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Apple Gets Around to a New Mac Pro

“Can’t innovate any more, my ass,” Phil Schiller muttered gleefully as he stood in front of the Keynote slides that introduced Apple’s new and completely redesigned Mac Pro to attendees at Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference. The shiny new product, slated to roll out later this year for an as-yet-unspecified price, is a total redesign of the existing Mac Pro, which hasn’t seen a major update since 2009. The new Mac Pro literally can “roll out”: it’s a 9.9-inch tall, 6.6-inch wide (25.1 by 16.8 cm) cylinder, encased in gleaming black polished aluminum.

Even more notable than the Mac’s new shape and size is the fact that it has neither a hard drive nor drive bays, a startling departure for Apple’s Pro product line. For years, professional users have loved to fill their Mac Pros to the gunwales with extra disk storage and peripheral cards. But instead of a built-in disk drive, this new model uses PCIe flash storage that the system can access at 1.25 GB per second.

As for other storage devices, the round Mac Pro instead provides six Thunderbolt 2 ports, each capable of providing 20 GB/s data transfer speeds, suitable for an expansion chassis… or two, or more. Since a Thunderbolt 2 port can support as many as six daisy-chained devices, the forthcoming Mac Pro could support as many as 36 Thunderbolt 2 devices at once. Apple didn’t announce a specific expansion chassis, so we don’t know if the company will provide one or if that will be left as a third-party opportunity.

Video professionals mourning the loss of internal storage device bays may be comforted by the Mac Pro’s capability to support as many as three 4K displays at a time, though Apple announced no such displays today. What video pros are sure to like is the improved graphics processing power available from the cylinder: the new Mac Pro comes with two AMD FirePro GPUs, each loaded with as much as 6 GB of VRAM, and offering up to 7 teraflops of graphic processing power, nearly triple the performance of the older model Pros.

While Apple unveiled no memory specs, the new Pro, judging from the pictures on Apple’s site, apparently supports four DDR3 memory slots. These are handled by a controller that communicates at 1866 MHz, providing as much as 60 GB/s memory bandwidth, twice the bandwidth of current Mac Pros. And that memory will be feeding the new Intel E5 chipset, featuring from 2 to 12 cores and providing twice the floating-point performance of extant models.

Rounding out the port picture are two Gigabit Ethernet ports, four USB 3 ports, headphone and speaker ports, and an HDMI 1.4 port. And to make sure you can find your way around this plethora of portage, the Mac Pro lights up the I/O panel when you rotate the cylinder to plug in a new device.

It’s hard to say which professionals will welcome this brave, new, round and shiny Mac Pro, with its spectacular speed and svelte design, and which ones will be discouraged, if not outraged, by the lack of drive bays and expansion slots. No one will know for sure until the computers (which will be assembled in the United States) begin rolling out to customers later this year. But nobody can deny that Apple has reimagined what a professional desktop computer looks like.

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