) mixed single/multiple threaded app users, and (c) dominant multi-threaded app users.

    If a construction professional models process workflows and field conditions in SketchUp all day long, she can do that well on a MacBook Pro where 4 fast cores are well suited for that single-threaded app.

    If an architect using Revit most of the time but also doing rendering in say Artlantis, Vray or C4D, they are the type (b) user and so the Mac Pro, particularly with the latest new chips, is a good investment. For the type (c) user who maybe a dedicated film or VFX artists, the current Mac Pro is “under-cored” for a good percentage of these professionals. Likewise, the machine is wrong for building out high-core render farms…too expensive.

  5. @ Kira – many would agree with you. It’s why HP in particular has gone after Mac Pro users. But their problem is those users really, really don’t want Windows. This is, ultimately, a ridiculously stupid situation.

  6. @ Kira – many would agree with you. It’s why HP in particular has gone after Mac Pro users. But their problem is those users really, really don’t want Windows. This is, ultimately, a ridiculously stupid situation that Apple has allowed itself to get into…with the likes of HP hunting directly for their users.

  7. As a music composer I am sad that Apple in this last Mac Pro design, never thought about the music industry in a manner of having the option of a Mac Pro more focused for Music studios and music composers and producers. What I am trying to say is that most of us don’t need a second GPU in our system, however we do require more than 4 cores in our system as we relay on real time processing more than offline processing. Additionally we demand more than 32 gb of ram offered in the iMac. When working with 60 or more tracks of VSTi’s and DSP processing an 8 core or 12 core machine does the job. I believe If Apple offers a powerful Mac Pro with a single GPU and maybe an extra SSD for music the music industry, Apple could increase their sales by a good percentage.

  8. @Anthony

    I understand what you mean, and I understand that a professional user can’t change it’s entire methods to leave a software that don’t embrace newer technologies like OpenCL, but still, I think GPGPU rendering is the way to go, and even if CUDA is currently the best choice, OpenCL could be good too (and Vulkan next?).
    It needs support, and a growing demand should help. The rendering engine Cycles is planed to be a (free) software on its own, and when it happens, I hope that there will be a lot of Cycles plugins around, for most of the 3D/CAD softwares out there.

  9. Javier – you are absolutely right. And Music is just one of the major areas the new Mac Pro really let down a whole bunch of people. It almost seems like the team responsible for designing the new Mac Pro didn’t go around and actually talk to the Mac Pro customers using the older systems. If they did, they would have learned that “pros” need first and foremost, “flexibility.” It’s true they would have heard they need “workstation” GPUs…and we got those. And we got several gradients. That part was awesome. But why the rigidity of a system design where one gets locked into 2 GPUs and locked out of 2 CPUs?

    This mystery has never been solved. It is as if Apple was planning something else but never delivered it. Something that would have made the new Mac Pro make sense.

  10. Nicolas – GPU rendering is great stuff, no doubt. Yet, despite this, mainline software CAD and 3D developers with older CPU-oriented software have been slow to embrace GPU rendering. Big architectural changes take years to implement often and ISVs want to focus on new features in a competitive market.

    However, Apple at WWDC sessions focused on the graphics have touted three core options for developers: (1) CPU rendering (2) GPU rendering and (3) mixed CPU and GPU rendering. Both OpenGL and OpenCL have been touted as mixed and flexible paths for acceleration so developers have options. Now we have Apple Metal and this is indeed promising for some developers. Most CAD developers will remain with OpenGL for quite some time. Platform specific graphics APIs may be integrated into predominantly OpenGL based apps. Not supporting Vulkan seems foolish as it again provides more options for developers to target OS X along with Windows, Linux and other platforms. Why not provide many roads to the golden city?

  11. “Apple’s latest faux pas that it may be about to rebrand OS X as MacOS isn’t—in this author’s view—simply for consistent naming reasons.”

    Definitely look forward to your reasons regarding Apple’s potential rebranding of OSX to MacOS / macOS.

  12. […] nuovo processo di chip di litografia cambia ridursi chip in meno pacchetti assetati di potere) . All’inizio di quest’anno , che è quello che è […]

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