Apple Is Struggling to Build Mac Pro Based on Its Own Silicon: Report

When Apple introduced its first M1 system-on-chip for PCs in mid-2020, it said that it would transition all of its Macs to its Apple Silicon SoCs in about two years. By now, the company should have introduced its Mac Pro workstation featuring its own processor. But that hasn’t happened, and it is actually unclear when this desktop will emerge, according to a Bloomberg report. 

At first, Apple planned to build its new Mac Pro around its M1 Ultra dual-chip processor, but that device ended up in the most powerful Mac Studio desktop, and the company scrapped plans to produce a Mac Pro on its M1 generation. Eventually, the company decided to use its dual-chip M2 Ultra and quad-chip M2 Extreme processors for its top-of-the-range workstation.  

The M2 Ultra is said to feature 24 general-purpose cores and 76 graphics clusters, whereas the M2 Extreme is projected to feature 48 general-purpose CPU cores as well as 152 graphics clusters. Furthermore, the M2 Ultra is reportedly designed to support at least 192 GB of memory, so expect the M2 Extreme version to support up to 384 GB of DRAM. 

But it looks like Apple has scrapped plans to produce M2 Extreme processor because of complexity and costs. A Mac Pro based on the alleged M2 Extreme processor would cost around $10,000 and would be an extremely niche product that may not be worth development costs, engineering resources, and production bandwidth, Bloomberg says. 

Yet, the Mac Pro is supposed to be an extremely capable workstation for a relatively small niche market. A key thing that should be kept in mind about Apple’s Mac Pro is its audience. While the Bloomberg report vaguely mentions demanding users like “photographers, editors, and programmers,” Mac Pro is much more than a powerful PC. Mac Pro systems are often used for cinema and video production, and such workloads are getting more demanding as resolutions and color depths increase. And such systems not only need performance, but the also versatility and flexibility of a desktop PC, as they need to install a variety of add-in-cards, accelerators, advanced storage devices, and so on. To add these boards, a new Mac Pro would need advanced I/O, which is somewhat of a departure from Apple’s SoC ideology that entails a very high level of integration.  

One of the features that Apple’s Mac Pro has — and something that the company’s other systems lack — is upgradeability. A user of previous Mac Pros would often buy the tower, then install a new graphics card, add more memory, or Apple’s Afterburner accelerator. It is unclear whether an Apple Silicon-based desktop would be upgradeable, but from what we see with the Apple Studio machine, the company is reluctant to offer such capability even to its professional customers.  

It is noteworthy that in addition to switching its Mac Pro to its own Apple Silicon processors the company is mulling transferring its production and final assembly from China and the U.S. to Vietnam. This will somewhat lower its costs, though given the price of Mac Pro, this will hardly have any difference for end users. 

One of the things that the Bloomberg report does not touch upon is when the new Mac Pro is set to hit the market. So far, Apple has only introduced its M2 SoC, and it yet has to roll out its M2 Pro and M2 Max SoCs. Meanwhile, multi-chip M2 Ultra and potential M2 Extreme are typically introduced months after single-chip SoCs, which means these processors probably won’t arrive until mid-2023 at the earliest.

Apple of course does not comment on its future plans, though it is about time for the company to offer an upgraded version of its Mac Pro, as the current-generation machine was launched in 2019.