24 Oct

Was FCP X designed from the start to run on the New Mac Pro?

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We're wondering whether FCP X was always designed with the New Mac Pro in mind - years before either was launched

 RedShark's K. Stewart made a fascinating point in his excellent run-down of the Apple Fall press conference. Here's what he said:

"The most interesting proof point of this long term strategic approach is the pro line-up. Was the decision to radically rework Final Cut Pro, so intensely annoying to FCP7 users, made as the first step in a strategy to deliver a robust NLE partner for the Mac Pro precisely timed to the moment when 4K started to become a practical reality?"

If this were true, it would be intriguing because it not only shows how long Apple product development cycles are, but also that this Mac Pro has been in the wings, waiting for its time, for, probably, over three years. We're not saying here that it's been physically finished for that long, but that a radical new design might have been on the cards since then.

Looking Generations Ahead

We already know that the iPhone was several years in development, and that when work on it started, it would have been impossible to build. But, watching (and even anticipating) the trends as well as Apple does, when it was released in 2007, it was just on the boundary of possibility. Looking back at it, the first iPhone was pretty underpowered - even more so in perspective with the iPhone 5s, which isn't just five times more powerful; it's 56 times faster. In six years!

But that's not the point. The point is that the first iPhone was years ahead of anything else, and it didn't just work, it worked well enough to give people a great experience. (And anyone - including me - who still has an iPad One, will know how much of an antique it feels like. Seriously - it's too old to upgrade to the newer versions of iOS, and absolutely struggles with any number of common websites.) So when Apple starts to develop new products, they're not just looking at the next Apple "event"; they're looking multiple generations - probably three or four - ahead.

In need of an Upgrade

The Mac Pro was very badly in need of an upgrade, and yet it wasn't broken; just a bit neglected. It was a classic design and there was no real reason to change it, because its very nature as an upgradable computer meant that it could easily be brought bang up to date.

Except that it couldn't be. Because it was too big, too noisy, consumed too much electricity, and was simply the wrong shape and form to be brought into the new era of desktop computing.

The Desktop-less era

What characterises this era is that desktop computing is looking more and more irrelevant. So as a manufacturer you've either got to say that All-In-Ones like the iMac and the HP Z1 are the way forward, or perhaps high powered laptops like the Dell Precision M800, or even the (local) cloud, like NVidia's Visual Computing Appliance. No-one, it seems, wants computers under their desk any more.

So if you're going to stay with the workstation category, at the very least you have to redefine it.

And no-one can argue with Apple when they claim that that's just what they've done.

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  • I'd say there are two distinct ways of reading this - either a) "they planned it, all the time", or b) you make the software as good as you can at the time you create it, and hope the hardware will catch up soon enough. Given Moore's law that is more or less bound to happen, unless your algorithms are really ignorant of performance - which does happen, but Apple's developers have generally been good at performance. So the omniscient, super-strategic view is not the only, and perhaps not even the most likely, explanation.
    It could be a case of Apple wavering whether to do a new desktop machine at all, and then deciding "yes", and doing the best they can at the time, just like with the software. Their hardware has always been elegant, good and locked-in; removing the ability to put in expansion cards continues that tradition (and simplifies hardware testing, PCIe is a complicated beast).
    How elegant and quiet it all is once you have hooked up stuff to the Thunderbolt ports (and at what price) will remain to be seen. My own Lenovo D30 is also whisper quiet, driving 6x 1600x1200 displays and with comparable horsepower, with everything internal and cooled by large-diameter fans.

    Having said all that, Apple does have a distinct advantage in delivering end-to-end: The hardware, OS, and FCP. This makes it much more likely that you will actually see advertised performance out-of-the-box, which is otherwise always a bit iffy when you roll your own system. For the non-hackers that can be worth its weight in gold.

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