The recent word from The Inquirer that Apple may be hoarding all of Intel's new 45nm Penryn processors -- and possibly paying for the privilege -- has prompted a lot of speculation about the future of Apple's Mac Pro desktop lineup. Apple's professional machines, which now use Intel Xeon Cloverton chips topping out at 3GHz, are called workstations by Apple and offer quad- and eight-core configurations. They're fast, and they sport professional prices to match with top-of-the-line eight-core units starting at $3,997.
The latest generation of Mac Pros, although radically restyled on the inside when Apple jumped to Intel chips in 2006, look pretty much the same on the outside as they did when they sported PowerPC chips. But the expected move to Penryn -- at or before the next Macworld show in January -- could mean the first major change in Mac Pro design in years.
Penryn is Intel's first chip under 45nm (compared with the 65nm processors now used) and offers a faster front-side bus, larger Level 2 caches, better energy efficiency, and a new instruction set (SSE4) aimed at boosting media, gaming, and graphics uses.
As important for Mac fans, the new chip architecture allows some new possibilities in case design -- namely because the motherboard and cooling system could take up less space. The new chips could also mean the incorporation of new technologies such as scalable-link interface (used for linking two or more video cards) and a faster front-side bus.
With that in mind, let's go through some of the things Mac users -- especially this Mac user -- would like to see in the next Mac Pro:
1. A new enclosure Rumors abound that the now-familiar all-aluminum Mac Pro box -- brought over part and parcel from the original Power Mac G5 -- will finally be shrinking. Of course, I still expect Apple to house all of the latest goodies, so whatever Apple comes up with isn't going to rival the Mac Mini for portability either.
I'm looking for more audio/USB/Firewire ports up front with space for four 3.5-in. internal drive slots and two 5.25-in. optical drives -- which are now offered on the current crop of Mac Pros. An easier-to-open case more like that found way back on the Power Mac G4 desktops would certainly be appreciated by systems administrators, along with a reduced weight and better handles for lugging around.
2. A Blu-ray option not just for movie editing but also for storing 50GB of data on a single disc -- perfect for sending off major quantities of files (high-definition movies, anyone?) to a client or user. Although I never thought I'd say it, DVDs -- even double-sided ones that can hold up to 8GB of information -- are too small. It's time for Apple to get on board with the next level of optical drives.
As for using a Blu-ray drive for movies, the digital rights management associated with them might be too much to ask for. But they'd look pretty darn nice on Apple's 30-inch Cinema Display, now, wouldn't they?
3. Cooler but quieter systems Those fans on current Mac Pros can sometimes be loud and annoying. Liquid-cooled enclosures, while more expensive, are a much more elegant solution. Heck, Apple even used that with late-generation Power Mac G5s, although there were some reports of leaks.
If Apple doesn't want to go back to that option, then it should turn the whole case into a heat sink. Whether it's on purpose or not, my MacBook Pro sometimes feels like one well-designed heat sink.