When will Apple release a new Mac Pro for 2017? And what tech specs, new features and design changes should we expect when Apple updates the Mac Pro line for 2017? Or is it more likely that Apple will discontinue the Mac Pro instead of updating it? (Click here to read the latest version of this article.)
We’ve had a long wait for the new Mac Pro. The current Mac Pro model was announced at WWDC in June 2013, shipping that December, and, for a top-of-the range system, the Mac Pro is looking pretty long in the tooth. In addition, many of the Mac Pro’s traditional creative professional audience (videographers, designers, photographers) have hung onto their ancient Mac Pro towers that predate the 2013 redesign because their old Mac Pros, which could be customised, offered more flexibility and power, at least at the time Apple launched the new-look ‘trashcan-style’ Mac Pro.
So we’re long overdue an update to the Mac Pro before creative Mac professionals turn towards Windows and Linux for their workstation needs… those that haven’t already turned their back on Apple, at least.
Some pundits believe the Mac Pro should simply be discontinued, though, we look at the reasons why they think that below.
For more discussion of upcoming Apple launches, take a look at our big roundup of Apple predictions for 2017. And if you’re considering buying one of the current Mac Pro models, read Where to buy Mac Pro in the UK and our Mac buying guide 2017.
Updated, 21 March 2017, with the disappointing news that Apple’s “something special” update didn’t include any new Macs (although we’re still optimistic about an April launch event); and on 1 Mar, to report that Tim Cook has been talking about the importance of the professional and creative markets in the biggest hint yet that a new Mac Pro could be on the way.
Will Apple update the Mac Pro?
There is always going to be the question of whether Apple will turn its back on the Mac, with the iPhone becoming such a significant part of its business, and with Steve Jobs having said that the desktops days were numbered when he spoke about how the iPad would revolutionise computing.
However, we can confidently say that Apple isn’t turning away from the Mac desktop just yet, based on CEO Tim Cook’s comments below.
Further comments from Tim Cook indicate that Apple isn’t about to give up on the professional market either. Speaking at the Shareholders meeting on 28 February 2017, Cook indicated that Apple is still focused on its professional customers and has plans to “do more” in that area.
Cook said: “You will see us do more in the pro area. The pro area is very important to us. The creative area is very important to us in particular.
“Don’t think something we’ve done or something that we’re doing that isn’t visible yet is a signal that our priorities are elsewhere,” Cook added.
However, the ‘and’ between ‘creative’ and ‘professional’ could be telling, and a way out of giving a clear answer about the Mac Pro (or the iMac or FCP). Regarding Cooks comments, our colleague on Digital Arts suggested that the “people who are creative-but-not-professional and professional-but-not-creative would probably look to the MacBook Pro (which is fine for photo-editing and Office)”. He feels that the MacBook Pro is more suited to people who see themselves as creatives, rather than creative professionals. Could the same be said to apply to Mac Pro users.
Regardless of nitpicking about what constitutes a ‘creative professional’, Cook’s comments give us hope that Apple will update the Mac Pro, despite all the commentary to the contrary (more on that below). While the updated unit may no longer meet the requirements of professional creatives, and while the cost of production may not justify its existence (and the cost is probably high due to Apple building it in the US rather than outsourcing to China), we don’t think that Apple is about to turn its back on a product that allows it to show off its best technological advancements.
There is some evidence that a new Mac Pro (one with 10 USB 3 ports) is in the pipeline – some code in Mac OS X El Capitan was discovered that referenced a machine with the codename AAPLJ95,1. The current generation of Mac Pro was codenamed AAPLJ90,1 so it seems a fair bet that the new model is also a Mac Pro. Although El Capitan has now been superseded by macOS Sierra so maybe that was just an anomaly in the code. (More on this code below).
In addition, a few months back a source at one of Apple’s partner companies confidently told us to expect a new Mac Pro by the end of November 2016, which was evidently wishful thinking; but it is certainly possible that things have been delayed and we could still see a new Mac Pro soon.
When is the new Mac Pro release date?
We expect (or perhaps hope) that the new Mac Pro will be launched in April 2017 (read more: What to expect at Apple’s spring 2017 event), although it may be a more likely star of the WWDC keynote in June, since that event tends to have more of a focus on pro Macs.
On 21 March 2017 Apple temporarily shut down its online store and posted a notice saying: “We’ve got something special in store for you. And we can’t wait for you to see it. Please check back soon.” Sadly this didn’t turn out to include any Macs.
Apple quietly updated its online store with a new 9.7-inch iPad (called simply “iPad”), added a new red colour option for the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus, and increased the storage options for the iPad mini 4 and iPhone SE. But no new Macs were announced, and we’re holding out hope that they will appear at a rather more high-profile event in April.
The present Mac Pro was unveiled at WWDC 2013. That’s nearly four years ago (although the Mac Pro didn’t actually ship until that December – and supply was so restrained that most users didn’t get theirs until the following spring). It’s about time, then, for an update to the Mac Pro for 2017. Of course, Apple hasn’t announced an official launch date for the next generation of Mac Pro systems – the company is known for its code of silence when it comes to upcoming product launches.
We had entertained hopes of a Mac Pro update at Apple’s 27 October press event, but no such luck. As it turned out, Apple did unveil a new MacBook Pro at the October event, so there was something for ‘creative professionals’ (although whether creative pros feel that it is meant for them is another question). You can read more about that device here – New MacBook Pro 2016 review – and here: New MacBook Pro on Apple Store.)
If the new Mac Pro doesn’t appear at Apple’s spring press event in March, then WWDC 2017, whose dates and ticket lottery were announced in February, would be the next slot in the Apple launch calendar. While Apple tends to focus on software at WWDC, and iOS 11 and macOS 10.13 will dominate the event, the launch of the 2013 Mac Pro shows there is a place for hardware at Apple’s summer event if the circumstances are right.
Could Apple launch a Pro iMac instead of a new Mac Pro?
In a rare Q&A session on Apple’s internal employee network, Apple CEO Tim Cook gave an interesting response to a question about the future of the Mac desktop, referring only to the 5K iMac in his response. According to a transcript obtained by TechCrunch, an unknown Apple employee asked Cook: “We had a big MacBook Pro launch in October and a powerful upgrade to the MacBook back in Spring. Are Mac desktops strategic for us?”
In response, Cook wrote the following (failing to mention the Mac Pro, or the Mac mini for that matter): “The desktop is very strategic for us. It’s unique compared to the notebook because you can pack a lot more performance in a desktop – the largest screens, the most memory and storage, a greater variety of I/O, and fastest performance. So there are many different reasons why desktops are really important, and in some cases critical, to people.
“The current generation iMac is the best desktop we have ever made and its beautiful Retina 5K display is the best desktop display in the world. Some folks in the media have raised the question about whether we’re committed to desktops. If there’s any doubt about that with our teams, let me be very clear: we have great desktops in our roadmap. Nobody should worry about that.”
Cook never used the word “Mac” in his response. At all. Considering it’s the name of Apple’s oldest product line, you would think it’d get a mention in a question about the company’s desktop lineup. Granted, he does mention desktop computers several times, but never the name of the hardware, apart from one exception – the 5K iMac. Essentially, Cook was asked whether Mac desktops were strategic, and he answered that desktops were important before speaking about the iMac. What about the Mac Pro?
A report from Bloomberg might explain why the question was asked and why Cook responded in this way, with keen Apple watcher Mark Gurman claiming that Apple has reorganised its software engineering department, meaning there’s no longer a team dedicated to macOS – instead, engineers work on both iOS and macOS. He continues to claim that the Mac has been generally de-prioritised within the company, and that Mac engineers no longer get much attention from the company’s industrial design team, which was until 2015 led by design chief Jony Ive, allegedly focussing more on iPhones and iPads.
Does this suggest that Apple will condense its Mac desktop offering into the iMac, discontinuing the Mac Pro and the Mac mini? Such a move would certainly help simplify its desktop offering.
Perhaps Apple plans to do exactly that, with the launch of a Pro iMac that goes above and beyond what the 5K iMac offers currently.
It’s possible that Apple will update its iMac line to the point where it satisfies the needs of pro users, but it’s unlikely that such a model will ever meet the needs of Apple’s traditional Mac Pro market, many of whom are still using old Mac Pros from pre-2012 mainly because they are easily upgradable, with options for larger-capacity drives (2TB, 4TB or even more). You can even get a 12-core 3.46GHz processor in the older model that could give the newer, 2.7GHz 12-core processor in the 2013 Mac Pro a run for its money. As for video card options, the old Mac Pro has many more.
Will Apple discontinue the Mac Pro?
Maybe the Mac Pro will never be updated. MacObserver argues that the current Mac Pro is a failure, and compares it to the ill-fated Cube, which was available for less than a year in 2000/2001. (We look at more interesting failures and controversies in our roundup of the worst Apple products.)
Those who did upgrade to the trashcan-like Mac Pro are finding that the need for multiple expansion cards and external drives are cluttering up their desks, where previously these extras could be neatly concealed inside the Mac Pro chassis.
Other professional creatives have abandoned the Mac and moved to Windows. It’s a shame because these creative professionals, while a niche market, wield a lot of influence.
For all Apple’s claims about it being a powerful machine, it appears that the Mac Pro is just not considered a professional workstation by the intended market – which does raise uncomfortable questions about its future as a product line.
But with its status as Apple’s flagship Mac, and the hoopla surrounding its reinvention in 2013, the US assembly plants and so on, we’d be surprised if Apple threw in the towel just yet.
Is the new Mac Pro 2017 release date delayed?
When Apple launches the new Mac Pro there may well be delays in availability, as there were in 2013-2014. Apple first unveiled the Intel Xeon (Ivy Bridge-E) Mac Pro at WWDC in June 2013, but the unit didn’t actually start shipping until December that year. In fact, for most shoppers the supply of Mac Pro was so constrained that they didn’t receive their new Mac until 2014 – in some cases not until February, or March, or in a few cases April.
Having previewed the Mac Pro at WWDC in June 2013, the company promised availability before the end of 2013, but it wasn’t until 19 December that the Mac Pro became available. Then, following the launch, stocks were so limited that only a lucky few, US-based, customers were able to purchase the new professional Mac workstation before the end of 2013.
Customers in the UK who ordered their new Mac on 19 December 2014 found that they would have to wait until January 2015 for the new Mac Pro. Some lucky UK customers finally received their Mac Pro around 12 January. This was almost a year after the old version of the Mac Pro was banned in Europe because it didn’t comply with EU safety laws.
One reason for the delays back in 2013 was thought to be the fact that Apple was building the new-look Mac Pro in the US: Apple had a new design which was being produced at an entirely new factory in the States, so the delays were understandable, although maybe not excusable.
Could updates to the current model face the same issues that slowed the production lines back in 2013? We think probably not. If you check Apple’s website, you’ll see that the wait for the current Mac Pro has come down to 24 hours (although if you want a build-to-order version the wait will be about 5-7 business days). The fact that Apple is no longer struggling to meet demand would suggest that when it launches the next Mac Pro there will not be the significant delays in getting units out to customers that there were at the end of 2013.
Instead, the reason for the long wait for an update to the Mac Pro could be simple lack of interest in this workstation-style Mac. Apple may be focusing attention on other projects such as the Retina iMac, which was updated in October 2015. It’s possible that Apple doesn’t intend to update the Mac Pro at all.
The company has launched several other new Macs since the launch of the Mac Pro, including impressively powerful iMacs that can sometimes perform better than the current entry-level Mac Pro can. Video editor Max Yuryev tested Final Cut and Premiere Pro rendering on both the 5K Retina iMac and 6 Core Mac Pro and found that the iMac performed better in some cases, although did suffer from heating issues that the Mac Pro avoids thanks to its design.
Yet we don’t think Apple is trying to phase out the Mac Pro in favour of a more powerful iMac line-up. It’s more likely that it’s just spending a long time getting the new Mac Pro right before it launches, after the issues it experiences with the previous launch. There is still a market for the more powerful Mac Pro, we think. But not everyone agrees with us, as we’ll see in the next section.
What are the rumoured Mac Pro 2017 specifications?
Currently, there are two standard Mac Pro models available along with various build-to-order options:
Quad-Core and Dual GPU: 3.7GHz Quad-Core Intel Xeon E5 processor; 12GB 1866MHz DDR3 ECC memory; Dual AMD FirePro D300 with 2GB GDDR5 VRAM each; and 256GB PCIe-based flash storage.
6-Core and Dual GPU: 3.5GHz 6-Core Intel Xeon E5 processor; 16GB 1866MHz DDR3 ECC memory; Dual AMD FirePro D500 with 3GB GDDR5 VRAM each; 256GB PCIe-based flash storage.
It seems likely that Apple will update the Mac Pro with the next-generation Intel Xeon E5 processor, we may also see more RAM in the entry-level version, now that the 15-inch MacBook Pro range ship with 16GB as standard. We’ll go into more detail below.
Ports: Thunderbolt and USB 3
The current Mac Pro sports six Thunderbolt 2 ports, which means this Mac can be connected to up to three 4K displays.
There’s also 4 USB 3 ports; Dual Gigabit Ethernet; and an HDMI 1.4 UltraHD, as well as a combined optical digital audio output/analog line out mini-jack; headphone mini-jack with headset support; HDMI port supports multi-channel audio output and a built-in speaker.
Code discovered in Mac OS X El Capitan offers a hint that a new Mac Pro may be on its way soon offering more Thunderbolt ports in the form of USB-3. There’s a reference to a new Mac that’s codenamed “AAPLJ95,1” within El Capitan, according to Pike’s Universum.
We think adopting Thunderbolt 3 on the Mac Pro may make more sense as it brings Thunderbolt to USB-C at 40Gbps for the best of both worlds. (Read more about Thunderbolt and the Mac Pro here).
Many traditional Mac Pro users are still calling out for PCI slots, which would allow users to add faster SSDs and better video cards. Some even ask for internal drive bays.
Processor: Intel Kaby Lake or AMD RYZEN 7?
The 2013 Mac Pro features Intel’s Xeon E5 V2 processors (code-named Romley) offering up to 12 cores (as a build-to-order option). Back in September 2014 new Xeon E5 V3 chips (code-named Grantley) started shipping – bringing the Haswell architecture to pro workstations. At the time we thought the processor would soon make their way to the Mac Pro, but no upgrade emerged.
Those Intel Xeon E5 V3 chips were being used in Dell’s new Xeon Precision Tower (5810, 7810 and 7910) – find out more on Dell’s website. These Dell workstations use the Intel Xeon E5-2600 v3 processor series featuring either 14 or 18 cores per processor.
The processors in the current Mac Pros are configurable up to 3.5GHz for a six-core option, 3.0GHz for an 8-core option, and 2.7GHz for a 12-core option. We may see a slight boost in these numbers, but we could equally see the same clock speeds, with the processors themselves being faster.
It is possible that the new Mac Pro will, like the Dell above, offer an option of 14 or 18 cores.
It is likely that we see brand new Xeon processors in the Mac Pro. It’s expected that we see a late Skylake (Xeon E3-1585 v5) or the new Kaby Lake ( Xeon E3-1205 v6) processors included. The Intel Skylake processor features a base clock of 3.5GHz, four cores and eight threads – it has 8MB of cache and features the Iris Pro Graphics P580 – a powerful in-built GPU that will help low-profile renders.
However, with Kaby Lake already being shipped to OEMs and manufacturers, we are more likely to see these new processors shipped with the new Mac Pro. The rumoured Xeon E3-1205 v6 is a base model – featuring 3GHz of processing power – we expect more powerful and optimised CPUs to be included within the Mac Pro.
Another idea, although somewhat crazy, is that Apple could abandon Intel chips altogether and move to AMD. AMD has launched RYZEN 7 CPUs that “promise more computing muscle per watt than Intel” and, according to a report the new AMD RYZEN 7 1800X just set a new world record score for Cinebench, a respected CPU performance benchmark.
That report states that the new RYZEN 7 chip lineup roughly competes with Intel’s i7 line including the i7-6900K, i7-6800K, and i7-7700K. Perhaps more at home in an iMac then.
New Mac Pro specs: Graphics
The 2013 Mac Pro features dual workstation-class GPUs. The Dual AMD FirePro D300 with 2GB GDDR5 VRAM each in the Quad-Core version, and Dual AMD FirePro D500 with 3GB GDDR5 VRAM each in the 6-Core model. There’s also a build-to-order option of the Dual AMD FirePro D700 GPUs with 6GB of GDDR5 VRAM each (an extra £540).
AMD showcased new its new FirePro W-series at Siggraph in August 2014. The FirePro W7100, W5100 may find their way into the new Mac Pro.
Alternatively, there are significantly faster graphics based on AMD’s Fury platform that may be destined for the new Mac Pro.
An article by a video professional refers to the Nvidia GTX 1080 which is such a big deal that he thinks: “This card alone will most likely cause a shift in computer workstation ownership. However the card isn’t compatible with the Mac Pro: “Even a Thunderbolt-connected PCIe expansion chassis to a Mac Pro trashcan won’t help, due to the inherent bandwidth limits that Thunderbolt has as compared to the buss speeds of these GPU cards. And forget about stacking these cards in an expansion chassis… just not going to happen.”
Because using this card with the Mac Pro is out of the question he predicts: “a huge migration of longtime Apple users (such as me) going to Windows systems for their main workstation needs.”
Apple could move away from AMD with the next Mac Pro though (it has tended in the past to flit between the two graphics card manufacturers). And this time there may be a good reason: a thread on the Apple Support Communities website amassed a huge response when complaining about faulty graphics cards in the Late 2013 Mac Pro, Apple admitted that a number of Mac Pro’s have faulty cards and that affected customers could have the issue fixed free of charge. To be legible for a free repair, you must have encountered “distorted video, no video, system instability, freezing, restarts, shutdowns” or system startup failure.
It’s not all Mac Pro’s though, only those manufactured between February 8 and April 11 2015, and the issue can be fixed by taking your damaged Mac Pro to an Apple Store. Interestingly, MacRumours notes that the issues are known to exist with the AMD FirePro D500 and D700 GPUs, with the AMD FirePro D300 being completely unaffected.
Will these issues force Apple into choosing another graphic card manufacturer for the next Mac Pro? While there are no rumours online that suggest so, we think a change could be on the cards for the Mac Pro GPU.
Read more: Mac Pro vs iMac
New Mac Pro specs: Storage
Currently you will find 256GB PCIe-based flash storage as standard in both standard Mac Pro models, with an option to add 512GB SSD for £180 or 1TB SSD for £540.
We’d like to see more storage as standard on the Mac Pro, as the target audience tend to be working with very large files. An option for 2TB flash storage would be nice.
New Mac Pro specs: RAM
The new Xeon E5 V3 Grantley chips are said to have DDR4 memory controllers, so you can expect even faster memory in this year’s new Mac Pro.
The current models offer 12GB RAM in the Quad-Core model, and 16GB in the 6-Code model as standard. You can add 32GB RAM at point of purchase for £360, or a massive 64GB RAM for £1,080. As we mention above, the 15-inch MacBook Pro now comes with 16GB RAM as standard, so we would hope that the updated entry-level Mac Pro would match that.
64GB RAM might sound like a lot to you, but some of these Dell workstations can accommodate up to 1TB of DDR4 RAM. We hope that the next generation of Mac Pros will be configurable to more than 64GB (four slots of 16GB).
New Mac Pro specs: Internal design
Here’s one last titbit that may offer clues about the Mac Pro of the future. Apple has been granted a patent for the Mac Pro, specifically for the structure and organisation of internal components and external interfaces for a compact computing system, according to a report on Patently Apple.
Buying guide for current Mac Pro models
While we wait for the next Mac Pro to arrive, it’s worth quickly walking through the current line-up – both for the benefit of those who need a pro-standard Mac desktop right now, and for the clues it gives us to likely future updates.
Where can I buy a Mac Pro?
The most obvious place to buy a Mac Pro is from the Apple Store.
UK pricing for the Mac Pro
Currently the Mac Pro starts at £2,999 in the UK for a quad-core 3.7GHz Quad-Core Intel Xeon E5 processor with 10 MB L3 cache and Turbo Boost up to 3.9 GHz, 12GB RAM, Dual AMD FirePro D300 with 2GB of VRAM and 256GB of flash storage.
There is also a 6-core model with 3.5GHz Xeon E5, 16GB RAM, two AMD FirePro D500 cards with 3GB of VRAM, and 256GB flash storage for £3,899.
We expect that prices won’t change significantly when Apple updates the range, although we could see a drop in the old model and a rise in the base 2017 model – as we’ve seen through other Apple products. See: Apple price increases UK.
Current pricing for Mac Pro build-to-order options
The build-to-order options will push the price higher. The following specifications are available for the 2013 Mac Pro:
Build-to-order options on the 3.7GHz Quad-Core Mac Pro 2013:
3.5GHz 6-core option (add £450), 3.0GHz 8-core processor (add £1,800), or 2.7GHz 12-core processor (add £3,150); 16GB (add £90), 32GB (add £450) or 64GB (add £1,170) RAM memory; dual AMD FirePro D500 (add £360), or or dual AMD FirePro D700 (add £900); 512GB (add £180) or 1TB flash storage (add £540)
Build-to-order options on the 3.5GHz 6-Core Mac Pro 2013:
3.0GHz 8-core processor (add £1,350), 2.7GHz 12-core processor (add £2,700); 32GB (add £360) or 64GB (£add £1,080) RAM memory; dual AMD FirePro D700 (add £540); 512GB (add £180) or 1TB flash storage (add £540).
A Mac Pro with the maximum 12-core 2.7GHz processors, with 30MB L3 cache, 64GB RAM, 1TB PCIe-based flash storage, Dual AMD FirePro D700 GPUs with 6GB of GDDR5 VRAM each currently costs £8,759 including VAT.