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, it's looking pretty long in the tooth. But here's the good news: all that is about to change.
In the short term, Apple has lowered the price on the higher-end Mac Pro options. The 6-core Intel Xeon processor, dual AMD FirePro D500 GPUs and 16GB of memory option dropped from £3,899 to £2,999; while £3,899 now gets you an 8-core processor and dual D700 GPUs. Click here to browse the options.
But in the longer term, and much more excitingly, Apple has announced a completely redesigned Mac Pro - although this won't appear until 2018 at the earliest.
In this article we weigh up all the news and clues concerning the next Mac Pro update. Want to read about the upcoming iMac Pro? We have an iMac Pro preview here.
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.
When will the new Mac Pro be released?
Not until 2018, according to Apple, and if 'experts' are to be believed, it could take even longer.
The current Mac Pro was unveiled at WWDC 2013. That's more than 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.
Analysts often raise the question of whether Apple will turn its back on the Mac, with the iPhone becoming such a significant part of its business; a pundit you might have heard of called Steve Jobs once predicted that the desktop's days were numbered. (He was talking about how the iPad would revolutionise computing. Sales figures for that line, while not disastrous, suggest that this hasn't entirely gone to plan.)
However, it's clear that Apple isn't turning away from the Mac desktop just yet. In April 2017 Apple invited journalists to its Product Realization Lab and made a series of announcements relating to the Mac line, revealing among other things that a minor update to the Mac Pro is imminent and a major revamp will arrive in 2018.
And, while Apple didn't talk in any detail about the Mac Pro on stage during the WWDC keynote in June 2017, in the press release regarding the new iMac Pro Apple confirmed that it is "working on a completely redesigned, next-generation Mac Pro architected for pro customers who need the highest-end, high-throughput system in a modular design, as well as a new high-end pro display" Here's all the news from Apple's WWDC Keynote.
Speaking in April 2017 Apple revealed that they are "what we call completely rethinking the Mac Pro".
"Something great for our pro customers" Phil Schiller
At the time Apple's Phil Schiller said: "We have a team working hard on it right now. 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.
"...Now, you won't see any of those products [also including a Pro display, to be launched alongside the new Pro] 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."
So 2018 appears to be the timeframe. It would be unusual for Apple to launch anything in the first two to three months of a calendar year (it hasn't done that since the days of Macworld Expo in San Francisco) so a summer 2018 launch, perhaps coinciding with WWDC 2018, seems likeliest.
However, it could take even longer. We may be waiting until 2019 before the Mac Pro is relaunched, according to OSNews sources. Apparently, "The Mac Pro was in limbo inside Apple. The decision to go ahead and develop a modular Mac Pro replacement seems to have been made only in recent months, with development starting only a few weeks ago," according to the report.
The report author thinks that it will take a long time to develop a new Mac Pro, and concludes that "I think we can expect the new Mac Pro late 2018 at the earliest, but most likely it won't be until early 2019 before it ships."
The UK Tech Weekly Podcast team discussed Apple's plans for the Mac Pro in episode 60, embedded below, starting at 18:54.
The UK Tech Weekly Podcast comes out every Friday. Follow the podcast on Twitter for updates on new episodes and to suggest future discussion topics.
If you want to find out more about the 21-inch iMac, our review of that model is here: 21-5inch 2017 iMac review and if you want to find out more about the 27-inch iMac, our review of that model is here: 27-inch 2017 iMac review.
Why did Apple ignore the Mac Pro for so long?
Speaking at a briefing with a select few journalists, Apple appologised for the long wait for a new Mac Pro (the Mac Pro hasn't seen any hardware updates since the new design was introduced in 2013).
The reason for the wait: Apple's engineering team has been attempting to redesign the Mac Pro so that it can easily and efficiently be upgraded. The lack of customisation options is the biggest issue most have with the current Mac Pro, and it appears that Apple was facing the same issue.
"If we've had a pause in upgrades and updates, we're sorry for that," said Phil Schiller, Apple's Senior Vice President of Worldwide Marketing. He added: "What happened with the Mac Pro - we're going to come out with something great to replace it."
The company is rethinking the entire machine, it would seem.
"We designed ourselves into a bit of a corner," revealed Craig Federighi, Apple's SVP of Software Engineering.
"We've asked the team to go and re-architect and design something great for the future that those Mac Pro customers who want more expandability, more upgradability in the future," added Schiller.
It's not the first time that Mac Pro customers have had to wait a long time for an update to what is supposed to be the ultimate Mac. Prior to the launch of the redesigned Mac Pro back in 2013 customers had been waiting since 2006 for the update, and customers in Europe couldn't even buy the older Mac Pro at that point because it no longer complied with EU regulations. The old version of the Mac Pro was banned in Europe because it didn't comply with EU safety laws.
Then, just to make matters worse, when Apple launched the redesigned Mac Pro back in 2013 it was plagued by delays in availability. 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.
Will the 2018 Mac Pro have a new design?
Given the fact that Apple has found it necessary to go back to the drawing board with the Mac Pro it seems likely that we can expect a whole new design for the 2018 Mac Pro.
Apple revealed that it was the unique triangular design of the Mac Pro's thermal core that proved to be the limiting factor in offering updates to the Mac Pro this seems likely to change in the new model.
During the briefing with journalists about the plans for the new machine Federighi revealed that, while Apple set out do so something that was new and different with the Mac Pro, "we didn't start with a shape and say, 'well, here's the fastest machine we can put in that box.' We actually started with a target for performance and came up with what I think was a very clever design of that thermal core and thermal architecture to accommodate what we thought was the right power architecture."
Unfortunatly it seems that the shape was what limited Apple when it came to building a Mac that met the actual needs of the pro audience.
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.
Current Mac Pro tech specs and UK prices
In April 2017 Apple updated the Mac Pro range with new configuration pricing.
Apple bought some high-end options down into the standard two configurations at the same price points. So, for $2,999/£2,999 you will now get a 6-core Intel Xeon processor, dual AMD FirePro D500 GPUs and 16GB of memory, and for $3,999/£3,899, you will now get an 8-core processor and dual D700 GPUs.
What processor will Apple use in the new 2018 Mac Pro?
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.
What 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's 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.
What ports will the 2018 Mac Pro have?
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 offered a hint that a new Mac Pro may be on its way 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. However, El Capitan was the operting system of 2015-2016, so that's looking like old news now.
Adopting Thunderbolt 3 on the Mac Pro makes more sense as it brings Thunderbolt and USB-C at 40Gbps - so 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.
What Graphics will the 2018 Mac Pro have?
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).
The AMD FirePro W7100, W5100 may find their way into the new Mac Pro (although AMD showcased new its FirePro W-series at Siggraph in August 2014, so they may be a little dated now).
Alternatively, there are significantly faster graphics based on AMD's Fury platform that may be destined for the new Mac Pro.
The choice of video card is important. 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
How much storage will the 2018 Mac Pro have?
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 welcome.
How much RAM will the 2018 Mac Pro have?
You can expect even faster memory in the 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).