Back when Apple announced its transition from Intel processors in June 2020, it made a couple of promises that haven’t been fulfilled. Most notably, it said the transition would be completed “in about two years,” which is either four months or eight months behind schedule, depending on when you start counting.
And in addition to vowing to “continue to support and release new versions of macOS for Intel-based Macs for years to come,” which it’s done, Apple also said it “has exciting new Intel-based Macs in development.” While we did get a new 27-inch iMac with 10th-generation Intel chips later that summer, suffice it to say, we haven’t seen any new Intel Macs, exciting or otherwise since the first M1 Macs rolled out. And with just one Intel-based Mac remaining in Apple’s lineup, it would seem it’s just 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 there was “just one more product to go” in the transition, “but that’s for another day.” But as more and more time slips by, maybe everyone would be happier if that day didn’t arrive just yet.
The core issue
The latest rumors about the Mac Pro are less than intriguing, as the unique architecture of the M2 chip is reportedly forcing Apple to rethink several of the Mac Pro’s unique characteristics, including user-upgradeable RAM and graphics. And the rumored M2 Extreme chip with 48 CPU cores and 152 graphics cores is unlikely to make an appearance, with Apple instead going with a slightly overclocked M2 Ultra with a 24-core CPU and 76-core GPU.
That’s plenty fast, of course, but compared to the current M1 Ultra Mac Studio, it’s not worth anywhere near the $17,000 starting price for the top-of-the-line Intel Mac Pro with a 28‑core Intel Xeon W processor. When the Mac Pro launched in 2019, its closest competitor was the 18-Core Intel Xeon W in the iMac Pro, which paled in benchmark comparisons (13,453 versus 26,604 in Geekbench multi-core tests). Granted, the Mac Pro cost about $10,000 more than the iMac Pro, but that sizable price gap only underscored how much more speed you were getting.
Based on the latest reports, that won’t be the case with the new Mac Pro. While it will obviously be faster than both the current top-of-the-line Mac Pro and the top-end Mac Studio—especially if Apple doesn’t update the Mac Studio to an M2 chip—the gap won’t be nearly as large as with the previous Mac Pro. Geekbench benchmarks for the M1 Ultra top out at around 24,000, so we can assume the M2 Ultra would come in around 30,000 or so with the same 20 to 25 percent boost. That’s higher than the current 28‑core Intel Xeon W processor (26,604) but not by a wide margin.
With such tremendous power at 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 performance to its target audience. Buyers expect the Mac Pro to be “a system created to let a wide range of professionals push the limits of what is possible,” but with meager performance improvements and limited expansion, buyers won’t be getting the same boundary-pushing machine.
Intel inside (again)
Even if it were to bring a huge speed boost, Mac Pro buyers might be reluctant to switch to Apple silicon anyway. The Mac Pro is the kind of machine people buy to fill a very specific need, and those needs might be tied to existing peripheral devices and applications that don’t work as 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 too, which isn’t possible under Apple silicon without virtualization.
For those people—and my guess is there are a lot of them—an upgraded Intel model is probably preferable to an M2 Ultra-based model, especially if Apple were to use one of Intel’s newest Xeon W-3400 or Xeon W-2400 chips. Last week, Intel unveiled its newest workstation-class chips with up to 56 cores and 112 threads. Those are excellent specs that are certain to match or beat the rumored M2 Ultra.
As my colleague Jason Cross points out, Apple would be more likely to use the W-2400 chips that top out at 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 ranges from 120W to 225W while the W-3400 goes from 270W to 350W.) Apple prioritizes power efficiency with its M-series chips, so it would be unlikely to use a chip with such a high power draw.
But even the lower-end chip would still be an excellent upgrade over the current Mac Pro, while still offering users the expandability and after-market upgrades they need. I don’t think any potential buyers would be mad at a new Intel machine that preserves the Mac Pro’s mission yet still delivers a massive speed boost over the 2019 model Apple still sells. Intel would let users easily upgrade their current setup, retain the upgradeability they crave, and buy Apple some more time to make a proper Apple silicon model.
And if any of those buyers really want an Apple silicon machine, they can always buy a MacBook Pro to go along with it.