Three Guys and a Podcast

Three Guys and a Podcast: Apple News & Analysis

March 28, 2011 at 11:14pm Pacific Time
by: Karl Johnson
Categories: Predictions, Products
tagged: Mac Pro, Thunderbolt, Update

The Mac Pro was last updated in July of 2010. Most recently, at the end of March, the MacBook Pro received a new high-speed data port called Thunderbolt. This new data port really benefit professionals who need fast data transfers, such as video editors.

Current Mac Pros will not be able to add the Thunderbolt data port because it needs a new motherboard. Intel will not be offering a PCIe adapter card for current and older computers either, so when will Apple add the Thunderbolt port and refresh the Mac Pro? Lets take a look at the current hardware and past updates.

The Mac Pro was Apple's first Intel based workstation computer, and was announced on August 7, 2006. It replaced the Power Mac, Apple's PowerPC workstation. Since its launch, all of the Mac Pros have included Intel's Xeon processors.

Apple's current case debuted with the Power Mac G5 in June 2003. The design changed slightly when Apple switch to Intel, but the exterior still looks the same. Professional are not looking for a new case design. Provided Apple stays with the aluminum style in the rest of the line-up, the Mac Pro will keep the same case.

Intel is scheduled to be releasing their next-generation Xeon processors sometime in the second half of 2011, although Intel has released some mid-range Xeon processors early. These new processors (codenamed Romley) are based on the Sandy Bridge architecture. They are likely to be the next processor upgrade for the Mac Pros, but Apple generally waits several months after a processor is released before updating.

The current graphics cards offered in the latest Mac Pros are the ATI Radeon HD 5770 and ATI Radeon HD 5870. These are mid-level graphics cards and unlikely to change in the next six months. Nvidia released the Quadro 4000 for the Mac back in November 2010. Apple's professional applications are optimized for ATI/AMD graphics cards, so don't look for Apple to switch back to Nvidia any time soon.

The Chart above shows Apple's previous releases and months between those releases for Mac Pros and Power Macs. As shown on the chart, the average time between releases is 9 months. If only the Mac Pro releases are used, the average time between updates increases to 11 months. Apple has been waiting longer and longer between updates in the last few years, hopefully this trend does not continue. From the chart, the next Mac Pro update would come around June 2011, or sometime this summer. If the current trend continues, Apple may wait until this Fall to update.

With the Mac Pro being in the middle of its update cycle, an update would seem unlikely in the next few months, however, the wildcard here is the Thunderbolt port. If Apple wants to get this port out to its professional users, then a slight Mac Pro update may arrive sometime around NAB, with a larger update this fall. Since this Thunderbolt port would benefit professional users most, and Final Cut Studio is rumored to see a major release soon, look for a quick update this spring and a major update next fall or winter.

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5 Comments

  1. Jan Mejlgaard Bliddal ~ March 22, 2011 13:47

    The Mac Pro will proberly be upgraded when the next gen xeon processor is released. They did that with the 2008 the 2009 and the 2010 models. I do not think they will do a in between update with the thunderbolt as they only big change. 1. waiting for the next gen xeon will make the opgrade more significant 2. It will give the storages vendoers time to release thunderbolt compatible units. Remember. Thunderbolt is a way of connecting fast storage to the Macbook Pro. It is already possible to install eSata cards in the Mac Pro and buy eSata equipped storages equipments for it. Apple can thus afford to waite with the addition of the thunderbolt port until the next gen xeon arrives. #
  2. Anthony Harvey ~ July 11, 2012 11:30

    One of the largest problems with the Mac Pro line is the lack of upgradability imposed upon it by Apple. A tower system is designed, by its very concept, to be expandable. However, Apple doesn't support the concept at all. It would be a simple, and cheaper, matter for them to produce PCIe cards that would give current Mac Pro's Thunderbolt and USB 3 (likely on the very same card) and simply offer it as a configuration option. There was nothing in the recent update that could not have been slotted into the Mac Pro. Apple would prefer that you continually throw out perfectly good machines every year or two and get something with marginal improvements. Third party USB 3.0 cards have literally been a joke. With a LaCie controller, OS X can only use it to interact with LaCie products. Other companies making them have similar issues - unless you boot to Windows 7, where you can use any of them to run any USB 2 or 3 device. Obviously, everyone needs Apple to step up to the plate and do it themselves. Unfortunately Apple is adept at leaving people out in the cold. #
  3. Tjarko Holtjer ~ October 03, 2012 07:00

    I bought my mid-2010 PowerMac this year and supposed the Thunderbolt port could be installed easily but it seems like Apple is witholding other companies to produce a PCIe card with USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt. Why wouldn't Intel want to sell such a card? #
  4. Mark Reschke ~ October 03, 2012 09:02

    RE: Tjarko The problem is simple - volume. Intel isn't going to put out the expense for a Mac Pro card if it will only sell a few thousand at best... And it isn't nearly the physical as it would be any OS X proprietary software that must be written vs the card running on Windows gear. And no, there's no volume sales to be had with Windows users. The RnD costs vs sales profit just don't add up. #
  5. Michel ~ March 15, 2013 08:10

    I wonder why apple do not have the 2 ports (Mini Display & thunderbolt ports) available on the new 27" LED Thunderbolt display. this way the MacPro owners like my self can profit and use the new display, namely the iSight Camera on the thunderbolt display is HD. Also another advantage for Apple is they do not have to carry in stock the two Displays (The MiniDisplay Monitor and the Thunderbolt Monitor). #

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