What should be the 2018 Mac Pro?

I’m really happy to see Apple’s announcement on the Mac Pro today. Last November I wrote:

“Even if you think the Mac Pro is going to be updated, Apple’s lack of a mention of it (or the iMac) implies that Apple is still misjudging the expectations of the pro community. When you’re a Pro, you don’t like uncertainty around the tools you need to earn a living. Would you risk your business on a vendor that doesn’t have a clear plan on continuing to support your workflow?”

“Even a “we’re working on” for the Mac Pro would have gone a long way towards re-assuring a community that depends on Apple’s roadmap for a living.”

Apple announcing they are working on a new Mac Pro is the right move. It’s something they should have done in 2016 or 2015, but it’s better late than never.

With the announcement that they’re working on a 2018 completely redesigned Mac Pro, here are some things I’d love to see:

Returning to a traditional design

The 2013 Mac Pro looked great, but the design was just problematic. A tower goes on the floor where I don’t need to look at it. With a monitor and speakers already on my desk, I’d be hard pressed to find room for a Mac Pro. The Mac Pro should be built to go on the floor, which probably implies a tower design. The round can design was attractive, but it wasn’t practical.

Off the shelf PCIe graphics

The GPU is the quickest aging component of my Mac. On my Mac Pro the GPU is typically outdated after two years (my 2008 Mac Pro has gone through four GPU configs.) I shouldn’t need to change out my pro level hardware every two years.

Apple and the rest of the PC industry have also all adopted the UEFI standard, which should open up a Mac Pro to a world of PC graphics cards without flashing (assuming the drivers are available on the Mac.) Support for off the shelf standard GPUs would help me get a lot more out of the machine. Yes, standard PC cards would have a bunch of unsightly video ports in addition to the onboard Thunderbolt ports. But I could use those video outputs with compatible monitors if I needed to preserve my Thunderbolt ports for data devices.

Plenty of pros also use other kinds of PCIe cards, and have to shell out the extra expense to buy Thunderbolt enclosures to house these cards in.

Multiple GPUs

Apple talked about single GPU workflows. I’d also like to see two GPUs still be an option. Four PCIe slots, like the classic Mac Pro, would be especially great, as we have obscure workflows at work that really need four GPUs.

Could this cause problems with the Thunderbolt ports not knowing which video card to use? Sure. But that’s easily solvable with a setting in Displays that lets you pin a display to a GPU.

Use Existing Standards

The 2013 Mac Pro has an user upgradable SSD (read the manual) that is also proprietary, and Apple won’t sell you their SSDs. OWC has come out with their own replacement SSDs, but they don’t usually ship with the same performance. If the storage is going to be upgradable, make sure I actually have options to upgrade it with. Use the M.2 standard. Offer a few M.2 slots. Sell Apple SSDs with Apple performance even if I have to go to the Genius Bar to order.

Don’t bother with SATA or optical drives. That’s the past.

Optimize macOS

There is a software side to this too, mostly around Metal. We’re clearly not getting other API’s like Vulkan at this point, so Metal needs to be solid. It needs to be fast, and needs to be reliable, which it isn’t necessarily right now.

It’s also strange Apple is complaining about software not adapting for multiple GPUs when they make it so difficult. DirectX 12 makes it easy for apps to use multiple GPUs at once, even if those GPUs are from different vendors. Multiple GPUs aren’t a bad idea, Apple has just done such a bad job making that happen.

Bonus Points

Dual CPUs could be nice. But with the Xeon now up to 16 cores it’s less necessary. But dual CPUs does also double the maximum amount of RAM possible.

A rack mount server configuration? Ok ok, probably too much to ask for the return of the Xserve. But Apple is missing a really good rack mountable build server option right now. Maybe just a quad core Mac Mini would work.

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