Has there been a desktop computing reinvention quite like the 2013 Mac Pro? At the top of the year Apple’s pro-Mac looked like it was facing the axe altogether, an overlooked relic compared to the slick and increasingly powerful iMac. As 2013 draws to a close, however, the new Mac Pro is arguably the most exciting new model to join Apple’s range; the epitome of “Think different” as what exactly makes a workstation is called into question. Demand for the new Mac has already seen ship times for new orders stretch out into February 2014 at the earliest, but we’ve got our hands on the Mac Pro already to see how it holds up.
We’ll be reviewing the Mac Pro in due course, but for now we’ll go over the core appeal. Where the previous Mac Pro had been given a processor bump in mid-2012, outwardly it stuck with a case design dating back to 2006. That tower, complete with perforated metal end-plates and easily accessible bay enclosures inside, was itself an iteration on the Power Mac G5 design.
As Apple shifted to limited upgrade potential across both its desktop and mobile ranges, prioritizing compact design in preference to user-accessible parts, the Mac Pro came to resemble a lingering hold-out. That the high-end iMac models were rivaling it for performance hardly did the pro-desktop any favors either, and demands for a meaningful upgrade by some of Apple’s biggest spenders were increasingly vocal.
Meaningfully upgrade it the company did. The new Mac Pro broke cover at WWDC 2013, a jaw-dropping departure from the model before it: where the old Pro was tall and squared-off, the new Pro is a short, smooth cylinder just 9.9 inches tall and 6.6 inches in diameter. At 11 pounds you can pick it up and carry it with a single hand, though it’s a dense machine not a portable.
Gone were the optical drive bays, the four internal HDD bays, and the four PCIe card slots. Instead, the new Mac Pro clusters its three key components – a main board with the processor, flanked by four memory slots, and then two graphics cards, one of which is also fronted by the PCIe flash storage- around a central cooling core with a single fan, and then turns to external peripherals for any significant expansion.
Where the old Mac Pro lacked Thunderbolt and USB 3.0, the cylindrical Mac Pro doesn’t stint on sockets. Six Thunderbolt 2 – for up to 36 devices, including up to three simultaneous 4K displays – and four USB 3.0 ports, plus HDMI 1.4 and dual gigabit ethernet make it the most expansible Mac on the market, despite its size. Thunderbolt 2’s 20 Gb/s bandwidth makes it 25x faster than FireWire 800, the old Mac Pro’s fastest port, meaning for the moment the limiting factor on expanding the computer will be the size of your bank balance and the number of actual devices on the market.
That will change in time, and for the moment there’s plenty in the Mac Pro to satisfy out of the box. Some of the touches are just plain visually and aurally pleasing, like the port labeling which illuminates when you turn the unit around to access them, and the fact that even when driving a number of 4K displays we couldn’t hear the fan unless we put our ear to it.
While you’re hovering over the top, you notice just how little heat the Mac Pro puts out, too. There’s just one fan, which pulls air across the triangular cross-section “thermal core” to which the components are clamped. It’s early days, but already it seems impressively efficient: we watched as Final Cut Pro X tended sixteen 4K streams in realtime, and temperatures still stayed comfortably low.
Unfortunately, while the fan is attached to the top of the core, not the removable shell, you can’t run the Mac Pro with the cover off. That’s a safety feature, as well as because the aluminum outer also helps with cooling.
While the new Mac Pro may first earn envious glances, it’s the power not the aesthetics that need to be its legacy. That in mind, we’ll be putting it through its paces in time for the full SlashGear review, but weigh in with what you’d like to see included on this potent desktop.