Apple finally refreshes the Mac Pro, but the model you want isn't coming this year

Apple throws a bone to its Pro customers with a minor speed bump.

Mac Pro
Michael Homnick/IDG

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No three words will stop a Mac user in their tracks faster than these: Mac Pro update. It’s been more than three years since Apple last paid any attention to its desktop tower, and users have been anxiously awaiting an upgrade. However, while Apple indeed announced a refresh Tuesday morning, the real news is about what’s coming down the road.

First, the new specs: Apple is still offering two base models of Mac Pro at $2,999 and $3,999. The lower-end model jumps from from a quad-core Xeon CPU to a 6-core one, and gets dual G500 GPUs (an upgrade over the G300 GPUs), while the step-up model gets an 8-core CPU (up from 6) and dual D700 GPUs (up from the D500). That’s it. There’s no USB-C and no Thunderbolt 3, which means it still won’t be able to run the LG UltraFine 5K display.

On top of all this disappointing news, Apple uncharacteristically threw users a bone by divulging its future plans for the Mac desktop. Apparently, new pro-level iMacs are due later this year.

Supply and demand: Any news about the Mac Pro is better than no news. Still, until Apple backs its commitment with serious hardware upgrades, we remain skeptical. The refreshes released today don’t do anything to move the needle—seriously, where’s USB-C?—but maybe someday Apple will release the machine of our dreams, with enough expansion slots and I/O ports to handle everything we throw at it.

Tower of power

The bottom line is, if you didn’t want a Mac Pro yesterday, you probably don’t want one today. And Apple understands that. In interviews with TechCrunch, Buzzfeed, Mashable, Axios, and Daring Fireball, senior vice presidents Phil Schiller and Craig Federighi admitted Apple’s mistakes with the design (“The current Mac Pro … was constrained thermally and it restricted our ability to upgrade it.”) and engineering (“I think we designed ourselves into a bit of a thermal corner, if you will.”), and straight-up apologized to users still hoping for a major upgrade. As they explained, Apple is “completely rethinking the Mac Pro” with a new modular design that can accommodate high-end CPUs and GPUs, as well as Apple-branded pro displays to go with them. But none of that's coming until next year.

Apple also revealed some statistics about the Mac Pro that could explain why it’s taken so long to update. The Mac user base is approaching 100 million users, but just 20 percent of them use desktops. Of that, Mac Pro users make up a “single-digit percentage.” 

When asked about the Mac mini, Apple only said the tiny tower is “an important product in our lineup.” Schiller and Federighi all but nixed the ideas of touchscreens or ARM-powered Macs. But the main message was about the Mac Pro: While Apple understands that today’s update won’t do much to comfort its pro customers, the company wants them to know they're not forgotten.

“We’re working on [a new Mac Pro],” Schiller said. “We have a team working hard on it right now, and we want to architect it so that we can keep it fresh with regular improvements, and we’re committed to making it our highest-end, high-throughput desktop system, designed for our demanding pro customers.”

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