Apple's current Mac Pro is widely credited with having popularised the "trashcan" PC. Its eye-catching cylindrical design gives it a tiny footprint and helps it to stay quiet and cool. The Pro is now four years old though and Apple hasn't expanded on the device in that time. As it stands, the company doesn't offer a leading desktop PC for its dedicated professional users who vocally want one.
Today, Apple broke its silence by inviting a
small group of journalists to its development labs. The company has created surprise by acknowledging its mistakes, admitting it hasn't been listening to its users and talking about the problems with the 2013 Mac Pro. Apple's clever design ended up being too effective, stifling future development.
In short, the Mac Pro's compact chassis has very precise thermal characteristics that limit the hardware that can be placed inside. It's built around two smaller graphics processors (GPUs) instead of a single large one. In 2013, Apple anticipated the industry as a whole would move
towards this design. Nobody else has followed suit though, leaving Apple stuck with its oddball PC and no physical space to install a new graphics card.
Apple also hadn't expected graphics card power consumption to remain relatively high. Modern high-end GPUs have an average rated power consumption of 250W. Although the two 200W chips in the Pro far exceed this, AnandTech
points out that the generated heat is also distributed over twice the area. The Mac Pro's cylinder shape wouldn't be able to dissipate the concentrated heat of a 250W card.
Apple successfully created a highly innovative desktop PC chassis. The rest of the industry didn't follow its lead though, leaving it stuck awkwardly in a corner. The "modular" design has ended up being far more restrictive than its name suggests. The company can't install the high-performance components found in rival Windows machines without exceeding the Pro's specific thermal window.
"I think we designed ourselves into a bit of a thermal corner, if you will," long-time Apple pundit John Gruber
reports Apple's Craig Federhi Senior Vice President of Software Engineering said. "We designed a system with the kind of GPUs that at the time we thought we needed, and that we thought we could well serve with a two GPU architecture. That that was the thermal limit we needed, or the thermal capacity we needed. But workloads didn’t materialize to fit that as broadly as we hoped."
After years of customer concern about the future of performance Apple PCs, the company today confirmed a new model is finally in the works. The next-gen Mac Pro will be unveiled at some indeterminate future point, only announced as "not this year." Naturally, there's very little information available at this point but it's not hard to predict what will be involved. Apple will be aiming squarely at building the most capable PC on the market, this time while leaving itself a path for long-term development.
It's relatively rare for Apple to publicly admit one of its headline products has major flaws in its design. As Gruber
points out, the company has effectively been forced into action though. With the new machines not arriving until 2018 at the earliest, Apple has evidently felt pressured to reassure fans of the Pro that it is still paying attention to professional users.
In a bid to convince people to keep holding out for the new models, Apple today launched new minor upgrades for the current Pro that sees CPU and GPU performance slightly increased on the high-end models. Everything else remains the same, including the meagre selection of ports and the now abandoned "dustbin" design.