Apple’s Next Pro Mac

by Chris Seibold Jul 13, 2006

Next month is Apple’s World Wide Developer Conference. The primary focus of the annual soiree is expected to be on the next iteration of OS X aka Leopard. While OS X is the reason the developers are there, hardware introductions are also common at WWDCs. The conference, coupled with Apple’s revised timeline for the switch to Intel, has people expecting a new Intel powered PowerMac…or Mac Pro… whatever, Apple’s new high end tower system.

There will be a lot to miss about the old G5 based PowerMacs. The machine looked nice fully clad in aluminum, was very easy to get into and work on and, in a pinch, made an excellent spaghetti strainer.

Even good things must go, so the question is what do you most want to see out of a new pro level Mac? There is, naturally, a decent chance that the machine will look precisely like the PowerMac it replaces. The Intel based machines developers first got their hands on were G5 towers with a different set of guts after all. Assuming Apple leans to the MacBook type redesign instead of the MacBook Pro non-redesign protocol there is room for some aesthetic improvement.

While some find the colander part of the tower appealing, most find it annoying. Commonly referred to as the “cheese grater” style it hasn’t won many people over. Any redesigned tower would certainly have that design decision rethought. Trying to out think Ives and company on the best way to get air in the machine while keeping the box looking professional, and slightly hip, is like trying to out math Newton. All one can really hope for is that Mr. Ives looked at a Jaguar instead of a kitchen implement before setting drafting pen to paper.

A name change is also likely. The first Power Mac was introduced in March of 1994 and was powered by a PowerPC chip made by Motorola. With that in mind the “Power Mac” moniker was a natural fit and a great name. Apple has eschewed the notion of great names lately. While no one can predict the name of the next Apple pro level computer “Mac Pro” seems unavoidably likely.

Once design matters have been addressed, technical specs are on the table. Which chips Apple decides to go with is a source of constant rumors and, in truth, it doesn’t really matter. As long as the chip is at least a little faster and has a different name than the one powering the iMac those for whom time is money and those who require high end Apple coolness will buy the machines (which, lately, haven’t amounted to a lot of people).

Other specs, front side bus, hard drive space, amount of preinstalled memory will be more interesting. Apple made a definite jab at the value play with the MacBook but one wonders if that is the beginning of a trend or a one-time anomaly. In any case, the new system will be pitted immediately against the closest Dell system, coupons will be accounted for and everyone will say the Mac’s video card is substandard, because that is what they always say.

Forced to guess, one could do worse than look at the current Power Mac’s specs and expect only an incremental improvement. The SuperDrive, a 320 GB hard drive, and a capable, though complainable, video card. Bluetooth and Airport seem less likely inclusions for reasons of corporate security.

Finally, the one thing that really needs to be changed about the next pro-level Mac: the number of USB ports on the front of the machine. Currently there is one FireWire port and one USB port. A single FireWire port is plenty for most users, but having to crawl behind the machine to access a third USB port (if you count the free one on the keyboard) is a lot to ask with the amount of real estate available on the front panel. It is a constant game of unplugging the iPod cable to use the USB key or yanking the digital camera cable out to sync your non-Bluetooth cell phone, and a game consumers shouldn’t have to play.

But Apple exists to please you, what do you want to see in the next pro-level Apple desktop?


  • I would really, really like to see SLI or Crossfire support.

    So ya, I’m queueing up to diss Apple’s video already. grin

    P.S. Your sign-up system is a tad onerous.

    Reid had this to say on Jul 13, 2006 Posts: 1
  • ...made an excellent spaghetti strainer. -CS

    Hah, hah, hah. We know there was a real purpose of all that perforations - the two huge fans keeping those two G5’s (on mine) cool and happy. The Intel Developer Kit which contained a me-too G5-looking tower is at best a coy imitation but not convey the same aesthetic. It feels too plasticy, or a hacked design just to be able to carry a standard ATX mainboard. I have one at work just sitting there.

    Due to the rumoured inclusion of Core 2 (Conroe or Merom) you have to conclude that the “cheese grater” is gone. The heat/power envelope of these CPUs are much lower and much more efficient than any G5 CPU. The color theme might stay on for a little longer.

    I hope the new G5 is much lighter and thinner. The G5 tower is too damn heavy. It wants to stay where you placed it the day you brought it home.

    Another, perhaps Apple can offer us a “slim” version like the old Performa “pizza box” home computer or was it an LC. I really liked that one. The trend is for a less-cluttered desk (for pros) and small footprint, low-profile Mac Pro would fit the boss’ bill.

    Robomac had this to say on Jul 13, 2006 Posts: 846
  • As the only Apple offering that allows users to get inside and add additional expansion devices, hard drives, kitchen sinks, etc., I am hoping that the size stays the same. Compared to the previous generations QuickSilver design (much more bulbous), I feel the “cheese-grater” design is much more appealing and adheres more Apples contemporary industrial/minimalist/modernist design.

    Lets face it, the PowerMac G5 tower looks like no other machine out there - so let’s all hope that they don’t go backwards and design an enclosure that looks like regular PCs by using - dare I say it - plastic.

    The Performa, was a cool enclosure, but that harkens back to the mysterious product line up days when Apple offered a bazillion models, which were all very similar. I think if a user is looking for a small form factor, they really should consider an iMac.

    adickers had this to say on Jul 13, 2006 Posts: 1
  • I have to disagree about the chip.  I think the chip is an important selling point.  One of the major reasons I got a dual 2.0 Ghz PowerMac G5 was because of the 64 bit processing.  Those of us who perform quite a bit of high precision calculations welcome that capability.

    I cannot fathom Apple ditching a 64 bit processor in their pro line.  On the other hand, I cannot fathom why Apple hasn’t included a 64 bit processor in their pro laptop line.

    anokajim had this to say on Jul 13, 2006 Posts: 3
  • One of the major reasons I got a dual 2.0 Ghz PowerMac G5 was because of the 64 bit processing -anok

    Besides Sybase for OSX, name me an app that takes advantage of the extra 32 bits of address space capability in the G5 (>4 GB?).

    If you refer to the data bus width, ever since the 601’s the data bus was capable up to 64 bits (hence, 32/64 bus widths of the PPC fundamental design). It was the 620 (defunct) that used a full 64/64 bus width config that the G5 took into full force.

    As to the next Mac Pro CPU, yes, it will have to incorporate x86-64 capability for this is a fundamental requirement of the Pro line.

    As for the MacBook Pro, yeah the Core 2 with x86-64 would be a welcome addition. Core is only 32 bits capable.

    Robomac had this to say on Jul 13, 2006 Posts: 846
  • I can see the case staying aluminum, dumping the cheeze grater look, and getting slightly smaller than the G4 tower. Apple will stick w/ease of opening over compactness for the pro desktop line.

    MacNuggets had this to say on Jul 13, 2006 Posts: 17
  • I just hope they continue the trend of having 4 x16 PCI-E slots and don’t do what every other PC Mobo maker is doing and loading down motherboards with almost useless 1x or 4x slots.  Who cares if they only run at x4 or x8 speeds, video cards are currently only made in x16 slots, and that was one of my biggest appeals for a G5 (if the Intel MacPros remove these i’ll probably find a used G5 just to be able to run more than 2 displays).  I get really sick of being expected to pay premium prices for high-end PC motherboards, when they leave little-but-very-important things like that off.

    peelmanG4 had this to say on Jul 13, 2006 Posts: 3
  • Finally, the one thing that really needs to be changed about the next pro-level Mac: the number of USB ports on the front of the machine.

    Yep.  I now have two USB hubs on my iMac, a 4-port and an 8-port.  Plus the three in back are filled.

    A starting point for the new Power Mac should be at least 4 in the front, with 2 Firewire ports.  Plus another 4 or maybe 8 in the back.

    I’ve heard the rumor that the new PM will also feature the Core 2 Duo, which would be necessary IMO to really push the specs well beyond what you can get in a Macbook Pro or the iMac.

    And 2 GB of RAM would be excellent, but that’s probably just wishful thinking.

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Jul 13, 2006 Posts: 2220
  • I like the cheeze grater, a slab front would be boring.  With the cooler processors, they can remove a couple of fans and add standard support for 3 more HDs and a 2nd optical drive.  Pro boxes need lots of HDs for scratch, mirroring and media file organization.  I have 5 drives through add-ons, and iStat pro shows Zero increase in processor temp.  Probably, thanks to the cheeze grater.

    Art Pease had this to say on Jul 13, 2006 Posts: 1
  • I like the Aluminium enclosure, I think it’s alot better than what they used to have and what most PC’s out there still have, namely no design at all.

    I would like it to be more silent. And with the Intel chips coming, they could loose some fans inside and make the beast just that, a little more silent.

    I do think however that the overall design won’t change much. Since the design they have is optimised to give the best possible airflow over all the computer components inside.

    I’d like more USB ports and Firewire ports on front and back, I’m just barely managing at the moment. But one more and I’m in trouble.

    More internal HD room, a total of 4 will do. An extra optical drive would be nice.

    And I would like to see BT/AP become standard. You’d be suprised how many people opt for this option on the current models.

    In all likelihood they’ll fit 1GB of Ram in the two top models and fit 512MB Ram in the basic model. I’d like to see them fit more as standard on all models (2GB top range 1GB basic model), but that’s just day dreaming.

    Give me the rest I asked for and I’m a happy man.

    RoDe had this to say on Jul 13, 2006 Posts: 1
  • I really hope Apple goes to town on the new PowerMac/Mac Pros.  I have read rumours that they will use the new “Woodcrest” chips because the “Conroe” does not support quad core (or dual dual depending on your POV), leaving the Conroe to future iMacs.

    I really hope this is the case because they really would be something special and extremely powerful.  My wish list would be:

    The fastest available CPUs, fastest FSB etc.
    More FW and USB ports
    Better BTO options for Hard Drives i.e. 10k Raptor
    More generous amount of standard memory (or at least not to take the p*ss on upgrade prices)
    Good video card options
    More bays for internal hard drives & optical drives

    I think they’re already heading in the right direction with the rest i.e. PCI-E, twin gigabit ethernet ports etc.

    As for the aesthetics: I must be one of the few who is happy with them as they are, though as someone who hasn’t owned/lived with one, I accept the comments re size etc!

    Toxic Clown had this to say on Jul 14, 2006 Posts: 2
  • Just for interests sake, here is an article just out from AnandTech about the Core 2’s absolutely blistering performance. Just imagine what we can expect from Woodcrest if this is what they can deliver on Conroe! I hate to see the PowerMac leave this earthly realm, but you’ve got to admit that the future of Mac performance is very, very bright indeed.

    Benji had this to say on Jul 14, 2006 Posts: 927
  • While I agree that the Woodcrest line of Core 2 microarchitecture is the best of the coming design platform, I doubt Apple will put it in the new Mac Pro since that CPU is server-oriented.

    So, Woodcrest is more preferrable for Apple to plunk that baby into their Mac Server Pro lines (XServe?). Also, this line will be launched a little later this year vice August’s intro of the Mac Pro (as rumoured by the way).

    Therefore, the Mac Pro will introduce the Merom line (32 & 64bit capable dual-core, SSE4, new smaller pipeline, the works!) of Core 2.

    The lower chain products (iMac and Mac minis) will consume either Conroe/Merom, whichever fits their form factor’s THD or total heat dissipating capabilities.

    As for the resize, I hope they offer several configurations - same as it is, mid-tower, and a “pizza-box”-style desktop. That would surely increase the appeal of the Mac Pro to more professionals out there - whether a brute or a femme…;)

    Robomac had this to say on Jul 14, 2006 Posts: 846
  • According to Wikipedia, Merom is a low TDP part intended for laptops, and is rather unlikely to support multi-processor configurations. Neither does Conroe. I think you’ll agree it would be fairly unconceivable for the Mac Pro to be limited to single processors.

    Indeed the G5 or was also basically a server processor. It is quite clear now that IBM’s processor game plan has been to head in that direction with their POWER architectures since before its development.

    Benji had this to say on Jul 14, 2006 Posts: 927
  • *the G5 or 970xx

    Benji had this to say on Jul 14, 2006 Posts: 927
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