2018 Modular Mac Pro might take lead from Mac Mini

Discussion in 'Mac Pro' started by Omega Mac, Jun 8, 2017.

  1. Omega Mac macrumors 6502

    Aug 16, 2013
    Ok as suggested in another three by moi I decided it deserves it own thread.

    What if the Mac Mini is repositioned like the iMac to elevate to a Mac MiniPro line.

    Think about it. Stackable units as seen elsewhere and suggests by previous superdrive & time machine add-on's.

    Easy to access. Base unit + additional tiers, then add as many as you want after with whatever hardware until you have a very nice modular tower of your choice.

    Maybe this is why the Mac Mini has not received update love and they may be considering merging format to reach a synergetic hybrid moment.

    Base Mini - CPU x1 or x2, GPU x1, SSD x1. (coudl be 2 or 3 options here)
    Tier two - x2 x4 GPU's, with cooling.
    Tier three - HD Array, up to 8/10 drives.
    Tier four - More CPUs... what else? More GPU's ;)

    There could be other combo tiers.
    Imagine modular made to order.
  2. adam9c1 macrumors 68000


    May 2, 2012
    I think a Pro desktop would need to have a larger footprint than the current gen Mac Mini.
  3. robeddie Suspended


    Jul 21, 2003
    Plus, as pointed out by John Siracusa (among others) a 'stackable' computer would be contrary to what Apple strives for, compactness and thinness. Separate stackable units would take much more total volume, and each unit might need it's own power supply/converter and cooling. Just not space efficient whatsoever.

    The only advantage would be for someone that wanted only 1 tier, but if there's a market for that, then there would be a market for the mac mini - which it seems - there is not (at least not enough of a market for Apple to bother with)
  4. ActionableMango macrumors G3


    Sep 21, 2010
    No. A Mac Mini and a modular Mac Pro have massively different design considerations. Trying to mix the two would ruin both.
  5. goodcow macrumors 6502a

    Aug 4, 2007
    So this is what Tim will end up doing.
  6. Omega Mac thread starter macrumors 6502

    Aug 16, 2013
    You forget what you may do with height in a neat foot print, think about the vertical time capsules. You could have a coudl double length modular if required and still have half size modules. Think lego!

    Smart connectors and/or TB connectors or some new super smart connector allowing crazy bandwidth between units in a simple plug and click system between mini-modules. Imagine building up machines to get more power as required and then splitting out to another machines to share hardware around. So many possibilities.
  7. spetznatz macrumors regular


    Jan 5, 2006
    I've been thinking this for years... power supply module, memory module, processing module(s), graphics module(s), I/O module(s), all tied together by a backplane bus. 'Stack Mac'. Don't know what the engineering challenges would be, though...
  8. Derived macrumors 6502


    Mar 1, 2015
    No, nobody would want to deal with this at all.
  9. Omega Mac thread starter macrumors 6502

    Aug 16, 2013
    Oh they would. You'd be surprised.
    --- Post Merged, Jun 8, 2017 ---
    I thought about something similar to this Mac Mini Pro blue sky but that was all the way back in 2002 when I was building a PC and thought, man this really could be made way simpler and more beautiful. I didn't buy my first mac until 2008 and hardware advances and miniaturisation has continued at a rapid pace it's now more plausible than ever with a much larger market to sell into.
  10. saulinpa macrumors 6502a

    Jun 15, 2008
    That is how "mini" computers used to be built. A very proven model. For modern systems the backplane is the choke point for memory.
  11. Ph.D. macrumors 6502

    Jul 8, 2014
    No thanks! If we're talking about a stack of boxes or some-such, each little box will cost a fortune, and we'd likely have to wait for Apple to update each box (and you can guess how well that will work out).

    There's been a lot of talk about what "modular" might mean. Currently, the core of most systems is a motherboard that contains the CPU plus most infrastructure components such as communications, storage infrastructure, etc. The problem with this is the same as the problem with the cMP: The motherboard becomes obsolete and, work-arounds notwithstanding, the whole computer thus eventually becomes obsolete.

    A more general back-plane system, with the modules being insertable components, but not dominated by a broadly-inclusive motherboard, might be a better concept. However, the sort of next-generation, very high-speed backplane suitable for such an idea would likely require short connection distances and low component loadings, making this difficult (thunderbolt was a dimly-viewed and largely inadequate attempt to get around this).

    A post-motherboard computer (if that's what "modular" means) likely would require an industry-leading rethink of how a personal computer/workstation is built. Apple has voiced a will to do so, but I have doubts that they really would put in enough effort to succeed at it. Perhaps they will take a look at something the IEEE has been tossing around and maybe push it towards commercial use?

    Most likely, we'll see a return to a cMP-like machine, but smaller and more efficient, such as a translation of the iMac Pro to a headless box, though with easy access to memory, a replaceable graphics unit, and a few M.2 slots.
  12. Omega Mac, Jun 8, 2017
    Last edited: Jun 8, 2017

    Omega Mac thread starter macrumors 6502

    Aug 16, 2013
    In modular system I have no idea why you would have to wait for update, only upgrades to the internals or DIY. That's the whole point of a truly modular approach. It releases both sides from the constraints of the update cycle as is currently the status quo. It more likely you'll spend same money but alway at once.

    For example, a base Mac Mini is $499, that's 10 mini boxes for the base price of the new iMac Pro.

    Yes a post motherboard modular design would be the idea. Here is an established form factor which they have produced for years that naturally lends itself to modularity by it's very design.

    On price, well it's the contents that might fill each mini box that would increase the price but the user would have more control via configuration. They might even be able to order pre-installed or empty modules to fill with existing gear. Now there's an idea. Maybe not a typical Apple idea.

    If a base Mac Pro Mini box cost $1000 that came with dual CPU (on board graphics) things would get very interesting. Many people noted that the 2012 Quad Mini was getting close to same stats as entry level nMP and posited that Apple saw this eat into nMP sales and thus reduced the spec of the Mac Mini to entry level with HW to match.

    After this you get to weight the spec according to your needs. Favouring GPU's, CPU's or Storage or whatever blend you like.

    I think there is a lot of room in the Mac Mini box, the server got two HD,'s stuffed in there (SSD arrays are even smaller now!) logic board and CPU. Older models had room for a DVD-Drive. I have one.

    A reconfiguration of the inside in the context of a modular platform would I believe reap untold long term benefits. Lets say they go for a iFixit score of 10 as a target for user satisfaction. I think we'd all be very happy.

    Imagine being able to hot swaddles pout the top tier of HD's since the base box holds the system drive and move it to another station. Imagine custom I/O head tier.

    Modules would also trade well in the used market.

    Also when a base unit has run it's course you just upgrade this. You other modules drives and so forth simply click back in and your investment is protected for some time more.

    If they truly intend to embrace the concept of modularity, it is a concept that has the greatest potential to reshape they way people buy, build and think of their workstations.

    I'd like to see Apple make a greta job of it and once more move the industry to some place else. IT could be done in a very appliance like way too where the user doesn't really have to know that much but pro's are happy with the hands on swap-out platform that can build like lego.
  13. Ph.D. macrumors 6502

    Jul 8, 2014
    Well, in my opinion, "modular" won't mean a stack of mac-mini boxes.
  14. Omega Mac thread starter macrumors 6502

    Aug 16, 2013
    I'm enthusing around the extent and reach of the definition to highlight the existing and other potential. I've never thought of a custom PC as a modular system but if that is what apple mean then you outlook is in line.

    If Apple decide to modularise power pro computing in a dynamic way that works for on the go pro's and at the desk pro's ... maybe my outlook will be closer.

    This is speculation but within a reasonable existing subset of Apple can do. Some point down the line I might render up the idea, I have been thinking about it for 15 years now at least so maybe I should pitch in eh! ;)

    If they're taking time to rethink and R&D then it means they've discounted the original MacPro Tower because as others have suggested they coudl dust it off or a variant of it.

    I think sometimes the best way to get into a Market is to create a whole new integration or branch of the market. Apple have form here.
  15. ActionableMango macrumors G3


    Sep 21, 2010
    Just some history (not a prediction):




    The Apple "Jonathan". Source.

    Inspired by the Apple II “open” architecture mindset, Fitch proposed a modular approach.
    He designed a simple hardware “backbone” carrying basic operations and I/O on which the user could add a series of “book” modules, carrying hardware for running Apple II, Mac, UNIX and DOS software, plus other modules with disk drives or networking capabilities.

    Thus beginners, mid-level and high-end customers could all use the same basic hardware but could configure and enhance their systems over time.

    Apple could manufacture at low cost and publish (or license) the specs to the “spine” and ensure wide acceptance.
  16. DearthnVader macrumors 6502a


    Dec 17, 2015
    Red Springs, NC
    Cabling hell for true "pro" users, there is no point in trying to reinvent the wheel. Apple already tried that with the nMP, and suffered a major product failure as a result.

    Most people are expecting a tower "desktop" workstation. With PCIE slots and Thunderbolt 3, paired with as much Xeon CPU goodness as they can cram into it.

    The trouble with a modular stacking concept is the interconnect busses needed to add all the modular parts. People have sent a resounding "no" to all the cabling required for such a setup, and need/want more bandwidth than TB3 can provide.

    Apple can shoot itself in the foot, again, if they want to, but I won't be buying one. Just like I didn't buy a nMP. I want internal upgradability, not a bunch of random cables and power bricks mucking up the works.

    Back in 2013, I may have considered a nMP, if it came with more than one standard M.2 slot, and nVidia graphics, but I'm not locking myself into Apple's idea's on how to optimizing profit, by making Mac's that, for all intents and purposes are disposable, with no real internal choice or upgradability.
  17. ActionableMango macrumors G3


    Sep 21, 2010
  18. Omega Mac thread starter macrumors 6502

    Aug 16, 2013
    Great posts and love the old machines. I also found another older modular Apple design while image searching around this topic (the name escapes me and will try find later) nor did I ever come across these ones posted here Thank you!

    Look, the mac mini and accessories (superdrive & time capsule) always hinted at if not pre-empted a modular design which Acer & HP designs are taking more than passing reference too but yet look how many years later it's taken to occur in a tangible way.

    I'd like to see Apple give it the Apple treatment. You'll still get your slots and more to boot. The Acer shows how neat it can be and how the modules can vary in size. You build a tower as you like (I wonder could the OS support modules that independently power manage) I think my point is made very well by other users posts now.

    I also think Apple can market it better than any company to make it there own and actually appeal to a wider base. There were a ton of Mp3 players on the market better in many cases that iPod but they captured the spirit of the moment then.

    Finally, I've thought of a new name;

    Mac MiniProPOD(s)

  19. theluggage macrumors 68040

    Jul 29, 2011
    From the famous press briefing:

    I think, as you talk about the pro user, the fact that our user base is split over notebooks, all-in-one desktops and modular desktops is important. We aren’t making one machine for pros. We’re making three different designs for pros. We’re going to continue to.
    As part of doing a new Mac Pro — it is, by definition, a modular system — we will be doing a pro display as well.

    I'm afraid, based on that, "modular" could easily just mean "separate computer, keyboard and display".

    These guys have just announced an "iMac Pro" that is strictly "no user serviceable parts inside". From the interview, the problem Apple sees with the cylinder is that they couldn't easily produce updated models, or "single large GPU" options, not that users couldn't upgrade them.

    If you want another reason why the new Mac Pro might be a sealed unit - look at all the people here still rocking upgraded Classic Mac Pro cheesegraters (and, consequently, not giving their money to Apple).
  20. rkuo macrumors 6502a

    Sep 25, 2010
    You'd have to assume that Apple execs are complete idiots if they parse modular as "keyboard/monitor/computer" based on the feedback they've gotten from the press and their pro customers.

    To claim a "modular" design is in the works, even going so far as to have an onsite heart to heart meeting about it with select press, and then re-iterate in a press release for the iMac Pro that it is not the Mac Pro replacement ... and then modularize the upcoming Mac Pro as "the keyboard and monitor are replaceable" would create an unbridled firestorm. That's not happening.

    Want another reason why modular means exactly what we think it means? AR/VR/Machine learning. They realized Apple doesn't have any computers that developers can use to create the experiences they are trying to push into with iOS. Upgrading GPU's every year is critical to staying current in these areas.
  21. ActionableMango macrumors G3


    Sep 21, 2010
    A clear an obvious trend across Apple's entire computer and handheld designs is ever decreasing size, weight, and thickness at the cost of also reducing expansion, upgrade, and repair capability.

    What gives me hope for an exception when it comes to the Mac Pro is that mea culpa meeting. They seem to recognize that these goals are the wrong trend for the Mac Pro, or that there at least needs to be some compromise. The Cheesegrater could have been made smaller, lighter, and more clever whilst still retaining slots and bays.

    So the next Mac Pro could be sealed, but I don't think it will be. In another part of that interview they directly mention the user complaints out there, specifically about "expandability" and "upgradeability". Sure, a sealed 7,1 could technically use external components for "expansion" and a complete replacement for "upgrades", but a sealed solution like that would be grossly out of touch with the main point of those complaints.

    A sealed unit would be a step further backwards "expandability" and "upgradeability", in my opinion. Even a 6,1 isn't a sealed unit.
  22. saulinpa macrumors 6502a

    Jun 15, 2008
    Agree. I think the term "modular" was used only to give the impression that it would be different from the current fixed configuration.

    From the WWDC Apple is chasing VR so expect the mMP to support it. Probably with two graphics cards.
  23. rkuo macrumors 6502a

    Sep 25, 2010
    I don't know what it's going to take to convince you guys. Do they have to specifically state it's going to have PCI slots and support nVidia cards? Do you really believe Apple thinks it's a good idea to play word games with their highest end customers?
  24. Flint Ironstag macrumors 6502a

    Flint Ironstag

    Dec 1, 2013
    Houston, TX USA
    People are still rocking upgraded cMPs because the nMP wasn't a fit for them, and there wasn't anything in the Apple ecosystem to replace it. Had Apple kept the cMP current, no doubt folks would have upgraded as usual.

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