Nehalem Mac Pro: The Mac reborn
This isn't merely the ultimate Mac, but an impossibly idealistic concept for a fast, green, silent, rugged, expandable, and affordable top-end workstation, made real
Like the Mac Pro before it, Nehalem Mac Pro is loaded with I/O. This front panel has a headphone jack, along with two USB 2.0 ports and two 800Mbps FireWire ports. There are three more USB 2.0 ports, two more FireWire 800 ports, stereo line in and out, TOSLINK optical digital audio in and out, and two gigabit Ethernet ports around back. One day, these 800Mbps FireWire ports will be killer conduits to external storage, but cables and adapters for 400Mbps peripherals are available.
Mac Pro has four internal, side-facing 3.5-inch SATA drive bays. Empty bays are filled with aluminum drive trays in which you can mount raw SATA drives. Hard drives and PCI Express 2 expansion cards plug into Mac Pro the same way, by being inserted into backplane sockets. There are no loose hard drive cables in the system or in the drive trays, just SATA plug headers stuck right onto the logic board that mate directly with the drives. Inserting and removing drive trays requires no tools, and is so easy that you may, as I do, treat these as removable storage.
In addition to the SATA hard drive bays, there is a front-facing bay for a second 5.25-inch, half-height optical drive. I have not tested this assumption, but I suppose you could mount another SATA hard drive in there using a standard mounting bracket. That, by the way, is the only expansion operation that might require you to look at a cable, much less handle one. Connections between system logic boards are made via short headers, none of which you need to mess with. Getting rid of all that cable helped Apple get the toxins out of Mac Pro's recipe.
The bit that took my breath away, not only for its elegance but for its implications, is the processor tray. One lightweight tray holding the CPUs and RAM is the most easily removed module in this fully modular system. With this arrangement, it takes Apple no time at all to custom-build a Mac Pro to your specifications. It takes you no time at all to reprovision (i.e., swap trays among machines according to need) or effect repairs on-site without moving machines or pulling cables.
As I see it, the tray also allows Apple to track Intel's tick-tock architecture updates without subjecting the entire system to another redesign, or subjecting Mac Pro buyers to requirements for unique spare parts. Anything that Intel changes, even the size of the socket or the speed of the RAM, should be limited to the processor tray.
This is the sort of forward-looking, longevity-focused engineering invested in very high end systems. If my take is right, then the 2009 Nehalem Mac Pro hardware platform, once purchased, is one that should stay stable and upgradable until, say, PCI Express 3 becomes an imperative.