Radically different, but powerful. Even though many video professionals would probably have preferred seeing NVIDIA GPUs, the new Mac Pro is the first professional computer from Apple to support workstation-class graphics cards (dual internal AMD GPUs to be exact). Many were expecting a smaller device with limited expandability, and Apple delivered -- and then some. They are definitely going to be reliant on Thunderbolt 2 (which should be twice as fast as Thunderbolt 1) for any PCI-E devices, and the only part of the system that is definitely expandable internally is RAM. If that sounds appealing, click through for an introduction to the fancy new system.
Courtesty of CNET (if you haven't seen it yet), here's the actual unveiling at the WWDC:
Apple is showing off a pretty nifty click-through animation detailing the benefits of the Mac Pro's design as well as the hardware inside its tiny body (which is the first Apple computer to be assembled in the US). The biggest feature, besides the size, is the fact that they are building in two GPUs. Choosing AMD means that we lose out on some of the performance benefits of Adobe's CUDA technology (which is NVIDIA only right now). It is possible to use OpenCL with Adobe products to achieve some speed improvements, but the fastest CUDA cards will still be faster than anything else when using specific Adobe products. Otherwise, it won't necessarily affect your workflow all that much, as these should be very powerful:
It looks like we'll have four replaceable RAM slots:
We're getting six Thunderbolt 2 ports, four USB 3.0 ports, one HDMI 1.4 port (which is 4K compatible), and two Ethernet ports. With that many Thunderbolt 2 ports, you'll be able to daisy-chain a mind-numbing amount of devices (36 actually), not to mention the fact that the tech can support up to three 4K displays running simultaneously:
So will storage be expandable? It seems like a possibility, though it's unclear right now how that process will work, but if it is simply slotted in and not soldered in any way, it stands to reason it could be upgraded at a future date. If anyone has clarification from a good source on that, feel free to share it.
So why the small cylinder design? It's about minimizing the size and improving heat dissipation. Apple has achieved what is practically impossible any other way. They've taken the guts of a much larger computer and squished it down into this design, but have improved cooling efficiency. That's because the entire core acts like a heatsink, cooling all of the hardware inside all at once, rather than needing individual heatsinks with fans. The new Mac Pro utilizes just one fan at the top, so the system is operating as efficiently as possible -- using the case itself as a giant heatsink and pulling out the heat through the top (which makes the most sense as heat normally rises).
Apple isn't going to satisfy everyone. Not even close. There are going to be many PCI-E cards that will have to be tossed into external enclosures connected to Thunderbolt. This is going to be a deal-breaker for some. If you've got multiple expansion cards, plus a host of external hard drives, it's going to get pretty ridiculous not only keeping track of where everything is plugged into, but also the extra unnecessary cost of having to purchase enclosures for each of these cards (I'm sure we will see a tower-like PCI-E external module with multiple slots for those who want something less unwieldy). For example, those working with RED in post will likely have a RED Rocket card. The new RED Rocket X card, introduced at NAB 2013, might see slower speeds with Thunderbolt than connected internally, and in the world of high-end video, even a few minutes can make a huge difference. We don't know the benchmarks for the new machine yet, but it will be interesting to see how much of an impact Thunderbolt 2 vs. standard PCI-E would have on a system like this.
There will be a fine line between people who really need the expansion, and those who would rather have it as a convenience. More than a few have moved to iMacs for much of their work, and the newest ones are even less customizable. Will it be worth it for you to spring for this machine? I think it will definitely depend on the price, which they haven't discussed yet. Forget this thing being anywhere below $2,000. Judging by their current lineup, and the way they've historically priced things, I'm sure we're looking at $3,000 to $4,000 or more, especially as purchasing two of the FirePro AMD GPUs and a Xeon processor alone would be expensive -- and that's before Apple adds any sort of markup.
Thunderbolt 2 can do a lot, but for some it's just going to be too cumbersome for the amount of custom cards they'll need to put in enclosures outside of their machine. I don't see it being used as the only machine at the highest end for that reason. They're going to stick to custom Linux or Windows boxes, where they can build the highest-spec computer they want, and know that they can upgrade and replace parts at will, limiting downtime. The new Mac Pro will be great to augment certain setups, and its size will make it attractive for situations that are already tight on space, but if you enjoy the convenience of tossing a couple large and cheap spinning drives into your machine at will, or even upgrading major internal parts, you're going to feel limited by this.
We already know it should be coming out by the end of the year, so the next major step will be finding how much it will set us back should we choose to head down this brave and uncharted path.
What do you think? Does this fit into your current workflow? If you're already running an iMac or Mac Mini in your setup, does this one interest you?