The new Mac Pro - a great idea, maybe one or two years too early
June 13, 2013
Many professionals and Mac Pro owners prayed to see the announcement of a new version of their favorite workstation. The reactions differed between "wow, great, take my money" and "oh no, I know you will mess it up". I think the new Mac Pro is a great systems moving in the right direction but eventually one or two years too early and too dependent on Intel.
The concept of the new Mac Pro is pretty simple. You buy a base system and if you need any extensions or upgrades you connect them via Thunderbolt. And I think this is the part where most opinions differ.
The biggest advantage is that you are not bound to a system anymore. If your Mac Pro blows up just attach your disk array to your MacBook and continue working, likely a bit slower, as if nothing happened. Or if MacBooks are fast enough just replace your Mac Pro with one of them in some years if you like. Want a new Mac Pro? Get one and just connect everything you own without worrying about the internal slots you have and the compatibility.
In a small, Apple centered, world this could work well. But since we life in the real world we should consider the downsides.
First there is a disturbingly short supply of Thunderbolt hardware. You can get displays and hard disks but everything else is between non existing and "shipment unknown". Maybe Intel is slow on licensing maybe vendors are not thrilled to support another interface. No matter what the reasons are, if we do not see an increase in Thunderbolt enabled hardware I fear it will go the way of Firewire.
The second problem is speed. Thunderbolt, especially Thunderbolt 2, is fast, really fast compared to USB3. But if you consider the speed of PCIe x16 it does not seem so fast anymore. Today I only see high end graphic cards or really big HD arrays running into performance problems. But wait for a year or two when SSDs become cheaper and are more commonly used for mass storage. Or when external arrays start including an option to use a SSD as cache. On the long run Thunderbolt needs to get faster and stay compatible with old versions.
If Thunderbolt would already be faster and if we would see more available hardware I believe most of the criticism Apple got for this move would have been non existent.
I would welcome the idea of extension boxes taking over a significant part of my setup. I am not the target group for a Mac Pro. I could comfortably work with the low end MacBook Air. But if there are HD arrays with SSD caching I could also attach them to my MacBook and send my NAS into retirement. If I start gaming again I could attach a medium to maybe high end graphic card at home while not carrying it with me on the road, saving weight. And if I get a new MacBook I just have to plug in two cables without buying the upgrades I already paid for again.
This can, of course, only happen if Apples strategy with the Mac Pro succeeds. While some digital artists are happy to be able to carry their Mac Pro with them to every shooting location or others who enjoy a new piece of "art" in the living room I just see a great opportunities for every Mac user if everything turns out as planned.