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.