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  • The Hopes and Dreams for the Mac Pro

    May 30th, 2006

    Let’s make it simple: I have already made public predictions on the subject, here, on my radio show and on Craig Crossman’s syndicated broadcast, Computer America. In each case I said something that I regard as obvious, that Apple will be announcing a professional desktop computer, known as the Mac Pro, during the WWDC in August.

    This doesn’t require any of the abilities, real or imagined, that I talk about on the paranormal radio show I host with my friend, David Biedny. Instead, it involves a simple reading of Intel’s processor roadmap. According to current plans, Intel will be releasing its newest desktop processor family, code-named Conroe, or Core 2 Duo, in late July. Right now, it’s reasonable to assume that Apple is already testing prototype versions, and may, in fact, be in the final stages of deciding the ultimate design of the new desktop.

    So far I haven’t strayed from known facts to project the release of Apple’s new hardware. It doesn’t matter the specifics of the chip. The existing Core Duo is exceptionally fast, and the Core 2 Duo will no doubt be noticeably faster. But I won’t dwell on the Mac Pro’s specs, except to suggest that some elements of the existing Power Macs will be retained.

    In fact, based on what Apple’s done so far, with the possible exception of the MacBook, you can expect the form factor of the new desktop to be quite close to the current model, even if it somewhat resembles a cheese grater. In fact, it may be almost indistinguishable externally. Before you object, hear me out, because there’s more.

    You see, the fact that it looks the same, or nearly the same, doesn’t mean the internal layout has to follow current design. The new Intel chips will run a lot cooler than the G5, so Apple won’t need liquid systems and other ventilation legerdemain in order to keep the new machine from running hot. That may even reduce production costs, but I don’t expect Apple to suddenly reduce the price by any major degree, though it’s possible the top-of-the-line may sell for below three grand in the U.S.

    Having a simpler cooling system to work with may afford Apple sufficient room inside to address one of the serious deficiencies in the current Power Mac, which is the number of internal drives you can add. Right now, there’s room for two, which means you can add one more and that’s it. Forgetting any third party solutions for the moment, it should be possible to install four drives. I don’t necessarily see reason for any additional RAM slots, nor expansion slots, but I’m sure some of you will provide good reason why I’m wrong, which is why we have space for your comments.

    Connection ports would be similarly configured, though another one of the USB variety might be added. There may also be a front-mounted card slot for memory cards, something professional digital photographers would cherish. I am, though, on the fence about the Front Row remote, but in the end, it’ll probably be there to fill out the entire product line.

    In terms of processors, I suspect the lineup will be similar to what you get today, with a single Core 2 Duo chip in all but the flagship model, which will sport two such chips, or perhaps even four, to make it a true workhorse.

    Now this new Mac Pro will have to exist for at least six months without a Universal version of Adobe’s Creative Suite, and that means Apple will be tweaking Rosetta to provide enhanced emulation performance. I originally thought that would wait for the release of Leopard, but Apple might do it in a Tiger system release.

    In fact, in the end, the new desktop will be so powerful as to provide emulation at speeds that exceed today’s speediest hardware. Yes, I have in the past suggested Apple might want to postpone this beast until more Universal software is out, but that’s not too realistic. Apple is pulling out all stops to complete its Intel transition as soon as it can. Better that they keep a couple of PowerPC models in stock for a while to fill demand, if any, for the older boxes.

    The arrival of the Mac Pro, however, won’t complete the lineup. A new Intel-based Xserve may also appear around the same time, or shortly thereafter.

    But there is one more thing: There are published reports from some rumor sites suggesting Apple might be working on a low-cost, flat panel all-in-one to replace the eMac in the educational market. Imagine the guts of the entry-level Mac mini built into a 15-inch display, and retailing for, say $799 minus the usual educational discount, and you’ll see what I mean. Apple might even dispense with the Web cam and remote control to cut costs even further.

    I am getting ahead of myself, though, and I haven’t even arrived at any speculation for Mac OS 10.5 Leopard. Your wish list, though, is welcomed, and I’ll have more to say on that subject shortly.

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