This array of ports has the power that PCI slots on old Mac towers did. But will it be as practical? That answer may depend on vendors. Photo courtesy Apple.

This array of ports has the power that PCI slots on old Mac towers did. But will it be as practical? That answer may depend on vendors. Photo courtesy Apple.

“Pro” is a funny word. When people say “pros” in contrast to “amateurs,” “producers” rather than “consumers,” they mean something about relative seriousness. And in tech, they usually invoke these words when they’re looking down on tools they feel aren’t up to snuff.

That’s fair. Especially in music making and digital art where money is tight, people invest in tools because they deliver, not just to show off. And they’ve usually been burned by something less-than-pro letting them down.

So, when people see a machine from Apple dubbed the “Mac Pro,” they have certain expectations.

The problem is, the upcoming Apple Mac Pro doesn’t meet those expectations. It looks like a Dyson vacuum cleaner someone lifted from the maintenance closet on the Death Star. The innards seem promising enough: powerful next-generation graphics architecture from AMD meet the latest-and-greatest computational iron from Intel. On closer inspection, the design is functional, too: Apple has cleverly organized the whole beast around the heat intake.

What’s conspicious, then – what really upsets people – is the absence of internal storage bays and expansion slots. Apple’s machines have never been as upgradeable, component by component, as their Windows- and Linux-running brethren, but the most common needs to add storage media, video and audio interfaces, and the like have always been well accommodated by Apple’s pro towers.

The Mac Pro is the final departure from that design. And so, it represents a formal dividing line between expansion via slots and internal bays on one hand, and external gear connected by cables on the other.

This is a day a lot of us saw coming. Nor is it a trend restricted to the Mac. The PC vendors still make towers, but they have become specialist machines for gamers, producers, and server administrators, as sales in laptops (and now tablets, too, or at least Apple’s tablets) have surged.

And back to that word “pro.” “Pros” have trended to buying these other form factors, too. On the Apple side, seeing a MacBook Pro, or a MacBook Air, or an iMac, or a Mac mini is commonplace in studios and workspaces. Even an entry-level Mac mini is capable of handling the needs of most people’s audio productions, even with a lot of channels and effects.

So, the question is: what does the shift to cable mean for expandability down the road – for Mac desktop users, Mac laptop users, and even the PC?

Still Expandable, Just Without Slots

On the back of the Mac Pro is something a lot of people feel is missing from something like the MacBook Air: ports. Lots of them. Thunderbolt and USB3. Apple even has multiple dedicated controllers for those ports, which is a good thing for bandwidth-hungry, performance-dependent audio and video users. And here’s where there’s an edge: that added storage and I/O flexibility can make a big difference in productivity when it comes to media production.

The absence of PCI Express slots is not the absence of PCI Express, the protocol by which your expansion card integrates with your computer’s main architecture. Thunderbolt actually is PCI Express. It’s an extension of that bus over a cable. It’s not quite as fast as the internal speed of the latest PCI Express 3.0 standard, or the upcoming PCI Express 4.0. But it provides more than enough bandwidth for massive configurations of audio inputs and outputs, video streams, and high-speed storage. Most accessories can’t keep up with all it does. Thunderbolt, like PCIe, is Intel technology – here, with input from Apple. It’s a de facto standard, and something you should expect to see adopted on PCs as well as Macs soon, though it’s too early to say in what numbers.

(Slightly confusingly, the Mac Pro uses Thunderbolt 2.0. The only practical difference, owing to a reconfiguration of internal channels of data in the protocol, is the ability to use massive 4K displays. I’ve confirmed with vendors that there’s no implication for audio or video I/O here, only for your really fancy displays.)

The availability of this expansion route is part of why I feel some pundits wrote the “Pro” obituary too soon. For instance, here’s Cringely:
Death of the Mac Pro [I, Cringely]

Predicting the transformation of the Mac Pro at last year’s WWDC, he was half right:

There are no card slots, no extra drive bays, no GPU options on any other Apple products.

Apple has effectively killed its last conventional computer.

But half right is also half wrong:

When the Mac Pro dies for good Apple will replace it in the market with a combination of Thunderbolt-linked Mac Mini computing bricks backed up by rented cloud processing, all driven from an iMac or MacBook workstation.

No, actually, it won’t. Pros are aware of the bits missing from this equation. Cloud processing isn’t fast enough for real-time media work; milliseconds are a long time in media. And the mini, cool as it is, lacks the GPU needed on the graphics side. But that’s not, ultimately, what Apple did. Instead, it made a Mac Pro with the same expansion options, all made external rather than internal.

If you’re passionate about high-end audio cards with lots of high-quality ins and outs, the endurance and ongoing evolution of these sort of interconnects should come as good news. RME, for instance, tells us they’re working on this stuff:

Our Upcoming MADIFace XT now has ePCIe (MXO2), which is already a standard and can be easily converted to Thunderbolt. MXO2 has a much better an more stable connection and is also available for PCIe Desktop cards.

And that’s just Thunderbolt. Then there’s USB3. Again, RME – who argue for USB3 as a good choice if you’re replacing a MADI card you’ve got in an old Mac Pro tower:

Why would you need Thunderbolt when we have the first USB 3.0 interface which can handle all the 396 channel of the MADI XT?

The future face of audio is external gear like this MADIFace XT from RME. And, really, given PCI cards were typically paired with external breakout boxes anyway, isn't that a more convenient solution? One trick you can accomplish with this that you couldn't with the PCI card: unplug it, plug it into your laptop. Done. Photo courtesy RME.

The future face of audio is external gear like this MADIFace XT from RME. And, really, given PCI cards were typically paired with external breakout boxes anyway, isn’t that a more convenient solution? One trick you can accomplish with this that you couldn’t with the PCI card: unplug it, plug it into your laptop. Done. Photo courtesy RME.

So you can choose if you want to have USB 3 or PCIe or Thunderbolt if you need that many channels. Because USB 2 can already handle 64 channels in and out.
More information:
RME 2013 Musikmesse announcement

Oh, yeah, lowly USB 2: the thing is, part of the reason you keep seeing Thunderbolt and USB3 associated with video or ultra-high-end displays is that USB 2 and FireWire already provide enough bandwidth for even fairly sophisticated audio scenarios. They’re good enough.

Universal Audio is also enthusiastically embracing Thunderbolt; we’ve heard them sing its praises before, both for bandwidth and also, crucially, for low-latency performance. I’d like to see native Thunderbolt on their hardware rather than the current adapter-card solution; the coming of the Mac Pro seems a likely push.

Previously (with some commentary about why everyone doesn’t need even Thunderbolt, let alone forthcoming faster PCIe):
The Thunderbolt Age Dawns: UA Ships Thunderbolt on Apollo; More to Come – Where it Makes Sense

Given that Thunderbolt is an Intel technology, can we expect parallel progress on Windows? Universal Audio responds:

We can’t comment on future product development, but Thunderbolt on Windows will definitely become more relevant to our users as more PCs implement it. It’s something we’re looking into.

Technologies like Thunderbolt are, for now, not something you’ll see on tablets and low-power machines. They require the horsepower of conventional computers. The post-PC era is not necessarily an era without PCs – it’s one in which a single PC architecture doesn’t solve every job. But conversely, the PCs in that light suddenly become more valued for their “towing capacity.” (This is the idea behind Steve Jobs’ car and truck metaphor. It’s not so useful in light of American auto buying habits, but it does work in respect to size, weight, power, and power consumption.)

The beauty of this for people who don’t want giant studio machines, though, is that suddenly any computer with USB3 or Thunderbolt can be expandable in a way that once required slots. The Mac Pro’s primary advantage is its dedicated onboard ports and controllers and its heftier CPU and GPU – if Apple is to be believed, it should be a lot faster than your MacBook Air. But then, if you want to take the material you worked out in the studio and bring it on the road with you, you can unplug a Thunderbolt accessory and use it with your laptop. It’s hard not to see that as a very good thing.

And so while slots are really good at keeping everything neat and tidy and affordable in a machine that never moves, they’re pretty terrible for maximizing the investment you make in hardware when you make heavy use of laptops and the like.

The casualties

Laptop owners are happy, then, as are iMac and mini owners. But that brings us to our unhappy group: current Mac Pro users. If any of them dreamt of repurposing hard drives and I/O cards in a new Mac Pro with a faster CPU, they now face potentially-pricey expansion chassis solutions.

And then there’s Pro Tools. Avid’s flagship Pro Tools HD line is heavily dependent on expansion slots. (This is, of course, what users of other DAWs have routinely ribbed Pro Tools users about. Now, that’s all a bit more stinging.)

And there are people who hate cables, fearing a rat’s nest of spaghetti around that menacing (if small) black cylinder.

I don’t think each of these problems is on the same level of seriousness. Form factor and cables look like problems the intrepid Apple accessory market will attack with gusto. The new Mac Pro appears to be deliciously small and portable. It’s impossible to tell whether this form factor will work in practice until we’re testing the machine in person. But it seems likely that users will devise solutions to keep cables organized and mount the Mac Pro in racks and so on.

Cost remains a legitimate concern. External devices do tend to be more expensive than internal devices, whether justified in that cost or not.

And I don’t think there will be very good news for people wanting to move existing hardware. I think it’s more likely that those Mac Pros will be best kept operating as-is – and that’s why you very often see older towers running in studios for years, I think.

The real question is whether the hardware users depend on now will adopt USB and Thunderbolt.

With Pro Tools gear, for instance, I think adopting external connection buses like USB3 or Thunderbolt are part of what Avid must do to survive. In fact, the cash-starved company it seems would benefit from finally having a reason for all its legacy users to upgrade – if they can deliver a more cost-competitive box with external interconnects and sell it to existing studio users, plus the increasingly laptop-based producer and audio engineer market, they could have a second business boom on their hands. There’s an argument to be made that part of what has caught Avid flat-footed is over-dependence on just these towers. It isn’t just that studios are closing: even in studios, you often now see iMacs and MacBooks.

Apple Makes Wedges

I think we’re yet again in an Apple Moment. And in that sense, the Mac Pro isn’t a departure for the company at all. It’s exactly in character. The Mac Pro is a aggressive feat of industrial engineering that embodies a no-compromise approach to what Apple feels is the future – everyone and everything else be damned. We’ve been here before.

Apple is also not your only choice. There really are advantages to traditional towers in cost and flexibility. There are great options for things like sound isolation. Windows 8 is a powerful operating system for music and visual production that supports almost exactly the same suite of tools the Mac users have. Linux, while certainly more niche in its appeal and with a different set of tools, also fits some people’s needs perfectly well.

What it seems the new Mac Pro will do – the very thing that’s annoying many existing Apple customers – is force the transition to more high-speed external hardware for audio and video. The fact that existing Mac Pro users are so dedicated to their expansion slots, the fact that vendors the size of Avid have built whole ecosystems around it, only proves the point. It’s easy to forget that Apple has dragged us, sometimes kicking and screaming, from NuBus to PCI, 68k to PowerPC to Intel x86 (and 64-bit), Mac OS 9 to OS X. They’ve also played a major role in pushing the industry from SCSI and floppies to USB and FireWire. It seems now Thunderbolt and USB3 are next.

When it comes to creative work, it’s often the Mac ecosystem that leads as others follow – it’s an easier testbed for new hardware, and a passionate audience of consumers.

But if we make this leap to flexible external hardware for audio and video successfully, it’s hard to think that’ll be a bad thing.

Now, it’s all a bit too soon — but that’s why Intel was pushing Thunderbolt and PCIe and USB3 at Taiwan’s Computex last week, and Apple doing the same thing (in their own way) at WWDC this week. The audience isn’t us: it’s developers and vendors.

And since they’re the pros that let us be better pros, I hope they’re listening.

For another nice take on this story, from a person who’s a devoted PC user, here’s ISO50 and Scott Hansen (aka artist Tycho):
Thoughts on the New Mac Pro
Actually, the fact that he isn’t a Mac user may make him slightly more objective as a source of reflection on this.

Addendum:

Lest it get lost in my rambling…

What we know: fast memory, fast storage, fast CPU, dual GPUs, dedicated Thunderbolt and USB3 controllers (plural) should allow for easy expansion. And this looks like an atypically portable box for all of this, meaning a desktop you can easily take onstage or between studios, etc.

What we don’t know: a lot of the specs. How much storage? How much memory? How upgradeable will the internal devices be there, if at all? And we don’t know a lot of the practicalities of the design – or how this will stack up to PC options by the end of the year – or the price.

  • Chris Muir

    I wouldn’t say “Thunderbolt actually _is_ PCI Express.” It’s based on PCIe, sure, but it’s not quite the same. Most cards will at least need new drivers to work in an expansion chassis.

    For example, I’m stuck waiting for MOTU to come up with a Thunderbolt solution for their PCI line (e.g. 2408mk3, HD192). Their adaptor card, the PCIe-424, does NOT work in an expansion chassis. If MOTU doesn’t come up with a solution for using their PCI line, the ripple effect of me moving to a new Mac Pro would involve replacing audio interfaces, and my digital mixer. The follow-on costs would probably end up being more than the MacPro.

    The “Sneak Peak” was clearly a shot across the bow of peripheral manufacturers. Hopefully Apple still pulls enough weight in the pro market to force the peripheral manufacturers to get in line.

    • Frankie

      What will happen to all those PCIe cards that don’t work in expansion boxes?

      Ppl should mail them to Apple CEO :D

    • brian botkiller

      Ha! I love the idea of an influx of RME and Protools HD interfaces being mailed to Tim Cook. Make sure they’re all in black shiny boxes, otherwise he won’t take delivery of the package ;)

    • gjgustav

      Hmm… my first thought would be emailing the vendors and asking them for driver support, but hey, I would just want to get my work done rather than make insignificant political-type statements.

    • brian botkiller

      That’s correct. It most certainly is not PCIe, and it won’t replace it for many.

      Expansion chassis? Yeah, cuz I really want to have to connect another big thing to my tiny thing to get the same performance I’d get out of one regular sized computer, right?

      You’re exactly right about the costs of replacing all that gear – it’s horrible to think about, and it will put most off buying this new computer.

    • Chris Muir

      I don’t think that this change is different, in spirit, from some of the changes that Apple has pushed in the past. Apple tends to jettison things that it thinks are no longer relevant to the future, e.g. SCSI, ADB, Serial ports, etc. When Apple went USB-only on the original iMac, it was a controversial move, because there wasn’t much in the way of a USB device market at that point in time. Fast forward a year or so, and there were more USB devices than you could shake a mouse at. If manufacturers get on board with Thunderbolt, it’s a pretty interesting future, I think.

      My workflow already uses a combination of a fast boot/swap drive, FW800 and NAS for storage, so that won’t change much with a new Mac Pro, other than needing a TB->FW adaptor somewhere (at a cost of $29 from Apple.) I’m a firm believer in the concept of storage living outside of my “compute core.” I’ve changed computers with barely a hitch because my data lived somewhere else.

      Many PCIe cards will already work in an expansion chassis. Many will not. I believe this is mostly a driver issue, other than the rare card that needs more bandwidth than Thunderbolt provides. If you are someone who needs that third (or fifth) high speed graphics card, the new Mac Pro is not for you. But realistically, what percentage of the potential market for this sort of machine is in that segment? I imagine that most PCIe cards will be made to work in an expansion chassis, or a Thunderbolt alternative will appear.

      Summing up, if Apple/Intel are successful in their gamble to push the world towards Thunderbolt, in a year or so, we’ll think that compute cores like the Mac Pro are the natural order. We’ll wonder what all the fuss was about. Isn’t this the way computers have always been?

    • gjgustav

      Long TB cables are coming. Think about that for a second – all your noisy stuff can be tucked away in a closet. Only the Mac Pro itself has to be at your desk. Plus, all your gear is in a separate box connected via a single cable. Think about what happens if the computer needs to go in for repair, you upgrade to a later model, you need to use your gear somewhere else, etc.

      BTW, what cards do you have in your Mac Pro right now?

  • volothamp

    Can you elaborate a little on the storage?
    Thunderbolt enclosures are not that common, and RAID solutions can cost even 1k.

    • James Husted

      A good place to start is at Other World Computing (http://eshop.macsales.com/shop/Thunderbolt/) – they have a full range from $150 portables to 8TB raid solutions (@$1700 though).

    • brian botkiller

      Or again, just buy a computer that you can actually expand and do what you want with… IE, not a mac.

    • James Husted

      The choice is to expand inside the box (till you fill it up) adding heat and putting interface cards in the high RF environment of the computer, or outside the box where you can put them as close or as far away as your cables can reach. Both are valid but you are right, external will cost more. And you won’t be “giving apple all your money” since the expansion stuff is made by somebody else.

    • brian botkiller

      We’ve been putting lots of components into computers for years without RF interference, and new hardware has cut down on heat immensely. Water cooling, more efficient hardware, SSD drives, and better built enclosures have all made quieter, more efficient machines, without needing to expand into an external enclosure.

    • James Husted

      Not everyone has the chops or the want to build their own machine. If you build your own you will more likely get a less expensive machine because you get the labor for free.

    • DPrty

      You will defiantly get a better machine at better cost. It is well worth learning and any one that needs real horsepower should learn to build their own. I dare say that most people here should learn how .. at the end of the day your tech chops effect your creative output.

    • brian botkiller

      So why buy a computer and an expansion chassis? Just built a rackmount machine that does it all, can have your RAID enclosure, house your PCI cards, and do what you need it to do without, you know, giving apple all your money.

    • DPrty

      You can get a raid enclosure with 8 drive bays for around $700 from newegg ,, if you watch for deals, however .. I doubt it will be Mac compatible at that price.

  • johng

    the big issue still remains with thunderbolt. the licensing fees for each chip make it too expensive to be competitive with USB3, which is why 3 years after its intro there are still hardly any thunderbolt products, and what there is, is way too expensive.

    • brian botkiller

      And honestly not worth it for most companies, still.

  • bram

    “The beauty of this for people who don’t want giant studio machines, though, is that suddenly any computer with USB3 or Thunderbolt can be expandable in a way that once required slots.”

    As can any rack case, desktop case, mini desktop case, htpc case… that has slots. I don’t see your point.
    A mini computer with an array of expansion and cables next to it takes up more space than a all-in-one solution. Any ‘pro’ will tell you.

    “Form factor and cables look like problems the intrepid Apple accessory market will attack with gusto.”

    This is being apologetic. A design should be judged on its own merits, not on how the market can intervene to solve an inherent problem.

    “And I don’t think there will be very good news for people wanting to move existing hardware. I think it’s more likely that those Mac Pros will be best kept operating as-is – and that’s why you very often see older towers running in studios for years, I think.”

    Apple towers remain in use for years because after a studio (audio, video, web) has made significant investments in hardware and expansion, apple decides (scsi/firewire/legacy software/internal expansion…) isn’t working out for them anymore and 3rd party vendors adjust. Skipping a few generations is commonplace in the industry because of these fickle decisions.

    I could go on, but I think you get the gist of my feelings on this article.

    • brian botkiller

      Yay! We can expand our computers if we want, but only if the gear meets Apple specifications!

      Truly those old mac pros will keep running for awhile. When they die, those users may not end up purchasing new macs. Apple doesn’t need to care, though. They’ll be busy selling ipads.

    • Idon’t Know

      Last I checked everything Apple uses is available from many sources. Is USB 3 an Apple specification? Nope. Thunderbolt 2? Nope thats Intel as well. I guess you don’t know what you are talking about do you?

    • brian botkiller

      Sorry, I couldn’t understand you with your macbook between your teeth.

    • DPrty

      If you must have a mac you could Hackintosh … or maybe its time to explore new operating environments.

    • Idon’t Know

      Like what..Microsofts latest derivative mediocrity of an OS..Linux which doesn’t work with mainstream apps or many hardware components…OS X is far more modern and capable than anything else. Hackintosh is a hobby Mac not for serious production use.

    • brian botkiller

      hahaha, yeah, cuz macs are the only way you’re “pro”.

      You do realize that before your precious macs, a lot of us were making music on Atari STs, right? Or that Cubase was on systems like that long before your glorious mac?

      You’re exactly the kind of “pro” Apple needs. Willing to buy anything and fight to the tooth to prove that their shiny version of unix is the best OS on the planet.

    • Idon’t Know

      You picked the wrong guy to bullshit. I started with Vic-20s and have had everything in between.
      Mac OS X is of course considered the premier OS for video, audio, and sound. Linux does a lot but has nowhere near the acceptance or breadth of applications or hardware compatibility. Try you silly comments with people who don;t know anything.

    • Popo Bawa

      WTF are “mainstream apps”? Are you slagging a whole OS ecosystem just because it doesn’t run software for other OSes? Every OS has software to get a particular job done. But it’s unreasonable to assume that every program is cross-platform, or has a functional equivalent elsewhere.

      And what exactly do you know about Hackintoshes? Calling them hobby machines seems more like name-calling than a well thought out critique.

    • DPrty
    • macnstuff

      I read a comment the other day on this subject which basically nailed it for me. External expansion chassis’s may seem like an inelegant solution at first glance but it provides a level of flexibility and ease of maintenance that ultimately makes it the perfect solution. One expansion chassis can be used on different machines. Upgrades can be carried out without having to take down the workstation and as it has already been pointed out there will no doubt be some elegant solutions for external boxes before too long. We may for example see an expansion chassis in the same form as the Pro which can sit underneath it, just like the Mac Mini external drives from IOMEGA and Newer Technology.

      Basically I think we need to wait and see this thing unfold before judging it.

    • http://www.yepi250.com/ yepi

      i agree with you. very good.

  • heinrichz

    But where are all those Thunderbolt products we’ve been promised years ago? What i’ve see so far is too expensive…

    • James Husted

      Just do a google search for “thunderbolt hard drives” and you will see over 1400 hits in the shopping tab. Lots are portable drives of course ($80 for a seagate 1TB) and all the big name players are there. I will imagine, like Peter surmises, more will get in the game soon, especially when PCs start having the ports on them too.

    • brian botkiller

      yes, because I really do want to have to connect three or four external hard drives via thunderbolt to get the storage I need. Or if I want redundancy, I certainly want to have to build an external RAID enclosure to get it.

      Or, again, I could just do all that in the box and be done with it.

      PCs already have Thunderbolt ports, plenty of them, in fact. Thing is, most of us don’t have to use them because we’re already doing what we want with hardware that works.

    • James Husted

      If you are already doing what you want with hardware that works then you don’t need a new machine.

    • brian botkiller

      But Apple banks on users buying new stuff simply to have the newest coolest thing. That’s their business model now; release something new every year to two years, with a slightly new feature, to get people to buy more, and it works. Good for them, but it’s not useful for those that need to get work done.

      I agree with you, though.

    • Idon’t Know

      More proof you know nothing about Apple. At all.

    • brian botkiller

      Not being released, because the curve isn’t here yet. Those that have done it, are still niche. Until you see a thunderbolt device from Avid, you’re probably not going to see a ton of commercially and easily available thunderbolt devices.

    • Sigivald

      Oh, like this one?

  • James Husted

    I have read this “mess of cables” line in many post about the new Mac Pro. I don’t understand this at all. Thunderbolt 2 can chain up to 6 devices and if they are sitting next to each other, we are talking about one cable each connected between them (not back to the Mac) plus power. That is not a mess to me. and who says these even need to be on the desktop at all anyway. For me the external hard drives will be under the desk, in a nearby cabinet or somewhere as far away as my TB cable will allow. I don’t want to hear them. Expansion cases are not cheap – they are now in the +$300 range – but they do bring some advantages. Portability is one. Bringing your cards with your laptop to remote sessions. Another is connection access. Put those interfaces closer to the mixer or just make them easier to get to the connections. I would imagine that a expansion chassis (if it works with your cards) will still be cheaper than buying a new interface.

    • brian botkiller

      Again, there’s no reason I would want six devices cabled into my computer that are all external devices. I don’t have to do that now — why would I want to do that? Six Thunderbolt devices and three USB devices is nine things scattered about your workspace, many of which will be hard drives, that I could have just had inside my machine. Or, again, external chassis, which is just dumb, IMHO.

    • DPrty

      I totally agree there is no reason to want more cables hanging out the back. I have a machine here with 8 usb ports all of them used ….. its a mess and tangles seemingly on its own … you add the patch bays the mixers and keyboards + raid towers and it becomes a nightmare. Also ports are not sturdy and break, internal cards in slots tend to last.

    • brian botkiller

      I think again it comes down to the user, but I just don’t like having to connect fifty different things to a machine for the sake of “design”. I don’t see it as design, I see it as inconvenient.

    • Popo Bawa

      I gravitate towards bomb-proof hardware. My initial attraction to Macs in the 90s was that they were cheap workstations with great A/V software. How I see it, things like laptops and imacs are a convenience, but they are basically disposable. Good luck field stripping your imac in a few minutes. Or quickly swapping out a faulty logic board from any of these things.

      As an audio guy of some years, I can tell you that in my experience – cables and adaptors are the most likely causes of faults I have seen. They are engineered as a cheap and nasty solution to throwing up and breaking down a rig

  • gLOW-x

    I see with pleasure i’m not the only one smelling the mess coming.
    I’ve seen a lot of those supposed “revolutions”…and i’m not the only one it seems.

    First, a pro don’t spend his time looking at his beautiful computer…he use it, simply.
    Most Mac towers i see in studio, even if they are beautiful, are hidden under a desk or behind something.No space lost. Design > OUT.
    Most audio pros would even prefer a RACK Mac ;)

    Second, external expansions are going to be a mess :
    -latency (there will be for sure)
    -non working adapters : PCIe boxes not working, Firewire to Thunderbolt too…and more to come
    -higher disconnection risks (nice in the middle of a session…and another
    reason to HIDE your brand new Mac Pro behind/under something)
    -cable mess : yes, we all know that one ;)
    -not portable : you will spend hours moving those external devices (data cables AND external power supplies sometimes)
    -Thunderbolt never clicked…and presence of USB3 ports is going to push even
    further the trouble (we know what happened when Apple pushed ppl over Firewire and ppl got countless troubles with crappy FW chips…and some came back to USB) : here, it is the price

    Most pros really wanting to get a TOOL (meaning a working solution with bang for the buck attitude) are going to skip this one for sure.

    Others who already spend thousand dollars on useless racks just to show their clients may be interested in putting this on the desk…just to show but not to really use it ;)

    • brian botkiller

      That’s exactly correct. We don’t care about if it’s shiny and all that — we care about what we can do with it. The fact is that you won’t be able to do all you want with this when you take it out of the box. You’ll need an expansion chassis, or external gear, and you’ll have to refit your entire studio.

      Apple thinks this is ok because they haven’t released a new mac pro in years — therefore, more people are likely to have to upgrade, right? Wrong. If you release the wrong product, you don’t get return buyers.

      Want a good rackmount computer? You won’t get it from Apple. Never have, never will, now.

    • Chris Muir

      Apple has offered a rack mount computer in the past, though I suppose you have a reason it wasn’t “good” enough. Apple has never been about offering a wide range of choice. They are about offering a couple variations of a product in a given niche.

      Apple is a source of disruption. They tend to find a market segment, and create a new spin on a solution for that market segment. The iPhone and iPad both did this. For example, there had been tablets for quite a while before Apple released their take on the tablet which completely disrupted that market segment. I’m sorry that the new Mac Pro has the potential to disrupt your business, but so it goes.

    • Chris Muir

      IMO, many of these issues are straw men.

      For example, Apple’s Thunderbolt Firewire adaptor is $29. There is also a FW port on their latest display (as well as USB2 ports.) I expect a 4k resolution display to be released at the same time as the Mac Pro, which will probably have USB 3 and Firewire.

      Saying that “Thunderbolt never clicked” is _way_ premature. At the same time in its product cycle, you could have said that USB never clicked.

      In many cases there will be one or maybe two more cables to connect to one or two more boxes. I just don’t see this as a deal breaker. I’ve never had a disconnection problem with my external disks using my existing desktop machine. I’ve also never had an issue with “crappy FW chips.” My anecdotal evidence is as good as yours :-)

      As far as portability is concerned, moving my aluminum tower is almost as good as a gym membership.

      I think that the biggest issue is PCIe expansion chassis compatibility. I expect this to become a non-issue, as manufacturers update drivers for their PCI boards, and come out with native Thunderbolt solutions.

    • Charles

      “crappy FW chips” = PC user. It’s not an issue on the Mac side, but PC users have had to make sure they had Texas Instruments FW controllers.

  • brian botkiller

    Again, I think that this machine looks good, but that’s just it — it LOOKS good. I absolutely hate the move to machines that Are not serviceable, not expandable, and dump on the old users.

    Where you’re missing the point here is that apple has shit on their old users, as they have been doing for years now, in their move to create “more beautiful” computing. Their focus is on shiny software and hardware, and tiny apps that download from the cloud. Their focus is, despite what people are saying, most certainly NOT what pros need. Do you really think that Danny elfman’s studio is going to outfit with a bunch of these things? Or DTS? Or any major audio house? It’s not going to happen. Pointing to ports and two companies making thunderbolt audio devices proves nothing. If it can’t run protools HD (which this thing can’t, not out of the box), then it won’t be used by 75% of the crowd your speaking to.

    This computer isn’t for Pros — it’s for mid-level creatives. People who need to load Photoshop (from the cloud, yay!), do some light web design, and maybe edit a small video (and make that bangin’ track on Logic Pro…ahem… Garageband Pro). For those of us that need to edit a full-length film, or record 60+ tracks of audio and edit it, or do something that requires that we have some control over our computer, we’re not going to use this thing.

    I don’t care how cool looking the case is, or how fancy it looks. I don’t think this thing will replace the average desktop.

    As to Apple dragging us into the future; not really. Apple has helped, but was not the leader in nearly any of this. The leader has been the expansion of the internet and the need for more powerful computing in general. Apple has been the leader in making more money off it — not the leader in making it happen. They’re not starting a revolution, here, they’re changing the conventions of what they think computing is. That’s fine, except that, it’s still a niche. Sorry, but this thing won’t be found in major studios, production houses, and media houses for a long time. It will be bought by a bunch of people who want Apple’s newest, shiniest, toy. For that, Apple will make a lot of money. I don’t need a shiny trashcan to run Angry Birds. I need a computer to get work done.

    For those of us that still need to get real work done, and need to use the PCIe cards, like to use our own video cards, want to be able to add our own hard drives, like to be able to service our computer, don’t want a black trashcan sitting on our desk, and aren’t obsessed with thinking we’re “not pro” if we don’t own a mac, I’ll stick with my PCaudiolabs computer that’s been treating me well for many years, and will for many more.

    • Samuele Cornell

      Well said , the annoying truth is that Apple could have easily supported PCIe but their obsession with Innovation/ design ( or probably market strategy ) led them to what you’ve basically said .
      I fear also that because I/O ports are mounted perpendicular to the boards the production costs may increase .

    • -Brandon

      I’m very excited and looking forward to this machine running PT 11 HDx with a thunderbolt expansion chassis once plugin companies get fully compatible. Rumor is the internal SSD is available in 2 TB from the factory and clearly there will be a wealth of external expansion options there as well. Our “pro” solution is that we’re pro enough to be able to afford to keep the old HD rig too, just in case a plug is discontinued or we need to recall something from HD10.

    • James B

      I don’t think there are any 2TB SSD drives out yet. A couple have been announced though, with expected price to be over $5000. I wonder, what do you suppose the base price of the Mac Pro will be? $2700 like with the current models, or a bit more? So add $5000 for the 2TB drive, is $7700 something you want to pay for your next computer? You seem very enthusiastic over the prospects of this computer with a 2TB SSD. I’ve had a few SSDs myself, they tend to fail after a couple years, so this would be a recurring expense.

    • brian botkiller

      About the largest consumer grade SSD at this point is 600 gb, so you’re right. However Apple can have whatever hardware made for them they wish, such as their 12 core single processor, which isn’t commercially available, so I’d imagine that they’re having a 2tb drive made for them.

    • oliver

      They are using a (albeit what looks like a propriety) PCIe SSD of which there are certainly 2TB models available. OCZ even make a 3.2 TB 2.8GB/s read and write PCIe SSD that is shipping right now if you are willing to pay the £14,000 price tag. The card Apple is advertising though is about half the speed of that so while I doubt it will ship with 2TB as standard it will certainly be an option at a at a considerably lower price point and still be more than twice as fast than what most people have been used to up till now.

    • brian botkiller

      Ah, thanks for that info!

    • R__W

      derp

    • Taylor

      Brian, I don’t see what the big deal is in upgrading to this Mac Pro. Buy a PCIe expansion chassis if you have cards. Sonnet sells a reasonably priced one and they advertise compatibility with PT. Internal hard drive expandability is irrelevant when you have SSDs.

    • brian botkiller

      For those that want to go that way, nope, it’s not a big deal. For those that don’t want to do that, it is a big deal. Luckily there’s alternatives.

    • Idon’t Know

      But then you clearly aren’t a “pro” so what are you doing here making ignorant and inane comments to those of us who actually know what we are doing?

    • brian botkiller

      And what makes you a “pro”, son? I’m guessing not much. I run two companies which interface with Avid, Native Instruments, UA, Presonus, and every other company in the business, and my client list is longer than you’ve been alive, so do me a favor, and don’t look before you leap off that ledge and tell us all how MAD PRO YOU ARE BRO

    • Idon’t Know

      Your a child no matter how old you are. I’ve likely forgotten more than you will ever know. Such an internet thug. I bet your a mouse in person.

    • brian botkiller

      You’re not even a pro troll, and that’s the easiest thing to be pro at.

      Are you pro-moron? Because you seem to have their backs like whoa.

    • brian botkiller

      If I may clear something up to all the crying mac fans here, I’ve been working on macs for years now, I have plenty of clients on macs, I own apple products, I like plenty of their stuff, I’m Logic certified, I’ve produced many records in Logic. When I was in Audio school, I was working on a Mac. I never said that anything I’ve said is “the gospel”, nor did I even say that Windows based machines are better — but it’s what I’ve seen from my clients, which include a number of very well-known people and companies, all of which have told me in the past week that this new Mac pro is miles from what they want in a computer. That might change, but I (read, MY DAMN OPINION) have been disenchanted with Apple’s “pro” support in the past years.

      That’s ME. YMMV. Hooray if it does. Funny how we all have opinions, huh?

    • Brian_M_CDN

      yup, you aren’t the only one, with 3 years on the last Mac Pro release (the 2012 was only a processor & minor other spec change, no logicboard changes), it really left many companies & pro users feeling ignored.

    • brian botkiller

      They’re still amazing machines. I do not second guess that there are genius people at work who make Apple machines. But, a computer is becoming more and more like cars did as they went from utilitarian and simply for base purposes, to becoming customized, infinitely feature rich, and of course, offering thousands of choices.

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Right, but — this argument has an inherent flaw.

      We’re seeing users argue that the conventional Mac design is superior because of its inherent upgradeability.

      In the same breath, we’re hearing users argue that the problem with Apple is that they weren’t providing upgrades to that same machine – upgrades in the form of logic board replacements that would require *replacing it*.

      You see the problem, right?

    • Brian_M_CDN

      missed your reply.

      That isn’t a flaw in the argument (unless I have misunderstood one of your points)

      Upgradeability and Expansion of capabilities was the Mac Pro strength, sure some would use a system longer because they could upgrade the video card when they needed that more than raw CPU power.

      But technology does march along eventually, and things like PCIe 3.0, Thunderbolt, USB3 were not included in the “new” Mac Pro in 2012 (USB3 was possible to add through PCIe card, if you had any slots free)

      Most users/companies expect X number of years out of a system before it is worth the cost to replace the unit due to improvements in performance. (X may be 2 to 5 years on average from those I have dealt with)

      This new model does bring several technologies up, but introduces new limits. While versatile, and useful for many, Thunderbolt is still not as fast as PCIe 3.0 (around 1/4 the potential speed), and without the ability to upgrade the video cards, that limits the useful lifespan for some uses.
      So unless this new model is much cheaper (which based on information so far, the base price may actually be higher) It isn’t cost efficient if it will have to be replaced more often.
      (Audio production is one area that likely wouldn’t be impacted by these limits in video and maximum bandwidth on a single device)

  • Tom

    As so very often in the past, I am happy that apple exists, but am even more happy that I don’t have to follow their whims.

    I bought my first macpro in 2008 after many many years on PC. I found out soon that OSX wasn’t my piece of cake, but it ran Windows faster than OSX and the machine was solid enough. So other than the flimsy peripherals, limited amount of ports and the limitations in graphics-card flexibility, I had little complaints – but I didn’t “convert” either.

    Recently I built a new PC from parts.
    I can exchange each and every part if I need to, it has 20 USB ports (tons of dongles here), 32 GB Ram with 4 more slots free, a Geforce card that works for CUDA 3D rendering and a second slot waiting for another one, space for 10 internal HDs, a 6 core i7 overclocked to 4.1 Ghz running perfectly smooth at 45°C, a 256GB SSD and a BluRay drive… It’s supersilent and I was able to re-use several older parts (especially the great case I bought almost 10 years ago. All my peripherals continue to work just fine.
    Cost me a mere 1500.- Euro, even with prime parts.

    I would expect 2-4 times that for the new mac pro without any peripherals…

    Even leaving the sustainability/environmental factor aside (“throwaway design” & forced replacement of gear), ignoring the very questionable overall look and “octopus”-like structure (central processing unit with cables in all directions), I feel very very happy to be a stupid old PC guy once again ;-)

    From the outside, all this fishing for arguments why the new MacPro doesn’t suck looks like an advanced form of Stockholm-Syndrome… :-)

    YMMV

    Tom

    • brian botkiller

      You’re not a stupid PC guy at all, after all, the Internet runs on “stupid PCs”, despite what Apple would have us believe. You found the right tool for you, that’s all that matters!

    • tomandyourmom

      uh, no, the internet most definitely does not run on “stupid PCs”.

      in either meaning of the word: Personal Computer (i.e., Windows, Linux, or OS X) or Windows. It runs off of Linux servers. About as far from PCs as you can get.

    • Sigivald

      Good on you for making a thing you want.

      But, well, don’t try to extend the fetish for 10 internal drives, overclocking, and “20 USB ports” to the mainstream (even mainstream pro) market…

      (The real pro world seems to like external RAID controllers for quick-swap of failing drives, for one – and hubs for USB ports, rather than an immense number off of the motherboard.

      That really is an impressive number; even the high-end ASUS boards I’ve done my development machine builds off of only have maybe 4 USB3s and maybe 8 USB2s. Most of the headers never even get hooked up, because… damn.)

      I will also be shocked if the Pro costs $4000 (twice 1500 euro, in dollars) – the current base model is $2499, and the smaller case should reduce materials and shipping costs.

  • Jeffrey Horton

    Great article Peter!

  • bear_field

    Wow, this is a poorly written article.

  • Ben Jarvis

    We should be ashamed of how good we have it these days to be quibbling over slots and shapes. Every mac is a pro when it comes to audio work. Computers in general are monsters today and I think that is what Apple is saying with the pro. It’s overkill for almost everyone.

    • Greg Lőrincz

      Word! Glad finally someone said it.

    • Graham Thorne

      I have to agree, It it had PCI slots it would have have to been bigger; then people would complain. Then people would want two PCI; then people would complain. If it wasn’t round and used the really clever thermal core – and it got hot; people would complain. People just like to complain!!

      If the new mac pro is not for you – don’t buy it. Stick with the current mac pro; or buy an iMac, build hackintosh if you like the OS but not the machine.

      This thing is a bloody beast; the spec is scary fast yet people are slagging it off already. Give it to me if you buy one and don’t like it! haha.

    • ArtemisKalatzakis

      Its not that people are _EXPECTING_ too much, its that Apple _REDUCED_ functionality that was possible with existing hardware while charging the same amount. Are you too dense to get that?

      Apple fanboys always go to extraordinary lengths to defend their religion…

    • Graham Thorne

      I use mac an windows that’s false.

      BUT; how have apple reduced functionality? Are you too dense to read the specs? Blimey if this machine is going to reduce a persons work then they have bought the wrong machine!

      How do you know they are charging the same amount too? Isn’t that a bit presumptuous? Or am I missing something?

      You are trying to make me look an idiot and claim I am a ‘religious’ apple users when actually that’s not true. #fail

    • ArtemisKalatzakis

      “BUT; how have apple reduced functionality?”

      If you have to ask that… it shows you haven’t read the article at all. Please go and re-read the article.

    • Graham Thorne

      I know what you are trying to get at but I disagree – of course I have read the article. Look… We will have to agree to disagree. ;-)

    • ArtemisKalatzakis

      You can’t disagree. I am not expressing an opinion. They have compromised the users ability to use technology that is still very very relevant and popular and sells by the millions of units. (We’re not talking about dusty floppy drives) The user has to throw away existing peripherals that they’re using on the current mac pro and buy new ones. Apparently someone at Apple figured they weren’t gouging the user enough. Its bad enough that their ios updates have a tendency to slow down older devices (while conveniently blocking users ability to run the original older versions) .. now they’ve begun to screw over the consumer in new creative ways. On the flip side Microsoft are being complete assholes with the Win8 nonsense and xbox anti-consumer “features”. We really need a company that actually cares about their users rather than just finding new ways of milking their users. But hey.. atleast they found a way to make it shiny !

    • brian botkiller

      I’ve worked hard to care about my customers with the Audio and Video Production PCs I make at my company, and they like that. I don’t have custom hardware made for me, and I don’t have a custom OS (aside from the fact that I optimize windows), but the customer service part, and knowing what Pros want in their machines (and being able to customize), has made for a good business model. I’m not a multi-national corporation and don’t care to be one. I’d rather make computers people can make music on. And, no, I’m not one guy in a garage who thinks he has a company. I’ve been at this for quite some time.

      Apple doesn’t need to care about that aspect of things, and I think that’s something that people aren’t realizing. Apple made a niche market by saying, “ok, you want to make music and art on your computer, do it here”. They then turned that into what Apple has become. Good on them. They have continued much of that, but they are not focused on the things that people who actually make money with their computers need. Anyone who wants to point me otherwise, feel free to show me when Logic was updated to reflect the needs of pro users (I can tell you when, Logic 9 was the last, when it introduced better audio warping and drum replacement) — or, tell me how useful Final cut pro X was to Pros, being that it can’t, and probably never will be able to, use external control surfaces. We have, however, seen plenty of iterations of Garageband, iphoto, and other toy-like apps which do very cool things for mid-level creatives. But, on the software side, sorry guys, simple fact is that the software that Apple creates isn’t for pros anymore. It doesn’t have to be, as they can sell billions of apps and make millions of dollars from them, and do it consistently, rather than waiting for Pros to buy the next iteration every three years or so. Now they’re making their Desktop computers to match that model. Beast or not, the machine lacks things that Pros want, and I know that for a FACT from talking to my clients, many of whom were die-hard Mac fans from day one.

      Again, this is my opinion. It’s not the only right way, it’s just what I’ve seen, and what I know, from being in the Digital audio and video industry for quite some time.

    • StephenG

      Apple haven’t released a price. So your “charging the same amount” part is BS.

      Anti-apple folk will make up anything to defend their bias…

    • ArtemisKalatzakis

      Apple price points have been fixed for a long time. It doesn’t take a genius to figure it out. One does not have to wait for them to announce the price.

    • Dave

      I think that the price will actually be lower than the current entry level Mac Pro due to less materials needed to produce it.

    • Brian_M_CDN

      It is including more expensive GPUs than the stock model. The primary factors in the price of the Mac Pro (and other workstation class systems) is the Xeon processor(s), necessary motherboard chipset to handle the xeons (from Intel), then adding 2x FirePro video cards with 6 GB video memory (even the 3x Thunderbolt is something like $50/controller) plus their standard profit markup will easily put this over $2,000. I’d be happy if it wasn’t. I’d do everything I could to buy one if it was $1,500, but I just can’t see how they will do it based on their past history of only using new model parts.

    • Graham Thorne

      I agree. But then I would. I’m dense apparently.

    • Greg Lőrincz

      That’s a very unfair statement. I agree with Graham even though I despise Apple for many reason. Even if you buy a G5 you’ll be happily make music with it. Musicians moan all the time. When Waldorf released their cheap and powerful analog synth, the Rocket someone complained that it has digital oscillators (as if it mattered…). I’m sick of this sense of entitlement that most people have.

    • TheMetalSgt

      It’s called evolution. Apple is always on the front lines of it, whether it’s with ports or taking away CD drives. They start all the hard twists and turns we go through in technology, and it has always ended up being a good thing. I like the fact that I will have a PC that I can stick a PCIe card in to expand it, but I’m not ignoring the fact that this Mac Pro is a step forward in the long haul. It’s just too soon right now. But that’s ok, because this machine isn’t mean for us consumers yet, right now, it’s meant for developers and really big studios to implement, and I’m sure a couple years down the line when prices come down on external expansions etc, that more people will adopt it. I’m building a PC because it’s cheaper and fits my workflow at the moment, but I bet down the road vendors will follow the Mac Pro design, just like companies always do, they always follow Apple. Apple doesn’t always invent technology, maybe they never invented anything at all, but they saw potential in existing technologies and put them to use in a way no one else would dare to do, and they succeeded in intelligent designs and innovations. That’s all there is to it, it’s fact.

    • ArtemisKalatzakis

      Yeah.. what an awesome machine that you cant even store anything you produce on it. Every single user of this device who uses it for professional video production purposes will be forced to use external storage thus negating any argument whatsoever for “portable” use. When Apple was scamming users into buying their expensive RAM atleast you had a choice of other vendors but now they changed the GPUs into non-standard parts so that you cant even put in new ones of your choice if you decide to upgrade in the future. Brilliant move. But hey.. Apple fans love to bend over and take it. Nobody sane will go near this thing.

    • Ben Jarvis

      It sounds to me like this isn’t the machine for you. I hope you find a computer you enjoy and does what you want it to.

    • ArtemisKalatzakis

      I have. Its the ‘old’ Mac Pro. Unfortunately Apple has screwed people like me who have no interest in discarding their existing hardware and buying new stuff (yay.. thunderbolt). I was waiting for a CPU+USB 3 refresh but I guess Apple decided to go in some weird direction where form > function.

      People like to think Apple is bringing us into the “future” with “innovations” like removing optical drives. . guess what, CDROMS/DVDs/BlueRays are still here and still popular. Many people are not (and most cant) going to download several GBs worth of data for a single game/movie. Besides which, the tiny storage on this device makes it impractical anyway without external storage.

    • Ben Jarvis

      Great, use it in good health. Or continue complaining about things you have no control over, doesn’t matter to me.

    • ArtemisKalatzakis

      Um.. that *IS* the point. If I had control over things I wouldn’t need to complain. I’d rather live in a world where people raise objections against things they find abhorrent. The problem is.. people don’t complain enough.

      Also, seeing as how you could have just as easily ignored my comments, I don’t see you have any footing to stand on – complaining about my complaining ;-)

  • AJ Dawson

    Great article! We as producers have a lot to consider when it comes to upgrading hardware. Don
    t get me wrong, new stuff is always cool, but at the expense of having to upgrade ALL of my gear (audio interface and Midi controllers) it’s just as good as Roland discontinuing the TR-808. We shall see were this new endeavor takes us.

  • bathyscaaf

    Being restricted to AMD GPUs is an issue (for me) due to the lack of nVidia’s CUDA. I’m aware of openCL but have less confidence in ATI/AMD as far as implementation. Being unable to choose my video card is a deal-breaker.

    • brian botkiller

      I feel the same way. I don’t want an AMD GPU, never have, never will.

  • Matt Leaf

    I feel for all the people that need slots. I haven’t used a slot for 10 years and probably never will. For all those that need it, answers simple. Don’t buy this. For all those that don’t, this will be a killer machine. It will eat iMac for breakfast. And hey, word is it is completely serviceable. So hold your breath till the product actually launches.

  • Charles

    brian botkiller: You’re clearly not an Apple customer, so why do you care so much what they do? Build your own Frankenbox and sell them to your friends if you think that’s a better way to go. If you’re right you’ll be rich. And if you’re not right, no one but you will care.

    • Idon’t Know

      brian botkiller is what you call a troll and just as ignorant and immature as you would expect.

    • brian botkiller

      Nah. I’m educated, and you’re a troll, but not a good one. Have fun!

    • DPrty

      Brian has many great points … it seems to me he is not ignorant. Immature is a great way to describe your post.

    • Idon’t Know

      All thats tells us you know even less than him.

    • brian botkiller

      Actually, I am. I came up on macs. I’ve been using them since the IIe to do heavy work, I own a macbook, and my tutorials on ipad music making are some of the most watched around. I am fine with apple products. I’m not fine with this iteration of the “pro” computer.

      I don’t need to “build frankenboxes and sell them to my friends”, because I already have a company making Professional computers for a quite respectable client list. I see plenty of merits in Apple’s latest computer. I just don’t think it’s the answer for a lot of the Pro users I work with. And guess what? It’s not. Speaking with well-known clients in the past week, each and every one has said that there’s no way they’d buy this machine, because it won’t work for what they want to do.

  • Terrible

    Peter,

    First, I’m confused by your assertion that Thunderbolt 2 has no implications for video I/O – why do you think that increased bandwidth means nothing for video?

    Secondly, you say that Thunderbolt is “not quite as fast” as internal PCI E 3.0 – which is an understatement. (Did you report that FW400 is “not quite as fast” as FW800?)

    Thirdly, in light of your references to USB 3 / USB 2 issues, it’s interesting that you’re so optimistic about expansion chassis slots.

    But the main question that most reactions to the new MP leave me with is this: what do you see as the innovation here? Fashion and fad aside, I suppose it is the cooling system and the form factor – at the cost of well developed expandability models.

    Do you feel that is a good trade-off in terms of what it will offer those with 5K+ to spend on their workstation?

    • brian botkiller

      Every point you made here, is win.

    • Brian_M_CDN

      going from 10 to 20 Gbps isn’t much compared to PCIe 2 or newer (x16 PCie 2 is up to 64 Gbps, x16 PCIe 3 is 128 Gbps) so while it is better for things like hard drive arrays, Audio interfaces, and some specific video streaming tasks, it still isn’t nearly enough for rendering cards. So yes, “not quite as fast” is an understatement =)

  • DPrty

    “External devices do tend to be more expensive than internal devices, whether justified in that cost or not.”

    The cost may end up being a less green Apple …. the proliferation of external case’s and wiring adds up to more manufacturing and shipping of oil based products.

    • brian botkiller

      But, but, they’re assembling them in the USA now! That makes them SUCH a better company!

    • DPrty

      Lol

    • Sigivald

      Isn’t everyone doing audio mostly using big racks of mixers, consoles, and god knows what else? (See Mr gLOW-X’s rant about racks, above)?

      Conversely, isn’t Apple being less green by shipping giant Mac Pros to everyone who wants lots of cores, even if they’re never going to use four drive internal RAID and all those slots?

      Those Mac Pros you can buy now are huge and heavy. It’d take a lot of external expansions to “out-green” reducing that, especially since the expansions only go to people who want them.

      (Then again, “shipping a plastic box” is the least important thing in the world to obsess over. Seriously.)

  • VirtualMark

    This computer is a joke – it looks like a dustbin for a start. And the fact that you can’t upgrade it makes it very undesirable. I don’t understand why they did this to their loyal customers.

    • brian botkiller

      Because they can! I dislike the idea that Apple is “showing they still are loyal to their pros”. They’re not. That assertion would assume that Apple really has reason to care about a pro user who spends $5k every five years on a new rig, when they obviously care more about the casual consumer that buys a new ipad or iphone every year to two years.

  • mikehihz

    If you want to spend your time building and maintaining a Frankenbox system instead of recording, mixing, and engineering and improving your craft, thanks, but I’ll find an audio professional instead of a hardware engineering wannabe. While I might respect someone who built their own mixing console, computers are commodities. Assembling your own out of parts you bought at Novatech, Geizhals or Frys is just being cheap and shows a lack of priorities that is unprofessional.

    I want my audio professional to tell me if I should be using a UREI 1176LN, an LA-4, or if a compressor plugin is right for my project not that the motherboard on the studio PC has 3MB of Smart Cache.

    If you want to keep the PCIe standard around, the simple answer is buy more PCIe gear and get your friends to do so as well.

    The bottom line is technology moves forward. I wouldn’t want to be using floppies, diskettes, CDR (and all the variants) any more than I would want to be using old PCIe cards to record myself or my clients. Yeah, it costs money to upgrade but if you can’t or won’t, then don’t. Just because a new piece of tech comes out doesn’t break the tech you already own. If you have your system working, then why are you so offended that Apple has something new and whizzy? Are you constantly tinkering instead of making payroll, keeping the studio pipeline full, recording, mixing, and mastering?

    However, if a new piece of gear is whizzy enough for you to buy, but you haven’t bought anything since your PCIe based system and the world has passed you by, don’t blame the companies who must keep moving forward or they die. It’s not their problem they can’t continue to support old technology. Resources are NOT unlimited: any product they have to continue to support (with forums, phone calls, drivers, quality assurance on new systems and OSes) means they have fewer resources to make new products.

    The world has moved to FireWire, USB, and now Thunderbolt, Frankly, video cards in most, if not all Macs, are more than fast enough to deal with most audio workflows. Heck, I would hazard a guess than 80% of us audio folks will do fine with an iMac. The other 20% should be on a Mac Pro. And because they are in the 20%, they will have the money to deal with upgrading the audio infrastructure around it (or prioritize what to modernize first.)

    If the market had kept on demanding PCIe-based products my guess is Macs would have still had slots, but guess what? The iMac doesn’t and is pretty much a standard digital video editing machine running Premier, FCP 7, FCP X, and Avid all over the world. No one bats an eye that they don’t work with the old Media Composer cards. They just work.

    • Sigivald

      Plus, you can run a PCIe card off of your iMac with an external enclosure via Thunderbolt, right now, if you really want it.

  • Random Chance

    I was going to jump onto the bandwagon and make some snide remarks about the mess of cables but then I accidentally looked down on my desk and saw the mess of cables already there comprised of USB, Ethernet and Firewire, not to mention all those power cables and wall warts for external hard drives and other stuff. It’s already annoying but not quite as annoying as having to deal with thick, hardly flexible cables with huge connectors. We’ve finally come full circle with workstations like the new Mac Pro. It reminds me very much of the workstations that the cool guys with the money used in the 80s and 90s, the ones with the quirky proprietary operating systems that still wanted you to believe that they are compatible because “it’s all UNIX ™” and the ones with the rat’s nest of SCSI cables, and disk cabinets, the ones with the ocassionally cool design and sexy form factor. It’s all coming back with a vengeance and I’m not sure if I like it.

  • Gesslr Gesslr

    Wow. This is hilarious. EVERYTIME Apple innovates, the nattering nabobs of negativism make the SAME arguments. “arrrgh! I can’t live without floppies/nubus/PCI….!” Really? You would still be using that Radius Nubus video capture card if Apple had maintained backwards compatibility? Get a grip. Somehow we manage, and EVERYTIME we are better off.

    OK. Glad to get that off my chest. Now for a less hysterical response.

    I’ve got a big investment in the current infrastructure, but I think this move frees us in the long-term to configure exactly as we need. The trick in the short-term will be the pricing for these expansion chasis. The ones I am aware of are horribly expensive IMHO, and I can only hope that the coming increased demand for them will induce more competition and lower the price.

    In the mean time, the current MacPros aren’t exactly slouches, grab a used one and get happy!

    • brian botkiller

      These aren’t “noobs” nattering, kid. These are PROS who make money with their computers, and don’t need a flashy trashcan to play angry birds on.

    • DPrty

      Agreed … Pro’s that have experience with upgrade cycles and building machines that can get it done. No negativism here, just the reality that Apples machines are getting less desirable for workhorse applications.

    • Gesslr Gesslr

      Botkiller: Kid? You made me feel young. Thanks!

      Look, in 1992 or 93 I bought one of those VideoVision cards from Radius and a 2GB HD w/NuBus raid card. That and my trusty AudioMedia II set me back a cool $5K in 1992 excluding the IIci it ran on (equivalent to about $8500 in 2013 dollars). Then I went on to make about 10x that over the next couple of years with it.

      So when Apple moved to PCI in ’95 or ’96, making the move was just a cost of doing business that would be paid for by the money I had earned and would earn with the new equipment. It was also a business expense to be written off.

      In other words, I didn’t bitch and moan about it. I used my equipment until it didn’t make sense to do so anymore, and moved with the industry to the next stage when it made sense for me and with the money earned with the equipment. (And ultimately I was better off too. With the advent of PCI there were more and cheaper choices, and products with better performance.)

      In other words, it was just a cost of doing business. And if you were really a pro, you would realize this.

      As I said, I’ve got a big investment in the current infrastructure, and the economics are different now for me. I don’t work “in the industry” in the ways I used to, so have less freedom to finance my equipment via project-based income. And as I am not self-employed at the moment, writing these purchases off as a business expense is out of the question.

      Nevertheless, I welcome Apple’s move, and I think it frees us in the long-term to configure exactly as we need.

  • Things That Occur In Nature

    I agree with the tone of many of the criticisms here..but….we all know that reality is that ALL of the companies mentioned (Avid, UAD, MOTU, etc) will have to create solutions for pro users. And, they will have to do so quickly if they want to stay in business. I’ll be running my newly acquired 2009 Pro for several years to come, just as I did my old G5. (I’m still disappointing with Apple about that bunk cooling system in the G5, but I did get almost 9 years out of it after some repairs) Apple is too firmly engrained in the creative culture to go anywhere anytime soon. They know that everyone else will fall in line to create solutions and that continues to put them in a leadership role. I am willing to take a look at new Windows offerings as I like to keep up but every time I do, I am severely disappointed with the ease of use and stability.

    • brian botkiller

      Everyone else doesn’t have to “fall in line”, and they can’t if the hardware solutions don’t really work for what they need to do. You do know that to create, test, and market an entirely new audio interface isn’t as easy as snapping your fingers, right? Even a company the size of Avid won’t be doing that. As always, when Apple “innovates”, they think they govern the entire industry. They do not.

    • Things That Occur In Nature

      Bet ya 10 bucks they will! :^)

      It is simply smart business.
      Tech companies have to keep up with current/future tech and, I am guessing they are hard at work at solutions as we type…

    • Things That Occur In Nature

      Bet ya a dollar they will!

  • Taylor

    Cringley: “When the Mac Pro dies for good Apple will replace it in the market with a combination of Thunderbolt-linked Mac Mini computing bricks backed up by rented cloud processing, all driven from an iMac or MacBook workstation.”

    His prediction was supposed to be dire, but as a software engineer, I find it quite exciting! Particularly the cloud processing part.

    “Cloud processing isn’t fast enough for real-time media work; milliseconds are a long time in media.”

    But many operations in media work don’t currently provide real-time feedback. Video editing, image editing and 3D modeling/rendering could all benefit from offloading some of the processing to a compute farm. Even for audio, tracks could be pre-rendered on a farm.

    The usefulness of cloud processing is a function of the bandwidth and latency to the compute farm, and that will continue to improve :-)

    • brian botkiller

      Cloud processing assumes that we have a future in which energy is abundant and clean, and wherein everything just works. This isn’t going to happen unless data centers become more green, energy usage more efficient, and more viable ways of creating that energy are created.

    • Taylor

      That’s an interesting point! I think a few questions need to be answered to strengthen the point. Does the same operation take more power in the cloud than running it locally? Does cloud computing require fewer machines for a given workload due to load balancing? And if we are restricting our discussion to just pro media processing, are we just talking about a small fraction of the overall cloud computing workload?

  • trash80

    I love the argument of having the option of upgradability & expandability with desktop machines, it’s so unrealistic. Those of us who’ve gone through the process of building a machine know that with all of the upgradability & expandability it still has a 2-3 year lifespan if you plan on keeping up with the latest and greatest software demands. Who else has been here: “I want to upgrade the video card, whoops- looks like I need a new mobo for feature X, damn it, I’ll also have to swap out the processor, oh crap the processor needs this type of ram, and the PSU is no good anymore with this configuration.” … You end up with a entire new machine, minus the harddrives (maybe) and cheapest of parts not being swapped out.

    Regardless of what choice you make with hardware, keeping up with new and bleeding edge tech is a expensive never ending venture.

    Personally I like this new machine, I love to see change in design decisions and technology- it’s exciting and interesting. That being said I wish there was another OS option for computer music professionals who desire some of the nice features of OSX (coremidi/audio) with native running software.

    • Sigivald

      Those of us who’ve gone through the process of building a machine know
      that with all of the upgradability & expandability it still has a
      2-3 year lifespan if you plan on keeping up with the latest and greatest
      software demands.

      True fact, though on my gaming rigs I tend to replace the video card mid-cycle and thus they last maybe 4 years (buy top-spec CPU and MB when you start, and it lasts longer).

      I am not a pro A/V guy and therefore use zero slots other than for a GPU.

    • ArtemisKalatzakis

      What change in technology? There is **NOTHING** new in this device. Every single feature of this so called “Pro” has already existed in their other products. All Apple did was (1) make it shiny (2) remove a bunch of features (3) increase their margin.

    • oliver

      how many mainstream machines have you seen out there with pcie ssds (this was until now pretty niche) and thunderbolt2 I don’t see any other products on the market with this tech yet? or a cooling system this efficient that allows the product to be so small?

    • trash80

      Besides what oliver mentioned (yes I’ve seen PCIe SSDs, and they are the price of a computer), a shift in technology is indeed a change in technology. The design in this instance, is part of the technology as well- it’s not like they designed a trash can and made a computer fit, they started with airflow and worked their way outward, not to mention their decision to abandon card slots and go with Thunderbolt 2. Honestly I don’t even know why I’m commenting, if you fail to see the changes here, it’s not worth time arguing.

  • DPrty

    One last important point …. is it a fire hazard if someone mistakes it for a garbage can? I haven’t looked in the hole on the top .. but would paper ignite in there?

  • http://www.waveplantstudios.com waveplant

    How you define a “pro” machine is an interesting aspect of this argument. Apple has obviously decided that pro primarily means power, while opposing arguments seem to place just as much significance on (internal) expandability. I’ve got an aging Mac Pro and I’m still not sure what to do. But this feels familiar to when Apple ditched the serial bus for USB, etc… We’ll recover and it’ll be fine.

    I’m not totally clear on all the details – and I’m not sure how much this depends on form factor vs cooling methods, but I’ve noticed that all the i7 machines (specifically the fans) tend to be really loud when the processor is pushed hard – something that can be relatively constant in audio work, whereas Xeon machines don’t exhibit much audible difference. I had a MBP that sounded like a hairdryer and it was really distracting. That alone makes skews me toward a Xeon-based computer.

  • Gesslr Gesslr

    *Sigh*

    Vote with your $$ and don’t buy it then. The rest of us will manage….somehow. :-)

    • Graham Thorne

      I am happy to *suffer* ;-)

    • brian botkiller

      Hence why I don’t buy apple products anymore!

    • The Cappy

      You just troll Apple articles.

    • brian botkiller

      And you just troll anyone who doesn’t like Apple, is that correct?

    • The Cappy

      As childish a reply as all your others. Count up your comments on this forum. That’s trolling. Your commenting on everything and trying to be in everyone’s face. Tedious and annoying, nothing more. There’s no content to your opinions, only intensity. Once you grow up, you’ll realize there’s more to holding an opinion than the shouting of it. /ignore

  • byte

    imagine you are an audio/video hardware manufacturer and you want to bring your new interface to market.

    you could go with a PCI based product that connects via an expansion bay and your potential buyers will be people who own a Mac Pro or a PC tower.

    or…

    you could go with something that connects via a thunderbolt / firewire / usb cable and your potential buyers will be people who own a Mac Pro, or a MacBook Pro, or a MacBook, or an iMac, or a PC laptop, or any PC without expansion bays.

    the choice is clear. there is just a larger ecosystem of digital devices out there that can connect with a cable-based interface as opposed to one that requires an expansion bay. that is where your engineering & development time & money is going to go and it also provides the best result for the end user.

    want to set it up in your studio? plug it in and leave it. want to go portable? pack it up with a cable & a laptop & take it anywhere. i’d rather have that option than be stuck with a huge heavy tower that you can’t take anywhere without a major hassle.

  • enomis

    Seems to me like Apple is challenging all peripheral designer/builders to clean up their hardware design and make use of the newest technology. As I understand it, you used to need huge PCI cards to make the necessary connections to a computer to get the proper bandwidth for audio and video. Now those connections don’t need to be so big anymore. Rather than a PCI card you should be able to run a high bandwidth cable (USB3, Firewire, Thunderbolt) from a computer to an external piece of equipment. A chassis that sits between the computer and an audio interface for example is not only clumsy but should no longer be necessary no?

  • MrE23

    Highly recommended reading, including the comments section:

    http://www.larryjordan.biz/app_bin/wordpress/archives/2379

  • don108

    Apple is doomed! First they got rid of the normal 5 1/4″ floppies and started using 3 1/2″ floppies. Nobody will ever use those. Then they added CD drives, refused to add DVD drives, and took away CD drives! There’s no way they can last…

    Sorry, Peter, but you just don’t get it. The world is changing and you have to evolve or get out of the way. It’s not just about the hardware, it’s about hardware and software and their integration. When a company provides that, other developers will want to work with that.

    I remember the days of spaghetti behind the box. Sorry, Peter, 1 cable is not spaghetti. It used to be that we needed onboard hard drives (that were set up for AV) for speed. USB 3 and Thunderbolt 2 gives all the speed that is needed.

    Just watch! Developers will come up with gorgeous solutions to work with the most elegant computer ever made. Have a little faith in your fellow men and women. Watch their amazing creativity and what they’ll accomplish. Don’t be lost with the “Boo hoo! Apple did something different, again, and now they’re doomed.” Embrace creativity and the future.

    • Popo Bawa

      “Just watch! Developers will come up with gorgeous solutions to work with the most elegant computer ever made.”

      Or – maybe Apple have gotten so cheap and lazy that they expect us to do their engineering for them. It’s easy to say that minimal = elegant when we don’t see the sea of cables and piles of external peripherals. I hope it feels elegant if I need to swap out the logic board, this thing looks an absolute treat to work on.

    • ArtemisKalatzakis

      Translation: Discard all your existing devices that work perfectly well and buy new stuff.

  • Jessica Darko

    Slots are obsolete. Those who don’t recognize this are failing to understand how much technology has advanced.

    Slots were necessary when external IO was super slow. You needed slots to have a fast connection to the CPU.

    Thunderbolt ports give more bandwidth than the slots in the last generation Mac Pro.

    Thus the only real difference is whether you store hard drives an other equipment inside the case or outside of it, and outside of it is better, because it lets Apple make a more efficient design, rather than design for the worst case scenario current draw and heat generation of whatever arbitrary stuff you might stick in there.

    • ArtemisKalatzakis

      In which universe is having a bunch of random cables.. power adapters.. and other pieces of equipment outside of the case.. rather than just a simple cards/drives inside the case “better” ?

      Apple kool-aid… its real !

  • The Cappy

    As for price… it’s clear a lot of people thinking “Oooh! Smaller! The price’s gotta be lower than before!” Before everyone gets their hopes up: this is the machine they’re building in the USA. Devices made in the land of cheap labor vs something built here. When they announce the price and everyone goes nuts, keep that in mind. This is what people were asking Apple to do. It’s going to cost quite a bit more than you’ve been indoctrinated to believe… and it’s not all Apple’s fault. It’ll cost what it costs. They’re probably aiming at the same price points they have now.

    • Brian_M_CDN

      labour costs really aren’t that massive when most of the production is done by machine. a year or so ago estimates to produce the iPhone in the US would be an increase of $65 per unit which isn’t nearly as much as many had expected.

      I do agree the price isn’t likely to be lower, the little details given indicate that even the base model unit will have the dual-GPUs – something the base “old” Mac Pro didn’t have. This could easily put this new Mac Pro starting at the same price range. I wouldn’t expect under $2,000 personally

  • D@rth T@ter

    Someone needs to change their nick to Brian Threadkiller

  • 123

    “And this looks like an atypically portable box for all of this, meaning a desktop you can easily take onstage or between studios, etc.”

    It will be a of course be a nightmare to move with all those external expansions.

  • oliver

    As a forum that mainly deals with audio and video I would have thought that most pros here would already be used to the idea of outboard gear and break out boxes. Even the equipment used in PCI slots often required breaking out of the machine, surely Thunderbolt is just doing the same thing in a neater way? Personally I just don’t need a big computer anymore that takes up a load of space, I’d rather have more dedicated hardware (that frankly I could never fit in the chassis of the old Mac Pro anyway) and that can sit tidily in a rack mount with the rest of my gear and a really fast computer. What’s great about the new Pro is Apple has focused on giving us killer computational power with a cooling system that allows the machine to be small and unobtrusive. Most importantly though it packs way more connectivity than the limited number devices slots could have handled and for the first time offers the mobility of using some of that same hardware on the go and with a different machine/laptop.

    Those questioning storage options may have valid concerns but I think anyone working with large amounts of data will already have more elegant solutions for storing stuff. Studios I imagine will use solutions like XSAN or its equivalent network storage in large RAID arrays for speed and backup. Even me, a small freelancer already have a dedicated external drive for each and every project I do as well as a small server for archiving older projects. I only really keep the project that I’m currently working on my primary machine. After a little googling the good news is it looks like PCIe SSD’s come in some pretty large capacities anyway as large as 2TB, the bad news is it will set you back a serious amount of cash but this is a machine built for speed and the needs of the future and just like how we have seen SATA SSD’s drop in price considerably the same will be true of these SSD’s; it even looks like from the pictures on the Apple website the SSD will be upgradable so as this faster technology becomes cheaper many of the genuine concerns people have will no longer be applicable. To be quite honest those of us who really need the speed the Mac Pro offers and not just a suped up iMac, can probably justify the price of mid point and larger storage from the get go anyway. In the mean time unlike in the past where I would have snuffed at the idea of external storage back when all the had was the abysmally slow USB 1/2 I have no problem having a external drive sat on the desk for the “big stuff” thanks to the fast connectivity the Mac Pro now offers. Not everyone will be ready for this machine and yes it will probably be expensive and yes it will take a little time for the market to adjust and I may not be the machine for you but please don’t knock it as a serious bit of kit, because it is period.

  • Brian_M_CDN

    couple of notes:

    Thunderbolt 2 doubles the bandwidth – from 10 Gbps to 20 Gbps, it isn’t just for the 4K displays. While many devices may have a controller that limits it to 10Gbps individually, the bus can handle more devices without a speed reduction. http://www.anandtech.com/show/7049/intel-thunderbolt-2-everything-you-need-to-know
    Thunderbolt is great for so many things – will be even better when they can get the optical version out for the longer cable lengths (I do know of several audio & video guys using long Firewire 800 runs)

    The dual high-end GPUs are overkill for Audio work – something that is taking money away from things it would be better spent on. A cheaper – single GPU version for those that don’t need dual could go a long way to deflecting some criticism (Heck, I’d like to see a Core i7 version with single GPU at $1,500 or less, then it wouldn’t be too bad to replace every 2-3 years)

    It is a very fast system, I do love the design. I do know that many Pro users do upgrade things like ram, hard drives – if this is cheaper than the old Pro, so they can get a Thunderbolt RAID array for a total price the same as before I could see all but the video pro’s jumping on it. The video Pro’s may like the speed now, but what happens in 1-2 years when there are faster video cards out that could be helping them to make more money. If the pricing is close to the old model then it just isn’t practical. (And Thunderbolt 2 is not even close to fast enough for video card rendering compared with PCIe 2.0 even – only equiv to about a x4 slot)

  • Jose Invencio

    Will the new MacPro be stackable? Anyone know?

  • Warren Ward

    I haven’t heard anyone mention just how expensive external thunderbolt components are. That’s the main thing keeping me from buying this beautiful little powerhouse as soon as it’s released. I would have to replace everything with external thunderbolt devices which would end up costing me more than the actual computer and it’s just not worth it..

  • Blob

    late arrival to this discussion.

    In general, it’s all very simple.

    I’m currently a laptop guy, but if I wanted to build a production and recording studio, I would want to make sure that my machine would last 5-7 years at the very least through component upgrades (memory, hard disk, processor, motherboard, PCI cards etc).

    I own both Mac and Windows laptops. The Mac works fine for my current needs – but if needed studio desktop horsepower, there is no way I would get near these new Mac Pros.

    If ThunderBolt is also available for Windows (and possibly Linux in the near future, correct me if I’m wrong) and you need a strong, expandable and modifiable desktop computer for your studio operations, you should buy a PC machine or build your own and forget about Mac Pro.

    Switch to Cubase, Pro Tools, Sonar or Reaper for your production work. Currently, all of these DAWs are fine alternatives to Logic. Heck, even Ardour will get the job done. We’re all spoiled for choice.

    Apple clearly wants you to give them 3000$ every 2 years (and let’s not even get into the software side of things – Logic 8 became unusable after what, 4 years?).
    That seems to be their current business model – planned obsolescence to the extreme. Personally I don’t buy it.

  • dg

    A great time to buy a 8-Core, I got a 8-core with 17g of ram for $600!

  • Jenny Clerkin

    Hi! I was wondering if anyone would be interested in MIDI to XLR cables? It means that you can record straight from a MIDI instrument. I was hoping to start selling them if there was any interest. They have been tested in a studio in Belfast and work well. I am a music technology student and made them as part of my placement for the studio. Would appreciate any feedback!!

  • Philosophy Science

    Mac Pro should have had external PCIe ports.

  • Things That Occur In Nature
  • Things That Occur In Nature

    We can all gripe and pretend Windows has a real place in the creative community. Truth is, they don’t at the moment. Apple rules this space and it’s growing as I type. When was the last time you saw a Dell or HP logo on the back of a computer on TY or TV?
    Go visit your local professional video editor and see what she/he is using. Drop in on
    any number of recording studios in your area and note the 6 to 1 ration in favor of Apple computers. Dell and HP may sell more to the public for web surfing, email and word proccesing but this does not have much to do with the graphic, film, video, audio and music producers of the world.

    The comment that I made a year ago (below) is now proven. All the major interface makers (including AVID) have now come out with a Thunderbolt interface. It’s a faster connection so, why wouldn’t they?

    For the record, I don’t have any particular allegiance to any brand. I simply want the hardware and the software with the least amount of glitches, bugs and problems so that I can create. At the moment Apple produces it.