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The Expandability Concerns of Apple's New Mac Pro

By Wesley Fenlon

The reborn Mac Pro is stylish and compact, which doesn't leave much room for internal expansion.

At the WWDC opening keynote on Monday, Apple announced a new Mac Pro. People were surprised--because Apple has ignored the Pro line for years, and because the new computer looks less like a computer and more like a classy trashcan. Ars Technica has taken a smart, critical look at the Mac Pro to talk about what's new, exciting, and not-so-exciting about the freshly engineered computer.

Ars' Dave Girard praises the engineering that went into the cylindrical body, which is cooled by a single large fan near the top. That's impressive, given the CPU power and dual-GPU setup of the Mac Pro. You can see how the whole thing fits together in a cool animated page on Apple's site. Girard also praised the PCIe storage in the system, which will offer speeds approximately double current SATA-based SSDs.

So where does the criticism come in? Expandability. The new Mac Pro is clearly engineered around external, rather than internal, expansion. Apple's website says as much. The lack of internal drive bays means the system will be relying on that PCIe memory or external hard drives, likely RAID arrays or network-attached storage. Granted, the professionals who buy Mac Pros will often have RAID setups already, but some of them will still pine for internal storage.

"The four internal drive bays of the existing Mac Pro enclosure became a comfy standard for me and my work," writes Girard. "Anything more seems like too many—but zero extra drive bays is, to put it mildly, too few. Now I will be forced to replace my existing eSATA RAID enclosure since eSATA/Thunderbolt adapters are stupidly expensive and there are no PCI slots in the machine to accommodate an eSATA adapter card. Considering the still-high price of external Thunderbolt enclosures, the price of the Mac Pro better be reasonable because it’s clear that many of us will be forced to take this route as well."

Girard makes another strong point: the focus on external expansion may encourage Thunderbolt adoption, both by the companies making hardware and the professionals deciding between PC and Mac for video editing. If the Thunderbolt market thrives, it's very good for Mac.

Two more expandability problems: the dual workstation GPUs are built onto the Mac Pro's motherboard, and there are only 4 USB 3.0 drives. Again, Apple's obviously pushing Thunderbolt over USB 3.0, but the GPU situation is troubling. It looks like Apple is putting some really powerful cards in the Mac Pro, but not being able to upgrade them 3-4 years down the road limits the computer's longterm usability.

Check out the rest of Girard's post for more on Apple's implementation of GPUs, Crossfire support, and the lack of an Nvidia option.