But that’s for another day they said – they sure as heck weren’t joking…
The elephant in the room
Mac Pro seems to be the forgotten genius!
Despite it supposedly being their flagship Mac, the Mac Pro is the last model to be updated to Apple silicon. Where once it stood proud and mighty now it seems to cower in the corner and just gather dust.
The now famous John Ternus quote that I referred to above was rolled out at last year’s WWDC conference when they launched the brilliant Mac Studio – which may be part of the problem – but I’ll come back to that later on.
So, do we still need a Mac Pro, and if so when will it arrive?
Just too good
We are five weeks away from WWDC which marks the anniversary of that ‘another day’ quote and in those intervening twelve months not one word has come from Apple about their high-end Mac Pro.
I think they’ve been left in a bit of a quandary actually, and one all of their own making too. I wrote yesterday that Apple always plans ahead and eventually all the dots connect. Yet on this occasion, I’m beginning to wonder if there was a serious breakdown in communication at Apple’s Cupertino HQ. Something just doesn’t seem quite right…
They would have been planning meticulously for years the launch of Apple silicon and surely would have discussed at length how it would be implemented through their range.
For every other Mac it has touched Apple silicon has been a revelation whether that be in performance, battery life, power or its boundless limitations – iMac, Mac mini, MacBook Air and MacBook Pros have been made exponentially better by utilising the power of Apple silicon.
But Mac Pro was powerful already but by comparison to what Apple silicon can deliver it has now been left to look like a very outdated machine. Big, large, cumbersome and thirsty, Mac Pro sits in nowhere land.
Is there really anyone out there eagerly anticipating Mac Pro’s release?
The latest round of rumours suggests that if the Pro does get a release, it may end up launching with some configuration of the M2 Ultra chip. The plans to update Mac Studio to the newer M2 Max & Ultra chips have been put on indefinite hold to help at least make a gap in the line-up for Mac Pro. Indeed, if the Pro gets one mare run around the sun, then Mac Studio may even be forced to sit out the M2 generation for good and instead wait for the 3-nanometer architecture of the M3 chips next year.
If that turns out to be the case, it cements still further the question as to why bother at all with Mac Pro? Has it simply seen its day?
And this brings me back to what at least appears to be the unusual lack of planning from Apple when scheduling the release of the awesome M series of chips.
These chips manage to achieve previously unimaginable performance at such low levels of power consumption and that is only achieved because everything about the chip is so tightly integrated. The CPU, GPU, media engines and decoders are all part of one single piece of silicon – it is that which makes the data communication of the chip so blazingly fast. Apple took a look at the System-on-Chip (SoC) technology of mobiles and decided to bring it to laptops and desktops.
All well and good except the biggest USP of the Mac Pro and the reason it was loved by high-end creatives for so long was for its after-market modularity. And modularity & SoC are not good bed partners – they are at opposite ends of the spectrum. You can’t even upgrade storage after purchasing an Apple silicon machine.
Would they bother?
I have read that it is apparently possible to work around some of these issues but it’s a huge technical challenge that would cost a tidy penny, and also require a massive investment of manpower – which is in short supply right now because of you know what. And you’d have to ask whether it would be a wise move to go to all that effort knowing it’s their least popular Mac in terms of units sold at least. Mac Pro may only sell a few thousand units a year – the numbers just don’t stack up.
So at best Mac Pro may ship with upgradeable storage, but other than that what modularity could be offered with the SoC Apple silicon Mac Pro? The idea of PCIe slots has been bandied about but how they would work with non-Intel machines is a question as yet unanswered.
So was the Pro deliberately overlooked in the planning stages with Mac Studio always being seen as its natural successor?
The Mac Studio turned out to be almost too good and it has almost done away with the need for anything better.
As I mentioned, if they do still release the Pro this year, M2 will never find its way into Mac Studio. But if the Pro is gracefully retired then possibly they would simply go the route of putting an M2 Ultra in it and let the thing fly! The body and infrastructure of the Studio could easily assimilate the M2 chip with virtually no tweaks or re-designs. It would take less work than trying to fettle with the older style Mac Pro. Also, it would be a far more affordable machine too – and given the global economic issues that would not be a bad thing to factor in either.
To put some context on those numbers – a tripped-out M1 Ultra Studio with every option box ticked and even throwing in Final Cut and Logic comes in at £8500…a Mac Pro starts at £5500 and would be beaten hands-down in virtually all areas by the M1 Mac Studio, let alone an M2 variant.
Mac Pro has always been released at WWDC as it has always represented the cutting edge of what Mac is capable of.
But we think this year’s WWDC already has a star of the show – their mixed-reality headset is scheduled to be shown there for the first time. Again you’d have to question whether Apple would release the Mac Pro in the same event as the headset – it would be so far in the shadows. Surely they would at least want to give the old boy its moment in the sun.
Writing this today, I can’t help but start to think that Mac Pro may after all be quietly retired.
It’s like Logan Roy from Succession – it just doesn’t fit in with the modern workflow. If there is someone out there that requires more power than an M1 or M2 Ultra Mac Studio then I’d like to meet them.
Certain power-hungry professionals will always need to work PC anyway – render and 3D artists come to mind. But in Mac-land, I can’t think of many that would outgun a Mac Studio. Possibly, just possibly a very high-end Hollywood editor would come close.
As much as Apple I’m sure loves to see their Mac Pros in the frame when you get to see inside studios like that, it does seem like a bit of a vanity project, right?
There’s a new chip on the block – sorry Mac Pro you were great once, but it’s time to put your £400 casters up, sit back and enjoy your retirement.
The king is dead – long live the king.
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