Not a Rumor: Why Apple Might Release Pro Desktops Early

June 30th, 2006

Not so long ago, a lot of us suggested that the Mac Pro, the expected successor to the Power Mac, would probably be announced in August during the keynote at the WWDC. It makes sense, since the newest updates to Intel’s chip line will be in full production.

But wait just a moment! Maybe we’re missing something. You see, it’s clear that the next great version of Mac OS X, code-named Leopard, heads the August agenda. Apple has said as much in a recent press release, which is why you’re going to read lots and lots of stories about what might appear in the new release, along with various and sundry wish lists.

I know I’ve given mine, but what about the remaining members of Apple’s Mac lineup? With consumer desktops and consumer and professional note-books out the door, only the release of the latest members of Intel’s revised chip family might have held up the new Power Mac and, of course, the Xserve.

You can expect that Apple wants to get the products out as soon as the new chips are in production, just as they did when the Intel-based iMac and MacBook Pro were announced in January. Yes, even though they’re only small customers to Intel, dwarfed by Dell and HP, Apple didn’t find itself placed at the end of the food chain. Apple is clearly the prestige customer for the world’s largest chip maker, and I have no doubt this was part of the deal that made them switch processors.

This week, intel introduced its Woodcrest processor, which is officially known as the Dual-Core Xeon 5100 series. Topping at at 3GHz, this is a high-end 64-bit chip that’s earmarked for both servers and high-end workstations. You can be certain that Apple has already gotten prototypes and that it is developing ways to harness the extraordinary power of this new chip, and certainly an Xserve would be as good a place as any to place it.

So with the chip shipping now, and designed for “high-volume server, workstation, communications, storage and embedded market segments,” according to Intel, what is Apple waiting for? Yes, you read that correctly! The word “workstation” is used there, and the Power Mac G5, in the past, has been compared to a Xeon-equipped workstation.

So with the new generation chips at hand, is there any reason for Apple to wait much longer before completing its Intel migration? That magic 3GHz point ought to be particularly tempting, in light of the failed and embarrassing promise Steve Jobs made about delivering a Power Mac G5 with that rating within a year after the initial model was introduced.

In announcing the new chip, Intel claims “135 percent performance improvements and up to 40 percent reduction in energy consumption over previous Intel server products.” Does this mean that the Mac Pro, the expected name of the Power Mac’s successor, won’t need liquid cooling? I wouldn’t know, and I wouldn’t pretend to possess secret information about the status of Apple’s design scheme for its new desktops.

But I will say this: Unless there is some unexpected delay in developing and testing its professional model, I don’t see any reason for a further delay. Accordingly, I’m going out on the limb here, and I may end up being the fool as a result. But that doesn’t matter. I fully expect that Apple will announce the Mac Pro and a brand new Xserve before the middle of July.

I expect both will have form factors similar to the existing designs, largely because the customers who buy such computers aren’t as style-conscious as those who buy the new MacBook or an iPod. They simply want something that delivers the computing horsepower and reliability they need for their work. If cooling requirements are more modest, of course, Apple might find room for more internal drives, but I’m not taking any bets.

Of course there is another factor that Apple has to consider: With Adobe’s Creative Suite and other applications still not ready in Universal form, early adopters of the new Mac professional desktops will have to rely on Rosetta emulation for large portions of their work. Now if Intel’s claims of tremendous performance improvements are true, and the Xeon 5100 series can trump a Power Mac G5 by a comparable margin, you will experience only a negligible performance loss with, say, Photoshop. But Universal applications will just soar.

As to Adobe, one might expect that, with the Intel transition done, they’d have their work cut out for them in delivering a Universal Creative Suite. Maybe they can even advance their timetable, but I’m not going to go that far. Besides, my crystal ball is getting a bit cloudy, and I need some sleep.

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16 Responses to “Not a Rumor: Why Apple Might Release Pro Desktops Early”

  1. Yacko says:

    All the Intel processors use the same socket, so you can be sure Apple already has desktop boards and computers set for testing using currently available chips. Several people have upgraded a Mac Mini with no problems using higher speed chips so… When the new ones are available, assuming they are all drop-in compatible as expected, I figure the testing period to be very brief. Apple is on a forced marathon march to switch hardware over and roll out leopard and I predict new desktops running 10.5 out before the first of the year. This is the moment for Apple to make a move and I think any delays will set Jobs off, though I assume anyone in the company who can think, knows how critical this is and are gung ho too. Besides, Intel has done much of the board engineering, which is probably one of the reasons Apple has beaten schedule.

  2. Robert Boylin says:

    Remember too that Intel was hired by Apple to jointly develop the Mac Pro motherboard last year! I agree with your prediction of a server release prior to the WWDC. I’m betting on Apple using Conroe in the Mac Pro so it would be an ‘early’ announcement should it happen in July. My guess is that Jobs will introduce the Mac Pro at the conference. Next year I expect Intel’s workstation chips to advance further; and that might portend a “workstation” Mac for the pro video and publishing markets alongside Adobe’s new software.

  3. justme says:

    Just for fun, I’ll split the difference between you and Robert…

    The Mac Pro and MacServe? (shrug) will be Dual-Core Xeon 5100 series based, and will be released sooner than later…

    I also expect that Apple will *FINALLY* give us a consumer desktop Mac (Mac?) that will be Conroe based, and include 2 ram slots, and upgradable PCI Express graphics. Perhaps a new Cube-like design? (Stretch out the mini to accommodate the full sized graphics card and 3.5″ HD..)

    Shrug.. I’d be just as happy to see BTO/CTO options for better graphics in the mini and MacBook, and FW 800 and eSATA on the 15″ MBP at this point..

    Just Me

  4. Peter says:

    I could believe that Apple will announce the Mac Pro at WWDC–with immediate availability.

    The question, though, is will the Mac Pro be able to beat the PowerMac G5 Quad…

  5. Poster says:

    The 3 Ghz thing has stuck in Job’s craw for some time. I think that the Mac Pro will come at WWDC and Jobs’ will say, “So we were a little late.” The X-serve will be announced in July, just to keep the buzz going.

  6. James Bailey says:

    Peter, a quad core Intel Mac (i.e. a Core 2 Duo x2 CPUs) will absolutely crush a Quad G5. It isn’t even close. A single Core 2 Duo will almost beat a Quad G5 by itself.

  7. NeuralSpike says:


    All the Intel processors use the same socket, so you can be sure Apple already has desktop boards and computers set for testing using currently available chips. Several people have upgraded a Mac Mini with no problems using higher speed chips so…

    While the contain basicaly the same core, that doesn’t mean that Core 2 and the Xeon 5100 series are interchangable. In fact, news posted just yesterday claims Intel is killing support for DeskTop CPU on Server platform (DToS). (See story here.) This means, the chipsets required for the Xeon 5100 will not support a normal Core 2, and if Apple still wants quad cores (dual dual core chips) they will have to use the Xeon line. Furthermore, it has been quite some time since Xeon and desktop processors have used the same socket. All of this adds up to more time required for testing, etc. However, this doesn’t mean it won’t be ready for mind July, just that its not a simple matter of swapping chips.

  8. etype says:

    Jack Bailey: you are losing your head. Check out benchmarks for 3d application rendering ( this discounts graphic card performance and just measures processor and system performance). A 2 ghz core duo renders half of what a quad G5 does. The 2ghz core duo is only slightly better than a 2ghz G5 duo. Lets not lose our minds here.

  9. etype says:

    And check C4D or Lightwave tests (not c4d opengl render which tests grapphic cards and drivers, but plain render)….A 2.5 quad G5 outperforms a 3.4 ghz quad Xenon and is only topped by the quad opteron. A core duo crushes the G5 quad only on the hype scale.

  10. Yacko says:

    >While the contain basicaly the same core, that doesn’t mean that Core 2 and the Xeon 5100 series are interchangable.

    I didn’t mean to indicate all the chips are pin compatible with each other, but that there is enough similarity between some current cpus and future product that Apple has the basis to start board tests now (and actually for the last 3 to 6 months) while waiting for the new chips, which are either sampling now or soon will.

    Quotes from around the web:

    >Intel’s Mooly Eden showed a benchmark pitting a Dell Core Duo system against the same system with a Merom processor (Eden literally swapped out the Core Duo CPU and stuck in a Merom processor, partly to showcase its backwards comptability)

    >The three also have different sockets. Each one will use the same socket it’s predecessor used. Merom will use the Yonah/Core Duo’s 479-pin socket, Conroe will use the Pentium D’s 775-pin socket, and Woodcrest is using the Xeon’s 771-pin socket. That means that theoretically, Merom will be a drop-in replacement for current Core Duos, with proper chipset support. Conroes will be drop-in replacements for current Pentium-Ds, and Woodcrest is a drop-in replacement for certain Xeons

    I think Intel created this supersymmetry for a reason and I don’t think they will violate it or end it. Which also portends well for future user upgrades via processor swapping, not necessarily chip-type to chip-type but at least slower becoming faster.

  11. Parr Jackson says:

    etype :

    Do you not know of the Intel Core 2 Duo? Conroe?

    Be careful when you tell people they are losing their head.

  12. etype says:

    Parr Jackson:
    Yes i do indeed. And these things are always hyped out of proportion…first with prediction and speculation , then specious benchmarks jamfilled speculation (always reported as if fact)….and it always turns out to be a incremental improvement. Let me say that again, always.

    So far the hype for Comroe is mostly from Intel…sneak peeks for the usual suspects….anandtech, tom’s, silicon report…. et. alia
    Result? Faster than super champ AMD 64×2.
    And this is on closed systems setup by intel and using intel benches with the exception of some games…. gpu dependant, not cpu dependant.
    Well guess what folks…the G5 is faster than the AMD 64×2 and so is the xenon and so is the opteron. So what’s the big deal? The big deal is hype.
    Jack Baileys post reminds me of an article by some couch potato on ‘Lowend Mac’ where he claims the macbook is WAY FASTER THAN A DUAL 2.7 ghz G5 at skittles or browsing google and downloading email.
    Give me a break, this guy uses a macbook or a 2.7 ghz G5 to play skittles and download email and use google…and we should listen to the fool? Who puts up articles written by these chumps? The reason why they put up the article is because the HYPE is just so damn exciting. Not only that… it’s the ‘American Way ®’
    So if you consider it your patriotic duty to get dizzy headed and woozy about a dual core chip by intel, seeing how they just started selling them and seeing how AMD and IBM has been selling them for awhile, (a lot faster and 64 bit cores)….One expects them to be ‘incrementaly’ faster, if one notices or cares about the fact they are later to market….it seems to me more logical to say ‘they had better be faster’….rather than flipping one’s wig with statements like ‘CRUSHES,DESTROYS,ANNIHILATES ALL LIFE, HAS NO MERCY…..etc’ or saliviating over the unreleased, but planned glorious future.
    And folks, that is really not that fast these days…..considering AMD64x2 etc. has been around for a few years.
    As for apple users, there are a lot of reasons to be happy about the switch to intel and ignore the fact that for the time being you don’t have any AMD options…or a G5 that matches the Opteron in ghz…which would probably meet and possibly exceed the opteron ( the G5 has been the dollar for dollar power champion…give it the cpu cycles of the Opteron and it would be unmatched) but the main benefit is for laptops and the imac. When the PowerMac or whatever Apple calls it is released, Apple will claim it is 56 x faster than the last G5….and everyone will go ‘wow!’…and probably show some gpu dependant tests to drive the point home, and then go on to explain about the skookum new graphics card as an aside. But overall it won’t be, it may even be slower in per cycle cpu processing.

  13. Aaron says:

    How about some SLI support? for this new machines?? This seem’s to be the Latest PC Craze… They will have to Add a few more PCI slots ….the Last and Best Apple Work station was the 9600 with 6 PCI Slots….Talk about Expandability!

  14. etype says:

    SLI is good

  15. Rotophonic » Countdown to the Mac Pro says:

    […] Late Update: It appears that there is some speculation on whether Apple might release the Mac Pro prior to the WWDC. What do you think? […]

  16. Mac Mini says:

    I’m still saving up to get mine. Can’t wait to get one. 🙂

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