Thoughts on the New Mac Pro

Posted on by Larry

[ This article generated a lot of technical comments. Be sure to view the comments in this blog to learn more. ]

Updated: June 15, to reflect a variety of technical comments from readers.

On Monday, Apple gladdened the hearts of power users everywhere by providing a “sneak peek” at the new Mac Pro. Stylish, diminutive, and blindingly fast – at least according to the specs provided by Apple. Since that time, I’ve been thinking a lot about a system that is directly targeted to meet the performance needs of video editors, and other power users.

First, keep in mind that this was a “Sneak Peek” — a tantalizing glimpse of what is coming in the future, not a formal product launch. (This is similar to what Apple did a couple years ago when they provided an “advanced look” at Final Cut Pro X at the 2011 NAB SuperMeet.) Consequently, while this “peek” provided an overview, it was intentionally sparse in providing details. Partly, I suspect, because Apple wants to gather feedback from potential users before nailing down the final specs.


One of the key things I realized was that this system is envisioned to be highly configurable. Just as the current Mac Pro has a wide variety of options for RAM, GPU, storage, and connectivity, this unit is envisioned to be highly customizable as well.

If you think about it, the current Mac Pro is the most customizable system that Apple makes. Configuration is at the heart of the new Mac Pro as well. While I expect that there will be one physical unit, we will have a lot of choices about what goes into that unit.

This also means that we will see a variety of price points as well, depending upon how each system is configured. In this regard, the new Mac Pro is identical to the current Mac Pro.


Also keep in mind that Apple views Thunderbolt as more than a fast way to move data to and from a hard disk. Apple considers Thunderbolt as a direct connection to the PCI bus of the computer, able to deliver up to 20 Gb/second of data. Think of Thunderbolt as a direct line connecting the PCI bus to the expansion chassis of your choice.

NOTE: According to a reader, Intel is claiming a throughput of Thunderbolt 2 of about 1.6 GB/second, which is still very fast.

For most people, a fast computer coupled with lots of RAM and a really fast storage system will be all they need. In fact, Philip Hodgetts has written that more than 80% of Mac Pro users don’t have any PCI cards in their system; aside from the graphics card. For those users, the new Mac Pro fits their needs for raw power, without adding tons of unneeded expansion slots.

NOTE: We used to think of PCIe card performance in terms of the number of “lanes” they used to connect to the motherboard. There were four, eight, and sixteen lane cards. The more lanes, the faster the potential communication speed between card and bus. With Thunderbolt, Apple is moving away from the concept of lanes, to straight data transfer speeds.

Thunderbolt 2 is fully-backward compatible with the original Thunderbolt. Thunderbolt devices can be connected by either copper or optical cables. Copper cables can be up to 3 meters in length (about 10 feet). Optical cables can extend up to 100 meters, for users that want to store their computers or RAIDs in a machine room for security, noise, or air conditioning reasons. Currently, optical cable lengths of 10, 20, and 30 meters are available on the market.

For users that need to expand the capabilities of their computer, for example DSP audio cards, video ingest and capture cards, mini-SAS or eSATA cards, more graphics cards, a very real question becomes “how many card slots should the computer hold?” Apple felt that picking any number of internal card slots would be limiting to some number of users. By moving all expansion cards outside the box, then connecting with the very high-speed Thunderbolt 2 data bus, Apple essentially provided a virtually unlimited number of card slots for users that need the maximum in expandability.

NOTE: As a sidelight, one Thunderbolt 2 connection provides sufficient data bandwidth to ingest uncompressed 4K images, or output video to a 4K video monitor, or support VGA, DVI, and DisplayPort computer monitors. Plus Apple put an HDMI port on the back of the Mac Pro just for good measure.

Already, ATTO and Sonnet, along with others are offering Thunderbolt to “X” converter boxes: mini-SAS, FibreChannel, eSATA, Ultra-SCSI. And vendors such as AJA, Blackmagic Design, and Matrox offer ingest and monitoring options connected via Thunderbolt.

The one missing piece is the lack of high-speed Thunderbolt-native RAID 5 storage systems, with the notable exception of Promise. There are plenty of two-drive RAID 0 and RAID 1 systems, but very, very few 5 to 10 drive RAID 5 systems, which we editors need the most. I’ve heard lots of rumors of what’s causing the problem. Without pointing fingers, I hope this bottleneck gets resolved quickly.


We also need to consider that this is a system and not focus on one single element. The new CPU is twice as fast as the current Mac Pro in floating point operations. Memory bandwidth has doubled and now supports four channels of communication between RAM and the CPU.

The big news, though, was the addition of multiple GPUs. Although the ATI FirePros were featured, I suspect other options will also be available as part of the customization options Apple offers at launch.

Now, things get interesting.

On Monday, Apple made a point to say that Final Cut Pro X would release a new version that supports the Mac Pro. That instantly made me think that all applications would need to be rewritten in order to run on the Mac Pro, which would make this new system a non-starter.

This is not the case.

Instead, think of the dual-GPUs in the Mac Pro as similar to when Apple released multi-processor CPUs. All applications would run on a multi-processor system, but until they were re-written to support multi-threading (which is the technical ability software uses to take advantage of more than one processor) the application would be limited to using only one processor. This was one of the big limitations of Final Cut Pro 7.

NOTE: In terms of Final Cut Pro X, multiple GPUs offer significant performance benefits for real-time effects playback, rendering, optical flow retiming, and exporting.

So, the Mac Pro will run all current Mac software. However, if the software wants to take advantage of the dual GPUs, it may need to be reconfigured to do so. This is not a small task for developers, but it isn’t impossible. This is what Apple was referring to when they said a new version of Final Cut Pro X would be released to support the Mac Pro.

NOTE: Once developers know they can count of dual GPUs, they can design new software from scratch to take advantage of it, the way that everyone writes software today to take advantage of multiple processors and multiple cores.

UPDATE: A reader points out: “When using OpenCL, no code modification is required (problem only for Dev’s which don’t use OpenCL). Some use CUDA-API (Nvidia) – and this requires re-coding.

UPDATE: Another reader points out that the next version of Adobe Premiere and After Effects already support Open CL.

And the performance results of optimizing for dual GPUs can be astounding. Grant Petty, CEO of Blackmagic Design, tweeted earlier this week that they have been testing Resolve 10 on the new Mac Pro and it “screams.”


Apple designed the Mac Pro as its most powerful and flexible desktop computer. They architected it to reflect where they see computers going for the next ten years. They provided a wealth of Thunderbolt ports – and converters – so that all legacy monitors, storage, and cards can be supported.

This has the potential to be an amazing piece of gear and I can’t wait to learn more at the launch.

As always, I’m interested in your thoughts.


75 Responses to Thoughts on the New Mac Pro

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  1. Kilroy says:

    The Keynote said 12 cores that’s two cpus of six cores.

  2. EddieSki says:

    @ Ted T. : Your MacPro is just 4 years old and still has life. And if needed, why not boot it into target disk mode, and connect to 2013 MacPro? Nothing else to buy but cable and adaptor (Tbolt to FW800).

    My understanding is that this will be a single CPU (12 core), dual GPU setup. I still haven’t found PC14900 modules that are larger than 8GB (I would think with 4 slots, it would have to have 4x16GB for 64GB of ECC memory…).

    I am also considering the Areca product for my needs. With the longest Tbolt cable, it can fit in a quiet, ventilated area under my desk.

    But I wonder, does anyone use more than 2 GPU cards? And regarding the PCIe lanes … there aren’t 4×16 lanes in the current macpro. It will support 4 PCIe cards: all four slots cannot simultaneously support four cards that implement the same lane configuration. Only one slot actually has 16 lanes going to it—you can put a x16 card into a slot that is only using one lane and it will operate properly, but it will operate more slowly than the same card in a x4, x8 or x16 slot.

    Sign me up for the new MacPro.

  3. Larz says:

    I’m primarily a still photographer who shoots some video and edits with FCPX. I currently have a 2008 Mac Pro with (five) 7200rpm SATA hard drives installed. One drive is installed in the empty drive bay by using an OWC kit. Been using Macs since the early 90s—originally had an SE.
    Must say I’m very disappointed in the proposed new Mac Pro. Am I correct that I cannot put any SATA drives inside this machine? Sure would love to be using solid state drives, but they’re way out of my price range. A major point of the MacPro is to be able to put in your own drives and PCI cards without having to have external boxes—>And add ram as you see fit. The idea of connecting and buying external boxes which connect with Thunderbolt adds way too much money to the price of the New MacPro. Also, Thunderbolt version 1 is barely available in external boxes today, two years after its introduction. When do we think Thunderbolt version 2 will be widely available? I would guess not until 2016. Also with all these external boxes there will be a rats nest of cables and it will not be very “green” seeing as how each external box will have it’s own power supply. My card reader and mini external hard drives connect with firewire, so they’ll all need to be upgraded. (More $s). I could care less what the machine looks like since it will sit under my desk. The new design seems perfect for spilling coffee into. Oh and the permanent graphics card—>what are they thinking. I’ve already upgraded my current 2008 Mac Pro’s graphic card once.

    I would consider switching to PC, but Windows 8 is getting bad reviews. I would like to see Apple go back to the tower design where one can add the drives, PCI cards, and RAM they desire. Having to buy all these external cabinets will most likely double the price of the Mac Pro. Is Apple now designing computers for aesthetics rather than practicality? Fine to add Thunderbolt, but why remove, firewire, and e-sata ports. Bring back the box, make it prettier if you like, but leave the functionality.

  4. Yury says:

    To Larz:

    On presentation it was said that TB ports have full backward compatibility with FW. So use the adapter. 29$ not the hell of the money comparing to the price of NewMacPro.

    I believe that all HDDs would be external now. Because NMP almost 3 times smaller than OMP as i could see on the presentation. Use fast internal SSD for the system and everything else thru DAS or single box connected to TB. That’s a proper conception. And no rat nests of cables at all. 1 power cord and 1 TB. That’s all.

    Anyway i don’t see any reasons for the still photographer to change the OldMacPro.

  5. Joey says:

    For those worried about rack-mounting for these new Mac Pros, looks like solutions are already being worked out.

  6. Caesar Darias says:

    Thanks for all the useful information, Larry.

    Can you please clarify the timing for these products, i.e., the Mac Pro and related Thunderbolt 2 products? Here’s what it says in a blog on Intel’s Thunderbolt page:

    “Thunderbolt 2 is currently slated to begin production before the end of this year, and ramp into 2014.”

    The blog is dated June 4, 2013.

    So for those of us who would like to purchase a new camera and a new computer, and want to make a decision soon, I think we are at least a year away from having a Mac Pro AND the software and hardware to support it. What do you think?

    I think a new iMac is in my future.

    Also, can you elaborate on this comment you made: “I’ve heard lots of rumors of what’s causing the problem.”

    What is the problem? Why this long delay? And, as far as I can tell, only Blackmagic has a camera with Thunderbolt. Why?


    Here’s the Intel link:–-intel’s-thunderbolt™-2-doubles-bandwidth-enabling-4k-video-transfer-display-2/

    • Larry says:


      I think we will see both Thunderbolt 2 and Mac Pros this year. Apple is on record saying that the new Mac Pro will ship “Later this year.”


  7. Craig says:

    More news about DVD and Blu-ray that may interest Dough and Larry too.
    I’m hearing that there’s no Adobe Encore in CC. So it looks like Adobe is killing their optical disc authoring program as well. Keep in mind that Encore was cross platform so this is both Mac and Windows.

    I think the reality is that there’s no economic reason for developers to pour R&D resources into what’s likely money losing product development.

    • Larry says:


      My understanding is that Encore continues to exist in the CC release, but it is, essentially, the same version of Encore shipped with CS6.


  8. Drew says:

    “How many people do put cards in their systems”?! All I know is that on the dozen Mac Pros I maintain at our company, almost all of them are full to the brim with cards. On one station I actually had to cut a card bezel to feed another connection through – it was either that or drilling a hole in the chassis.
    You can say almost no one uses expansion cards just as much as saying Mac Pros have a negligible market share for Apple. At this point I don’t care (and it doesn’t matter) if I suffer from tunnel vision or not.

    I’m with Craig, Headscratcher, Ted and others – Apple created a “Mac Midi”. TB bandwidth problems aside, a workstation needs to be bigger to have AIR in it, so the space can be filled with cards, hard drives and other expansion components. Bare cards are more economical than boxes with power supplies and multiplexed signals. I just don’t get how anyone likes the potential mess of flimsy non-locking cables that a desktop TB world creates. I didn’t even dare dream of rack-mountability.

    I think Gavin on RedUser summarized it well:

  9. Craig says:

    Adobe’s official word on Encore. CS6 version is available but development is dead.

    Is the Encore CS6 version the final release of this product?
    Yes. The trend in the video and broadcast industry is moving away from physical media distribution. The
    future is in cloud and streaming content. Therefore we are focusing more on products that deliver to
    streaming services. For example, Adobe Media Encoder and Adobe Premiere Pro CC include a new
    feature allowing users to create iPad-ready video with QuickTime chapter markers. The Encore CS6
    version will be the final release of this product.

  10. cbm says:

    I have posted this elsewhere, but it seems germane to this discussion, too:

    I don’t think that this change is different, in spirit, from some of the changes that Apple has pushed in the past. Apple tends to jettison things that it thinks are no longer relevant to the future, e.g. SCSI, ADB, Serial ports, etc. When Apple went USB-only on the original iMac, it was a controversial move, because there wasn’t much in the way of a USB device market at that point in time. Fast forward a year or so, and there were more USB devices than you could shake a mouse at. I see the Mac Pro “sneak peek” as a warning shot across the bow of the peripheral manufacturers. If manufacturers get on board with Thunderbolt, it’s a pretty interesting future, I think.

    My workflow already uses a combination of a fast boot/swap drive, FW800 and NAS for storage, so that won’t change much with a new Mac Pro, other than needing a TB->FW adaptor somewhere (at a cost of $29 from Apple.) I’m a firm believer in the concept of storage living outside of my “compute core.” I’ve changed computers with barely a hitch because my data lived somewhere else.

    Many PCIe cards will already work in an expansion chassis. Many will not. I believe this is mostly a driver issue, other than the rare card that needs more bandwidth than Thunderbolt provides. If you are someone who needs that third (or fifth) high speed graphics card, the new Mac Pro is not for you. But realistically, what percentage of the potential market for this sort of machine is in that segment? I imagine that most PCIe cards will be made to work in an expansion chassis, or a Thunderbolt alternative will appear.

    That said, I’m stuck waiting for MOTU to come up with a Thunderbolt solution for their PCI line (e.g. 2408mk3, HD192). Their adaptor card, the PCIe-424, does NOT work in an expansion chassis. If MOTU doesn’t come up with a solution for using their PCI line, the ripple effect of me moving to a new Mac Pro would involve replacing audio interfaces, and my digital mixer. The follow-on costs would probably end up being more than the MacPro. I’m optimistic that MOTU, like most manufacturers will get its act together regarding Thunderbolt.

    Summing up, if Apple/Intel are successful in their gamble to push the world towards Thunderbolt, in a year or so, we’ll think that compute cores like the Mac Pro are the natural order. We’ll wonder what all the fuss was about. Isn’t this the way computers have always been?

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