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An Open Letter To Apple On The Future of The Mac Desktop – Part 2


A number of sites have recently discussed the likelihood of iMac upgrades before the end of the year. These rumours follow on from Apple’s recent admission they had failed the pro user market and Apple’s hints on the future of Mac desktops. In response, this is part 2 of my Open Letter to Apple On The Future of The Mac Desktop

What’s (rumoured to be) on the horizon?

Current thinking points to enhancements of the current 21.5 and 27” units in the September/October timeframe, mainly focussed on a move the USB-C/Thunderbolt 3, rather than any meaningful enhancements, with the exception of a Xeon-based ‘server grade’ version of the 27” in the final months.

Specs being bandied about include, Xeon E3-1285 v6 processor, 16-64GB ECC RAM, up to 2TB NVMe SSD and a modern discrete graphics card. Up for discussion is whether the discrete graphics will be a full blown top of the line card or a watered down ‘mobile’ version, which seems dictated by the current iMac design.

Do we need a Xeon iMac?

One of the complaints with the last Mac pro, was Intel seem to drag their heels when it comes to Xeon upgrades, consigning any Mac featuring Xeon to be half a step behind. Why not focus on stuffing a more powerful i7 into the iMac and striving for the utmost in performance?

Do we need ECC RAM?

The rumours also focus on up to 64GB of ECC RAM. Again, the question has to be, do we need this more expensive RAM? While the rumours focus on ‘server grade’, one has to ask the question, does the market require every ‘server grade’ component? I believe the answer to be no. Modern processors and RAM as sufficiently robust as to leave the need for ECC RAM to only the most demanding of applications.

Do we need NVMe storage?

The answer here, an emphatic YES! High-speed storage is an absolute necessity in high-end graphic and video production. Fusion drives, marrying SSD and platter hard drives have their benefits in balancing improved speed with a lower cost, however, for a top of the line unit that will inevitably carry a top of the line price tag, solid state is the way to go. With a caveat!

Made for Mac 3rd party NVMe solutions?

I previously suggested Apple should either support the NVMe standard fully, allowing for any device meeting that standard to be used to expand storage, or to sell the controller chips they design to third parties to foster a ‘Made for Mac’ accessory market. Blindly stuffing an Apple only storage device into any Mac, or even worse, soldering it to the motherboard is one of the greatest sources of frustration in the current Mac lineup, from Mini through to MacBook Pro. Apple needs to understand, customers’ storage needs often change during the lifetime of a Mac, and rushing out to buy a completely new system where storage is soldered in, or trudging to an AASP or ARS to have storage upgraded with devices costing twice the market price is screwing over loyal customers.

Made for Mac Thunderbolt accessories?

In recent months a number of Thunderbolt 3 external devices have been released. Though earliest implementations supported only Windows, some have been used with Macs following work arounds. Thankfully, the most recent units from the likes of Mantiz, Dan and AKitiO work well with Mac’s and a eGPU’s with top of the line Nvidia GPU’s, truly supercharge Macbook Pros. The fear in the community is some future update to MacOS could well kill this compatibility. Official Apple support for products such as these, and/or Apple produced equivalents, would significantly enhance their standing in the pro community and open current MacBooks and upgraded iMacs to truly address the Pro market.

Time for a change in iMac design?

To achieve a truly Pro or ‘server grade’ iMac requires the use of more power hungry devices, ones that do not sit well within the current thermal confines of the slim iMac. If Apple is truly responsive to the demands of the Pro market, a redesign of the iMac should be inevitable, allowing for the use of truly powerful processors and graphics cards. While you’re at it 32” display? Forget 8k – prices are unjustifiable at present, but 5k would be sweet.

Time for a change of suppliers?

With the release of Nvidia drivers for MacOS, truly Pro level graphics is finally available to those able to afford an external Thunderbolt enclosure, older Mac Pro owners, and the Hac community. Perhaps it’s time for Apple to embrace Nvidia for power graphics applications. Bake the latest drives into MacOS as standard. While you’re at it Apple, why not have a glance at AMD Ryzen products which once again seem to be giving Intel a true run for its money in performance and power consumption.

External Keyboard with Touchbar

The same rumours are also suggesting an external keyboard with Touchbar. Great idea, however, what’s with the fascination for only short keyboards. How about a full keyboard with numeric pad, so Pro users can ditch the cable?

Summary.

Tim, Craig, Phil (and the rest of the Apple Team), in the unlikely event you read this, please give true, and not merely passing consideration to the Pro community. A Pro iMac with hairs on its chest, that works well with third party accessories would be a well received first step on the way to next year’s new Modular (user upgradeable) Mac Pro.

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