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Today Apple announced they are rethinking the entire design of the Mac Pro after three years without an update.
The current Mac Pro is an extremely impressive piece of design and engineering. Unfortunately the design was too clever and over-engineered and it neither met customers' needs nor allowed Apple to easily upgrade it.
Apple issued an apology, which is extremely rare, and it's great to see they have recognized and taken ownership of the issue. It's almost unprecedented for Apple to announce unfinished products without a ship date and they're timing this right before NAB, so I'm assuming this move is to do with damage control.
The only problem is that I'm spotting a pattern here. Apple abandoned the old (pre-2013) Mac Pro and barely updated it, then after a customer outcry they released a completely redesigned model, which they then abandoned again. Now they are completely redesigning it again but it won't ship for at least a year and we don't know much about it except that it will be modular to some degree.
It sounds like Apple may be about to fall into the same trap again: over-thinking the problem in panic mode with an over-engineered solution. Apple behaves like this is a really difficult problem to solve but it's actually extremely simple. We want to use Macs, so all Apple has to do is not get in the way.
What Apple fails to grasp is that the design factors that made the iPhone successful have little relevance to the pro desktop market. Sure, design is important to creative people, but it's not #1 on the priority list - it's maybe #7 or #8. Our #1 priority is being able to do our jobs quickly with as few restrictions or workarounds as possible. I'm sure a sizable number of pro users would be happy enough with 2017 specs in the 2012 case.
If Apple wants to impress their professional customers they need to do two things: design their pro products backwards by thinking about what their capabilities should be first and then thinking about their physical design, and do a better job of maintaining a dialogue with pro customers (hint: dialogues are in both directions). There are a lot more options now and Apple should be competing for our business instead of assuming we'll just stick around like we have so far.
Today Apple aimed to reaffirm their commitment to professional users with more details on the new Mac Pro. While some have correctly pointed out that the starting price for the new version is higher than the old model, this seems entirely reasonable to me given the significant leap in specifications. I was also relieved that it is reasonably upgradeable, minus the graphics card, although Mac users have never had a wide variety of cards to choose from anyway.
However, at the same time Apple took away some professional options. The Retina MacBook Pro was updated with more screen size options and improved specifications, however it has almost entirely replaced the older non-Retina model.
There are very specific reasons why some pros would choose a non-Retina model: matte display, greater availability of ports and upgradeable interior. The only option Apple is offering is a 13" version, which seems strange because I would have assumed that the type of user who chooses the non-Retina model would aim for the largest screen size possible. This would suggest that Apple is not aiming this laptop at spec-sensitive professionals at all, but instead users who are looking for a cheap option. However, it's only slightly cheaper than the 13" Retina so I'm really not sure what their target market is (if you can figure it out, let me know in the comments).
My 2011 MacBook Pro recently got destroyed so I was in the market for a new one. I considered a Retina laptop but in the end I opted for a 15" non-Retina MacBook Pro that was barely faster than my 2011 model. I could grudgingly cope with the glossy display and reduced ports but the lack of upgradeability was the deal-breaker for me. While it is good that Apple has reduced the prices of the Retina model, you'd be a fool not to max it out at the time of purchase. As I've said before on this blog, Apple is charging a premium price for a throwaway computer and they really need to factor that into the initial selling price.
Apple just gave us a sneak peek at the new redesigned Mac Pro.
* It's not dead!
* It finally has Thunderbolt and a significant spec bump
* Dual GPUs
* The Thunderbolt ports are not all running on the same bus
* It's significantly smaller and lighter
* No space for internal PCI cards - all expansion is through Thunderbolt
* The hard drive is not user-replaceable
* It will definitely not fit in a rack
* AMD cards will not run CUDA-optimized apps like Resolve well
* Is the RAM replaceable or soldered to the motherboard?
The cons are not cons for everyone and it seemed like my Twitter feed was split down the middle. It looks like Apple has focused on FCPX as the target application but not really paid much heed to other pro apps people might want to use. I think this is a sign that people at the very high end of the industry may want to look elsewhere for their pro computers, whether that is a Hackintosh or a Windows box.
A big problem with lack of internal upgradeability is downtime. If the hard drive dies in a regular Mac Pro, it is not difficult to replace it, and you can be up and running again in minutes if you were smart enough to clone the drive beforehand. The problem with the new Mac Pro is that every issue is potentially a visit to the Apple Store, which could take a day or more for them to fix (not to mention the added cost if you're out of warranty). So it is probably best for facilities to have multiple spare Mac Pros that they can swap out easily.
Which brings me onto my next point - how much is it? Apple didn't say. But assuming everything is soldered to the motherboard and the case can't be opened, the Mac Pro will essentially be a disposable computer that you should not expect to last for as long as your current Mac Pro. A disposable computer should be sold for a disposable price, so I expect the success of the new Mac Pro to entirely hinge on the pricing, especially as comparably-specced Windows computers can be purchased for less.
What that means is that right now we don't really know if the new Mac Pro is worthwhile until we get more details, but it's clear that Apple has put its cards on the table and very much hedged against making a computer that will meet everyone's needs in our diverse industry.
Update: Apple has posted more details on their site and it looks like both hard drive and memory are upgradeable. This is great and makes me feel much better about the machine but I still think it will depend on pricing.
NVIDIA is reporting that Mac OS X 10.6.7, released a few days ago, removes drivers for high-end NVIDIA Quadro 4000 cards, so machines with these cards will refuse to boot up after installing OS X 10.6.7.
There is an updated driver for OS X 10.6.7 here. The support post is a little vague and doesn't state if the new driver can be installed before updating to 10.6.7 to prevent the issue from occurring, or if it must be installed afterward. If the latter, the article states that you should install a different graphics card in order to boot up to install the new driver, but I'd only advise that if Safe Mode and Target Disk Mode fail.
Update: TUAW is reporting that the NVIDIA support article is inaccurate and that Quadro 4000 machines will boot up just fine but without 3D acceleration and other features. Just install the new driver and these features will be restored.
Thunderbolt is a 10 Gbps port that can daisy-chain up to six devices including a display. To give you an idea of how fast it is, USB 3.0 is 5 Gbps, Firewire 3200 is 3 Gbps, eSATA is 2.4 Gbps and Fibre Channel can be up to 4 Gbps.
To me, this is a game-changer because these ports can become any type of port as long as you have an adapter, so Apple essentially added support for USB 3.0, eSATA and anything else you like in one go. Thunderbolt is a huge leap forward for professional users. Its power is in its versatility.
It also means that laptops can finally rival desktops in I/O performance. As an example of the amount of throughput you'll be able to get on a laptop, Apple showed a demo of Final Cut Pro running four streams of uncompressed HD on the 15" MacBook Pro, peaking at 600MB/s.
And if you're in a shared environment you'll be able to easily add laptops, or indeed any type of Mac, to an Xsan network for fast access to shared storage, which is something that was difficult to do before.
Finally, Apple posted some new details about Mac OS X 10.7 Lion today and revealed that the desktop and server versions of the operating system will be merged together, meaning that every Mac is now a server out of the box. Couple that with Thunderbolt and the Mac Mini suddenly looks reasonable as an Xsan metadata controller (and indeed for many other server tasks) now that the Xserve has been discontinued.
|2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo||2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo|
|1GB memory||2GB memory|
|120GB hard drive||320GB hard drive|
|8x double-layer SuperDrive||8x double-layer SuperDrive|
|NVIDIA GeForce 9400M graphics||NVIDIA GeForce 9400M graphics|
|$599, shipping within 24 hours||$799, shipping within 24 hours|
|20" display||24" display||24" display||24" display|
|2.66GHz Intel Core 2 Duo||2.66GHz Intel Core 2 Duo||2.93GHz Intel Core 2 Duo||3.06GHz Intel Core 2 Duo|
|2GB memory||4GB memory||4GB memory||4GB memory|
|320GB hard drive||640GB hard drive||640GB hard drive||1TB hard drive|
|8x double-layer SuperDrive||8x double-layer SuperDrive||8x double-layer SuperDrive||8x double-layer SuperDrive|
|NVIDIA GeForce 9400M graphics||NVIDIA GeForce 9400M graphics||NVIDIA GeForce GT 120 with 256MB memory||NVIDIA GeForce GT 130 with 512MB memory|
|$1,199.00, shipping within 24 hours||$1,499.00, shipping within 24 hours||$1,799.00||$2,199.00|
|One 2.66GHz Quad-Core Intel Xeon "Nehalem" processor||Two 2.26GHz Quad-Core Intel Xeon "Nehalem" processors|
|3GB (three 1GB) memory||6GB (six 1GB) memory|
|640GB hard drive||640GB hard drive|
|18x double-layer SuperDrive||18x double-layer SuperDrive|
|NVIDIA GeForce GT 120 with 512MB||NVIDIA GeForce GT 120 with 512MB|
|$2,499.00, ships within 4 days||$3,299.00, ships within 4 days|
|Two 2.93GHz Quad-Core Intel Xeon|
|32GB memory (8x4GB)|
|Mac Pro RAID Card|
|4 x 1TB 7200-rpm Serial ATA 3Gb/s|
|ATI Radeon HD 4870 512MB graphics|
|Two 18x SuperDrives|
|2 x Apple Cinema HD Display (30" flat panel)|
|AirPort Extreme Wi-Fi Card with 802.11n|
|Quad-channel 4Gb Fibre Channel PCI Express card|
|Mini DisplayPort to Dual-Link DVI Adapter (needed for 2x 30" displays|
|AppleCare protection plan for Mac Pro|
|$19,994.00, shipping in 6-8 weeks|