In our article Replacing A Mac Pro 5,1 'Cheese-grater' For Pro Tools Production - What Are The Options? we looked at the different options available and asked you to tell us which option you favoured. The result of that poll was that you voted to Wait For Next 2018 Mac Pro 7,1 as the most popular solution.
Since April 2017, when Apple announced a complete rethink of the Mac Pro, there continues to be a lot of speculation about what a new modular Mac Pro could look like and the new features found in the next Mac Pro 2018 model. We speculated what features it might have here on Pro Tools Expert. In May 2017 we looked at a concept design from Greman designers CURVED Labs have come up with their own concept based on talk of a modular design.
Time is moving on and we thought it would be good to take another look at what the Mac Pro 2018 might look like in the light of more speculation and developments in the components Apple could use.
As we approach the launch of the new Mac Pro 7,1, we should expect to see some leaked photos of components starting to pop up but so far all we have is a concept design from designer Pascal Eggert.
We need to stress that this is a concept design that Pascal has come up with, it isn't a leak from Apple but his design is worthy of some exploration together with what we can also learn from Apple iMac Pro.
For this section, we should start by taking a look at what the iMac Pro has in the way of processors. The iMac Pro is shipping with Xeon W chips, which use an LGA2066 socket and Skylake-SP architecture, coming in 8, 10, and 18 core configurations with Turbo Boost up to 4.5GHz, 48 PCI Express 3.0 lanes, and support for up to 512GB of DDR4–2666 ECC memory. So the rumours suggesting that the iMac Pro could feature these server grade chips with an ARM co-processor came to nothing.
In August some benchmarks surfaced, which implied the new Mac Pro 2018 could use the new Intel 7900x processors but this seems to have been squashed by wccftech in favour of the Intel i9 X Series 18 Core 36 Thread Processors which our own Alan Sallabank suggested would make an excellent choice for a new modular Mac Pro 7,1.
Other options include a yet unannounced Intel processor range - Cascade Lake, due for release in Q4 2018. But our money, from these options, Apple will drop the Xeon line up and move over to the Intel HEDT line up with processors like the i9-7980XE.
But Apple could choose to build their own custom processor chips. After all, there is plenty of precedent in the iPhone product range going as far back as the iPhone 4 in 2010 with the A4 chip. The first Mac to have an Apple-designed chip was the MacBook Pro in 2016 with the T1 chip, which manages the Touch Bar, Touch ID and the Secure Enclave.
Apple has since put the T2 chip in the new iMac Pro, which apparently secures the Core OS, acts as a disk controller and as the image processor for the FaceTime camera.
It is not unreasonable to speculate that there will be an Apple chip or two in the modular Mac Pro 2018 but I suspect it won't be a full processor chip, although it could be a co-processor chip to offload some of the functionality from the main Intel chip.
This image is Pascal's speculation as to what ports might be on a new Mac Pro 7,1. The consensus seems to be that there will definitely be Thunderbolt 3 ports, which will also double as USB-C ports as well to give the best of both worlds, with Thunderbolt 3 giving users access to 2 x 5K displays as well as high-performance RAID arrays.
That said, I hope Pascal's speculation is proved correct in that there will also be some conventional USB3 ports but Apple's track record on this kind of idea isn't good. They tend to grab the new format and run with it.
As the new iMac Pro has 10GB ethernet we should expect the new Mac Pro to have 10GB ethernet as well.
One of the issues Apple admitted back in April 2017 was a problem with the Mac Pro Trashcan. Craig Federighi, Apple's senior vice president of Software Engineering talked about heat, mainly from the Graphics Processing Units (GPUs) and the way that the rest of the industry has gone for a single large (but heat producing) GPU whereas Apple implemented 2 smaller GPUs in the 2013 Mac Pro trashcan to try and keep the heat output down to manageable levels.
The problem for Apple is that this decision to go with twin GPUs backed them into a corner. In the April 2017 meeting, they acknowledged that the only way forward is to change the system architecture and to base it around one single powerful GPU in a unit that could handle the increased cooling requirements that this change of direction will require.
Initial speculation centred around that the AMD FirePro W7100 or W5100 would be used in the new Mac Pro but as this was first showcased back in 2014 it is getting a little long in the tooth now.
For the iMac Pro, Apple chose the AMD Radeon Pro Vega 56 or AMD Radeon Pro Vega 64, which offer 16GB of 'on-package' high-bandwidth memory so Apple may look at the AMD Radeon Vega range for the Mac Pro 2018.
That said, there has been some speculation after problems with faulty graphics cards in some Mac Pro trashcans that Apple might look at another graphics card manufacturer but the lack of rumours on this angle would suggest Apple is going to stick with AMD.
PCI-e Slots And HDX
It is interesting that Pascal's concept design shows two graphics cards, what if we could put an HDX card in one of those slots, that would be a great move for HDX users.
That said with the Intel i9 processors and Thunderbolt 3 architecture it all could make the HDX cards obsolete. I think it is unlikely Avid will renew the HDX card, as their current track record and trajectory all point to Avid getting out of hardware development and turning to 3rd manufacturers to provide the solutions.
With the new iMac Pro coming with a 1TB SSD as standard, with options up to 4TB, the larger form factor of a Mac Pro 7,1, we can expect to see much more storage provision.
Pascal's concept design suggests 4 x 2.5" SSDs giving up to 16TB of 540MB per second storage going a long way to replicate the Mac Pro cheese-grater's 4 drive bays. Pascal also suggests up to 4TB or 3500MB per second storage with 2 x M2 cards.
Pascal doesn't have anything to say about RAM but looking at the iMac Pro, it offers between 32GB and 128GB of DDR4 ECC memory and the consensus is we should expect a similar offering for the Mac Pro 7,1.
So there you have it, that is the current speculation of what the new Mac Pro 2018 might look like. As to when it might be released, my view is an announcement at WWDC 2018 in June with units available to buy around October 2018.
What do you make of this current speculation? What do you think of Pascal's concept design? Do share your thoughts and observations in the comments below...