Egg Freckles
Notes from my Newton

Wed Apr/5 Modular Mac

Modular Mac

John Gruber broke the news, the next Mac Pro will be a modular system.

Apple is currently hard at work on a “completely rethought” Mac Pro, with a modular design that can accommodate high-end CPUs and big honking hot-running GPUs, and which should make it easier for Apple to update with new components on a regular basis. They’re also working on Apple-branded pro displays to go with them.

Phil Schiller elaborates:

With regards to the Mac Pro, we are in the process of what we call “completely rethinking the Mac Pro”. We’re working on it. We have a team working hard on it right now, and we want to architect it so that we can keep it fresh with regular improvements, and we’re committed to making it our highest-end, high-throughput desktop system, designed for our demanding pro customers.

As part of doing a new Mac Pro — it is, by definition, a modular system — we will be doing a pro display as well. Now you won’t see any of those products this year; we’re in the process of that. We think it’s really important to create something great for our pro customers who want a Mac Pro modular system, and that’ll take longer than this year to do.

As a past Power Mac customer I am excited about Apple's future "modular Mac," but I have questions about what modular means to Apple and its customers.

  1. Does modular mean the future Mac Pro can be upgraded with off-the-shelf PC components?
  2. Does modular mean the future Mac Pro is a collection of proprietary parts that can only be procured from Apple?
  3. Does modular mean the future Mac Pro is a series of separate modules connected via high-speed I/O?
  4. Does modular mean the future Mac Pro is a single self-contained computer designed to anticipate the tolerances of demanding professional components.

As life long Apple observer I can say option number one is unlikely. I would welcome a future Mac Pro that can be upgraded with off-the-shelf PC components, but I don't think Apple would support — let alone provide the connectivity to make it happen. I don't expect a future modular Mac Pro to include full-length industry-standard PCIe slots.

As a ex-Mac Genius option two seems more plausible. Apple has rarely offered upgrade components outside of additional RAM and a optional wireless card. Sure, there have been upgradable graphics cards available in the past from Apple retail stores, but they were quickly outdated and rarely updated. Selling modular upgrade components for the one percent of professional Mac users is not a business I can see Apple getting into.

Option three is not that far from the 2013 Mac Pro we have today. If a series of separate modules connected via high-speed I/O is Apple's strategy, I doubt they would have held a press briefing to expose a future modular Mac system.

Finally we have option four, a single self-contained computer designed to anticipate the tolerances of demanding professional components. The parts in this modular Mac Pro would not be user upgradable or available at retail. Instead the system as whole would be designed in such a way so as make more powerful models possible in the future without a drastic redesign.

Option four is the modular Mac I think Apple will build, but as a current Hackintosh owner I would like to be wrong.