When Apple made its plans to move from Intel processors to its own custom-made chips known there was a lot of apprehension about whether Apple could compete with Intel – and for that matter AMD graphics.

Apple’s proven itself capable of making powerful chips – the M1, M1 Pro, M1 Max and now M1 Ultra Macs have demonstrated that Apple is very capable of producing not only a benchmark-smashing processor, but also GPUs that not only make Intel’s integrated solutions look weak, they can also take on the best solutions from AMD and the like. But what about Apple’s Mac Pro workstation?

In this article we’ll investigate Apple’s plans for the next generation Mac Pro, which may feature a very powerful Apple made chip. We’ll also look at the Mac Studio and what that might tell us about the future of the Mac Pro – especially when the current Mac Pro is considered in relation to the new Mac Studio.

Read: M1 Ultra joins M1 Pro and M1 Max in M1 line up.

Will the Mac Pro get Apple Silicon?

Apple concluded its 8 March event by saying that there is now just one Mac remaining in the line up that will be transitioning to Apple Silicon: the Mac Pro. So we do at least have confirmation that the Mac Pro will be updated with an Apple-made chip.

This corroborates a Bloomberg report from back in November 2020 that claimed sources had confirmed that Apple is “already at work on a redesigned iMac, the company’s all-in-one desktop, and a new Mac Pro model, Apple’s highest-end desktop.”

Another Bloomberg report in January 2021 said that two new Mac Pro computers are in development at Apple. One is said to maintain the current design (from 2019). The other was said to be smaller – we now know that the rumours of the smaller pro Mac are true with the launch of the Mac Studio on 8 March. Read: Apple brings M1 Ultra to new Mac Studio.

Now we know what the Mac Studio offers our imaginations can go into overdrive with what could be possible in a Mac Pro. Now we have seen the dual M1 Max in the form of the M1 Ultra, what could a quad set up bring, for example? Such a set up could enable Apple to offer support for up to 256GB of shared memory making it a real monster. We’ll discuss the CPU, GPU and RAM options in more detail below.

New Mac Pro launch date

Apple said in June 2020 that it planned to transition all of its Macs to its own chips within two year. This can be interpreted as two years from June 2020, or two years from when Apple introduced the first M1 Mac: November 2022. So we can assume that, at some point before the end of 2022, the Mac Pro will gain Apple processors (which Apple refers to as Apple Silicon – the first iteration being the M1 chip).

Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman said in an August 2021 Power On newsletter that Apple is on track to meet its deadline of November 2022 for the Apple-powered Mac Pro. Read: Gurman: Apple iMac and Mac Pro to arrive by November 2022.

However, there could be an even longer wait for the Mac Pro update. According to a tweet from analyst Ming Chi Kuo the Mac Pro and iMac Pro won’t arrive until 2023:

It’s no real surprise that the wait for Macs like the Mac Pro to start to use Apple Silicon would be so long: Apple’s high end desktops involve considerably complex development with Apple encountering more challenges. It would be no big surprised if Apple misses the deadline with the Mac Pro, especially as the industry is encountering component shortages and other delays.

2019 Mac Pro compared to M1 Ultra

During the Studio Mac presentation on 8 March Apple made the following claims about the Mac Studio with M1 Ultra compared to the Mac Pro

  • Up to 90% faster CPU performance vs Mac Pro w/ 16-core Xeon
  • Up to 60% faster CPU performance vs Mac Pro w/ 28-core Xeon
  • Up to 80% faster GPU performance vs Mac Pro w/ Radeon Pro W69 00X

The top of the range Mac Pro offers a 28-core Xeon and the Radeon Pro W69 00X is the best graphics option in the Mac Pro right now, so the Mac Studio certainly looks superior to the Mac Pro as per Apple’s claims.

Given how much a Mac Pro equipped with those cores and graphics would cost the Mac Studio looks like a bargain.

Mac Pro Processor

Those Mac users for whom the Mac Pro is targeted will be interested in the capabilities of the machine. Will Apple be able to make a processor to rival the workstation processors of Intel. 

Right now the maximum CPU cores you can get in a Mac Pro is 28. It is an Intel Xeon processor. The Mac Studio can provide 20-core CPU. 

In comparison AMD offers up to 64 CPU cores for some of its high-end chips for gaming PCs.

If we assumed Apple could combine two M1 Ultra we could see a 40-core CPU. This ties in with a 2020 Bloomberg report that claimed the new processor that Apple is working on for the Mac Pro will offer 32 high performance cores.

The M1 Ultra has 20 cores – 16 are high performance cores and 4 are high efficiency cores. So, combining two of these M1 Ultra could bring 32 high performance and 8 high efficiency cores, just as suggested in the Bloomberg report.

Graphics

Graphics is the other area of interest for anyone requiring a high-end Mac such as the Mac Pro. As we discuss in this article: Details of Apple’s Silicon graphics plans. Apple’s GPUs use tile-based deferred rendering technology. This Tile Based Deferred Rendering (TBDR) architecture will evidently be more efficient than current methods.

This is unlikely to stop concerns that Apple GPUs will struggle to complete with the discrete GPUS of AMD and Nvidia.

However, the proof is in the pudding and if Apple’s claims that the Mac Studio with M1 Ultra offers up to 80% faster GPU performance compared to the Mac Pro with Radeon Pro W69 00X then we certainly have a very fast machine on our hands.

If Apple was to combine two M1 Ultra the graphics capabilities could go even further. We could see 128-core GPU in the new Mac Pro.

Again this matches a December 2020 Bloomberg report that suggested the Mac Pro could gain 128-core graphics processing. “Apple is working on pricier graphics upgrades with 64 and 128 dedicated cores aimed at its highest-end machines,” according to Bloomberg’s sources.

RAM

As for RAM, which is an important consideration for creative pros, the M1 Max supports 64GB RAM (or unified memory as Apple refers to it) and the M1 Ultra supports 128GB Unified Memory.

So if you have two M1 Ultra you could enjoy 256GB RAM.

That sounds like a lot of RAM, but it’s less than the Mac Pro offers currently: with there being support for 768GB RAM in the top spec model!

Hopefully the way Unified Memory works means that less RAM is required.

Price

The new Mac Pro is unlikely to be any cheaper than it is currently – with prices starting at £5,499/$5,499.

Read more about how Apple’s Silicon plans threaten Intel and AMD.