WWDC 13: Dissecting Apple's New Hardware Changes. MacBook Air and the new Mac Pro.

Subject: Editorial, General Tech, Systems, Shows and Expos | June 11, 2013 - 04:06 AM |
Tagged: wwdc 13, MacBook Air, Mac Pro, apple

Sometimes our "Perspective" is needed on Apple announcements because some big points just do not get covered by the usual sources. Other times, portions of the story can be relevant to our readers. This is one of those days where both are true. Either side should review our thoughts and analysis of Apple's recent ultrabook and, especially, their upcoming desktop offerings.

The MacBook Air has been, predictably, upgraded Intel's Haswell processors. Battery life is the first obvious benefit of the CPU, and that has been well reported. The 11-inch MacBook Air gains an extra four hours of battery life, usable for up to 9 hours between charges. The extra space on the 13-inch MacBook Air allows it to last 12 hours between charges.

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Less discussed, both MacBook Airs will contain Intel's Iris iGPU more commonly known as Intel HD 5000. You cannot get Intel HD 5000 graphics without selecting a BGA socket component which you would install by soldering it in place. While there are several better solutions from competing GPU vendors, Apple will have one of the first shipping implementations of Haswell's canonical graphics processor. Iris is said to have double the performance of previous generation Ivy Bridge graphics for a fraction of its power consumption.

Also included in the MacBook Air is an 802.11a/b/g/n/ac WiFi network adapter and Bluetooth 4.0. Apple is not typically known to introduce new standards and often lags severely behind what is available on the PC unless they had a hand in trademarking it, USB 3.0 being the obvious and recent example.

The specifications will be somewhat customizable, the user is able to select between: an i5 and an i7 processor, 4GB or 8GB of RAM, and 128, 256, or 512GB SSD. It has shipped the day it was announced with base prices ranging between $999 for an entry-level 11-inch and $1099 for an entry-level 13-inch.

But now we move on to the dying industry, desktop PCs, where all innovation has died unless it is to graft a touch interface to anything and everything.

"Can't innovate any more, my ass", grunts Phil Schiller, on the keynote stage.

Whether you like it, or think "innovation" is the best word, it's a legitimate new design some will want.

While the new Mac Pro is not a system that I would be interested in purchasing, for issues I will outline soon, these devices are what some users really want. I have been a very strong proponent of OEM devices as they highlight the benefit of the PC industry: choice. You can purchase a device, like the new Mac Pro, from a vendor; alternatively, you can purchase the components individually to assemble yourself and save a lot of money; otherwise, you can hire a small business computer store or technician.

We need more companies, like Apple, to try new devices and paradigms for workstations and other high-performance devices. While it is less ideal for Apple to be the ones coming up with these redesigns, Apple's platform encourages applications to be vendor-specific (only run on a Mac), it can still benefit the PC industry by demonstrating that life and demand still exists; trying something new could reap large benefits. Not everyone wants to have a full ATX case with discrete components but still want workstation performance, and that is okay.

Now when it comes to actual specifications, the typical coverage glossed over what could be easily approximated by a trip to Wikipedia and Google. Sure, some may have been in a rush within the auditorium, but still.

The specifications are:

  • Intel Xeon E5-2600 V2-class CPU, Ivy Bridge-E, 12 cores max (suggests single-socket)
  • 4-channel DDR3 ECC RAM, apparently 4 DIMMS which suggests 4x16GB (Max).
  • Dual FirePro GPUs, 4096 total shaders with 2x6GB GDDR5.
  • PCIe SSD
  • Thunderbolt 2, USB3.0, and WiFi ac (+ a/b/g/n??), Bluetooth 4.0

Now the downside is that basically anything you wish to add to the Mac Pro needs to be done through Thunderbolt, Bluetooth 4.0, or USB 3.0. When you purchase an all-in-one custom design, you forfeit your ability to reach in and modify the components. There is also no mention of pricing, and for a computer with this shoplist you should expect to pay a substantial invoice even without "The Apple Tax", but that is not the point of purchasing a high-end workstation. Apple certainly put in as close to the best-of-the-best as they could.

Now could people stop claiming the PC is dead and work towards sustaining it? I know people love stories of jarring industry shifts, but this is ridiculous.

Source: Apple

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June 11, 2013 | 04:25 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

How can you complain about vendor specific "only runs on a Mac", when your only choice to run applications on a PC is Windows and for a decade you HAD NO OTHER CHOICE at all and for many applications, like games, you are forced to run it.

June 11, 2013 | 11:55 AM - Posted by areus (not verified)

He's not complaining about it. He's saying that even if it has vendor specific applications it advances the entire industry of desktop PCs by showing people what's possible.

While it is less ideal for Apple to be the ones coming up with these redesigns, Apple's platform encourages applications to be vendor-specific (only run on a Mac), it can still benefit the PC industry by demonstrating that life and demand still exists; trying something new could reap large benefits.

June 11, 2013 | 04:56 AM - Posted by djotter

I love the design of the Mac Pro, as long as it works, and that is a lot coming from a very anti-Apple user. but like you said Scott, it screams 'proprietary'.

Oh, and one other thing, all the connectors are on one side. Could be a bit of a pain/messy for cabling.

June 11, 2013 | 10:54 AM - Posted by KittenMasher (not verified)

cnet has some pretty cool pics of the inside of that the pro, if that's your thing:

June 11, 2013 | 11:09 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

The new Mac Pro will now come with a warning sticker: To ALL pointy haired bosses, Please DO NOT discard your cigar Butts in this workstation!

June 11, 2013 | 11:32 AM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

If each thunderbolt 2 port can drive 6 devices without any throughput degradation, what is the total bandwidth In PCI 3.0 comparison, of each TB 2 port! And will there now be external TB 2 PCI expansion boxes that can be connected to the Mac Pro, and also the retinia macbook pro! I am very intrested in getting a Macbook retinia Pro, and assuming that TB 2 expansion devices that work with the MAC PRO, will by definition work for the Macbook Retinia Pro, I would love to have an external TB 2 expansion PCI GPU attatched to a Macbook Retinia Pro laptop!

June 11, 2013 | 11:44 AM - Posted by pdjblum

It is different and interesting looking, but pc modders, pc case manufacturers, and boutique pc oem's have been doing different and interesting for years. Often those cases are at least cool, and sometimes jaw-dropping and beautiful. Most of the time these gorgeous cases are not practical and too expensive, but there are plenty of them and I want most of them. The crApple case might be interesting and different, but is it practical. Of course crApple cultists will sing high praise over this design as they have no clue as to what is going on in the pc world. I see cool and innovative hardware for the pc announced almost weekly right here on pcPer, and I have done so for years. As far as a workstation or killer enthusiast box, I would think big and roomy with plenty of room to work and upgrade is more desirable than different and impractical.

June 11, 2013 | 02:01 PM - Posted by Scott Michaud

And we'll see if it works for Apple.

Of course, the OSX lock-in will skew the numbers -- but it's still a measurement.

June 11, 2013 | 04:49 PM - Posted by hagfish (not verified)

Apple now makes *no* hardware that runs on 'regular' desktop parts. All I need is OS-X running on cheap, fast components. I can't risk bodging together a Hackintosh - I wish Apple would just make a 'Mac'.

June 11, 2013 | 05:05 PM - Posted by hagfish (not verified)

And another thing - who is going to look at that machine and say, "yep - that's the rig for me" and then drop another $$$ on a couple of big black 4K Thunderbolt displays? 2D design shops will get to watch InDesign soak up a twelfth of its power, rather than a whole eighth.

I've come to terms with the fact that the days of stacking a chassis with hard drives are long gone, but this machine doesn't look like a workstation, the way the old cheese-grater does. Is the pointy-haired boss really going to sign off on a dozen of these?

"There is a world market for maybe five" Mac Pros :)

June 11, 2013 | 05:29 PM - Posted by Anonymous (not verified)

I guess the RED is going to design their own workstations for their red rocket cards, Just like steam is going to produce a gaming PC! I think the graphic artists and indipendent graphics hardware producers should get together and build an Open hardware/open softwere version running Linux, for much less cost!

Garden Gates closing FAST!

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