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  • Does a Hacktinosh Point to the Solution to Apple’s Mac Pro Dilemma?

    May 2nd, 2017

    I don’t have to repeat the obvious. Better late than never, Apple finally came to realize that its 2013 revision to the Mac Pro was a big misfire. Well, they didn’t use those terms, but it was the polar opposite of the previous version. Where the so-called cheese grater Mac Pro made it simple to add extra stuff inside, the Mac Pro pushed most expansion outside. There were lots of ports, but no place inside for extra drives or expansion cards.

    I’m not making a point of the lack of twin CPU ports, because Intel has solved that problem by adding more cores to its Xeon silicon. So if you need 12 cores, it’s better to have them all on one chip than two. You get the picture.

    Apple isn’t going to say how long it took to get a clue about what it did wrong. You’d think complaints from professional users would be enough, or maybe Apple thought they’d eventually get used to it. But in saying they are working on an all-new model, Apple executives did claim to have talked to pros. Sometime. Somewhere.

    Why’d it take so long to do the obvious? I wouldn’t care to guess why Apple had such a bad case of tunnel vision. The point is that the message was finally received loud and clear, Apple has more or less made its apologies for being so obtuse, and has promised that a hardware team is working on the new model.

    Now some might suggest that it would be extremely easy to deliver that replacement, and professional Mac users shouldn’t be forced to wait at least a year for satisfaction. Maybe Apple should look to the Hackintosh community for inspiration.

    Or at least that’s what is implied in a fairly detailed article on the subject in Ars Technica. We have perhaps thousands of people taking off-the-shelf PCs and installing macOS on them by jumping a few hoops. And it does appear the hoops have become fewer as the hobbyists get a better handle on the process.

    So far Apple has treated this practice with benign neglect. It’s not as if these people are going out and selling undocumented macOS clones. If they did, Apple would stop it — and they’ve done that before. What the Hacintosh demonstrates is that people are so dedicated to the platform that they are willing to spend time and money assembling a Mac that meets their needs.

    But these are not unique designs. Desktops are mostly regular PC minitowers, perhaps in the tradition of the ancient Power Computing boxes. It’s of secondary importance, since the real creativity is in choosing the proper internal components that are known to be adaptable for use in a Hackintosh. But it also means these boxes are easily expanded with extra drives and expansion cards, meaning they are built in the spirit of the original Mac Pro.

    So the simple solution would be for Apple to restore the cheese grater model with new parts. This would be a simple solution that shouldn’t cost a whole lot in development dollars. It could still have USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports, and even support for a keyboard with a Touch Bar.

    Sure, Apple could perhaps refine the cooling system, and even make it slimmer and lighter without detracting from its fundamental expandability. It could even come in dark gray or black if Apple can find the right color scheme and casing.

    For now, Apple is expecting customers to buy the current Mac Pro at a lower price to make do, or wait. Some might just build their own Hackintosh instead.

    Clearly, Apple isn’t taking a year to refine a Mac Pro minitower unless there are other design factors involved. But that takes us into a wide area of speculation into what a proper computer workstation should be in 2018 and beyond. Obviously Apple knows about the roadmaps for its silicon vendors. They know what Xeons will come from Intel — and it’s not as if this information is necessarily top secret. They know what AMD is doing to compete, if anything, plus the future design goals for its graphics chips. They know what’s coming from NVIDIA.

    But what if Apple plans to build a Mac Pro with its own graphics hardware? Obviously that is being done for future iPhones and iPads, witness the recent news that they are phasing out use of GPU intellectual property from Imagination Technologies. Apple has already hired its own GPU engineer, but why should it be restricted to iOS? What about macOS?

    It’s not the same deal as switching from Intel to ARM for Macs. Graphics technologies span platforms, so if Apple has a better idea, more tightly integrated into the macOS platform and its own needs, maybe going its own way is the better idea. So why not start with a state-of-the-art computer workstation that can go toe-to-toe with graphics from Intel, AMD and NVIDIA?

    Maybe the delay is not so much the form factor as completing and testing its own GPU design. I suppose if it all doesn’t come together in time, meaning by next year, Apple could always go to its current chip partners and continue working on its home-built solution for use at a later date.

    After all, why should it take so long to design a modular Mac Pro?



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