One of the big surprise announcements from the recent Apple WWDC presentation was about the upcoming Mac Pro model. At first the audience was presented with a black cylinder on screen and many were wondering what they were looking at. Apple have completely redesigned their flagship workstation from the ground up and at the same time have completely changed direction from the previous model. Let me explain that statement.
The familiar Aluminium Tower design has been housing of Mac Pro's since their release in 2003. Initially using PowerPC G5 processors and then moving to Intel Xeon processors circa 2008 with some internal modifications along the way. The beauty of this casing was the expandability even on the 2008 model - 4 hard drive slots, 2 optical drive bays, memory riser cards, 4 x PCI-Express slots in the logic board, RAID card, Airport card, Bluetooth card and up to 2 CPU's depending on the specification.
So the key point here is the expandability of this prior Mac Pro line. You can add a heap more internal storage, add-on cards, memory etc in this big chassis which is really heavy but completely solid and looks the business.
Which brings us to the direction changed I allured to. You can see the new Mac Pro is small and round like an oversized can of soft drink in its extruded polished aluminium chassis. The key to this design is what Apple engineers call the Unified Thermal Core - Rather than having separate heat-sinks and fans for each GPU and CPU, creating thermal currents and noise, Apple's engineers created a new design central heat-sink for all components. It works by conducting heat energy away from CPU and GPU's and distributes that energy evenly across the core. If one processor isn't working as hard as another, the extra thermal capacity can be shared among them. One large multi-blade fan sits atop of the thermal core drawing cool air from the bottom of the case through the core and expelling hot air at the top of the chassis.
So what about expandability?
This is where technology steps in. In early 2011 Apple released their Thunderbolt technology in the MacBook Pro. Thunderbolt is an extension of the PCI-Express bus found internally to external devices. While vendors have been slow on the take up of Thunderbolt and no really exciting products have been released, the specifications of Thunderbolt 2 found in the new Mac Pro will allow throughput of up to 20Gb/s (twice the original thunderbolt specification) to external devices and the Mac Pro has 6 x Thunderbolt 2 ports available, with each port able to daisy chain up to 6 devices each. That's a total of 36 devices able to be connected just through Thunderbolt alone. You can then connect a PCI-Expansion chassis for extra storage capacity, connect up to 3 of the latest 4K desktop displays and once manufacturers externalise their internal PCI cards to Thunderbolt enclosures, many more devices will be connectable through Thunderbolt.
So the direction change has been to externalise previously internalised devices and PCI cards and the new Mac Pro takes up about 1/8 of the space the previous model used, turning the Mac Pro into a true and welcome desktop device.
2013 Mac Pro specifications
Intel Xeon E5 chipset offering up to 12 cores, 40GB/s of PCI Express gen 3 bandwidth, 256-bit-wide floating point instructions
Four channel DDR3 1866MHz with ECC (error correction) delivering up to 60GB/s bandwidth
2 x AMD FirePro workstation-class GPU with up to 6GB of dedicated VRAM
PCI-Express flash storage. Up to 2.5 times faster than SATA-based Solid state drives
6 x Thunderbolt 2 ports
4 x USB 3 ports
2 x GbE Ethernet ports
HDMI 1.4 port
9 inches high x 6.6 inches diameter
This is one exciting product for graphic designers and is long overdue.
Happy computing :-)
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