What is this thing?
Talk about a makeover. At this week’s World Wide Developer’s Conference, Apple (AAPL) teased a wholesale redesign of its top-of-the-line desktop computer, the Mac Pro. Marketing chief Phil Schiller bounded onto the stage to unveil the new machine, saying, “This product is so cool, I’m going to go over the top.” Then the lights dimmed, and a dramatic video introduced a radical new design.
This new Mac has been a long time coming. The current “cheese grater” design dates back to before Apple made the switch to Intel (INTC) CPUs in 2006. That design has been iterated on significantly over the years, but the basic profile stayed the same. If nothing else, the new design is a complete break with the past: a sleek, otherworldly cylinder that is about one-eighth the size of the current tower.
There is one obvious problem with the new Mac Pro: what to call it? If ever an Apple design was begging for a nickname, this is it. It’s been called a time capsule, a bullet, a bear canister, a trash can, and — why not — compared to the cybernetic Cylons of Battlestar Galactica fame. The design, for all its boldness, is also reminiscent of Apple’s ill-fated Power Mac G4 Cube. That machine, sold between 2000 and 2001, featured an innovative design but failed to sell well.
Here’s a closer look at the new ultimate Mac.
The Mac Pro is Apple’s most powerful line of desktops, aimed at graphics professionals, scientific researchers, and the like. Apple was just teasing the model this week and didn’t provide too many details. It will be available later this year. The current lineup starts at $2,400 and can reach north of $10,000 with high-end options.
Schiller unspooled a long list of impressive technical specifications when he introduced the new Mac. It packs dual GPUs, PCI Express-based flash storage, Thunderbolt 2 ports, the latest Xeon processors, ultrafast memory, and can even spit out so-called 4K video, the new higher-than-high-definition video standard.
The heart of the machine is built around Intel’s Xeon class of processors. Apple is planning to sell configurations with up to 12 processing cores.
The company says the Mac Pro’s graphics processing units (GPUs) will be able to pump out 7 teraflops of computing power. They will be available with up to 6 gigabytes of dedicated video memory. At WWDC, Apple is holding a session with designers from Pixar to show off the Mac Pro’s graphical prowess.
Most pro-level towers use multiple heat sinks and fans to cool the various components inside. That’s why many high-end PCs either come in massive cases or are crammed with cooling equipment. The Mac Pro’s design is an attempt to eliminate that problem. Instead, its cylindrical shape is supposed to maximize airflow away from the CPU and GPUs.
Flash storage common in cellphones, tablets, and many laptops is in vogue right now. Such memory is dramatically faster than standard hard disk drives. Apple is putting the flash memory in the Mac Pro on a specialized card to make data transfer much faster than today’s flash-based drives.