Back when Apple announced its switch from Intel processors in June 2020, it made some promises that have yet to be fulfilled. More importantly, it says the transition will be completed “in about two years,” which could be four months or eight months behind schedule, depending on when you start counting.
And in addition to promising to “continue to support and release new versions of macOS for Intel-based Macs for years to come,” which has already been done, Apple also said it “has exciting new Intel-based Macs in development.” While we got a new 27-inch iMac with 10th-generation Intel chips later this summer, suffice it to say, we haven’t seen any new Intel Macs yet, exciting or if not since the first M1 Mac was launched. And with only one Intel-based Mac left in Apple’s lineup, it looks like it’s only a matter of time until the Mac Pro gets its Apple silicon makeover.
In fact, about a year ago, John Ternus teased the existence of such a machine, saying that there would be “one more product to pursue” in the transition, “but that’s for another day.” But as time goes on, maybe everyone will be happier if that day never comes.
The core issue
The latest rumors about the Mac Pro are not very interesting, as the unique architecture of the M2 chip has reportedly forced Apple to rethink some of the unique characteristics of the Mac Pro, including the user- upgradeable RAM and graphics. And the rumored M2 Extreme chip with 48 CPU cores and 152 graphics cores is unlikely to appear, with Apple instead going for a slightly overclocked M2 Ultra with a 24-core CPU and 76-core GPU.
That’s a lot of speed, of course, but compared to the current M1 Ultra Mac Studio, it’s not worth anywhere near the $17,000 starting price for a top-of-the-line Intel Mac Pro with a 28-core Intel Xeon W processor. When the Mac Pro was launched in 2019, its closest competitor was the 18-Core Intel Xeon W in the iMac Pro, which paled in the benchmark comparison (13,453 versus 26,604 in Geekbench’s multi-core tests). Granted, the Mac Pro costs about $10,000 more than the iMac Pro, but the huge price gap only highlights how much faster you’ve got.
Based on the latest reports, that won’t be the case with the new Mac Pro. Although it’s clearly faster than the current top-of-the-line Mac Pro and the top-end Mac Studio—especially if Apple doesn’t update the Mac Studio with an M2 chip—the gap isn’t almost as big as the previous Mac Pro. Geekbench benchmarks for the M1 Ultra topped around 24,000, so we can imagine the M2 Ultra coming in at around 30,000 or so with the same 20 to 25 percent increase. That’s higher than the current 28-core Intel Xeon W processor (26,604) but not by a wide margin.
With so much power in even the lowest end of its Mac chips, Apple has painted itself into a tight corner with the Mac Pro. Maybe Apple can cut the price drastically by using Apple silicon, but that’s not as important as the performance of its target audience. Buyers expect the Mac Pro to be “a system built to allow more professionals to push the limits of what’s possible,” but with little performance improvement and limited expandability, buyers won’t be disappointed. get the same engine pushing the boundary.
Intel inside (again)
Even if it brings a big speed boost, Mac Pro buyers may be hesitant to switch to Apple silicon. The Mac Pro is the kind of machine that people buy to fill a specific need, and those needs can be tied to existing peripheral devices and applications that don’t work very well (or at all). on Apple silicon Macs. And as a reader pointed out this week, some Mac Pro users need to run Windows natively as well, which isn’t possible under Apple silicon without virtualization.
For those people—and I’m guessing there are a lot of them—an upgraded Intel model might be better than an M2 Ultra-based model, especially if Apple uses one of the latest Intel Xeons. W-3400 or Xeon W-2400 chips. . Last week, Intel unveiled its latest workstation class chips with up to 56 cores and 112 threads. Those are good specs that are sure to match or beat the rumored M2 Ultra.
As my colleague Jason Cross pointed out, Apple is more likely to use W-2400 chips with 24 cores due to thermals. (The highest end Intel CPU in the Mac Pro has a thermal design power of 205 watts. The W-2400 series goes from 120W to 225W while the W-3400 goes from 270W to 350W.) Apple prioritizes the power efficiency of M- series chips, so unlikely to use a chip with such a high power draw.
But even the lower-end chip would still be an excellent upgrade to the current Mac Pro, while offering users the expansion and after-market upgrades they need. I don’t think any potential buyer will be upset with a new Intel machine that preserves the mission of the Mac Pro despite providing a huge speed bump over the 2019 model that Apple still sells. Intel allows users to easily upgrade their current setup, keep upgrading as they wish, and buy Apple more time to build an accurate model of Apple silicon.
And if any of those buyers really want an Apple silicon machine, they can always buy a MacBook Pro to go with it.