Apple Engineers Explain New Mac Pro's Innovative Cooling Features

In an interview with Popular Mechanics, Apple engineers Chris Ligtenberg and John Ternus have detailed some of the innovative cooling features included in the design of the Mac Pro and Pro Display XDR, both of which launched earlier this week.


In order to let the ridiculous processing power of the ‌Mac Pro‌ reach its potential without melting, Apple engineers had to find new ways to "exploit the laws of thermodynamics," according to the report.

For example, the active internal cooling consists of three axial fans in the front of the case and a blower in the rear, all of which had to be developed in-house because off-the-shelf fans would have been too loud.

"Years ago, we started redistributing the blades," explains Ligtenberg, Apple's senior director of product design. "They're still dynamically balanced, but they're actually randomized in terms of their BPF [blade pass frequency]. So you don't get huge harmonics that tend to be super annoying."


"That [solution is] borrowed almost entirely from automobile tires," Ligtenberg says. "There's a bit of math behind it, but you can create broadband noise instead of total noise with that technique."
Something loud but pleasantly pitched can be more tolerable than something quiet but irritating. "You can have something at a certain SPL [sound pressure level] that sounds really good, but you can have something that's actually at a lower SPL that grates on your nerves and sounds really awful," says John Ternus, VP of Hardware Engineering at Apple and head of the Pro and Pro Display's development. "We want to get really great performance where, you either can't hear it, or if you can hear it, it's kind of a pleasant noise. A ton of analysis goes into figuring out how to optimize for that."
Apple hopes ‌Mac Pro‌ users won't even be aware of the fan activity inside, but it's the conspicuous grids of bored metal divots on the front and back of the case and the rear of the Pro Display that provide the passive cooling. "[The pattern] gives us a lot of surface area, which is hugely beneficial," Ternus says.

The Pro Display has fans for specific components, but the bored metal holes are what keeps that panel of LEDs cool enough to run so bright. It wasn't possible to use a traditional finned enclosure heatsink, because the monitor can be used in both portrait and landscape.

Rotating the display 90 degrees would reduce with the air flow through fins, but the hemispherical holes work the same regardless of which way is up. "[For the Display] we wanted free [air] flow through the channels, no matter the orientation," says Ternus.


According to Apple, the reworked "cheese grater" look achieves around 20 percent more airflow compared to the Power Mac G5 that preceded it.

Apple is accepting orders for the ‌Mac Pro‌ (starting at $5,999) and the Pro Display XDR ($4,999) on its website, with ‌Mac Pro‌ delivery estimates at one to two weeks after an order is placed.

Related Roundup: Mac Pro
Buyer's Guide: Mac Pro (Buy Now)

Top Rated Comments

(View all)

6 weeks ago
This is one of the things I like about Apple; they pay obsessive attention to important background things that we tend to take for granted, from justified fontography to computer hinges to groundbreaking facial recognition systems to fan blade design. Elegance meets technology. This is one area where Steve Jobs’ DNA really does live on.
Rating: 27 Votes
6 weeks ago
Each fan blade is milled from an Apple Card.
Rating: 26 Votes
6 weeks ago
Pretty incredible stuff. Hat tip to Apple on finally listening to the pro user base and giving them what they wanted.
Rating: 23 Votes
6 weeks ago


With the amount of emphasis and design philosophy structured towards avoiding LOUD NOISE at all cost...couldn't Apple have went towards liquid cooling? I'll never understand Apple's love for silence at the cost of adequate/bad cooling in all of their machines.a


Initial reports suggest it is very quiet.

They used liquid cooling in the G5 towers. It added complexity and cost.
Rating: 15 Votes
6 weeks ago


With the amount of emphasis and design philosophy structured towards avoiding LOUD NOISE at all cost...couldn't Apple have went towards liquid cooling? I'll never understand Apple's love for silence at the cost of adequate/bad cooling in all of their machines.a

I'm not vell versed in liquid cooling, but I would guess that a) it is less reliable and b) when a liquid solution fails it fails in worse ways.

Of course it would also open up for the sale of magical Apple coolant, probably a missed opportunity ?
Rating: 12 Votes
6 weeks ago


With the amount of emphasis and design philosophy structured towards avoiding LOUD NOISE at all cost...couldn't Apple have went towards liquid cooling? I'll never understand Apple's love for silence at the cost of adequate/bad cooling in all of their machines.a


Liquid cooling still uses fans.
Rating: 11 Votes
6 weeks ago
I'm a quiet fan fanatic, and am sure the MP does have an overall wonderful cooling system, but they just completely give up on the idea of preventing dust ingress?
Rating: 10 Votes
6 weeks ago


i‘m going down to my banker today, take out a second mortgage. (See what I did there?)

No. What did you do?
Rating: 9 Votes
6 weeks ago


I remember buying the first cheese grater Mac Pro years ago and I paid like $2400. They started at $1999 if I recall correctly. Why are they $6,000 now? Are they really that much better than a comparable Windows PC?


What happened is the product line changed; the $6000 figure should be totally ignored as anybody who really needs this kind of horsepower is always going to BTO their options above and beyond. This generation of Mac Pro is targeted at a notably higher-end (and more niche) audience than the lines of PowerMacs and MPs that have come before. If you previously had one of those and weren't using it to its full potential on a daily basis, then you should now be eyeing the Mac Mini as the core of a modular thunderbolt setup*, or the high-end iMac/iMP line instead.

*Thunderbolt drives, PCI enclosures, eGPUs, and hubs. This is basically the dream of the 2013 Darth Pro, only now at a massively more affordable buy-in point.
Rating: 9 Votes
6 weeks ago
I remember buying the first cheese grater Mac Pro years ago and I paid like $2400. They started at $1999 if I recall correctly. Why are they $6,000 now? Are they really that much better than a comparable Windows PC?
Rating: 7 Votes

[ Read All Comments ]