I BECAME PROMPTED TO write about the new Mac Pro while at Autodesk University last week when a third-party rendering software developer there reported that a future with NVIDIA RTX graphics cards “working with” the upcoming 2019 Mac Pro workstation was a real possibility.
NVIDIA, CUDA, and RTX—Out on Mac
This person’s comments were startling. After all, if Apple actually wanted to have NVIDIA GPUs in their Macs, including a future workstation product, they could have easily made that happen and announced it at the new Mac Pro’s debut long ago. They didn’t.
Now, this week, we know that this third-party developer was very incorrect in whatever information they believe they had obtained. NVIDIA has made it clear in their documentation that CUDA will be ending for macOS in its next major version release. (CUDA 10.2 is the last macOS supporting release.) And Apple has already made it clear its currently shipping operating system (macOS) that only GPUs that work with its Metal graphics API are supported.
Apple Wants NVIDIA’s Market
According to an excellent and well-reasoned editorial at AppleInsider published last month, Apple appears interested in NVIDIA’s market—as in replacing NVIDIA as the dominant high-end graphics provider. Here’s a quote from that article:
Rather than expanding into the territory of larger and more entrenched rivals, as Apple was forced to do with Macs, iPods, iPhone, and iPad over the past two decades, the company is now settings its sights on smaller rivals with less capital and influence: Spotify, Netflix, and NVIDIA. It has to, because Apple is now vastly larger and more influential than ever, and its rivals are also now relatively smaller, and weaker.
The AppleInsider piece by Daniel Eran Dilger provides the background histories of Apple and computer graphics, noting the various times Apple used graphics leadership to jump out ahead of rivals in significant ways that lasted for years. Apple’s leadership in graphics on OpenGL, for instance, which powered the GUI in Apple’s new Mac OS X operating system a decade ago as it came up, turned out to have significant importance when that know-how was transferred to iOS for the first iPhone. While the gee-whiz GUI animations and movement was giggled over in early OS X builds that tech made the smooth GUI possible in iOS.
The Allure of Exclusivity
Following Microsoft’s example—when it dominated computer game development around its proprietary DirectX graphics API in the 1990s—NVIDIA recognized that CUDA could dominate the high-performance GPU market by courting software developers and giving them something that was superior and easier to program to—beating AMD’s “close to metal” efforts with Mantel and the open industry standard OpenCL which Apple had invented as well.
With both Mantel and OpenCL’s failures NVIDIA has enjoyed market exclusivity and dominance in the high-performance GPU market, winning over professional app after professional app. But since Apple’s debut of its own closer to the metal graphics API in Metal, the writing seemed to be on the wall. Would Apple effectively go after NVIDIA’s dominance in high-performance graphics?
According to Daniel Eran Dilger, it appears Apple could be very much positioning itself to, at the very least, rival NVIDIA’s CUDA dominance, providing professional software developers a valid second option.
The only key question was, would they spend the effort targeting another graphics architecture proprietary around Apple’s much smaller macOS platform?
Pro App Developers Say All-In on new Mac Pro and Metal 2
Based on a slew of comments on the record, it appears the answer may indeed by “yes.”
The AppleInsider piece goes in great detail on the pro apps developers’ enthusiastic support of the new Mac Pro, so we won’t cover too much of that here. But a quick breakdown is in order. Companies like Adobe, Avid, and Autodesk are all in. Adobe’s new acquisition of Allegorithmic’s Substance product line is being ported to Metal 2, for instance.
Jules Urback, CEO of OTOY is incredibly enthusiastic about Metal, the Mac Pro, and how fast his company’s GPU renderer, Octane X, will be. He is quoted as saying:
“Mac Pro is like nothing we’ve seen before in a desktop system. Octane X will be leveraging this unprecedented performance to take interactive and production GPU rendering for film, TV, motion graphics, and AR/VR to a whole new level.”
OTOY, Blackmagic Design, Maxon, Redshift, Pixar, Red Digital, The Foundry, SideFX, Unity and Unreal Engine (Epic) all wax on about how great the new Mac Pro is and how they are optimizing their software for it using Metal 2.
Those companies listed above broadly cover the vast majority of all the professional 3D-related software applications for Apple’s macOS platform, with the exception of design and CAD/BIM applications.
Importantly, Autodesk is developing AutoCAD for Mac to be tuned for Metal and the new Mac Pro, with Amy Bunszel, senior vice president, Autodesk stating, ” ‘Autodesk is fully embracing the all-new Mac Pro and we are already working on optimized updates to AutoCAD, Maya, Fusion, and Flame.’ “
With Autodesk AutoCAD for Mac optimized around Apple’s Metal API so it can be genuinely optimized on the new Mac Pro, we can safely assume all of AutoCAD’s chief CAD competitors will follow suit. Indeed, some may already be ahead. In discussions with the CEO of Vectorworks, it was alluded to that some path to metal from OpenGLwas likely in the cards for the not-to-distant future. And we have already published that Vectorworks would like to tap the power of the Redshift rendering engine as soon as possible once its sister company, Maxon, gives it the green light.
The Nemetschek Group companies—the largest group of competitors to Autodesk’s CAD and BIM apps—will likely being incorporating Metal and optimizing for the new Mac Pro as well, particularly GRAPHISOFT since its industry-leading BIM solution is the most technically advanced at utilizing multiple cores on CPUs and its optimized for GPU technology.
With the leaders already mentioned in the AppleInsider piece as supportively, if not enthusiastically, embracing Apple Metal API and the new Mac Pro, plus the obvious conclusion that its key CAD apps would need to follow suit, Apple’s professional VFX and CAD communities seem to have a lot to look forward to. If the apps are there, and if the apps scream on the new Mac Pro, then the financial sense of the machine makes excellent sense. It should see success!
Reference Articles and Petition to Apple—with Notes
This article makes a key statement quoting an anonymous Apple engineer saying that someone at senior levels at Apple doesn’t want Metal 2 at NVIDIA.
This end of 2018 story makes note that the last discreet NVIDIA GPUs to work officially on Macs were the Quadro K5000 and the GeForce GTX 680. These worked on Mojave, prior to Mojave other newer NVIDIA GPUs—Pascal-based GPUs—worked on Mac. It’s clear from this story’s details that Apple to NVIDIA relations had severely broken down prior to the release of Mojave.
Change.org Petition Titled: Apple publicly commits to work with Nvidia on drivers for Mac OS 10.14. The Forbes story notes the existence of this petition, but the number of signatures is much greater, now at 18,608 and counting. If you, too, want to see RTX / CUDA cards available on Macs like the new Mac Pro, you should sign the petition here.
Published shortly after the announcement of the new Mac Pro, this article immediately makes concerning claims about the lack of NVIDIA graphics cards. But looking back, Apple knew in advance this reaction would come. So why do it? The short answer has to be: because Apple has a plan to make NVIDIA’s CUDA and RTX non-relevant in the fullness of time. The question is—how much time?
Reports on rumors slated to be confirmed at CES 2020 in January. Regardless, the AMD cards inside the new Mac Pro will not support ray trace rendering parity NVIDIA RTX cards.