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Blog // Thoughts
October 15, 2007

Big Mac Dreams

No, I’m not talking about one of these, but one ofthese. There’s a lot of rumour and gossip around the internets concerning the next update or revision of Apple’s high end workstation, the Mac Pro. Despite some improvements to the basic specifications in April of this year, the machine has received no major upgrade since […]

No, I’m not talking about one of these, but one ofthese.

There’s a lot of rumour and gossip around the internets concerning the next update or revision of Apple’s high end workstation, the Mac Pro. Despite some improvements to the basic specifications in April of this year, the machine has received no major upgrade since it was launched in August 2006.

The usually reliable 9To5Mac website has created something of a stir with it’s article, 10 Things We’d Expect to See in the New MacPros, recently re-written for ComputerWorld. There’s a fair bit of speculation in the piece; but, it’s as good a place as any to set out some ideas on what I’m hoping for with the soon to released (big)MacPro.

The given is that the new MacPro will feature the new Harpertown chips, especially if this report from The Insider is true. Of course, Apple could just include these in the current MacPro package, with a few other minor tweaks and it would sell very well (and consume less power).

However, Apple might opt for a new enclosure, but there is no compelling reason to do so. The new chips will run cooler and that could create an opportunity for a smaller case. But, cooler running also means less reliance on fans, which means a quieter machine – a significant selling point itself. I doubt Apple will go back to liquid cooling or use the case as a giant heat-sink (trying to be polite on that point).

In time Apple will most likely include BTO HD-DVD and Blue-Ray options. However, Steve Jobs comments at the recent launch of iLife ’08, suggest that disc-burning may not be not central to Apple’s long term strategy.

eSATA external storage is one point that I do agree with, especially since drive speed is such a critical issue for audio work. I would be very surprised if Apple do not include external eSATA as part of the new feature set.

I’m much less bullish on the remaining three pieces of hardware speculation. 10GB ethernet seems like too specialist a product for Apple to standardise (a BTO option seems far more likely, if at all). Hardware RAID as standard also seems unlikely, since you don’t need a hardware option to run RAID in OSX and the BTO option is, again, a costly specialist product. That said, hardware RAID might be standard in the new XServe. Running HDMI from a MacPro is a cute option, but I don’t see why Apple would commit resources to running it’s highest spec computer on a lower resolution format than it’s own monitors (maybe for the MacBook Pro, or whatever the Mac Mini evolves into).

That said, most people looking to buy the MacPro are keen to see some significant improvements in the video card options. Certainly, this has been a perceived weakness for Apple (no just in MacPros, but also in the new iMac range). But, it also reflects the limited customisation philosophy.

The first revision of the 9to5 article suggested an entry-level price for the MacPro of $1499 (absurd), which for the Computerworld article was revised up to “…something under $2,000.” Sure, these kinds of prices might attract “gamers and tinkerers,” but they are not and have never been the core market for the MacPro (in fact, I hope they never do). The Apple philosophy is to offer performance advantages by limiting consumer tweakability – that’s not going to change. Moreover, the MacPro offers significant customisation options only because it’s core markets (especially Audio and Video) require it.

Apple’s decision to not offer anything inbetween the iMac and the MacPro is an interesting case study. Whilst I would love to see Apple offer a hotter iMac, I don’t think they will do anything significant to bridge that gap. In fact, an all 8-core MacPro lineup will make the gap look bigger than ever. I can live with that.

9to5 are far from alone in wishing that Apple would offer some kind of intermediate product. My own view is that Apple will probably avoid doing that. The kind of thinking that drives that the clamour for such a product is not unlike the kind of thinking that drove the PC market into a constant hardware upgrade/churn mode – creating part the widespread frustration and disillusionment with PCs that has driven Mac sales over the last decade.

Unfortunately, uber-geeks and specification-philes sometimes forget that a lot of computer users just want to get on with their work. Here’s to hoping that Apple stay connected to what puts the Pro in MacPro.

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