Speculation is mounting about a new Mac Pro. This nearly decade-old workhorse has aged gracefully. The industrial design still looks as fresh as it did when it first replaced the turquoise and clear case that was from the same aesthetic stable as the original transparent iMac.
In recent years the pace of updates for this venerable workstation has fallen away, and it now seems positively out of step with modern trends. Perhaps the biggest shortfall is that it doesn't have Thunderbolt or even USB 3.0!
The key is Thunderbolt
And it may be Thunderbolt that is the key to the shape and functionality of its successor.
Speculation has been going on for a long time. There's definitely something cooking and various senior Apple personnel have assured eager users that something good is on the way.
So, what will it be like?
Our money is on it being radically different, with no user-upgradable parts inside. Sound like a backwards step? Not really. Not the way things have been going in the last few years. The most important thing for the Mac Pro is the thing that it doesn't have now: Thunderbolt. With Thunderbolt (and especially, hopefully, Thunderbolt 2.0!), there won't be any need to open up the case at all, because you'll be able to connect everything - even a video card - as an external device. (Note that some people have pointed out that modern GPUs require even more bandwidth than Thunderbolt can provide - but we still think this is a likely option for rendering and GPU assistance for NLEs).
This fundamental change means that the Mac Pro doesn't need to bear any resemblance at all to a floor-standing tower. It can find it's own optimal shape without having to consider either expansion cards (or storage) or user access. This means it will be much, much smaller.
None of this is particularly original specilation on our part: a lot of people are thinking along the same lines.
Robert Cringely probably got there first, a year ago, when he blogged:
When the Mac Pro dies for good Apple will replace it in the market with a combination of Thunderbolt-linked Mac Mini computing bricks backed up by rented cloud processing, all driven from an iMac or MacBook workstation.
If all or any of those things are true (we don't think it will be driven from another workstation), this will be revolutionary for content creators, and Apple could have a brand new, small, heavyweight hit on its hands.