Like many other pro Mac users I was very surprised and excited to hear that a new Mac Pro is in the works. I don’t think I actually believed the Mac Pro was dead, at least not deep inside. But I had certainly come to terms with never buying one again…until now.
Before the Retina iMac, I used pro Mac towers for almost 10 years. I used a Power Mac G5 from 2005 to 2010 and a Mac Pro from 2010 to 2014. If there’s anything I took away from the experience of using pro Mac towers, it was the incredible performance. When I upgraded to the Mac Pro in 2010 the dual PowerPC CPU’s in my Power Mac G5 still felt like they had more in the tank. Those Mac Pro’s are famous for their longevity - mine was still performing very well when my iMac arrived.
What I want out of a new Mac Pro is a return to that level of performance longevity. The old Mac towers were relevant for 5+ years after you bought one. They stayed relevant because they used the highest quality parts currently available and had some user-replaceable parts. In both towers I owned I upgraded the RAM several times after I bought them - eventually reaching max capacity as I could afford it and the system felt like it needed it. I upgraded the Power Mac’s GPU to an Apple-sanctioned optional X800. I upgraded the Mac Pro’s storage many times over the years before eventually installing PCI-e SSDs in the giant tower - a massive boost to storage performance.
When I moved away from the towers to the iMac I also moved all of my primary storage to external drive enclosures. That experiment was a success. Apple made a big bet on Thunderbolt for expansion. From my experience, that was the right move. My Mac Pro had 8 internal drives at the end (4 in the 3.5 bays, 2 in the optical bays, and 2 PCI-e slots). That setup was convenient, but it wasn’t necessary. Thunderbolt enclosures are more affordable and the available storage capacity of SSDs and cloud storage has risen significantly. There are plenty of options to choose from now to increase storage capacity and performance. I’m very happy with the Thunderbolt storage system that I’ve been using with my iMac.
The biggest concern I had with the Retina iMac was graphics. Unfortunately I think that concern was valid. The GPU industry is advancing at an incredible pace, and the lack of an ability to upgrade the GPU is going to limit how long my iMac stays relevant for performance graphics. I don’t blame the iMac for that - the iMac was never intended to have upgradable or full-size GPUs. But what I want from a new Mac Pro is exactly that: upgradeable industry-standard GPUs. The older Mac towers had upgradeable GPUs after a fashion, but it was clearly an edge case. I’d really like to see Apple focus on solving this particular problem for pro users.
The 2013 space-age cylinder Mac Pro cut a lot of features from the 2010 Mac Pro. Some of those include:
- 3.5” bays
- Optical bays
- PCI-e Slots
As a long time Mac tower user, I agree with all of those cuts except for PCI-e. Optical drives are clearly dead, and Firewire support is easily gained through Thunderbolt hubs for legacy drives. Storage expansion through Thunderbolt is a very reasonable option for virtually everyone - and for the folks that don’t want to deal with spinning disk enclosures, the price of large SSDs is very close to affordable levels. But dropping PCI-e expansion was a step too far. PCI-e is a requirement for upgraded graphics, and is a great option for a lot of other expansion, including storage.
I’m 100% on board with the suggestion ATP hosts made in “Thermal Corner” regarding adding additional PCI-e SSD expansion ports to the new Mac Pro. That would be a great step forward and go a long way towards keeping these machines relevant for years after you buy one.
The other wish that I have for the new Mac Pro is this - keep at least two Thunderbolt 2 ports. I can see why Thunderbolt 2 might be on the chopping block for the new Mac Pro. USB-C may be the future, and I understand why Thunderbolt 2 was removed from the new MacBook Pro’s. But when Apple signaled the shift to Thunderbolt storage, a lot of pro users invested heavily in Thunderbolt storage setups for an iMac, 2013 Mac Pro, or MacBook Pro. Apple should make using these storage expansions as easy as possible for Mac Pro users, especially on a machine where storage expansion through Thunderbolt will be required.
So will I buy a new Mac Pro? I think I will. My iMac will be about 4-5 years old at that point, and out of Apple Care. I wasn’t kidding about the graphics not holding up on the iMac. The iMac used to run Blizzard games at high settings when it was released, but lately I’ve had to reduce all of the settings to fairly low levels. The CPU is still one of the fastest that Apple has shipped in a computer, and the display is still amazing, but I think the graphics performance could be enough to convince me to upgrade.