• 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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    5 Responses to “The Hopes and Dreams for the Mac Pro”

    1. woz says:

      Well now THAT would really get the Pro users attention! If it were to be such a ‘Powerbeast’ perhaps 10.5 would also make it possible to boot XP without having to restart. Just perfect for the webdevelopers. If they manage to keep the price resonable (as they have done for allmost all macs) it would rock!

    2. setomi says:

      I seriously doubt Apple would put memory card slots in the front of the machine. If they do, I think they would stick to one common pro format (compact flash?). How about adding drive bays? Then you could optionally add a card reader and/or removable harddrive. But then again, doing so means some serious design changes. If Apple, is willing to switch to Intel, who know’s what they’ll do next the PowerMac? The sky is the limit.

      As for processor, I think they won’t start with single Core 2 Duo chip. It’s not enough to distinguish the pro lines from the consumer lines. How about start with a single Core 2 Duo chip and have a second empty socket to leave the door open for an optional future upgrade? Or perhaps they will go with everything quad? Of interesting note, if the current model is 64bit, you would expect the new model to be 64bit too. Sooooo, what processor will they really use?

    3. MikeD says:

      All this sounds cool. I would welcome the addition of built in card readers. But also how about more firewire 800 ports. I mean at least 1 more. I hope they keep the sleek aluminum case. I hated it at first (it looked like a prop from the original Star Trek set). But I soon began to appreciate its sleek beauty and uniqueness. Not to mention the damn thing is sturdy as hell and easy to get into. Someone suggested that since the Intel chips run cooler than the G5 chips there may not be a need for such an enclosure and therefore can be built using the cheaper plastic cases again. I hope they’re wrong. I would hate to see that happen. Also it wouldn’t hurt to be able to stick another optical drive in either.

    4. Allen Wicks says:

      RAM slots/addressability are important. A high end Mac tower should be expected to survive for 3-5 years in a pro environment (my DP G4 primarily used for Photoshop is now 5 years old, waiting for the MacIntel towers). True 64 bit operation will dramatically change the way RAM fits into system architecture. Given that full 64 bit operation is likely in 2007 with Leopard, a 2006-2007-2008-2009-2010-2011 box _should_ be capable of addressing more than 16 GB RAM.

      Personally – even though I am a graphics user who needs lots of HD capacity, more than a TB – I do not think that forcing towers to have more than 2 hard drives is all that appropriate. Today BTO Macs are available with 1 TB of capacity on two drives, and it is reasonable to expect more than that on two drives of the MacIntels.

      Each additional slot for a hard drive adds costly engineering that 95% of users don’t need and should not have to pay for: power supply capacity and heat removal. Even though I personally _need_ more than a TB I don’t particularly want it internal to the tower anyway, adding heat and cost that I do not want. I want fast additional external capacity RAID configurations like FW800 or eSATA via an Express Card that I can easily move around.

    5. woz says:

      More then 1 TB space for each G5? How do you back that stuff up? Tapestream is not adequate. Just a firewire HD? What if there’s a fire?

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