Friday, December 26, 2008

MWSF 2009 Predictions...the New Mac Pro

[UPDATE 1 - Info's on SSD's added 12/29/08...duh to me for not adding the first time. Also, info on upcoming Cinema Displays and graphics cards.]

As an Apple VAR (value added reseller) you would think we would get some notice of upcoming new technology. New iPods, iMacs, Mac Pro's, MacBook's, etc...

Not so.

Apple is notoriously tight-fisted with information. And rightly so...its how they maintain their competitive edge and the element of surprise.

But--it doesn't stop one from guessing at what might be coming. So here is my best shot.

None of this is based on any first hand knowledge--just conjecture and some educated guessing.


Apple introduced the Intel Mac at MWSF in 2006. It was reported that Intel had over 1000 people under NDA working on the transition.

Why is that important?

It shows at least a couple things:
  • Apple and Intel are capable of pulling off major projects--and can keep them quiet
  • Apple can integrate new Intel technology before other vendors
Later that year, Steve Jobs introduced the Mac Pro. The Mac Pro would incorporate the new Intel dual-core Xeon's. And at the time--those weren't available to other manufacturers.

Fast forward to now.

Intel is currently offering the new Nehalem Core i7 chips using the single-socket DX58SO "Smackover" logic boards. These boards and chips are not used in any of Apple's current CPU lineup. Apple's latest MacBooks (just released) did not use these new chipsets.

And officially from the Intel community, dual-socket boards are not due for a while.

Where does that leave Apple for MWSF 2009? Before we go there, let's look at what Apple does have that people will be expecting: Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard.

Beyond the usual accoutrements that accompany a major release, Snow Leopard has Grand Central:

"Grand Central", a new set of technologies built into Snow Leopard, brings unrivaled support for multicore systems to Mac OS X. More cores, not faster clock speeds, drive performance increases in today’s processors. Grand Central takes full advantage by making all of Mac OS X multicore aware and optimizing it for allocating tasks across multiple cores and processors. Grand Central also makes it much easier for developers to create programs that squeeze every last drop of power from multicore systems.

Think about what this provides. The ability for any application to take advantage of all processors--apparently intelligently distributed by the OS itself.

So here is my prediction: I think Apple will be debuting the Intel Nehalem Core i7 architecture in their new Mac Pro's at MWSF 2009. Further, I believe that multiple-socketed Smackover-type boards are not only possible, but likely.

Why bother with Grand Central if you are only going to use one socket on the board? And why roll out a new architecture that only has one socket when everything else currently in the Mac Pro line is dual-socket?

There is a laundry list of new things that are rumored to be included in new Apple technology, so lets go down the list:

Bluetooth 3.0
Blu-Ray Drives
DDR3 Ram
USB 3.0
Wireless USB
Integrated eSATA ports
Firewire S1600 and S3200
10 Gig Ethernet
SSD Drives [Update 1 - 12/29/08]
Cinema Displays [Update 1 - 12/29/08]
New Graphics Cards [Update 1 - 12/29/08]

Bluetooth 3.0 - No way

The new spec isn't even due until mid-2009, so shipping chipsets with even pre-draft tech are highly unlikely. Here is an update from Mike's blog over at the Bluetooth SIG:

"As we wind down 2008, it is easy to start anticipating what will occur in 2009. One of the most anticipated specifications from the Bluetooth SIG should be finalized about midway through next year. This will be approximately two years after the v2.1 + EDR specification which was adopted on July 26, 2007. Of course I’m referring to the core specification developed with the code name of Seattle. The hallmark feature of the Seattle release is an architecture enabling higher data rates. The reason why I still refer to this specification as the “Seattle” release is that the Bluetooth SIG typically doesn’t finalize the name of a specification until just before adoption. This is to ensure that the exact feature set for the specification is known before the name is finalized. As such, it is too early to identify the Seattle release as v2.X or v3.0 or anything else. Currently, many different contingencies are being discussed and proposals being considered. I expect that decision to be made in the first part of 2009; perhaps at the All Hands meeting."

So, its Bluetooth 2.1 for now.

Blu-Ray Drives - I say yes

This is WAY overdue.

You can already pop in a Panasonic SW-5583 Blu-ray drive into your Mac Pro and burn discs all day long using Adobe Encore. We've done a few of these already and it works great.

Apple used to rule the world of discs with iDVD, DVD Studio Pro and SuperDrives. However, they completely ceded their leadership role in disc-based media to Sony (Blu-Ray drives shipping for a while now in their machines...) and Adobe (their Encore disc burning software)

So, creating HD video on Blu-Ray is simple. But what about playback of commercial discs?

One of the sticking points here is High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection--or HDCP for short. It states that "high-definition digital video sources must not transmit protected content to non-HDCP-compliant receivers."

Translation--no playing Blu-Ray discs to non-HDCP displays like Apple's Cinema Displays via DVI.

However, Apple is now deploying their new DisplayPort-enabled 24" LED Cinema Display equipped with HDCP. As such, any new DisplayPort Mac with a Blu-Ray drive and the correct software should be able to play commercial discs just fine.

Further, with the advent of Final Cut Studio 3 and DVD Studio Pro 5 (more conjecture on my part--another story for another time) Apple really needs to have another avenue for deploying HD video from Final Cut. Layback to tape is soooooooo 1990's...

DDR3 RAM - Yep

Intel's Nehalem architecture only uses DDR3, so this is a given.

However, how much RAM will you be able to use? And in what configuration?

Intel's DX58 boards use three channels for their most optimized DDR3 RAM configuration. However, Apple uses two daughterboards for their current motherboard connection.

Snow Leopard will be able to address 16 Tb of RAM, so something is going to have to give in order to accommodate a LOT more memory.

USB 3.0 - Maaaaaaaybe

"On September 18, 2007, Pat Gelsinger demonstrated USB 3.0 at the Intel Developer Forum. The USB 3.0 Promoter Group announced on 2008-11-17 that version 1.0 of the specification has been completed and is transitioned to the USB Implementers Forum (USB-IF), the managing body of USB specifications. This move effectively opens the spec to hardware developers for implementation in future products. A new major feature is SuperSpeed bus, which increases the maximum transfer rate to 5.0 Gbit/s. USB 3.0 receptacles are compatible with USB 2.0 device plugs for the respective physical form factors. However, only USB 3.0 Standard-B receptacles can accept USB 3.0 Standard-B device plugs."

Intel showed this back in 2007. If Intel was working on new boards for Apple, its possible that they might incorporate the new spec into the new product. However, USB 3.0 devices don't even exist right now--no cameras, recorders, printers--nothing. So, this might get extended out to 2010.

I wouldn't be surprised to see this go either way.

Wireless USB - Possible

"In May 2005, the Wireless USB Promoter Group announced the completion of the Wireless USB specification. Wireless USB is used in game controllers, printers, scanners, digital cameras, MP3 players, hard disks and flash drives. It is also suitable for transferring parallel video streams. Kensington released a Wireless USB universal docking station in August, 2008."

Steve Jobs hates buttons. Is it a stretch to think he hates cables any less? Ridding the desktop of as many cables as possible would be awesome. I would love to see this incorporated on as many Apple products as possible.

Integrated eSATA ports - they should be!

If anything should be on the new motherboards, its at least one or two integrated eSATA ports. Right now, there are two on the Skulltrail motherboards and on the DX58, so it shouldn't be a stretch to add these to the new Mac Pro.

Firewire S1600 and S3200 - I say yes

"In December 2007, the 1394 Trade Association announced that products will be available before the end of 2008 using the S1600 and S3200 modes that, for the most part, had already been defined in 1394b and was further clarified in IEEE Std. 1394-2008. The 1.6 Gbit/s and 3.2 Gbit/s devices use the same 9-circuit beta connectors as the existing FireWire 800 and will be fully compatible with existing S400 and S800 devices. It will compete with the forthcoming USB 3.0."

So, the new Firewire spec has been approved for a while, beats USB 3.0 to the market hands-down, and is backwards compatible with current 400 and 800 Mb/s devices. I'd say this would be stupid not to include on the new motherboards.

10 Gig Ethernet - I say yes

There is a ton of really cool stuff you could do if you integrated 10 Gig Ethernet into the new Mac Pro. Fibre Channel over Ethernet becomes a reality:

"Fibre Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) is a proposed mapping of Fibre Channel frames over full duplex IEEE 802.3 networks. This allows Fibre Channel to leverage 10 Gigabit Ethernet networks while preserving the Fibre Channel protocol. The specification is supported by a large number of network and storage vendors, including Absolute Analysis, BLADE Network Technologies, Broadcom, Brocade, Cisco, EMC, Emulex, Finisar, HP, IBM, Intel, Hitachi Data Systems, Mellanox, NetApp, Nuova, PMC-Sierra, Qlogic and Sun Microsystems."

With FCoE, network (IP) and storage (SAN) data traffic can be consolidated using a single network switch. This consolidation can:

  • reduce the number of network interface cards required to connect to disparate storage and IP networks
  • reduce the number of cables and switches
  • reduce power and cooling costs
Very cool applications for Xsan environments where shared collaboration between creatives is a must.

SSD Drives [Update 1 - 12/29/08] - YES...this should be a no-brainer

In my opinion, SSD's (solid state drives) are one of the BEST new things to come along in a while.

Some of the early entrants to the field were marked by spotty performance or reliability concerns (how many times can you write to one before it goes bad?)

However, the new X25-M series of drives from Intel are nothing short of stunning.

For kicks (albeit expensive kicks) we obtained three of the new X25-M Series 80 Gb drives and RAID'ed them together into a three-drive RAID 0 using Disk Utility. The results were nothing short of amazing.

700 MB/s read speeds (that is megaBYTE, not megabit...) and the machine would boot from the "bong" in 11 seconds.

Photoshop loads in 3 seconds. Flat.

This is one of most important things that ANYONE can do to speed up the performance of ANY Mac Pro. And if Apple doesn't include these by default, we'll make sure that we do.

Cinema Displays [Update 1 - 12/29/08] - Most likely.

I can tell you this. Getting a new 23" Cinema Display is now officially impossible. They are sold out everywhere.

What's someone to do if you want a 23" or 24" class Apple display? You have to wait for new graphics cards in the new Mac Pro...or get an adapter (which don't exist right now...)

You can still get 20" and 30" Cinema Displays...while they last.

However, I think that there will be some 20" and 30" cousins for the 24" LED display before too long. All based on the DisplayPort connector and integrating HDCP.

New Graphics Cards [Update 1 - 12/29/08] - Yes.

There are a few toss-ups here. Here is one that I think is the no-brainer: the new Nvidia Quadro FX 5800.

A Mac Pro version of this should be rolling out to replace the 5600 that is currently offered. However, one thing that will probably be different about the Mac version is the DisplayPort. Currently, the shipping version from Nvidia ONLY comes with dual-DVI.

On the low end, we could see new entrants from ATI and Nvidia. I won't even speculate on those options since it could be one of any different entry level cards.

However, one dark horse candidate for a mid-range card is the Nvidia Quadro CX card. This card is optimized for hardware-acceleration of Adobe's CS4 suite of applications. From hardware-accelerated Photoshops scrolling to vastly improved h.264 render times--there are a TON of things that Adobe and Nvidia worked on together to integrate on this board.

I blogged about this before, but if this card isn't offered its not because Nvidia and Adobe don't want you to have it. Apple has the hardware and source-code for the board. They just have to integrate into their offerings.


Those are my MWSF 2009 predictions for the Mac Pro. Tune back in January to find out how close I got. In the meantime, chime in with some predictions of your own.



Mike Curtis said...

Nice post!

Multi-socket - hope so, but will Intel REALLY give Apple first dibs on this?

Blu-ray - yes, but then we'll be itching for the 30" display - now or at NAB? Ooops, no Apple official presence at NAB, so that is no longer a key event.

Speaking of which, Final Cut Studio 3 - yeah, it ought to happen for NAB, with Blu-ray support. So we'll have playback only until that time.

FireWire - I dunno - Apple is backing off. The lack of FW400 on the new MacBook Pros (how many people are digging for FW800 to 4 pin FireWire cables?), and the COMPLETE lack of FireWire on the MacBook (hello, student filmmakers? You're SCREWED.)

10GigE - if it were possible to run Xsan over 10GigE, that'd be a HUGE move for implementing multi-user environments! This is highly likely - or at least there would be a BTO option for it at a reasonable price.


abbzer0 said...

Wow - great review / predictions.. Lets hope at least a few of those come true!!! :-)

Anonymous said...

i hope you're right. i've been holding off on buying a new mac pro, now i'm ready to go. can't wait any more!

J Simoneau said...

Wow, that was alot to take in...LOL. Wireless USB would be heaven to me!

What I personally don't think we will see is any special consumer gadget announcements. In my mind, I know that Steve Jobs can't be in top health but I think the main reason he's not doing the keynote is because none of this seems to be much up his ally. Everything predicted for the keynote seems to be performance related, sockets, screws and bolts. Seems like Jobs typically calls his right hand man onto the stage at those parts of the announcements while he showboats all the fun consumer goodies. I mean.... he can't fit a Mac Pro in that little pocket of his can he? This alleged iPhone nano, tablet, etc etc are rumored to be delayed if they are even real so that makes steve jobs... not the starter.

What I would like to find out (and I'm a little off topic of the direct video editing market).... the fate of Shake! What will this new super-program be??? Will it make its way into some type of Final Cut Studio or is Apple preparing its next suite of software focused on the VFX market that would answer all my prayers. Maybe even buy-out Luxology Modo (very mac related company) and throw that in the mix : )

So, in short for the show....

17 inch macbook pro in aluminum?
Mac Pro with at least Bluray
Some type of display announcement
Most focus on Snow Leopard Preview

A show not to far off from that will feature steve jobs in his black shirt, a 6-8 in ipod touch, no iphone nano and a bunch of web app stuff with the discontinuation of iwork for os x only. It will be a web app as rumored... Plus the New Mac Mini with aluminum design. I believe the Apple TV would also sell alot more units if they directly aimed it in association with the ipod touch, iphone etc. Its got to find some way to push itself into the market so why not sneak it into a master accessory for those users.

Quintessential Studios said...

Sounds like the new MBPs will be so fast that you will be able to work in the future!

Anonymous said...

Pity MacWorld did not yield much satisfaction to the rumours, maybe NAB will, but Apple does not want to be held hostage to trade show dates so I reckon that if any of these rumours are true then it will come out in one on those special "One More Thing" media events.

Hopefully real soon. cos I for one am interested in seeing what Apple is going to do with the Mac Pros.


Anonymous said...

Pity MacWorld did not yield much satisfaction to the rumours, maybe NAB will, but Apple does not want to be held hostage to trade show dates so I reckon that if any of these rumours are true then it will come out in one on those special "One More Thing" media events.

Hopefully real soon. cos I for one am interested in seeing what Apple is going to do with the Mac Pros.


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