The 2019 edition of the Mac Pro saw the light of day at the WWDC (Worldwide Developers Conference) last week. It’s a remarkable powerhouse that does justice to the Mac Pro model line, and certainly to its name.
At a starting price of $5,999, the Mac Pro is targeted at multimedia pros and those with scientific computing needs. And while at first glance the starting price may seem steep, it’s actually in the ballpark when compared with competing products from other manufacturers.
And that $5,999 price is only the beginning; the keyword for describing the new Mac Pro is expandability. Apple may want to call this a modular design, but the rest of us recognize this Mac Pro as the logical extension of the older Mac Pro, where expandability was one of its chief assets.
In this Rocket Yard guide, we’re going to delve a little deeper into what Apple has revealed about the new Mac Pro to see if it is the Mac pros have been waiting for. Since Apple hasn’t released all of the technical details about the Mac Pro yet, we’re going to be doing a bit of speculation, so with that in mind, let’s take a look.
Return of the Tower
Gone is the cylindrical form over function design of the 2013 Mac Pro. Some have even said the 2019 Mac Pro’s tower case is a return to the earlier cheese grater design that has been around since the Power Mac G5. There’s certainly a resemblance, but the new Mac Pro goes well beyond just looking like the older and much loved Mac Pro models.
The new Mac Pro uses a stainless steel space frame chassis and aluminum case to provide tool-less access to its internal parts. The motherboard is designed with the processor and PCIe expansion bus on one side, and memory and storage on the other. Removing the aluminum case provides 360-degree access to all the internal modules, no matter which side of the motherboard they reside on.
The case is removed with a simple turn of a recessed handle in the top, and lifts off easily, revealing the Mac Pro’s elegant modular design. By the way, turning that access handle also performs a shutdown, and turns the power off to the case, so no hot swapping of internal components.
Measuring 20.8 x 17.7 x 8.5 inches, the Mac Pro at first glance seems large but it’s a relatively compact tower case when you consider it houses a 1.4 kilowatt power supply, and can contain a quad set of graphics cards and still have free PCIe slots available.
If at 40 lbs., the new tower weight seems a bit much, you can optionally add wheels to allow you to roll the Mac Pro about your studio or lab as needed.
The front and back of the case use a perforated panel resembling a cheese grater. Those perforations are not a design element but are used by the cooling system: three large fans that quietly push air from the front, across the CPU and GPUs. An additional blower pulls air across the memory, storage, and power supply, exhausting heat out the back of the case.
Just One Processor
The Mac Pro makes use of a single Intel Xeon processor that can contain up to 28 cores supporting up to 56 simultaneous computing threads. Apple hasn’t let us in on which Xeon processors are being used, so we did a little detective work on the Intel site looking for Xeon chips that match or come close to Apple’s announced specs. It looks like Xeon processors in the new Cascade Lake family will be the processors of choice.
The processors will be available in 8, 12,16, 24, and 28 core configurations, with base clock speeds of 2.5 to 3.5 GHz, and turbo boost speeds of 4.0 to 4.4 GHz, depending on the core count. The W series Cascade Lake processors will likely be used in the 8, 12, and 16 core models, while the 24 and 28 core models may use an M version of the W series. Notably, the M series supports up to 2 TB of RAM, slightly more than the 1.5 TB Apple lists as the maximum, while the X series, which we think will be used for the 8, 12, and 16 core versions, has a smaller 1 TB memory space.
The Mac Pro uses 6 memory channels supporting 12 DDR4 ECC memory slots that can support up to 1.5 TB of RAM operating at 2933 MHz, and a memory bandwidth up to 140 GB/s.
The 8-core model uses slightly slower memory operating at 2666 MHz, and only the 24 and 28-core versions of the Mac Pro can accommodate the full 1.5 TB of RAM; the others appear to top out at 768 GB.
There may be a slight RAM performance issue when you install more than 6 DIMMs, at which point you begin to share memory channels. Normally, memory bandwidth can be affected when memory channel sharing occurs, but some new generation Xeon processors support full memory bandwidth even when a channel is shared by two DIMMs.
Until the actual production models of the Mac Pro become available we can only go by the specification Apple provides. It may be that optimum memory performance will occur when 6 or fewer DIMMs are used, or that fully populating the DIMM slots may not have any negative impact. No matter what happens with memory performance, it will not impact the total amount of RAM that can be installed. It’s just a question of what the optimum memory configuration is, 6 or 12 DIMMs
So, which is it: 768 GB, 1 TB, 1.5 TB, or 2 TB of supported RAM? The answer is, it depends. As noted above, if we’re correct about the Xeon processors the Mac Pro will use, then the 8,12, and 16 core models have a processor-imposed limit of 1 TB of RAM, while the 24 and 28 core models have processors that can address 2 TB of RAM. The smaller RAM space that Apple mentions is likely due to the availability of larger RAM modules. While a few memory manufacturers have shown off 256 GB DDR memory modules, which would be needed to reach the processors specified memory size, it’s doubtful that any of these large memory modules have been fully qualified yet by Apple.
The upshot is you may be able to add additional RAM beyond the current Mac Pro specification in the future, but only time will tell. In the meantime, 768 GB and 1.5 TB don’t seem to impose much in the way of real-world constraints.
The 2019 Mac Pro makes use of a PCIe gen3 bus with 64 lanes. Apple has configured the Mac Pro with 8 PCIe expansion slots, set up as 4 full-length double-wide slots, 3 full-length single wide, and one half-length single wide slot that is prepopulated with Apple’s own I/O card.
Four of the PCIe slots are intended to be used with various graphics options available, utilizing either a standard graphics card design or making use of Apple’s new MPX (Mac Pro Expansion) module for creating a high-performance GPU subsystem. More on graphics and the MPX modules later.
Graphics, MPX, and Afterburner
The baseline configuration of the Mac Pro makes use of an AMD Radeon Pro 580X graphics card with 8 GB of memory, 36 compute units and a 2304 stream processor. The 580X card is capable of up to 5.6 teraflops of single precision performance.
The baseline graphics card is housed in a half height MPX module that enables the card’s four DisplayPort connections to be routed internally through the MPX module’s PCIe slot 2/Thunderbolt slot.
MPX is a new expansion option used in the Mac Pro. In essence, an MPX module can make use of a standard full-length x16 PCIe slot, and a second PCIe slot used for Thunderbolt communications and DisplayPort routing. An MPX module can also use up to 500 watts of power.
Currently, MPX modules are being used for the Mac Pro’s graphics subsystem, but future MPX modules may include mass storage or expanded I/O options.
The remaining graphics options are each offered in a full-size MPX module:
AMD Radeon Pro Vega II: 64 compute units and 4096 stream processors, 32 GB of memory with 1 TB/s memory bandwidth. The Pro Vega II produces up to 14.1 teraflops single precision or 28.2 teraflops half precision.
Four Thunderbolt 3 ports, one HDMI 2.0 port along with two DisplayPorts routed internally to the Mac’s Thunderbolt 3 ports.
AMD Radeon Pro Vega II Duo: This MPX module is configured with two Vega II GPUs communicating via an onboard Infinity Fabric Link at up to 84 GB/s. The use of two Pro Vega II GPUs produces up to 28.2 teraflops of single precision performance and 56.4 teraflops half precision.
The Mac Pro can support two of the AMD Radeon Pro Vega II Duo MPX modules for up to four GPUs.
The final Apple module available is designed to accelerate ProRes and ProRes RAW codecs:
Afterburner: This card (not an MPX module) plugs into an available PCIe 3 x16 slot and accelerates ProRes and ProRes RAW processing used in Final Cut Pro X, QuickTime Player X, and supported third-party apps that make use of ProRes.
Afterburner can process up to 6.3 billion pixels per second to support the playback of up to 3 streams of 8K ProRes RAW or 12 streams of 4K ProRes RAW. With the capabilities Afterburner provides, you can work natively with 4K or 8K RAW formats, allowing you to go straight from camera to your editing suite with no transcoding or proxy workflows.
Security and Storage
The Mac Pro is outfitted with Apple’s T2 security chip, which provides many security-related features including firmware password protection, data encryption, secure boot, external boot control, operating system security, and quite a bit more. You can read about the T2 chip in the following Rocket Yard guides:
The 2019 Mac Pro has two storage slots providing up to 2.6 GB/s sequential read and 2.7 GB/s sequential write. The baseline Mac Pro is configured with a single 256 GB SSD, with configurations up to 4 TB available.
Ports and Connectivity
The Apple I/O card installed in the half-length x4 PCIe slot provides two Thunderbolt 3, two USB 3 Gen 1, and one 3.5 mm headphone jack on the rear panel of the Mac Pro.
Additionally, there are two Thunderbolt 3 ports on the top of the Mac Pro.
Two 10 G Ethernet ports on the rear panel support 1 Gb, 2.5 Gb, 5 Gb, and 10 Gb Ethernet link speeds.
Is the 2019 Mac Pro For You?
The quick answer is a whole-hearted yes indeed, especially if you’re a multimedia professional who needs to speed up your current workflow, have pushed up against the limits of earlier Macs, or need a Mac that can expand to meet your specific needs.
If you have a need for scientific computing, the Mac Pro may fit your needs as well. Besides a CPU that can have up to 28 cores and 56 threads, you can create a remarkably powerful GPU capable of 56 teraflops. And if you need more oomph, external GPUs can be added via one or more of the Thunderbolt 3 ports.
- PCIe bus provides plenty of expansion possibilities.
- MPX modules can be configured for impressive graphics performance.
- Afterburner module can truly change the workflow for processing 8K RAW movies.
- RAM can be expanded up to 1.5 TB and maybe a bit further.
- New case design ensures quiet and cool operations.
- Last but not least, you can wheel it around your lab or studio.
- Storage options are limited; just 2 SSD slots that can be combined for up to 4 TB of storage.
- If you need Nvidia with CUDA graphics support for 3D or visual effects, you’re out of luck. Apple does not include support for Nvidia graphics cards in the current Mac OS, and the new Mac Pro does nothing to change that position.
Up for Grabs
Will additional MPX modules be available in the near future? And will they only be available from Apple, or will other peripheral manufacturers be able to make use of the MPX system?
Apple never mentioned processor upgrades, leaving us wondering if it will be possible. It’s likely a DIY approach will be possible, though I think the CPU cooling system may be an issue when upgrading.
Cost. I left this for last because it all depends on what you will use the new Mac Pro for. Its price may seem high, especially if you outfit it with the higher end options. Apple won’t be listing prices till later in the year for most of the configurations, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see prices going beyond $25,000 for some configurations.
That being said, even the base 8-core model at $5,999 makes it the most expensive current Mac model, though it does give you lots of options for future expansion.
And that’s what this new Mac Pro is all about: expansion and customization to meet a professional’s needs.
What do you think? Will you be entertaining the idea of a new Mac Pro in your studio, lab, or office? Let us know in the comments below.