Apple's Mac Pro 'cheese grater' is 12 years old, and is the best Mac ever made

Posted:
in General Discussion edited August 7
The original Mac Pro is 12 years old today and people are hoping the next one will bring back its famous expandability. AppleInsider celebrates the old favorite workhorse.




Forget looking back for a moment and instead look to the future. The next Mac Pro is coming in 2019 and it is so desired, so anticipated that Apple teased it -- in 2017 and again in 2018.

The first time they talked about it, Apple was careful to not give any details. Phil Schiller just said that Apple is "completely rethinking the Mac Pro".

"We're committed to making it our highest-end, high-throughput desktop system, designed for our demanding pro customers," said Schiller.

The second time they discussed anything about it was last April when they specified that it would be out in 2019.

"There's many different types of pros and obviously they go really deep into the hardware and software and are pushing everything to its limit." said the head of the Pro Workflow Team, John Ternus. "We want to provide complete pro solutions."

Professional or power users are demanding -- and they're also presently clamoring. The call is clear. They want a new, powerful machine for many of the same reasons that they wanted the original Mac Pro in 2006.

Intel was coming

Before the shift, Mac faithful could smell something on the wind, but didn't quite know what. Rumors swirled for three years in a post-smoking Intel clean-suit man world, but never quite solidified.

On June 6, 2005, Steve Jobs had formally revealed that it was true, Apple was switching to Intel processors for the Mac. That year he detailed the company's roadmap.





"Starting next year, we will begin introducing Macs with Intel processors in them," he said at WWDC 2005. "So when we meet again this time next year, our plan is to be shipping Macs with Intel processors by then. And when we meet here again two years from now, our plan is that the transition will be mostly complete. And we think it will be complete by the end of 2007. So this is a two-year transition."

That's as clear as Apple ever gets. Every Mac in the range was to have an Intel processor. It didn't guarantee that there would be what came to be called the Mac Pro, but people hoped because there was already a top of the line PowerPC model called the Power Mac G5.

One of the reasons Jobs gave for moving from PowerPC to Intel was specifically to do with that machine and its development. Standing in front of a slide showing a PowerMac G5 with the words "3.0GHz?" Jobs had a lot to say.

"I stood up here two years ago and I promised you this," said Jobs, pointing at the screen. "And we haven't been able to deliver that to you yet. As we look ahead, we can envision some amazing products we want to build for you and we don't know how to build them with the future PowerPC roadmap."

Over that next year up to June 2006, Apple steadily introduced Macs with Intel processors but not the replacement for the PowerMac G5. Until 1:08 PM eastern time on Monday August 7, 2006.

"In the first two quarters, we transitioned almost all of our product over to Intel. Except for one, and that is the Power Mac," Jobs declared. "Well, today the Power Mac is going to fade into history."





Phil Schiller then came on stage to reveal what looked like exactly the same machine as before. The same large aluminum casing, the same handles for carrying it and the same ease of access to the insides.

"We have the best enclosure in the business, this is a beautiful enclosure design," Schiller said. "On the outside it has all the benefits as before. inside, it's entirely new."

Performance promise

This Mac Pro did reach Jobs's promised 3.0GHz and did so with Intel's Xeon processor. "This is the Mac that so many of our highest-end customers have dreamed of," said Schiller. "For our highest-end customers a feature they've really wanted: they're 64-bit. So this new Intel Xeon chip is an amazing processor to put into our products but in every Mac Pro we're going to put two of them. All Mac Pros, quad Xeon performance. These are screaming-fast machines."

Every new Mac is the fastest Mac Apple has ever made but this one gave a huge leap with a claimed doubling of performance over the Power Mac G5. It also gave a boost in what that performance was per watt of power. Typically that's a concern when you're building notebooks, and you're balancing the needs of work and battery life, but Schiller pointed out that it also had great benefits with this desktop.

"Performance per watt means we need less cooling systems inside the box too. Which means we can do more with the space we have," said Schiller. "So we've doubled the number of drives inside the Mac Pro to now four hard drives of up to 2TB of internal storage. And our most requested feature, we've added a second optical drive for our pro customers as well."

There was also space to connect more external devices both at the back of the machine and now the front. The front added a second USB 2.0 port and Firewire 800, while the back's most significant change was a double-wide graphics slot allowing for the biggest and most powerful GPUs to be installed without sacrificing an adjacent slot.

So the new Mac Pro was "screaming fast" and it came with greater expansion but still the same enviably easy way of doing that expansion. The enclosure let you open the whole side and then just snap in new hard drives without any cabling, any fiddling.

It was deeply customizable, it was wicked fast, it came with 1GB of RAM, but could address 32GB of RAM, and Schiller announced that it was shipping today. On August 7, 2006, you could buy one for $2,499 -- $3,124 in today's money.

Not standing still

This original Mac Pro -- version 1,1 -- stayed on sale until a speed bump in April 2007. Then that version 2,1 lasted until the following January when the 3,1 upped the performance with a faster quad-core Intel Xeon 5400 processor. You could upgrade it to have two such processors plus up to 32GB RAM.

It would be another 15 months before 3,1 was released. The Mac Pro (Early 2009) was particularly suited for multi-threaded operations where software was able to split its load between several processors. Strictly speaking the, the Intel Xeon 5500 processors were slower than the previous 5400 ones but with better caching and communications between components, the result was a faster machine.

Another significant update was in July 2010 when as well as moving to Intel's Xeon 5600-series processors, you could now have up to 64GB RAM and 8TB storage.

This lasted as Apple's flagship model until arguably that flag was faltering. It was two years before the Mac Pro saw another update. The July 2012 release now came with two 6-core 2.4 GHz Intel Xeon Westmere-EP processors.

On the outside, it still looked exactly the same and with the interior no longer improving radically, Apple's professional users began clamoring. This time Apple responded by previewing a brand-new design for the Mac Pro at WWDC in 2013.

Again Apple was telling professional users to hold on, something big was coming. The difference is that unlike with the next 2019 Mac Pro, back in 2013 Phil Schiller was able to show off the machine. He was able to announce that it would be shipping later that year and it did, just barely, on December 19, 2013.

He was even able to comment on criticism that Apple hadn't been able to improve the Mac Pro: "Can't innovate, my ass," he said. Accurate at the time, Schiller has seen the remark re-used in less than complimentary exchanges since.





The Mac Pro he revealed then was the first in almost exactly a decade that didn't come in the same "beautiful enclosure." Ultimately it was also one that lasted only half as long: we know little about the next Mac Pro but it won't have the same trashcan design as the 2013 one, as Apple had designed itself into a "thermal corner" with it, according to execs.

It's 12 years ago today that we met the Mac Pro in that "cheese grater" casing and, astonishingly, the successor will have lasted 6 years by the time the next one is out.

What the Pro wants?

What is a Pro? There is no shadowy cabal declaring what one is, nor what any given Pro needs. This varies, user to user, and anybody telling you that a machine isn't "Pro" because it has or doesn't have any given feature is selling you self-interested snake oil.

That original promise of power and performance is what makes people want the new "modular" machine too. But, as much as some of us might like, the cheese grater isn't coming back.

What Apple will deliver is anybody's guess. All we know is this -- it will have pro features, and lack some others. It will make some users very happy, and others will scream bloody digital murder about it -- as they always do.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 57
    gatorguygatorguy Posts: 19,276member
    Fun fact, courtesy of PED quoting Alan Fisher's Valley of Genius:

    Andy Hertzfeld: The Macintosh had a great launch; it was really successful at first. Steve laid down a challenge at the introduction, which was to sell first thousand machines in the first hundred days, and it exceeded that. But then starting in the fall, sales started dropping off.

    Steve Wozniak: The Macintosh wasn’t a computer—it was a program to make things move in front of Steve’s eyes, the way a real computer would move them, but it didn’t have the underpinnings of a general operating system that allocates resources and keeps track of them and things like that. It didn’t have the elements of a full computer. It had just enough to make it look like a computer so he could sell it, but it didn’t sell well.

    Andy Hertzfeld: By December of 1984 the forecast was to sell eighty thousand Macs, and in fact they sold like eight thousand.


    The comments are worth a read too. Head up Dick Applebaum :)

    https://www.ped30.com/2018/08/05/apple-1984-macintosh/



    edited August 7
  • Reply 2 of 57
    entropysentropys Posts: 1,257member
    I think I was one of those 8000! 
    After wavering a bit in the mid nineties, I would say overall Mac ownership was a very happy experience up until about 2015.

    edit:sp
    edited August 7
  • Reply 3 of 57
    asciiascii Posts: 5,848member
    The definition of a "pro" computer is simply one that has the latest technology. And new technology is always big and hot and noisy before it is small and cool and quiet. So a pro chassis is necessarily large with lots of cooling.
    williamlondon
  • Reply 4 of 57
    mjtomlinmjtomlin Posts: 1,776member
    ascii said:
    The definition of a "pro" computer is simply one that has the latest technology. And new technology is always big and hot and noisy before it is small and cool and quiet. So a pro chassis is necessarily large with lots of cooling.

    Eh. I wouldn't say a pro computer necessarily has to have the latest technology. Gaming systems are more known for pushing the latest technology and higher performance processors. The definition of a "pro" computer is one that can handle professional level workflows, in any capacity, without too many compromises (hoops to jump through) to get your work done.

    "Pro" in computers usually connotes the system can handle larger, more complex workflows than a "regular" system could - more memory, faster processors, more storage, etc. The idea that it has to be easily "expandable" is just leftover geek-speak from an era when just about all computers were "expandable." It comes from the fact that most casual computer owners rarely ever expanded or upgraded their systems, while "professionals" (pros, gamers, and hobbyists) usually did. 


    williamlondonMacPromacplusplusurahara
  • Reply 5 of 57
    blastdoorblastdoor Posts: 1,875member
    Sigh... RIP cheese grater.

    I can’t wait anymore for Apple. I’m looking to replace my 2009 Mac Pro with a 32 core Threadripper system running Linux. I anticipate having that system by September. 

    I’ll run it headless and remote in from my iMac.
    williamlondonprismaticsdavgregcornchip
  • Reply 6 of 57
    The difference between the cheese grater Mac Pro and the contemporary iMac is mainly internal vs. external expansion, not general expansion. I owned a 2009 Mac Pro and updated the RAM, drive space, boot drive, GPU, and added USB 3.0 support via a 3rd party card. However, I eventually had to move on from the Mac Pro because the old motherboard bottlenecked the GPU, and the WiFi and bluetooth standards were too old and also too problematic to try and update relative to the OS. Bottom line: the 2017 5K iMac that I bought as a replacement can expand in all the same areas as the Mac Pro, with the exception of adding a card internally for USB upgrades. Again, the main difference is whether or not the expansion is handled internally or externally, not whether it's supported at all.
    edited August 7 macplusplus
  • Reply 7 of 57
    MacProMacPro Posts: 17,586member
    I must have had over a dozen cheese graters over their life time.  I'd agree they were 'the best' in their own way, built like tanks and a joy to work on for upgrades.  Brilliant engineering.  I recently bought a RAiD box (link below) and was amazed to find it is of the exact same look feel and build quality as my long gone, beloved cheese graters.  My only negative was the weight, chiropractors must have loved them lol.  I also was able to sell all my cheese graters after upgrading with almost no loss and in fact my highest end rig for TV production (including monitors and RAIDs and DLT) I sold at a profit to a Canadian TV start up that didn't want the hassle of adding everything themselves.  That all said I love my trash can Mac Pro to bits.

     https://smile.amazon.com/gp/product/B076C72RX2/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o05_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
    macpluspluscornchipwatto_cobra
  • Reply 8 of 57
    The difference between the cheese grater Mac Pro and the contemporary iMac is mainly internal vs. external expansion, not general expansion. I owned a 2009 Mac Pro and updated the RAM, drive space, boot drive, GPU, and added USB 3.0 support via a 3rd party card. However, I eventually had to move on from the Mac Pro because the old motherboard bottlenecked the GPU, and the WiFi and bluetooth standards were too old and also too problematic to try and update relative to the OS. Bottom line: the 2017 5K iMac that I bought as a replacement can expand in all the same areas as the Mac Pro, with the exception of adding a card internally for USB upgrades. Again, the main difference is whether or not the expansion is handled internally or externally, not whether it's supported at all.
    Can't upgrade the GPU in the iMac, which is one of the main reasons the old Mac Pro is still coveted today.  Drives?  Sure, external, but if you want RAID of 4 drives, not as cheap as just sliding in 4 drives.  Upgrade CPU(s) like in the Mac Pro?  Nope.  With the iMac, everything is external.  So while it's possible, it's not the same as the Mac Pro.
    cornchip
  • Reply 9 of 57
    asciiascii Posts: 5,848member
    mjtomlin said:
    ascii said:
    The definition of a "pro" computer is simply one that has the latest technology. And new technology is always big and hot and noisy before it is small and cool and quiet. So a pro chassis is necessarily large with lots of cooling.

    Eh. I wouldn't say a pro computer necessarily has to have the latest technology. Gaming systems are more known for pushing the latest technology and higher performance processors. The definition of a "pro" computer is one that can handle professional level workflows, in any capacity, without too many compromises (hoops to jump through) to get your work done.

    "Pro" in computers usually connotes the system can handle larger, more complex workflows than a "regular" system could - more memory, faster processors, more storage, etc. The idea that it has to be easily "expandable" is just leftover geek-speak from an era when just about all computers were "expandable." It comes from the fact that most casual computer owners rarely ever expanded or upgraded their systems, while "professionals" (pros, gamers, and hobbyists) usually did. 


    Certainly there are pros who do not necessarily want something more powerful than the average, just certified and supported. But equally there are pros who need the latest, and the latest will always be big and hot before it is small and cool. 

    And one point about the cutting edge I would make is that extra speed is not just about make the same things faster, it can also make entirely new things possible. For example as a software developer I can quite easily compile my programs on a laptop and its fine, but what if I could compile any sized project instantly? How much more experimental and exploratory would I get with my designs, knowing I could try 5 different approaches in 5 minutes. More speed to a designer can result in better products and new workflows, not just time saved.

    And I think expandability or upgradability is useful in any time period (past or present) where the various components of a computer system (e.g. CPU, RAM, storage, GPU, display, network) are advancing at different rates. At this point in history every new CPU seems to be accompanied with faster RAM and a new motherboard/chipset, so not much point making a computer with an upgradable CPU these days. However GPUs and display technology are both advancing very quickly, so a design with a separate display and pluggable GPU would be a good fit for 2019.
  • Reply 10 of 57
    tshorttshort Posts: 42member
    The PowerMac I bought in 2004 was a "Cheese Grater" design. The base chassis appearance is the same as the Mac Pro. The title seems a bit misleading, but is accurate.
  • Reply 11 of 57
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 3,318administrator
    tshort said:
    The PowerMac I bought in 2004 was a "Cheese Grater" design. The base chassis appearance is the same as the Mac Pro. The title seems a bit misleading, but is accurate.
    ... I don't think I understand? The Mac Pro "cheese grater" is 12 years old. We acknowledge the Power Mac G5 before it, but the piece is not about that machine.
  • Reply 12 of 57
    melgrossmelgross Posts: 31,056member
    The first Mac I bought for my company was back in 1988. It’s wasnt a stand-alone machine, but came as a package as part of “The Crossfield Ststem, a $250,000 package that included a drum scanner, a 12x18 Wacon tablet, raid drives, and other hardware, plus the pre Photoshop editing suite. It was the Mac IIci. A very powerful machine at the time.

    my first personal Mac was the Quadra 950 back in late 1992, or early 1993, I don’t remember exactly. Many Macs under the bridge here in my house. I still use my last one, the Mac Pro 2012. I was going to buy the 2013 model the next year, after it settled, but it never did. Apple’s biggest mistake with that model wasn’t the initial design, but the lack of follow through. I know a number of people who really liked that machine, and one bought a new one last year.

    but even if the thermals weren’t enough for a major revision, in that enclosure, they could have done regular upgrades every year. If they really liked it, but understood it needed better thermals, they could have just enlarged it. It is so small anyway, that making it 3” greater in diameter. And 3” in height, according to my rough calculations, would about double the thermal conductivity, and give enough room for 4 boards instead of 2. Too bad they decided to leave it for 5 years. I can’t imagine what they were thinking.

    by the way, the main reason for leaving the PPC and moving to Intel was not the Powermac. It was laptops. IBM could not deliver the mobile G5 they were working on for Apple, and by that time, laptop sales were approaching 50% for the industry, and close to that for Apple. As they say, the handwriting was on the wall that laptops were the future of computing for the mainstream, and beyond. Apple couldn’t live with dual G4 laptops anymore. The G4 had hit a stop in performance development.

    a year after Apple moved to Intel, IBM announced the mobile G5, but it was too late, and possibly too little.
    edited August 7 GG1cornchipwatto_cobra
  • Reply 13 of 57
    Apple has missed the boat. A pro computer is just something not made with mobile variant HW restricted by heat. Dell doesn't take 2 years to design a new workstation. 

    Apple wake up! Sell a real computer already! One that runs a mainstream GPU and real processor. The iMac Pro is a $6k monitor. You need a real desktop player in the $3k - $4k range (which is still double a comparable PC).
  • Reply 14 of 57
    AI_liasAI_lias Posts: 251member
    Best Mac I've owned, and I bought a 2006 model in 2010. Had to give it up last year because Apple unexpectedly stopped supporting the last compatible version of iTunes on the Mac OS it was running, and could not get the photos from my iPhone 6S Plus. Other than that, it was like a tank and was still fast for its age (was using it for consumer stuff, not professional stuff). You know how people when they introduce new models say: this is the best Mac we've ever done, and you're thinking, it better be, why even say that. Turns out, sometimes it is not. Newest not always the best.
    edited August 7
  • Reply 15 of 57
    deminsd said: Can't upgrade the GPU in the iMac, which is one of the main reasons the old Mac Pro is still coveted today.  Drives?  Sure, external, but if you want RAID of 4 drives, not as cheap as just sliding in 4 drives.  Upgrade CPU(s) like in the Mac Pro?  Nope.  With the iMac, everything is external.  So while it's possible, it's not the same as the Mac Pro.
    External GPUs are supported by the 2017 iMac, so upgrading is possible. As for the CPU, that wasn't actually designed by Apple to be easily "user upgradeable" in the Mac Pro. Most people would send it to a shop if they wanted the CPU upgraded. That's no different than the iMac. 
    edited August 7
  • Reply 16 of 57
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 3,318administrator
    deminsd said:
    The difference between the cheese grater Mac Pro and the contemporary iMac is mainly internal vs. external expansion, not general expansion. I owned a 2009 Mac Pro and updated the RAM, drive space, boot drive, GPU, and added USB 3.0 support via a 3rd party card. However, I eventually had to move on from the Mac Pro because the old motherboard bottlenecked the GPU, and the WiFi and bluetooth standards were too old and also too problematic to try and update relative to the OS. Bottom line: the 2017 5K iMac that I bought as a replacement can expand in all the same areas as the Mac Pro, with the exception of adding a card internally for USB upgrades. Again, the main difference is whether or not the expansion is handled internally or externally, not whether it's supported at all.
    Can't upgrade the GPU in the iMac, which is one of the main reasons the old Mac Pro is still coveted today.  Drives?  Sure, external, but if you want RAID of 4 drives, not as cheap as just sliding in 4 drives.  Upgrade CPU(s) like in the Mac Pro?  Nope.  With the iMac, everything is external.  So while it's possible, it's not the same as the Mac Pro.
    The process to replace the processor in the iMac Pro is no less or more of a pain in the ass than the Mac Pro cheese grater.

    To be very, very clear. Apple has never endorsed CPU replacements, even if they were possible.

    Edit: Never endorsed CPU replacements since the PPC upgrade card in about 1994, that is.
    edited August 7 cornchip
  • Reply 17 of 57
    ksecksec Posts: 1,497member
    Take out the Optical Drive, find space to fit the PSU within the bottom half of Mac Pro. Update Motherboard. Done. I really like the 4 HDD snap in place. 

    The design of Cheese Grater was near perfect, if not perfect within physical and technical limitation. 
  • Reply 18 of 57
    sandorsandor Posts: 466member
    The one downside of our 2012 Mac Pro (a cheese grater) is that the case is about 2 inches too large to fit horizontally into our rack.

    We went rack & fibre array with the XServe & XServe RAID, and never looked back. 
    A perfect design as a replacement for the XServe would have allowed the cheese grater's handles to be removed to fit into a standard rack.

    Six years on, it controls 200+ TB of fibre arrays, is stuffed with a 4 TB PCIe boot drive, 60 TB SATA array, 128 MB of ram & a PCIe USB 3 card.  It is a complete workhorse.


    welshdog
  • Reply 19 of 57
    I recently bought a nice mid-2012 Mac Pro for a low price, it has the dual 2,4 GHz, 24 Mb Ram and 500Mb SSD plus a 1Tb HD. I added a USB 3 card, a Blu-ray Disc in the second drawer, all this to replace a failing 2009 iMac.
    Of course I also changed the graphics card for a 3 times faster and more powerful one.
    It's a very nice machine, and I am confident it will serve me well for another five years, before I am ready to buy something new again from Apple.
    AI_liaselectrosoft
  • Reply 20 of 57
    sandorsandor Posts: 466member
    deminsd said:
    The difference between the cheese grater Mac Pro and the contemporary iMac is mainly internal vs. external expansion, not general expansion. I owned a 2009 Mac Pro and updated the RAM, drive space, boot drive, GPU, and added USB 3.0 support via a 3rd party card. However, I eventually had to move on from the Mac Pro because the old motherboard bottlenecked the GPU, and the WiFi and bluetooth standards were too old and also too problematic to try and update relative to the OS. Bottom line: the 2017 5K iMac that I bought as a replacement can expand in all the same areas as the Mac Pro, with the exception of adding a card internally for USB upgrades. Again, the main difference is whether or not the expansion is handled internally or externally, not whether it's supported at all.
    Can't upgrade the GPU in the iMac, which is one of the main reasons the old Mac Pro is still coveted today.  Drives?  Sure, external, but if you want RAID of 4 drives, not as cheap as just sliding in 4 drives.  Upgrade CPU(s) like in the Mac Pro?  Nope.  With the iMac, everything is external.  So while it's possible, it's not the same as the Mac Pro.
    The process to replace the processor in the iMac Pro is no less or more of a pain in the ass than the Mac Pro cheese grater.

    To be very, very clear. Apple has never endorsed CPU replacements, even if they were possible.

    Mike, that comment makes it seem like you have never removed the CPU tray from a cheese grater. Apple literally has instructions on how to do it.
    Incomparably easier than an iMac:

    (yes, Apple has never endorsed them, yes, they are completely possible. http://www.xlr8yourmac.com/systems.html )



    edited August 7 tipoo
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