Launched December 19
At a Glance
Apple's radically redesigned pro desktop launched on December 19, bringing Intel's latest Ivy Bridge E Xeon processors, dual AMD FirePro graphics chips, and fast PCI Express-based flash storage.
- Ivy Bridge E Xeon processors with up to 12 cores
- Dual AMD FirePro GPUs standard
- Fast PCI Express flash storage
- Thunderbolt 2, USB 3.0, HDMI, and 802.11ac Wi-Fi
- Striking new compact cylindrical design
3.7GHz Quad-Core: $2999
- 12 GB RAM, Dual AMD FirePro D300
3.5GHz 6-Core: $3999
- 16 GB RAM, Dual AMD FirePro D500
8-core and 12-core models also available
Apple's professional-level desktop users have been waiting quite some time for a major update to the Mac Pro, and an update finally came on December 19 in the form of a radical redesign embracing a significantly smaller form factor, Ivy Bridge E processors, dual GPUs, fast PCI Express-based flash storage, and an emphasis on external expandability via Thunderbolt 2.
Apple's Mac Pro, which users were given a sneak peek at during Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) keynote in June, includes a unique cylindrical design that wraps all of the machine's components around a unified thermal core which absorbs heat from throughout the machine and disperses it through a vertically-oriented fan that draws air in from the bottom of the machine and vents it out through the machine's top.
Can't innovate any more, my ass. Phil Schiller - Apple Senior Vice President of Marketing
At the heart of the new Mac Pro lies a single Xeon-class Ivy Bridge E processor with up to 12 cores, paired with dual AMD FirePro graphics chips for maximum performance. PCI Express flash storage offers data transfer rates of up to 1250 MB/s, while four-channel DDR3 EEC memory running at 1866 MHz delivers up to 60 GB/s of memory bandwidth.
Connectivity includes six Thunderbolt 2 ports delivering data transfer speeds of up to 20 Gb/s and daisy-chaining of up to 36 devices, four USB 3.0 ports, an HDMI 1.4 port, and two Gigabit Ethernet ports. With Thunderbolt 2 and the dual-GPU setup, the Mac Pro will be able to support up to three 4K displays. Wireless support includes the latest 802.11ac Wi-Fi standard as well as Bluetooth 4.0.
Basic pricing and configuration options were announced during Apple's October 22 media event and confirmed following Apple's December 19 release. The Mac Pro starts at $2,999, with the entry-level version offering a 3.7 Ghz quad-core Intel Xeon E5 processor, dual AMD FirePro D300 GPUs, 12 GB of memory, and 256 GB of PCIe-based flash storage. The 3.5 Ghz 6-core version with 16 GB of memory will start at $3,999, with additional configure-to-order options for 8-core or 12-core Xeon E5 processors, AMD FirePro D700 GPUs, up to 64 GB of memory and up to 1 TB of flash storage.
Pricing for individual build-to-order components, relative to the base $2999 Mac Pro model, are as follows:
CPU (Stock: 3.7GHz quad-core Intel Xeon E5) - 3.5GHz 6-Core: +$500 - 3.0GHz 8-core: +$2000 - 2.7GHz 12-core: +$3500
Graphics (Stock: Dual AMD FirePro D300 with 2GB GDDR5 each) - Dual AMD FirePro D500 with 3 GB GDDR5 each: +$400 - Dual AMD FirePro D700 with 6 GB GDDR5 each: +$1000
RAM (Stock: 12GB 1866MHz DDR3 ECC - 3x4GB) - 16GB (4x4GB): +$100 - 32GB (4x8GB): +$500 - 64GB (4x16GB): +$1300
Flash Storage (Stock: 256GB PCIe-based) - 512GB: +$300 - 1TB: +$800
The Mac Pro also includes options to add on both Apple's 27-inch Thunderbolt Display and Sharp's 32-inch 4K Display that Apple temporarily began offering in Europe in early December.
Multiple teardowns of the Mac Pro, from both iFixit and OWC, have revealed that the Mac Pro's Intel Xeon E5 processor is socketed and removable, allowing for future upgrades. All CPUs in the Mac Pro use the same LGA 2011 socket standardized on the Mac Pro’s motherboard.
Unlike most of Apple's Macs, the Mac Pro is highly accessible thanks to non-proprietary torx screws and an easily removable case. Its accessibility earned it an overall repairability score of 8 out of 10 from iFixit.
How to Buy
Apple's Mac Pro can be purchased via the online Apple Store. Due to constrained supplies, current orders of the Mac Pro, both standard and build-to-order, list a non-specific shipping estimate of "February." Initial shipping estimates slipped in December, just hours after the Mac Pro was first available for sale.
According to an Apple spokesperson, demand for the Mac Pro has been high, resulting in low supplies that are also preventing the company from selling the Mac Pro in retail stores. Employees that receive Mac Pro purchase requests in brick and mortar Apple Stores have been redirecting customers to the online Apple Store.
In More Detail
The form factor of the previous Mac Pro dated all the way back to the introduction of the Power Mac G5 in mid-2003, carrying over to the Mac Pro in 2006 when Apple moved from PowerPC processors to Intel chips. Development on the Mac Pro tower stagnated in recent years, with the last major update coming in mid-2010. Users waited nearly two years for an update following that launch amid reports that Apple was "questioning" the future of the line, and were ultimately extremely disappointed to receive only a minor speed bump in mid-2012, an update which failed to move to Intel's then-latest Sandy Bridge E processors or bring innovations such as Thunderbolt that had already debuted on other Mac lines.
In response to the outcry over the extremely minor mid-2012 update, which resulted in Apple quickly retracting its "New" label in its online store, the company took the unusual step of confirming to reporters that a redesigned Mac Pro would be coming in 2013. Apple CEO Tim Cook shared similar information in an email to a disgruntled customer.
As 2013 rolled around and there was still no sign of the Mac Pro update, Apple announced that it would be discontinuing the tower Mac Pro in Europe as of March 1 due to the machine's lack of regulatory compliance regarding fan blade and electrical port protection. Hope for a quick replacement was raised by a report from a French reseller claiming Apple had indicated the new Mac Pro would be arriving in the spring. Further rumors indicated an update might occur in April or May, but those claims failed to come to fruition.
WWDC did finally bring a sneak peek at the new Mac Pro, but with a release scheduled for later in the year. Alongside the sneak peek, Apple rolled out a new feature page on its website, and several months later even began showing a teaser ad in movie theaters. A second unveiling with additional information on the new Mac Pro took place in October, with Apple narrowing the launch date to "December".
Computing and Graphics Performance
The new Mac Pro takes advantage of Intel's latest Ivy Bridge E Xeon E5 processors, maxing out at 12 cores. Unlike the previous Mac Pro, however, the redesigned machine has just a single CPU with no room for a dual-CPU configuration. That Xeon CPU is supported by "blazing fast" memory, a four-channel DDR3 memory controller running at 1866 MHz. The setup offers memory bandwidth of up to 60 GB/s, twice that of the previous Mac Pro.
Benchmarks on the Mac Pro running a 12-core Intel Xeon E5 v2 processor at 2.7 Ghz have demonstrated somewhat modest performance gains over the previous generation Mac Pro, with 32-bit single core scores in the range of 2928 and multi-core scores in the range of 29665. 64-bit performance is slightly better, resulting in scores of 3087/32437.
Our engineering team has spent quite a bit of time thinking about the technology available today, and what could be possible for the future of a pro desktop…what would be a new form factor, new design, new capabilities for another ten years. And the engineering team has come up with something truly revolutionary, truly radical. Phil Schiller
Geekbench 3 scores first published in September provide even more data points on the performance of the new Mac Pro. On the 32-bit Multi-Core Geekbench 3 scoring, the new 8-core Mac Pro registers a score of 24429, on par with scores achieved by the highest-end 2010 and 2012 Mac Pro models running dual 6-core processors for a total of 12 cores. The new Mac Pro also handily beats the Geekbench performance of earlier 8-core models. Additional benchmarks for the 6-core model showed up in early November, allowing for a good overview of the raw processing power of the various Mac Pro models.
Where Apple has really beefed the horsepower on the Mac Pro is in the graphics department, with dual GPUs standard across the line. The Mac Pro includes dual AMD FirePro GPUs with up to 6 GB of VRAM, offering up to seven teraflops of computing power, roughly three times that of the previous Mac Pro. That graphics setup provides enough horsepower for software developers to tap into for their applications, supporting such demanding tasks as seamless editing of 4K video while rendering effects in the background, all while driving up to three 4K displays.
Apple's new Mac Pro uses all-flash storage, an expensive proposition but one which offers significant benefits in the way of speed. With PCI Express flash storage, the Mac Pro is able to support data transfer speeds of up to 1250 MB/s, up to 2.5x faster than SATA flash drives such as those found in a number of Apple's other Mac products. The Mac Pro's flash storage is also as much as ten times faster than 7200-rpm SATA spinning hard drives commonly used in the previous Mac Pro.
Early tests revealed impressive SSD performance, seeing read/write speeds in excess of 900 MB/s. FCP.co found read speeds of 880 MB/s and write speeds of 985.5 MB/s. Macworld saw similar results with the Black Magic app, at 952.8 MB/s write and 920.5 MB/s read speeds.
All of the components responsible for the heavy lifting in the Mac Pro are arranged around a unique thermal core, a single piece of extruded aluminum serving as a heat sink for the entire machine. The design, which also maximizes airflow, allows the heat sink to maximize heat transfer under a variety of different load conditions, offering better performance than with separate heat sinks for each component.
That thermal core is responsible for the cylindrical design of the new Mac Pro, with the machine being topped a single large vertically mounted fan that draws air up from the bottom and through the thermal core before venting it out through the top. By optimizing fan blade size, shape, and number, Apple has been able to minimize air resistance, increasing efficiency while keeping fan noise to a minimum.
Engadget expressed similar sentiments, noting that programs will need to be updated with support for the Mac Pro in order to show off its true capabilities.
Without belaboring the point, this brings me to one of my few concerns about the Mac Pro, which is that right now, at least, most programs won't fully harness its graphics capabilities. One of the reasons I spent so much time in Final Cut Pro is that it's one of the few programs designed specifically to run well on a new Mac Pro. It reminds me a bit of how Retina display MacBook Pros were initially short on compatible software. If that analogy holds true, we should see more apps retooled to play nice with the Mac Pro's dual-GPU setup. Just be prepared for some slim pickings if you buy one this week.
In a test of the Mac Pro's performance, FCP.co found that the Mac Pro was able to play back 16 simultaneous streams of 4K video.
AnandTech also did an in-depth review of the Mac Pro that offered a solid look at the system's current 4K compatibility along with extensive benchmarking. According to the site, the Mac Pro's support for 4K monitors needs improvement, as it does not feature scaled resolutions like Apple's Retina MacBook Pro, resulting in blurry, hard to read text.
The Mac Pro also does not feature compatibility with all 4K monitors, such as Dell's UltraSharp 24-inch display.
Expansion and Connectivity
At just one-eighth the volume of the previous Mac Pro, the new design focuses on external expansion rather than dedicating large amounts of internal space to expansion bays. For maximum performance of external peripherals, Apple has leveraged Intel's recently announced Thunderbolt 2 technology, which doubles throughput over the previous Thunderbolt standard to 20 Gbps in each direction. By connecting a PCI expansion chassis to a Thunderbolt 2 port on the new Mac Pro, a host of peripherals become compatible with the new machine. And with six Thunderbolt 2 ports each supporting up to six devices daisy-chained on them, the new Mac Pro offers significant support for external expansion. Thunderbolt 2 also allows users to connect up to three 4K displays to the new Mac Pro.
Beyond Thunderbolt 2, the new Mac Pro also includes four USB 3.0 ports, an HDMI 1.4 port for maximum compatibility with televisions and other types of displays, and a pair of Gigabit Ethernet ports for connecting to multiple networks. All of the ports are located on a dedicated I/O panel on the rear of the Mac Pro, with the panel automatically illuminating when the machine senses that it is being rotated.
As for wireless connectivity, the Mac Pro naturally includes support for the latest 802.11ac Wi-Fi standard, which is supported by Apple's new AirPort Extreme and AirPort Time Capsule base stations, as well as the company's new MacBook Air introduced in June and iMac launched in late September. The new Mac Pro also includes support for Bluetooth 4.0 connections, allowing for wireless communication with a variety of devices.
Apple's new Mac Pro marks a significant milestone for Apple, as it represents the return of Mac production to the United States. Apple CEO Tim Cook has announced in late 2012 that the company would be bringing some Mac production back to the U.S., although he did not specify which line would be make the transition. Speculation quickly suggested that the Mac Pro could become Apple's new "Made in the U.S.A." product, and Apple ultimately confirmed that speculation at WWDC. Reports indicated that Apple would be working with Flextronics to produce the new Mac Pro in Austin, Texas, which Tim Cook confirmed ahead of the Mac Pro's December 19 launch. During the October 22 event, Apple announced that 2,000 people across 20 states have contributed to the production of the Mac Pro.