Any Interest in a New Modular Mac Pro Design?

Discussion in 'Mac Pro' started by Radiating, Apr 16, 2013.

  1. Radiating, Apr 16, 2013
    Last edited: Apr 16, 2013

    Radiating macrumors 65816

    Dec 29, 2011
    How many people would be interested in a Mac Mini Pro like this:


    Essentially the new Mac Pro would be based on a very compact core unit, and several stackable thunderbolt expension stations the size of the core unit.

    Total size would be around 1/3rd the size of the Mac Pro for the same level of performance and expandability, with expansion units.

    Form Factor:

    The Base Unit would be slightly larger than a Mac Mini, 10 x 10 x 2 inches. Each expansion unit would have the same outside dimensions with varying thickness depending on their purpose.

    Very similar in design to the Mac Mini but larger to accomodate desktop processors and high end laptop video cards.

    Specs Summary: The base processor would be a single six core e5-1650 with boost up to 3.8ghz. You could have up to 3 xeon processors, and 4 laptop graphics cards in SLI.

    This would be around double to tripple the performance of the current top end mac pro.

    The only processor option would be a e5-1650, but you'd have a choice of up to 3 of them, for $650 more each.

    The base unit would have a GeForce 680MX mobile graphics card, and only SSD storage. You would have 10 thunderbolt ports, which would each work in daisy chain to add up to 140 3.5" hard drives. For a total maximum of 560 terrabytes of storage.

    Ram would be desktop ram in up to 8 dimms, for a maximum of 128gb.

    Graphics would come in 1 2 3 4 card flavors, for $550 per card. The top spec would perform as well as dual GeForce Titan setup.

    Thunderbolt expansion units would come in flavors that house 2 3.5" drives, a single 16x pci express card, a double wide pci express card, or a tripple wide pci express card. If using two thunderbolt cables and two ports you could get full 16x speeds, or one cable would result in 8x speeds. Daisy chaining would reduce speeds.

    Each expansion chassis would have it's own power supply, with PCI e expansion slots having 300watts with 3x 6 pin, and a 6 pin to 8 pin conversion cable, and fans to maintain air circulation.


    Base Price: $1799


    1x HDMI

    10x Thunderbolt

    10x USB 3.0

    1x headphone, SDXC, Gigabit


    Base: e5-1650

    Upgrade: e5-1650 x2 + $650

    High End: e5-1650 x3 $1300


    Base: 16GB

    Mid: 32GB $300

    High: 62GB $600

    Max: 96GB $900


    Base: GTX 680MX 2GB GDDR5
    Upgrade: 2x GTX 680MX 2GB GDDR5 $550
    High: 3x GTX 680MX 2GB GDDR5 $1100
    Max: 4x GTX 680MX 2GB GDDR5 $1650


    Base: 256 GB SSD

    Medium: 512GB SSD $350

    Max: 1TB SSD $600

    Thunderbolt Modular Storage (max 70 units):

    4TB HDD: $400 each

    8TB HDD: $700 each

    512GB SSD: $500

    1TB SSD: $900

    2TB SSD: $1600

    Thunderbolt PCI Express 3.0 Modular Expansion (max 5 units at 16x, 10 at 8x, 20 at 4x, 35 at 2x, 70 at 1x, speeds can be mixed and matched):

    Thunderbolt Modular PCI Express 3.0 Single Card (single 16x port): $200

    Thunderbolt Modular PCI Express 3.0 Double Card (single 16x port): $250

    Thunderbolt Modular PCI Express 3.0 Tripple Card (single 16x port): $300

    So would anyone else want this?
  2. handsome pete macrumors 68000

    Aug 15, 2008
    No thanks. Gimme the same tower with up to date innards and I'll be good to go.
  3. PowerPCMacMan macrumors 6502a


    Jul 17, 2012
    PowerPC land

    WAY!!! I'm happy with my 6-core goodness and 64GB memory + 8TB hard drive space.
  4. rodriguise macrumors regular


    May 6, 2011
    Sparks, NV
  5. Radiating, Apr 16, 2013
    Last edited: Apr 16, 2013

    Radiating thread starter macrumors 65816

    Dec 29, 2011

    So let me get this straight guys, you are offered a cheaper, faster, better and more flexible platform that compared to the computer it replaces:

    - 1/3rd the size or less

    - 2/3rds the price

    - 3 times the processor performance

    - 6 times the graphics performance

    - has up to 70 times the PCI express expandability

    - has 70 times the storage expandability

    And you are not interested.

  6. Umbongo, Apr 16, 2013
    Last edited: Apr 16, 2013

    Umbongo macrumors 601


    Sep 14, 2006
    I understand the idea behind it, but no. You don't understand the cooling requirements or how I/O performance would be impacted by using interconnects. Then you have issues like Apple having had no interest in SLI - because it ain't great for non-gaming - or things like Intel never allowing UP Xeons to be used like that.

    End of the day this is a solution that brings limitations and increased costs to solve a problem that isn't an issue. The best thing for the Mac Pro would be for it to be in a sleek enclosure, with a modern feel, rack-mountable, considerable thought given to air flow/cooling and acoustics, that can house what the C600 chipset allows over both UP and DP versions: 8 DIMMs per CPU, 4 full PCI x16 slots. If users don't need that power Apple have other form factors, if they do then they don't have much choice because PCs are the same or larger.


    Probably just not interested in hearing about this again as it has been discussed and debunked as possible many times on here.
  7. rodriguise macrumors regular


    May 6, 2011
    Sparks, NV
    What you describe is not Pro. It's enthusiast at best, its not a bad idea per-se, but Pro's make money for a living. The components have quality ratings (MTBF, Thermal, etc) far above the consumer stuff. And, the performance components take into account optimizations that are outside the scope of entertainment or gaming.
  8. Radiating thread starter macrumors 65816

    Dec 29, 2011
    Actually I was under the impression that the e5-1650 was 65w TDP for some reason, looks like it's 130w TDP, so it would require a much larger case, say 3.5 inches thick.

    I currently run thunderbolt PCI express cards on my macbook retina for rendering and noticed only an 8% reduction in performance compared to directly plugging them into a desktop. This was on a variety of cards.

    Graphics cards could easily be swapped between SLI and non-SLI depending on the task. Multiple GPU's can be used for many applications, but I agree SLI can cause problems.

    Are e5-1650's not multi processor capable? Rumor was that Apple would use them the upcoming Mac Pro anyways.

    The way I see it, why not allow for flexibility? You constantly see people discussing going over their power requirements and installing 5.25" PSU's and having external this and external that already. I think it would be a great idea to make a Mac Pro that could be scaled up to anything you need it to do.
  9. phrehdd macrumors 68040


    Oct 25, 2008
    I have advocated modular designs for a long time but I'll be careful with how I see a Mac Pro vs a modular Mac Mini or Mac Pro Jr.

    The goal of a modular design could be to allow the customer to "build" a stack of hardware that meets his/her needs and be very targeted on what is in the stack. The Mac Pro on the other hand has all the basics and one could simply install PCI-e cards.

    My only negative on the MP is that it uses XEONS where XEONS are not really necessary. This is a combo of "blame" for both Apple and Intel. I think a smart system based on the i7 or next incarnation would serve just fine for 99 percent of the people who use Mac Pros and the one percent is more about a real professional system that might be found in a rendering farm.

    While I find the introduction of Thunderbolt to be a pathetic joke by Apple, it may well be the exact way to set up a stacked Mac Pro Jr system - especially given the newer TB specs coming out. The alternative might be a Mac Pro type case with a passive plane where everything is on cards but there always is a draw back to this design.

    If they made a Mac Mini type stacked system, I would seriously consider it and hope 3rd party vendors would get on board to offer up items for the stack.

    Example -
    Core system (CPU, single drive, on board high end video)
    stack 1 - more drives
    stack 2 - video
    stack 3 - audio
    stack 4 - disc read/writer

    Just build the stack for whatever you want. Art folks would go for more RAM and drives. A musician might want items more related to audio while gamers would be similar to artists and go for beefier graphics and RAM.

    The list can go on and on. Then again, one can do all these things with a Mac Pro via PCI-e. The main advantage of the stacked system is space and potentially customized items.
  10. Tesselator macrumors 601


    Jan 9, 2008
    Well I would go for it.

    There's no cooling issues nor impact on I/O performance with a design like this.

    It's cheaper in it's base configuration and it scales up for professional super-workstation users who need it. It's certainly not any less professional - in fact looking at super high-end gear it's actually more professional. So count me in - even tho you may be exaggerating a little bit on it's maxed config. :)

  11. thekev macrumors 604


    Aug 5, 2010
    They are not. In the current design Apple uses a different cpu tray for the dual models. The E5-26xx models can be used in dual configurations. Note the price difference. It's really really unlikely that Apple will ever drop the price beneath $2000. Thunderbolt chips cap out at 2 ports supported, so you may be off there. It's not really designed as an interconnect either. One of the requirements for certification is that things be hot pluggable. Really none of this is likely to work, and your hypothetical pricing drifts from what Apple would typically charge. For example adding a cpu would cost more than that, and even the 26xx types cap out at 2. You couldn't really do this anyway without a separate logic board, at which point it would be a second mac pro.

    The real thing that seems to be the focus of these modular threads is a desire for flexibility, which makes sense. It wouldn't bring down pricing like people think though. First you would have expensive cables connecting all of this, but the real problem is that anytime you have such a mish mash of devices, support becomes a significant issue. If anything I think even if such a solution worked, it might increase the total cost of ownership.

    SLI has never been supported in OSX. That would have to change before such a thing would be possible.
  12. rodriguise macrumors regular


    May 6, 2011
    Sparks, NV
    I disagree that the XEON is unnecessary. ECC is a requirement for some of the scientific clustered processing I do. Furthermore some of this stuff just doesn't work as well under HT as SMP.
  13. thekev macrumors 604


    Aug 5, 2010
    It's not just that. If they moved to i7s, unless they were using the same cpu variants as the imac, you wouldn't save anything on price or gain any functionality. The LGA2011 cpus cost just as much whether they're i7s or Xeons.
  14. ScottishCaptain macrumors 6502a

    Oct 4, 2008
    Who cares if anyone is interested or not?

    If people are, what are you going to do about it? It's just an idea. Wake me up when you have the capital and manpower to actually make something like that a reality. Until then, anyone can blurt out a wall of speculation. Nobody is interested in your idea because it's just speculation.

    Look at me, I can speculate too.

    I'm going to offer:

    - A Mac Pro that is 1/4th the current size or less
    - 1/10th the price
    - Has 8 processor sockets for eight 24-core processors
    - Has 16 individual double-width PCI-e graphics card slots
    - Has 20 disk drive bays split into 5 arrays, each with it's own RAID controller
    - Has 4GB of battery backed cache RAM per RAID array controller
    - Has a 10kW power supply to power everything
    - Totally has over 9000 expansion and configuration options


    I am perfectly happy with my monolithic Mac Pro. I have owned many, many "modular" computers over the years (SparcStation 1000e, Motorola PowerStack, several Sun Enterprise and Sunfire systems, and an SGI MIPS rackmount system cobbled together from various second hand bricks). Frankly, they were all a pain in the ass. I'm sure they were a pain in the ass to engineer, and they're a pain in the ass to work with.

    I don't want to worry about which model I need for the storage backplane, or if it works with the storage I/O processor. I don't want to worry about how many slots the expansion module has, or what the slot speed ratings are because there's different versions running around with different limitations. I don't want to worry about the firmware versions on the backplanes not matching up and working with newer components. I don't want to worry about connectors not connecting, blind mate connectors outright failing and shorting out, and all the other wonderful things that come with a "modular computer".

  15. phrehdd macrumors 68040


    Oct 25, 2008
    I respect your qualified answer but if you noticed, I did also qualify mine and gave "rendering farms" as an example where the Mac Pro as it is today would be of value. Your situation certainly is similar in that it is very specific.

    Unless there is a specific need such as yours, the typical MP user really doesn't need that caliber of cpu with ECC RAM. Whether it is Adobe CS6 or some high end video editing (solo station work) or music software - i7s and similar would work just fine with little or no difference between them and the XEONS.
  16. KaraH macrumors 6502

    Nov 12, 2012
    I am not quite sure of the point? By the time you added all of your needed modules you would most likely be well above the current box size. Of course a variable box size brings up a design problem ... how are you going to get it to fit in racks AND be used as a desktop (or should I say "floortop")?

    While theoretically you could buy the base components you need and buy more later what do you do if Apple stops making them? Or makes modules incompatible with the ones from previous years?

    No thanks. Maybe a larger version of the mini (Mac Maxi? Mac Medium?) but leave the MP as a traditional tower. As to using thunderbolt ... I am sure I am not the only one who prefers all (or most) of my components in one box rather than connected with the interface of the year.
  17. Macsonic macrumors 65816


    Sep 6, 2009
    I guess it's wait and see for us on how the 2013 Mac Pro is redesigned and its expansion features. For now I am fine with the current tower design and has ample room for air circulation.
  18. beaker7 macrumors 6502a

    Mar 16, 2009

    Non modular system:

    128 LGA 2011 CPU Sockets fo Ivy Bridge Xeon
    256 TB RAM built in
    1 Peta Solid state memory
    Graphics performance equivalent to 200 nVidia Titans
    Size of an iPod Nano

  19. Tesselator macrumors 601


    Jan 9, 2008
    Damn! You remind me of me... :D

    But in this case I think (I hope) he's asking about people's form-factor preferences. At least that's how I took it; ignoring all the bogus internal specification speculations.

    And in that case I would actually prefer a modular approach. It will allow us to build and configure systems with more mission critical or budget critical dynamics. :)
  20. spoonie1972 macrumors 6502a

    Aug 17, 2012
    ignoring the form factor... 96gb ram max? pass. We already have that limitation by software alone.
  21. monkeybagel macrumors 65816

    Jul 24, 2011
    United States
    I want the same form factor that we have right now.
  22. beaker7 macrumors 6502a

    Mar 16, 2009
    +1. 64 is minimum in workstation these days


    Actually, I'd be delighted if the new one was quite similar to the current one, or even a bit larger.

    My current PC workstation is dual LGA 2011 with 7 PCI-E slots and 12 3.5 drives, and is only slightly larger than the Mac Pro. It can be done.
  23. Umbongo macrumors 601


    Sep 14, 2006
    There is no benefit to anyone in Apple using i7s rather than Xeons. You get 25% the memory capacity with an i7; lose features such as vPro, trusted execution, demand based switching and Flex memory access; and Apple lose out on the Xeon branding which is a good thing for the Mac Pro target audience. Where are the positives?
  24. Tesselator macrumors 601


    Jan 9, 2008
    Indeed, there are none. :)

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