If Apple releases a new pro desktop tomorrow (at their special event) to replace their ill-fated 2013 new Mac Pro—or even just upgrade that machine—we would be truly surprised. So too would Architosh reader, Randy Brown, who not too long ago shared with us his design and vision for a new Mac Pro.
Imagine this running the latest macOS and pro apps you love to run and off you go…
Now This is What People Want
Brown wrote in with these words: “I’ve read your article on the deficiencies of the current Mac Pro design. Apple’s design annoyed me enough that I created my own concept in Modo.” He continues, “If I had to put into words, I’d say it’s a blend of the PowerMac 9600, G4, and G5 designs with a little SGI Octane thrown in.”
This reader-imagined workstation-class Mac doesn’t sport an Apple or Mac logo but macOS is exactly the operating system it is meant to run. Here’s what’s hot about it and what we love:
- It sports dual CPU sockets — this enables high-frequency, low-core count CPUs so that workflows that have a mixture of single-threaded apps can get maximum bang for the buck while still having capacity with high cores. Brown writes, “Duel sockets allow you to strike a better balance between single and multi-threaded performance, by using two higher clocked, low-core-count chips in lieu of a single, low clock, high core-count chip.”
- Water-Cooled Design — quite frankly it has been surprising that Apple never used its legendary innovation capability to go for cooling. This is the way Apple can compete with folks like BOXX.
- Trapped Door Design — The old G4 and PowerMac’s featured this ‘trap-door’ design. Brown explains: “I used to service PowerMacs and Mac Pros at my old job at AutoDesSys (makers of formZ) in the tech support department. The ‘trap door’ design of the PowerMacs made working inside [these] machines a dream.” This design makes good use of the ‘trap-door’ layout combined with the old Mac Pro’s superior drive sleds.
Our consensus from both our workstation survey report (see, Architosh, “Architosh publishes Mac professional workstation survey results,” 31 Jan 15) and dozens of conversations with Mac professionals in CAD, 3D and related industries is that the new Mac Pro just didn’t fit people’s needs. Many CAD pros on Mac use apps that are single-threaded and the new iMacs offered equal performance to the new Macs as far as CPUs were concerned. And the lack of an Nvidia option was a deal-breaker for 3D and science professionals working with CUDA-based applications.
The Rationale for Workstations
According to market research data (though there is conflicting data here) we possess, desktop workstations are the one area on the ‘desktop side’ that are not declining as quickly as consumer desktop computers or even laptops. In fact, mobile workstations, as a segment, are growing at single digit percentages. (see, Architosh, “Desktop and Workstation Computers In Decline—Says Latest Industry Report,” 23 Sep 16)
Workstations provide numerous advantages over regular personal computers and thus they have traditionally had justified higher costs. But R. Brown adds an interesting point: “It’s interesting to consider that there has always been a rapidly steepening price-performance curve for high-end hardware,” he notes. “However, the classic slowing of single-threaded performance gains the last five years makes it far more attractive to pay this premium that it ever has been before. You no longer have the case where 2-3 years after you plunk down $5,000 USD on your ‘awesome box’ it gets run over in its tracks by any old PC in the bargain aisle of your local big box store.”
This is the very crux of the issue where Apple failed with the new Mac Pro. For the price, it needed to dramatically outperform the top end iMac and it only did so for big multi-core applications. Too many Mac professionals run a mix of single and multi-core apps. This new vision of a Mac workstation enables water cooling so that higher frequencies can be achieved putting some distance (and for some years perhaps) between it and whatever consumer Macs can offer.
Hopes For Future Pro Macs
The hope Mac Pros are putting into their future ability to stay on the platform they love is slipping. Brown himself used PowerMacs, G4 and G5’s for years but today does his 3D work (mostly on Modo, Vue, Onytree and other apps including formZ) on a DIY PC geared for pro 3D work.
“I use a MacBook Pro for basic productivity chores,” he says, but otherwise his 3D hobby work is on a PC. This is one of the sadder situations or stories developing in Apple’s world, and Mac users truly don’t understand it. Brown himself doesn’t think Apple will release a pro desktop tomorrow. “Historically, Apple seems to prefer introducing pro upgrades in the winter/spring,” he says, “so I’m guessing they’ll stick with updating their laptops and iMacs.”
Is A New Mac Pro Coming?
This is one of the biggest questions we longtime Mac users are facing right now. Since tomorrow’s Mac event seems truly special, it would be fitting for Apple to truly redefine the entire Mac ecosystem, from end to end. With technical support pages for the Mac Pro being no longer updated and archived, with the related separate Mac Cinema Display be shelved and no longer available, it is truly confusing and difficult to guess if Apple is still with us pro users or not.
Brown, however, seems a bit optimistic (but perhaps pragmatic is a better way of looking at it): “I’m guessing the very long period with no updates to the Mac Pro indicates they were forced to come up with a new design with more expandability.”
Let’s hope he is right.
[Editor’s note: A special thanks to our reader for sharing this design with us. Arstechnica forum users may have enjoyed this earlier in the month.]