Here’s what pros want from Apple’s new modular Mac Pro and display

Last time I asked the Hackintosh community what they want to see in Apple’s pre-announced modular Mac Pro to find out what could win back the pros that have abandoned Apple’s hardware. This time I’ve asked the pros– iOS and Mac developers, photographers, audio engineers, animators and more– what they want from the promise of a modular Mac for pros, along with the display Apple also announced it’s working on.

The best 4K & 5K displays for Mac

While Apple announced that it’s developing a “modular” Mac Pro of sorts, we still don’t know anything about what form it will take and just how upgradeable or modular it will be. If you ask the pros, most seem to agree they’d be happy if Apple just returned to the old “cheese-grater” tower that long served them well before the current design introduced in 2013, although with a smaller and more modern implementation. Most are hoping for standard slots for upgradable components that aren’t just limited to few Apple-approved options, something that’s not necessarily a given based on the information Apple has revealed so far.

Pros don’t all want the same things, but it’s quite clear after talking to them that truly upgradeable CPUs and GPUs will be a must. We also heard a few other interesting thoughts and feature requests beyond upgradeable components. As IK Multimedia CTO Davide Barbi pointed out, for example, pros in audio production would like it to remain as silent as the current design for use in studios, an area MacBook Pros still can’t compete. MacPhun VP Kevin La Rue suggested “a quick connection of several Mac Pros and simultaneous work of several users,” something he said would benefit both the company’s developers and end-users of its photo editing software.

For long-time Mac user Aaron Blaise, an Animation Feature Film Director who spent 20+ years at Disney, Apple Pencil support on Mac and compatibility with Cintiq tablets was perhaps not so surprisingly on his wish list in addition to easily expandable storage and upgradeable graphics for video.

Modular Mac Pro concept from Curved

One theme among several of the pros we talked to: many are currently not using a Mac Pro and instead using an iMac and or MacBook Pro because of the aging Mac Pro hardware (and some have jumped to Hackintosh). Many Mac Pros have now been relegated to server rooms, closets, and in some cases used sparingly only in situations where the Mac Pro wins over newer Mac options, for example, for silence in studio environments as mentioned above.

Some of the pros I talked to seem content with their current mix of MacBook Pro and iMacs. For photographer Richard Bernabe, the announcement of a new Apple-made external display is more intriguing if the company delivers for his needs.

Below I asked the pros a few questions, including what they’d like to see in the new modular Mac Pro (and Apple display), and also what Macs they are currently using to get an idea of why the current Mac Pro design isn’t working for them…

Paul Haddad @tapbot_paul (Paul is co-founder @Tapbots, an iOS and Mac app development company currently working on the award-winning Tweetbot for iOS and Mac and Pastebot for Mac). 

The number one thing I need right now from Apple is faster CPU cores. I’m compiling code all day long and the current 12 core Mac Pro is a beast at doing large compiles, but when doing smaller incremental compiles that tax only a core or two it starts to feel its age. Current desktop CPUs from Intel are about 2x as fast at single core tasks as the last real Mac Pros were.
On top of that upgradability is key, I don’t want to have to buy a new $5k machine because Apple decides some new feature requires BT 6.0 and I can’t swap in a $100 replacement card to test it… Personally I’d be super happy if Apple just sold a couple “blessed” motherboards, one that used Dual Xeons and one that could handle any normal Desktop class (1151) processor and stopped trying to make something fit to show at the MoMA…
Most of the time I use a Mac Pro 4,1 which I upgraded to dual 6 core 3.33GhZ Xeons, 64GB of RAM, ~2TB of SSD storage and 8TB of spinners, USB 3.0, 10GBe and BT 4.0. Which shows how great of a machine it is, none of that stuff was either available or affordable when it first came out. I also have the low end new 13” MBP and a smattering of older laptops, a spare Mac Pro and a Mac Mini.

Aaron Blaise @AaronBlaiseArt (For 21 years Aaron worked with Disney helping to create some of the greatest animated films ever made. During that time he worked as an animator or supervising animator on “The Rescuers Down Under,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “Aladdin,” “The Lion King,” “Pocahontas,” “Mulan” and more. In 2003 he was co-director of “Brother Bear” for which he earned an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature Film…. Aaron recently served as 2D Animation Supervisor and Character Designer for the “The Bear and the Hare” and is currently also working on a new animated short film, once again involving bears called “Snow Bear.”)

“I had been using the previous modular MacPro tower for many, many years. I LOVED that machine. It was a real workhorse. It still works great for digital illustration and painting in Photoshop. But, it was finally starting to slow down my workflow and show its age as I have been getting more and more into video editing.

I had been holding off getting a new machine as long as possible. So naturally what felt like no more than 5 minutes after me finally breaking down and buying the new MacPro (cylinder), Apple announces they are going to be coming out with a new modular one… My honest initial reaction was: ‘Those fXXXers… Of course they do that NOW!!’ – LOL

Although I must admit so far I do love the cylinder MacPro there are clearly some  areas where its lacking. So here is what I want to see most of all:

– Easily Expandable Hard drive storage. When doing video you honestly cannot have enough space.

– Upgradeable Graphics Card (GPU) – Sure would be nice to future proof a bit more.

BONUS WISH: Some sort of integration with the Apple Pencil and my Wacom Cintiq! – I love using my iPad pro on the go and pencil is a great stylus. But it’s not a substitute for a Cintiq. However, I can imagine be able to switch styluses just like switching traditional paint brushes… I doubt it would ever happen but this is a wishlist after all!”

Richard Bernabe @bernabephoto (Richard Bernabe is an internationally-renowned nature, wildlife, and travel photographer as well as widely-published author from the United States. Some of his clients include National Geographic, The New York Times, Time, Audubon, The BBC, The World Wildlife Fund, National Parks, Outdoor Photographer, Canon, Patagonia, Orvis, REI, Apple, and Microsoft.)

One of the first things I’d like to see as a photographer, with regard to their new displays, is a matte screen option. The current selection only allows for the glossy screen surface which, while aesthetically beautiful, produces way too much glare. It’s difficult to do critical color or tonal evaluations and adjustments on those highly-reflective displays. I have a Mac Pro but I’ve been using my MacBook Pro (MacBook Pro (Retina, 15-inch, Mid 2014) as my primary machine over the past year or so with my external Eizo display. This MBP model still has the USB ports and an SD slot, which the newest version lacks.

Michael Simmons @macguitar (Michael is a co-founder @Flexibits where he is currently working on Fantastical, the Apple Design Award-winning calendar app. He previously helped build the app distribution and crash reporting service HockeyApp that Microsoft acquired in 2014. He also currently works with the @Algoriddim and @1Password teams.)

For pro hardware, having non-proprietary expansion slots is key. Professionals know what they want and therefore want options to customize things to their liking. I hope that Apple uses a standard for the slots (such as PCIe) and I also hope they make it simple to open the case to change things.

Back in the day, Apple made pro towers with standard slots, which meant you could buy different cards and customize it. This provided real control and customization over what you could have. Now that we have macOS and a diverse market (in terms of options like CPUs, GPUs, etc.) it would be great to have a truly customizable Mac. Oh, and, of course, everything should look and work Apple-nice. 🙂

TL;DR

Make it look like the old Mac Pro! 😛

Dan Counsell @dancounsell (Dan is founder @RealmacSoftware, an award-winning independent Mac and iOS development studio. He’s been designing, building, and marketing apps for over fifteen years. Check out some of his past work here.)

I loved the old cheese grater style Mac Pro, so something like, albeit a little smaller and more modern would be perfect. Something similar in size to a mini PC tower, as long as it has room for a full-size graphics card or two I’ll be happy.

I currently use a self built Hackintosh Pro (https://www.dancounsell.com/articles/building-a-hackintosh-pro), and a 15-inch MacBook Pro with touch bar. I split my time between the two machines. If Apple had sold a comparable Mac Pro (that was upgradable) I would have opted for that, even if the cost was more.

Pros just want support for the latest and greatest tech, the problem is on the hardware side the Mac always seems to be trailing behind the PC. Sure Macs looks nice, but PCs are now faster, and way cheaper. Pros want the fastest CPUs and the fastest Graphics cards, neither of which Apple has provided over the last few years.

Kevin La Rue, Vice President @Macphun (Macphun makes a suite of photo editing apps that make complex editing tasks simple & fast for all Mac users. Its photo apps have been honored by Apple as the ″Best of the Year″ for four straight years.)

The main features that would benefit both our and our user’s work with the new Mac Pro are a quick connection of several Mac Pros and simultaneous work of several users. Pro photographers who use our software will obviously appreciate the increased expandability and ability to configure the machine to their liking… For us it would be also important to have an opportunity to work both with BootCamp and OS X at the same time.
We don’t use Mac Pro for development since it doesn’t give us any advantages compared to other Apple devices. It’s more convenient to design with iMac 27” and to develop with powerful MacBook Pros, which are very mobile, have good graphics and processor… However, it would be useful to have Mac Pros for virtualization and clustering. It would be helpful with scaling and resource distribution of Mac Pro between several tasks in separate instances.

Oleksandr Kosovan, CEO & Founder @MacPaw & @Setapp (MacPaw is a Ukraine-based software development company and the makers of CleanMyMac, Gemini, Hider, CleanMyDrive, Listen, CleanMyPC, and most recently, app subscription service Setapp)

For us the biggest disappointment was that Apple decided to discontinue the Thunderbolt Displays. We have more than 100 displays in the office, and I like how they play an important role in the office interior. I just cannot imagine replacing those with some 3rd party displays with a horrible look and feel.

There has been a huge shift during the last decade into a cloud hosted services, but there still applications you want to perform on dedicated mac hardware. And it is not required for it to stand exactly on your desk, what I would actually prefer is to have some rack-mounted form factor, I could use for our business. It can be nice enough to stand on your desk, but I would prefer to keep a dozen of these in the server room and have a remote access to them. Several ports of 10-Gbit Ethernet would be nice to have, and the ability to extend the hardware with additional Graphic Cards or other network devices.

90% of the devices we use are Retina MacBooks with Thunderbolt Displays. They allow us to be very mobile in the office. We use Retina iMacs as well but only a few of them, mostly for Design tasks. And we have several MacPros, but they are usually sitting in the server room and performing some remote jobs, like building and testing our products or hosting the internal storage.

Steven Troughton-Smith @stroughtonsmith (Steven builds games, makes apps, and hacks things over at High Caffeine Content.)

For me, I think the PowerMac G5 was a fork in the road of Apple’s desktops into pure workstation machines, as Apple forced the desktop tower Mac into a niche. What I’d like to see from Apple is a return to prosumer desktop towers, that are expandable and upgradeable. I’m on a (granted, 2012) iMac, because that’s the only appropriate desktop Apple offers me, and it’s been plagued with incessant problems (Fusion drive, image retention, etc) I could have fixed trivially had it been a tower. I miss my PowerMac G4 (on which I upgraded everything — RAM, internal drive, GPU — over time), and that’s the kind of desktop I want to see from Apple, not another $3,000+ Mac Pro catering to the workstation crowd. Desktop Intel Core components, not purely Xeons or ECC RAM. And, above all, a real, competitive GPU, something no Mac today offers.

Vira Tkachenko, a software team lead at @MacPaw (MacPaw is a Ukraine-based software development company and the makers of CleanMyMac, Gemini, Hider, CleanMyDrive, Listen, CleanMyPC, and most recently, app subscription service Setapp)

I remember the day when Mac Pro was announced. We were very excited and ordered it to the office. It looked so cool and futuristic. In a while it turned out that Mac Pro is not an essential tool for a Mac/iOS developer and can be replaced by a MacBook Pro. The latter was sufficient for app development purposes (coding, compiling, etc). MacPaw designers started using Mac Pro for video rendering. Though in a while, Mac Pro didn’t prove to be the best tool for video rendering as well (iMac could do the same). Not to make the Mac Pro idling, we started using it as a build agent (we use Bamboo by Atlassian as a CI system). It copes with this task perfectly and builds our products really fast. Though I can hardly say it is value for money. A number of Mac minis can work as build agents and that could be even cheaper.

Our developers have huge demand for a 13-inch MacBook with top configuration, but unfortunately there is no such an option… It’s my firm belief that Apple should improve hardware and let 3d parties develop hardware solutions for end users. Both Apple and third-party developers should have that possibility. It could be great to have easily upgradeable Macs. What we have now is youneed to buy a new Mac if you have higher expectations from your Mac. It is profitable for hardware business though disadvantageous for both: users and environment.

Davide Barbi, CTO @IK Multimedia (IK Multimedia designs and manufactures apps, software, hardware and accessory products for music creation and playback on computers and mobile devices.)

Features we’d like to see on new Mac Pro’s would be:

  • lots of space / bays for internal hard drives. Massive storage capabilities are key nowadays. And they are swappable that’s even better.
  • possibility to easily install more RAM when needed, with massive capabilities.
  • silent! even when CPU and GPU are taxed, we can’t have noisy computers in studios nowadays. Even if this seems strange, this is a problem, for example, with MacBook Pro’s. As soon as the CPU is hit by more than 40-50% (or GPU) a MBP fan really gets too noisy for a music or audio production environment.
  • PCIe slots. The industry standard for audio recording mixing and editing is Avid Pro Tools. HDX cards are PCIe. We develop Pro Tools plug-ins but for us is currently difficult to install PCIe cards on new Macs and PCIe cards users are forced to buy expensive external chassis.

At IK we use mostly use Macs, I’d say 90% more or less. That’s mostly MacBook Pro’s and iMacs. We also are still using some tower Mac Pro’s because of the reasons mentioned above. They were great machines, built tremendously well and very good for fixed installations/studios. They’re silent. We’d like to still have the possibility to use BootCamp and use Windows alternatively to OS X. We develop multi platform software and we need to work on both OS X and multiple Windows versions.

Dmitry Novikov, Art Director @MacPaw (MacPaw is a Ukraine-based software development company and the makers of CleanMyMac, Gemini, Hider, CleanMyDrive, Listen, CleanMyPC, and most recently, app subscription service Setapp)

Apple already manufactured a modular Mac Pro which was very popular among certain users. The only problem about it was that the modules in the system were limited. Yes, you could upgrade your Mac Pro, but, in fact, once. The main advantage of Apple products is simplicity, but it imposes its limitations on the choice of hardware…The problem with the current generation of  Mac Pro is that it’s just a more powerful Mac mini — notoriously complicated for the upgrade.

I don’t think it will be enough for Apple to develop the specification and certification for Mac hardware as it will create difficulties for vendors. Macbooks are already powerful enough for complicated tasks (extra difficult ones are usually moved to render farms). Apple should offer more hardware flexibility to their consumers. It should provide more possibilities for power users to install GPU or SSD from any manufacturer with certified drivers. This will in turn create demand for Mac Pros in the gaming market.

And now it’s your turn in the comments below…

Top image: Modular Mac Pro Concept


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