11 Jun 2013

Apple refocuses on professionals with new Mac Pro and deep features in OS X

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MacBook Air Update: All-day battery life

Before WWDC, everyone assumed a MacBook Air refresh was on the cards driven by Intel’s new Haswell CPU which seemed tailor made for the computers due to its power efficiency. Phil Schiller was careful to make the point Apple had worked closely with Intel to maximise the benefit of the new CPUs to achieve wake-up from sleep in one second, plus a 30-day standby time.

The new 11-inch MacBook Air will offer 9 hours operation compared to 5 for the previous model, while the 13-inch offers 12 hours operation up from 7 hours. The low end Air also storage double from 64GB to 128GB, while the 13-inch had a $100 cut from its US price. It will be very interesting to test Haswell Macs against Win 8 PCs.

In addition, the new MacBook Airs will feature 802.11ac wifi and this means new Airport Extreme and Time Capsule models designed to work with the standard. These will both also feature a new design, more vertical for better range. In a less packed Keynote, these might have been more than a passing mention.

Mac Pro: Be the guy with 3 x 4K displays

The ‘sneak peak’ kicked off with a teaser video that didn’t hold back in promising revolutionary change. The old Mac Pro lived up to Steve Jobs’ trucking metaphor for computers by basically being about the same size as a truck, a cavernous tower with easy access bays to hold a variety of expansions. The new Mac Pro is 1/8th the volume of the old machine, a 9-inch tall, cylindrical black aluminium design built around a ‘unified thermal core.’

The Mac Pro will launch with an Xeon CPU with up to 12 core configurations, supporting 256-bit-wide floating point and PCI Express generation 3. It’s the first Mac to ship with dual graphics cards, specifically two FirePro GPUs from AMD - 384-memory-bit addresses for 528GBps total bandwidth. RAM will be ECC DDR3-1866 with a four channel controller for 60GB/s bandwidth. Internal storage will be flash, PCIe with 1.28GBps reads and 1.0GBps reads. All expansion is external with six Thunderbolt 2 ports, each port in turn capable of supporting six Thunderbolt devices.

There’s also audio in and out, HDMI and Ethernet. In a nod to the old design, the top of the new Mac Pro is a handle, while a new feature is a motion sensor which triggers illumination of the ports when you rotate the device to fit new expansions.


Mac Pro IO UTO


All of which Phil Schiller deftly summarised with a picture of someone sitting in front of three 4K displays driven by a sleek, diminutive Mac Pro - “You could be that guy!”

No pricing information was released and availability is simply ‘later this year’, but the machine is on show at WWDC and a session featuring PIXAR will further demonstrate its capabilities. As Dave Shapton points out, on the face of it, since it can't run Nvidia graphics you can't use CUDA, which will be an issue with Premiere's Mercury real-time playback engine that leverages CUDA. It’s not going to trouble Final Cut Pro X users however, or Lightworks fans for that matter. [Update: We've just been told that the Creative Cloud version of Adobe Premiere uses Open CL, which works on both Nvidia and AMD. But anyone hoping to use an older version of Premiere might want to stick with older hardware as well - Dave Shapton]

Obviously, it’s unlikely to offer better performance per pound than a home-built custom PC, but it certainly brings Apple back into the game for serious graphics workstations. And let’s be honest, sometimes half the fun of cool toys is the look. Silicon Graphics workstations were distinguished by some fantastic designs and it’s good to see Apple offering something different and innovative. It’s been deeply involved with Intel in driving forward the Thunderbolt standard that offers so much potential for professional application, now it’s shown how it believes Thunderbolt can be best utilised. We can’t wait to get our hands on one and see how it performs.

For the moment, we’ll have to make do with an impressive interactive site at; http://www.apple.com/mac-pro/


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