It’s been well over five years since the Mac Pro has shown its face. Since then, Apple’s reputation as the go-to option for creative professionals has been shaken.
But this year at WWDC, Apple has made a serious attempt at winning back that audience. We now have all the details on the brand new Mac Pro, which comes with a unique modular design and some powerful internal specs.
Price and release date
The new Mac Pro will start at $5,999, which is the most expensive Apple product to currently exist. There will, of course, be numerous configurations possible, all customizable and accessible within this new modular design.
In 2018, Apple had an extended interview with TechCrunch that focused on the Mac Pro. One of the purposes of this interview was to confirm that the Mac Pro would not be released in 2018. This was partly to squash the rumors that the Pro would show up 2018, but also seems to be a direct confirmation that the new version would come in 2019. With an uncharacteristic preview, Apple straight-up called it a “2019 product.” Now we know that to be true.
The new Mac Pro will be available to order in Fall 2019, though we don’t currently have an exact release date. The new computer was announced alongside a new 6K external monitor called the Pro Display XDR, which starts at $4,999 and a Pro Stand that costs $999.
In its first generation, the Mac Pro was a blocky computer resembling traditional PC towers. Apple radically redesigned the Pro for 2013, where it became a simple cylinder with two chip panels and a central fan for quiet cooling. Rather than keep the cylinder design, Apple went back to the drawing board for the third-generation Mac Pro. From a purely aesthetic perspective, it actually more closely resembles the original Mac Pro than anything in its recent portfolio of computers.
The 2019 edition of the Mac Pro is built with two primary objectives in mind: Performance and modularity. The offset two-layer circular lattice design serves as an extremely high-surface area heat sink for use with the trio of fans moving airflow through the tower horizontally. This allows the Mac Pro to handle enormous computations while not burning a hole through your desk, and with what Apple assured consumers is no more noise than an iMac Pro. It’s hard not to see a cheese grater from a distance, but at least the design has some function built-in.
The Mac Pro’s physical engineering also places much emphasis on modularity. A snug, inset semicircular handle on the top of the chassis can be lifted and rotated to unlock the outer shell, which can then be pulled up and off to expose the PCI expansion slots. Behind this outer panel, the Mac Pro’s rectangular design also means that GPUs and other additional hardware can be easily slotted in on one of its broad sides. Once the cover is removed using a simple twisting lock mechanism, you have complete 360 degree access to all the internals of the computer.
But while the Mac Pro is designed by Apple in California, much of its production has recently been moved to China. The Mac Pro was previously the only major Apple product that was manufactured in the U.S., but this latest move ends that. Apple stated that many Mac Pro components are still made in the U.S., and that it “spent $60 billion with over 9,000 suppliers across the U.S.” in 2018.
Modularity and performance
Besides the spatial accommodation for added hardware components, the hardware architecture of the device itself allows for a wide range of graphics cards and memory units to be added seamlessly to the device. The Mac Pro features four double-wide PCI slots, three single-wide PCI slots, and one half-width PCI slot, allowing the machine to integrate any form factor that a supplemental GPU or RAM unit might take. It also gives users options for external peripherals, with two USB-A ports and two Thunderbolt 3 ports.
Raw horsepower is what the Mac Pro is all about and where the new entry in the Mac Pro line aims to excel. The base model is impressive enough with an 8-core Intel Xeon processor, a Radeon 580X graphics card, 32GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD. However, the Mac Pro is capable of scaling up dramatically from there, with enough slots to pack in 1.5 terabytes of RAM, and configuration options to swap out the Radeon 580X for a whopping four Radeon Pro Vega II GPUs working in two pairs. These GPUs, which together offer 56 teraflops of computation, are all lashed together with Apple’s proprietary Infinity Fabric Link, which purportedly allows data transfers that exceed what current standard PCI buses are capable of.
The last piece of the Mac Pro’s performance puzzle is Apple’s in-house Afterburner accelerator card. This hardware component allows the device to simultaneously play back three streams of 8K video, or 12 streams of 4K resolution. That’s pretty insane.
In 2017, Apple mentioned that the Mac Pro would be a modular system. That was again confirmed in 2018 and teased once more in February 2019 when a YouTuber released a video claiming he has specific in-depth information from inside sources from Apple on the Mac Pro. The “stacking” design of these rumors turned out to not quite be true.
Focusing on artists
Apple stated from early on that the new Mac Pro would be very focused on artists and technicians. In fact, Apple hired a group of creative professionals so that they could see how these people actually used both the hardware and software behind the Mac Pro. While going to top artists and designers was possible, Apple found it very difficult to actually watch those professionals in action because they were often working on big movies or brand campaigns that involved a certain amount of secrecy. So, Apple decided to hire them for its own projects so the company could get a close look at how they interacted with the Mac Pro.
“We’ve been focusing on visual effects and video editing and 3D animation and music production,” John Ternus, VP of Hardware Engineering, told TechCrunch.
Many adjustments have apparently been made accordingly, although Apple notes that these aren’t necessarily performance-related or even all focused on the Mac Pro. Rather, they are tweaks to make things easier for users, including software changes to help speed certain processes up.