A difficult ten years have passed for the Mac Pro. A strange cylindrical model that wasn’t truly upgradeable and didn’t satisfy the needs of the majority of Apple’s professional clients was released by the company in 2013. Apple gathered a group of tech writers in a room in 2017 to reaffirm their commitment to the Mac and make a new Mac Pro promise. Less than two years before Apple announced that it would switch the Mac away from Intel and toward its own CPUs, that Mac Pro began shipping in late 2019.
Apple is now tardy in completing its processor shift by providing the first Apple silicon-based Mac Pro, coming up on the 10-year mark since that initial Mac Pro blunder. Even worse, according to Bloomberg sources, the corporation may have dropped the most advanced processor from the upcoming Mac Pro, casting doubt on the machine’s whole design.
Is Apple reconsidering its support for the Mac Pro? And should it, given the several strong traits of Apple silicon Macs?
niche within a niche.
Beginning with the facts: Mac Pros are seldom ever purchased. Almost 10% of Apple’s total revenue comes from the Mac, and it’s safe to assume that laptops account for at least 75% of Mac sales. That that leaves the iMac, Mac mini, Mac Studio, and Mac Pro vying for a tiny portion. It’s unlikely that the desktop that starts at $6,000 will account for a sizable share of those sales.
In reality, only a single-digit fraction of our CPUs are Mac Pros. We don’t view it that way, though. According to our perspective, there is a connected ecology here. So, a small minority of professionals might utilize a Mac Pro; this group includes 15% of frequent users of Pro software and 30% of occasional users. These two groups are related. These are not separate mini-silos. There is a link between everything mentioned here.
That is Schiller explaining why the Mac Pro is valuable by connecting it to those who use Pro software both occasionally and frequently, and by saying that it all somehow relates. If you think about it, it certainly appears a lot squishier.
If your only concern is the bottom line, you shouldn’t produce the Mac Pro. It’s the kind of product you create because you want to enhance your reputation and use it to brag about how talented you are at creating the chips that go inside of computers. You succeed because key industry professionals want you to, and you enjoy showcasing how your computers are employed in those attractive or interesting industries. You do it because, whatever it is, “there’s a connection between all of this.”
Apple Silicon doesn’t fit
The issue with the Mac Pro built on Apple silicon is as follows: More than a decade has been spent by Apple building mobile CPUs that are low-power, share a quick memory pool across CPU and GPU cores, and incorporate Apple-built GPU cores inside the same chip package. It’s a model that was created for the iPhone, but as we’ve learned over the past several years, it also scales nicely to the iPad and even the Mac.
The Mac Pro doesn’t want to be any of that, which is excellent. It has no interest in picking up any of those teachings. A large tower Mac is unconcerned about energy efficiency. It is hooked into the electricity and has sizable cooling fans. It desires expansion slots so that it may add additional GPU power. Plenty of extendable memory is what it wants. It demands features that Apple silicon was never intended to offer.
That said, Apple could certainly modify items to match the Mac Pro. But do you reconsider the basic design choices made while creating the processor architecture that let you achieve great success with your phones, tablets, and other Mac models just for a little portion of the market? One of the crucial inquiries for the upcoming Mac Pro is this: Apple either altered its approach to chip design for the Mac Pro or altered the definition of a Mac Pro to include its chips.
I can’t say that Mark Gurman’s Bloomberg report that Apple has abandoned plans for a “M2 Extreme,” essentially four M2 Max chips (or two M2 Ultra chips combined), which was initially intended to power the next Mac Pro, has given me much hope. If Gurman is correct, the next Mac Pro will be equipped with the M1 Ultra chip’s successor, which was first launched in the Mac Studio last year.
Minimal Mac Pro
But what distinguishes a Mac Pro as such? If it’s a tower enclosure, Apple has one from 2019 that it can just roll out once more. (Gurman claims that this is the current plan, which is also a little unsettling given that the first rumors called for a new, half-height container with that quad-M2 chip.) It’s important to evaluate what’s inside the Mac Pro, and if all it has is an M2 Ultra chip, it’s difficult to think of the new Mac Pro as much more than a Mac Studio that has relocated from an apartment to a mini-mansion.
Does internal expandable storage make a difference? Indeed, I suppose-undoubtedly it’s more aesthetically pleasing than hooking drives to exterior ports. Does it assist if Apple provides extra M2 GPU cores through a specialized add-on card system? Maybe if the additional engineering work was done. What about a Memory upgrade? Yes, but once more, such a decision would undermine the effort made by Apple to build a fast, shared memory pool right close to the CPUs and GPUs.
And all of that specialized effort, all of those deviations from what makes Apple silicon so successful, would be done for a product that fits into an even smaller niche. Instead, Apple’s chip design team could have used that time to create a new chip for the iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch.
The next Apple silicon Mac Pro could be released with the same tower architecture, but what about those expansion ports?
The final countdown
Does it merit it? To be completely honest, I have no idea. It’s difficult to think that investing time, money, and resources in chip design would be worthwhile for a new Mac Pro to be anything other than a large Mac Studio. Even while Schiller’s 2017 assertion that everything is connected perplexes me, if Apple’s decision-makers genuinely believe it, then that is the strongest argument I can think of for developing one.
The risk here is that Apple is forcing itself to create a computer that doesn’t really make financial sense, and along the way, it has scaled back the project so much that the end result will also be a computer that no one really wants to purchase. That’s horrible for everyone involved.