Tuesday, April 11, 2017

What I Want in the New Mac Pro

Justin Williams:

Make it look like the Cheese Grater if you want, or spend time designing something more modern and attractive. If I get a say in size, I’d like something along the size of the Power Mac G4. The Cheese Grater design was nice, but it was also a chore to lug around the few times I needed to move or rearrange my desk.


What I need more than faster CPUs is more cores. The trash can Mac Pro got this right. My iMac maxes out at 4-cores. I’m going to want at least 8 for a Mac Pro.


I don’t need multiple GPUs personally. I’m just a software developer who doesn’t do any game work. I just want to ensure that I have the best GPU I can get when I buy this so that I can ensure that macOS performs as well as it can for a few years. No stuttering when I toggle Mission Control!

Stephen Hackett:

Even if a new Mac Pro had everything I’ve listed and more, I still bet the machine could be smaller than the Cheese Graters. A modern Mac Pro should be able to live on or under a desk. The Cheese Graters were too big and heavy to go anywhere but the floor, while the 2013 Mac Pro begged to be behind a display somewhere. Flexibility here is key. If the new Apple display has a built-in cable, it should be long enough to reach the floor.

Lloyd Chambers:

Dual CPU support still matters for many tasks, particularly server loads. Given the stalled-all performance of single CPU cores today and the continuing instability of GPU-based software, dual CPUs would be a welcome, and are needed for server type workloads.


Support for GPU of choice, and more than one GPU.


At least eight Thunderbolt 3 ports, on 4 busses. And not crammed tightly together.

Support for maximum speed PCIe cards, with at least two available slots.


Don’t make me dangle dongles: 4 USB 3.1 high speed ports and SD card reader slot.

I would like:

Previously: The Mac Pro Lives.

Update (2017-04-15): Jordan Kahn (Hacker News):

To find out what Hackintoshers want in the new machine, and maybe what would help bring back some pros that Apple has lost in recent years, we’ve talked to the moderators at one of our favourite Hacktinosh communities, tonymacx86.com.

We also got some input from our own resident Hackintosh enthusiast (and YouTuber) Jeff Benjamin, and some other pros and gamers that have made the jump from Apple’s pro machines to a Hackintosh.

Update (2017-04-16): Marco Arment (tweet, Hacker News):

A lot went wrong with the 2013 Mac Pro. […] It was designed to accommodate exactly two GPUs with relatively low heat output each, but CPU-heavy users didn’t need the second GPU, and GPU-heavy users needed hotter-running GPUs (and often just one really hot one). So the only configuration it was offered in was either overspecced (and overpriced) or underpowered for most Mac Pro customers.


Overly aggressive minimalism fails most spectacularly when there’s no clear consensus among customers on what can be removed. And if you ask Mac Pro customers what they need and want, there’s very little overlap[…]


The Mac Pro must be the catch-all at the high end: anytime someone says the iMac or MacBook Pro isn’t something enough for them, the solution should be the Mac Pro.

Update (2017-04-17): Daniel Pasco:

I realized that the corner that Apple has painted us into is just another “sweet solution” (similar to Jobs proposal that we develop web apps for iPhone instead of native apps).


This eight year old machine is a beast. It is everything that I have been missing. It embodies the zenith of industrial hardware design. It is literally bristling with ports, has four internal drive bays, and can support TWO of the most cutting edge graphics cards available on the market today.


Realize that the dream that professionals will just accept an iMac or the trash can Mac Pro is your dream, not theirs.

Update (2017-04-20): Kirk McElhearn:

While I don’t need “pro” features, I do want a computer that is more flexible, more upgradeable. The only thing I would demand, however, is silence. When I had the cheese grater Mac Pro, it was quieter than previous Macs, but still a bit noisy.

Update (2017-05-02): Stephen Hackett:

I’ve been thinking a lot about why Apple has said it’s going to take at least the rest of this year to ship a new Mac Pro. I’m worried that Apple can’t help itself, and is going to try too hard to making something clever and beautiful.

Update (2017-05-12): Jordan Kahn:

This time I’ve asked the pros– iOS and Mac developers, photographers, audio engineers, animators and more– what they want from the promise of a modular Mac, along with the display Apple also announced it’s working on.

22 Comments RSS · Twitter

I don't care much for 3.5 inch drives. That's one of the few things that actually works externally. But it would be super awesome if the SSD slot in the Pros was a standard M.2 PCIe NVMe slot, rather than the custom thing the laptops use. And give me more than one of them.

@John What do you recommend for docking/swapping drives externally? I’m using a RocketStor, which is better than other solutions I’ve tried, but it has some issues, and it doesn’t make efficient use of space on my desk.

It will be nice if a true Mac Pro resurfaces with a longterm commitment, but I am still skeptical until it ships and multiple years of support and updates are behind it. Now, speaking of pro Macs... here's my "pro" MacBook Pro wish list:

- Option to discard Touch Bar on any and all models, it is not a "Pro" feature. Removing Touch Bar should make the price less too...

- 32GB / 64GB RAM options, ideally user upgradeable and not soldered on

- Removable / serviceable SSD, not soldered on

- Increased battery capacity

- Return of Magsafe, HDMI, SD card, and multiple USB-A ports, along with a few USB-C ports.

It is supposed to be a MacBook Pro for professional users after all.

One can dream....

Zachary King

I would be completely happy with the cheese grater with updated internals.

I currently have a Hackintosh, but would gladly buy a Mac Pro or other Apple desktop that met my hardware requirements. I don't really need Xeons or ECC ram, but I do want lots of ram, current processors, lots of connectors, PCIe slots, and drive bays.

"Multiple (ideally 4+) internal storage bays for 2.5-inch SSDs and 3.5-inch hard drives. "

They should obviously just replicate the form factor from this. The drives weren't hot swappable, as Michael wants, but it was so easy to work inside. With my last unit, there was enough room and connections for me to stick a couple of extra drives in non-designated spots.

And, of course, ZIF CPU's and GPU's would be nice, if such things still exist...

Apple could charge up the wazoo for providing such expandability and future-proofing. Their customers would be happy to make that trade-off.

I mostly echo the comments from others, but would like to see these too:
- should allow at least 256GB of RAM
- 2 or more slots for M.2 SSDs
- 2 or more full-size GPUs

And Tim, please consider a rack mount version...

One thing that gets overlooked is how long the cheesegrater and the G3/G4 tower before it were actually viable designs. That must have made those Macs cheap to build in the long term for Apple. What I would like to see therefore would be a new Mac Pro in a thoughtful design that can last at least 10 years (if not 20).

Wish list:
• A Tower that could also fit horizontally in a 19" rack space without extra clamps to buy. One would think that Apple should be able to pull it of and still get a nice looking machine. Ideally you would have to just screw it in place.

• Cheesegrater like air intakes that have removable/cleanable/exchangeable air filters inside so that the machine doesn’t suck in all the dust from the outside. Good for indoor/office use but also when you take the machine out on events. You’d be surprised how many machines I saw with thin oil films (used in workshop) and excess dust inside. Suck in the air through a filter: Problem solved.

• Every component user serviceable/replaceable. Power supply, Mainboard, CPU boards, Drivebays you name it.

• No backup battery on the main board but a better solution than said battery. If there needs to be one it should be one that people can actually buy in a regular store and it should give a warning to the user when it’s near its end of life.

• At least four drive bays that fit 3.5 hard drives – rather eight. Have them accept 2.5 drives without need for an adapter.

• Optical drive slot (as above, you’d be surprised)

• 3.5mm Audio Jack, RCA Audio Jacks and optical Audio – and a really good D/A Converter (Maybe even XLR Audio?). Also: A “soft” power-on of said audio ports: As it is right now, when you have speakers connected to a Mac Pro and they are turned on before the Mac is, you’ll get a rather nasty crack right through to the speakers. Not what I call well designed. Good amps turn on the power to the speakers gracefully after the amp itself is ready.
The point here though is having analogue audio: There isn’t one good pair of speakers which have optical audio ports and for good reason.
And no, I’m not in the market for an external Audio Interface if I can avoid it.

• One to four CPU slots (eight?). If memory serves, it was cheaper in the Cheesegrater days to buy two six cores than one 12 core. That’s one of multiple reasons.

• Lots of RAM. ECC. 64GB Minimum.

• Regarding some of the points above see the specs of the HP Z840 here http://www8.hp.com/us/en/workstations/z840.html

• Four full length PCI Slots

• Nvidia Card options (and maybe the option to buy the machine without an graphics card at all)

• 2 Ethernet ports and next gen WiFi

• 8 USB-C/Thunderbolt Ports that don’t compromise with supplying power or bandwidth

• A full size Keyboard with numeric keypad, USB-cable and backlight keys (Yes, that DOES make sense on a desktop) but without the bloody touchbar (or with the touchbar provided it doesn’t replace ANY keys).

• A USB-cable mouse in the form factor like the Mighty Mouse (not the too flat and laggy bluetooth POS they released) but with the scrollball being a touch-sensitive bump instead of being mechanic

• A screen with the wide gamut and physical flexibility (rotation/tilt in all directions and height adjustable) of the NEC PA272W

Now of course you could get external drives and external interfaces and all that but that makes it exponentially more complex and expensive in money and time to find/build the right solution. I don’t know of a single HDD case I would really like to buy for example – out of quality concerns and not wanting to deal with a thousand cables and power bricks and all that rot (my Synology NAS being an exception but I don’t really consider that a hard drive).

A normal assortment of video connectors would be nice. Like are found on video cards. Not the usual Apple approach of blessing one or two connectors and forcing everyone to buy adapters.

@Michael. I have a NewerTech Voyager that does Firewire 800 (!) and USB3 and seems to work fine for backups and such. It mostly stays on a shelf.

The reality is that I'm moving away from 3.5 in drives pretty fast. I still have a pair of Seagate 8TB 3.5in USB3 drives hooked up to an old mac laptop that quietly backs everything up in my house, but I find myself preferring 2.5in for up to 5TB now. If I care about speed I use SSD.

Keep in mind that this thing won't be out for a year+. You can get a 2TB SSD today for $550 at Newegg. By 2019 when this thing is in real use, I wouldn't be shocked if fancy wedding photographers buy 1TB SSDs for each client and keep them on a shelf. That mostly leaves 4k video people who need many TB, and an array of 2-4TB SSDs might even work for them.

@John My Mac doesn’t have FireWire, and I’ve had problems (i.e. spontaneous amounting) with all the USB3 drive docks I tried, including the Voyager.

A 6 TB 3.5-inch drive is only $200 now. So SSD’s are getting cheaper, but it’s still almost an order of magnitude difference in price. I’m not sure how that will change over time. (And that Crucial SSD seems to be an outlier; there are a bunch that are $700-1,000.)

That said, I would probably still be interested in a Mac Pro that had 4 2.5-inch bays.

@Michael Yeah I don't use firewire anymore, but USB3 works fine for me. I'm sorry you're having less luck.

I agree the price difference is huge (though probably shrinking over next 2yrs), but my general point is that for pro users, most can get by fine with an SSD, or will be able to soon. The performance difference is just as huge. People who have a ton of stuff will either pay a ton for SSDs, pay a similar amount for a thunderbolt pro storage system, or be fine with USB3.

The thing besides SSDs that has changed my view of 3.5in drives is the 5TB 2.5in Seagate external spinning drives for $150. I will trade a slight amount of speed for bus-power and tininess.

@John I expect that I’ll soon switch all my primary drives to SSD. But the speed difference is almost irrelevant for archival and backup uses, and I want a lot of backups, so price really matters. The 2.5-inch drives are getting better, but bus power isn’t a big deal when it’s inside the tower, anyway.

@Michael Yes, but for those purposes, USB3 isn't that bad, and usb external drives aren't much more than bare drives.

It would be nice if the new mac had PCIe slots (I do like those). Then you could always get an eSATA card.

@John Backups were what were triggering all the USB3 problems that I had. It seems to be due to an OS issue because other Mac users also reported these problems, but Windows users with the same drives did not.

In any case, USB3 is much slower than Thunderbolt and internal interfaces, even for “slow” 5,400 RPM hard drives, and I want the drives to be internal to save space and clutter.

Ponies. Lots and lots and lots of Ponies.

The newly announced self-driving car form factor for the Mac Pro brings lots of possibilities for what they can fit inside. Exciting times!

Different groups of pros need different things. Some are happy with 4 cores. Others need all the cores you can get. Some are happy with a single SSD. Others need as much storage as you can get. Some need all the RAM they can afford, others will be happy with 16gb. Some just need plain jane graphics, others need the biggest and baddest GPU you can buy. Some need PCI slots, others will never use them. Each tiny slice of the market needs something different.

The Cheese Grater MP solved this problem by selling you a giant box that could be filled with all kinds of different things. For most owners, their MP spent its life 90% empty, but each group of owners would have a different 10% filled. That was wasteful, of money, of raw materials, and of space. Shrinking things down was the right call by Apple.

But telling all those tiny market segments, "go get an external expansion box that fulfills your needs" was the wrong call.

Maybe, instead, this time Apple could build a truly modular MP. The base system is a small box with an integrated retina-class GPU (same as on the 5k imac), multiple M2 SSD slots, and lots of I/O on the back. Like a cylinder MP turned on its side, it has one big fan to cool everything. It has two slots for CPU/RAM cards, each card has room for 3 or 6 RAM sticks. The base system comes with one CPU card, take it into an Apple store and pay a fee to upgrade to two. Trade in your CPU card for a faster one when your needs change.

On the top of this box is a docking connector. If you need more than the base system provides, you can buy modular add ons that latch on top of the base system. If you need more than iMac level graphics, you buy a graphics module that contains one or two big beefy GPUs. If you need lots of storage, buy a module that has room for lots of hard drives and maybe an optical drive. If you need add on cards, buy a PCI slot module. The modules stack, so if you need all of the above, you end up with a big tower. But if you don't, you get a much smaller, quieter, and less expensive system.

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