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.
2019 is to be the year of the long awaited new ‘modular design’ Mac Pro. There was some speculation initially that the new Mac Pro would appear in 2018, however in April 2018 Apple’s Tom Boger, senior director of Mac Hardware Product Marketing explained...
“We want to be transparent and communicate openly with our pro community, so we want them to know that the Mac Pro is a 2019 product. It’s not something for this year. We know that there’s a lot of customers today that are making purchase decisions on the iMac Pro and whether or not they should wait for the Mac Pro.”
What do we know about the new Mac Pro 2019? Apple has created a team inside the building that houses its pro products group. It’s called the Pro Workflow Team, under John Ternus and works closely with Apple's engineering team.
It Will Be Modular And Upgradeable
We know that Apple is focused on issuing a Mac Pro with a modular and upgradeable design. in the press release announcing the iMac Pro they said…
“In addition to the new iMac Pro, Apple is working on a completely redesigned, next-generation Mac Pro architected for pro customers who need the highest performance, high-throughput system in a modular, upgradeable design”
We can only speculate as to what is meant by ‘modular’ and upgradeable. As far as modular is concerned Mike believes that we can safely say that it will NOT have PCI-e slots. Moving onto ‘upgradeable’, what is not clear is whether this means user upgradeable or only upgradeable by Apple or by their authorised service providers.
In February 2019, well respected Apple analyst Ming Chi Kuo informed investors that he is expecting Apple to launch the new Mac Pro in 2019. In a note he stated that an "easy-to-upgrade" Mac Pro will launch in 2019.
What we do know for sure is what Apple's Senior Vice President of Worldwide Marketing Phil Schiller said…
"We have a team working hard on it right now. We want to architect it so that we can keep it fresh with regular improvements, and we're committed to making it our highest-end, high-throughput desktop system, designed for our demanding pro customers."
They went on to say that the new Mac Pro would be designed to handle VR and high-end cinema production. As to form factor, some people are speculating that it will be not much more than a headless iMac Pro with Xeon processors and graphics chips with plenty of onboard flash storage and RAM and thAT upgradeability will mean things like being able to add an external GPU via Thunderbolt 3. Others are speculating that the Mac Pro 7,1 will be different to the rest of the Mac range and will have slots for things like new graphics cards and slots for upgradeable internal storage, with the Mac Pro 2019 being heavily engineered and priced accordingly. Otherwise, they speculate, why even bother making it?
However, Apple could be talking about a different type of modularity, one in which the Mac Pro is designed to work with many different accessories and peripherals in flexible, demanding work environments. Based on what TechCrunch saw when then visited Apple Towers when Apple announced that the new Mac Pro would be delayed until 2019, there were setups where the Mac Pro was working with multiple attached iPad Pros, a MacBook Pro, and an external GPU. Why would they be testing this kind of modularity if it wasn’t going to form part of the Mac Pro 7,1 design ethos. After all we know that Apple wants the Mac Pro to be defined by workflows.
When it comes to processors, we can 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. In August 2017 some benchmarks surfaced, which implied the new Mac Pro 2019 could use the new Intel 7900x processors but this seems to have been squashed by wccftech in favour of the Intel i9 ‘SkyLake’ 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.
However, in December 2018 Intel announced new 10-nanometer "Sunny Cove" Xeon chips. Sunny Cove will first appear in a family of processors known as Ice Lake. They will be 10nm CPUs across a range of performance and power requirements, so we can probably expect to see them in MacBooks of all stripes, the Mac mini, and iMacs. The new architecture is meant to offer a significant increase in single-thread performance, with bigger caches, wider execution units, and a set of new instructions meant to speed up cryptography, AI, and machine learning.
These Sunny Cove processors would be just the job for the new Mac Pro 2019. Initially these processors were slated for release “later in 2019” but according to the US edition of Macworld these chips won’t be ready until the end of 2019, so it is unlikely Apple will wait for these to put in the Mac Pro 7,1.
This makes it much more likely that the processors in the Mac Pro 2019 will be the Cascade Lake-X chips. Cascade Lake-X will be based on the same 14nm manufacturing process as the current Skylake series, but based on a Macworld US report, it may offer more cores and threads than the 18-core, 36-thread Xeon W-2190B in top-of-the-line current iMac Pros. According to this wikichip page the Cascade Lake-X Xeon chips were released at the end of December 2018, although the Macworld US report is still saying “Intel hasn’t given exact specs or a release date for Cascade Lake-X Xeon chips yet, but they’re expected in the second half of this year.”
Alternatively Apple could look else where for its processors. We have seen rumours that suggest that the Ryzen Threadripper chips would be good for both the Mac Pro 2019 and iMac Pro 2019. The rumours suggest that AMD could sneak in and take over from Intel especially if there is a long wait for Ice Lake and the Sunny Cove chips, so perhaps Apple could decide to experiment with a new partner? Personally, Mike doesn’t think a partnership between Apple and AMD is likely.
The other small piece of information that has come to light is that the Mac Pro 2019 is expected to launch with a co-processor, which would likely hint at the Mac Pro 2019 being an early part of Apple’s rumoured ‘Kalamata’ initiative that could see Apple replace all Intel processors with its own chips by 2020. This has been given some more credence as Apple has apparently hired a number of ex-Intel engineers to work on these new Apple designed processor chips. That said, this won’t be in the new Mac Pro 2019. What we will see is some tasks being taken off the Intel processors onto an Apple manufactured co-processor.
The discussion seems to be settling around the new Mac pro 2019 having an Apple T2 chip, which manages the hardware security and facilitates the automatic ‘Hey Siri’ command. It could be something different, maybe a T3 chip but whatever the Apple made co-processor chip looks like, it will offload critical tasks from the Intel processors that we expect to be inside the Mac Pro 2019, but it’s looking like the T2 chip is favourite for the Mac Pro 7,1.
However, one word of warning, the inclusion of the T2 chip might go against the possibility that Mac Pro could be serviced by users. Apparently Apple has prevented the iMac Pro and 2018 MacBook Pro, which both use the T2 chip, from being serviced by anyone other than Apple and its authorised service providers.
There is also discussion about the Mac Pro having a dual processor option that would really boost the rendering and encoding power that dual processor options can offer and would be the best way of getting 32-cores of processing power in the new Mac Pro.
What Will It Look Like?
When it comes to what it might look like, leaks are even less likely than with some other Apple products especially if the Mac Pro is manufactured in the US like the current Mac Pro Trashcan. This leaves us to look at concept illustrations dreamt up by designers completely unconnected with Apple.
There was the design by Germany's CURVED Labs, that we brought to you back in May 2017, then there was Pascal's speculation as to what ports might be on a new Mac Pro 7,1 that we brought you at the beginning of February 2018. One design that we haven’t shown you yet is one that has only recently surfaced from Benjamin Monnoyeur which is another angle on the modular design. We need to stress that these are all concept designs, they are not leaks from Apple.
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 was a problem with the Mac Pro Trashcan back in April 2017 was heat. Craig Federighi, Apple's senior vice president of Software Engineering talked about it, 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 2019.
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.
AMD has announced its new Radeon VII graphics card, aimed at gamers, at CES 2019. And, while its not expected that this specific card will be in the new Mac Pro, there is a view that AMD could support the new Mac Pro 2019 with a new 7nm Vega II GPU.
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 iMac Pro having a 1TB SSD as standard, with options up to 4TB, with 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.
When Will It Be Released?
Now we get to when the Mac Pro 7,1 might be released. Again this is complete speculation. What we do know is that nothing more was said about the Mac Pro 2019 at the WWDC 2018, or either of the Apple special events held in September and October 2018. The rumours regarding the Apple Spring Event on March 25th 2019 suggest Apple will not mention the Mac Pro 2019 at that event.
Looking back, the current Mac Pro Trashcan was announced at the June 2013 Apple Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC), and released in December 2013, although it took a while to clear the back orders.
Rolling back even further to the launch of the Cheese-grater Mac Pro, that was announced at the August 2006 WWDC and was released within a month.
So based on that track record, an announcement at the June 2019 WWDC on 3rd to 7th June 2019 would be favourite to present the new Mac Pro 7,1. However, if Apple does chose to go for the new Intel "Sunny Cove" Xeon processors, which aren’t due until “later in 2019” we might have to wait until at least Autumn 2019 to see the Mac Pro 7,1.
How Much Will It Be?
When it comes to price, Apple has given us no clues,. We do have the pricing of the iMac Pro, MacBook Pro and the Mac Mini to go on, all of which suggest it won’t be cheap. The current Mac Pro 6,1 trashcan had a starting price of $2,999 for the base model and $3,999 for the larger model. We believe that we can safely say that it won’t be less than that! That said, if the new machine is going to be as different as some people suggest, we may be asked to pay a premium for the modular, upgradeable design.