updated 10:18 pm EST, Fri December 27, 2013
Custom graphics card not upgradable, PCIe storage still in doubt
A teardown of the new Mac Pro by upgrade experts Other World Computing will give cause for much celebration among DIY technophiles (who are, ironically, unlikely to be customers of the new workstation) -- the retailer says both the RAM and, more surprisingly, the central CPU unit of the Mac Pro are removable, paving the way to future upgrades. Its also possible that the proprietary connector used for the PCIe-based storage may be upgradable as well.
The socketed CPU comes as a surprise, enabling some users to be able to upgrade the chip if and when Intel makes a compatible (and affordable) future processor. Presuming that happens, it could lengthen the expected lifespan of the Mac Pro considerably for users willing to risk the upgrade. While a future CPU unit could be perfectly compatible, other factors designed for the original chip may limit or prohibit effective upgrades. Currently, the CPU used by the new Mac Pro -- the Intel Xeon E5-1620 v2 -- sells by itself for around $2,750.
The RAM used by the Mac Pro is also removable, Apple having chosen to use standard RAM slots and make the ECC DDR3 RAM easily accessible. In some models of recent Macs -- most notably notebooks -- the company has chosen to solder-in the RAM, making future upgrades impossible and forcing buyers to order as much RAM as they can afford at the time of ordering. The 21.5-inch iMac also features un-upgradable RAM, though the 27-inch model offers easy access to the RAM slots.
At present, OWC reports that the PCIe connectors for the SSD storage are not upgradable -- however, the mail-order retailer has made a name for itself in overcoming such barriers and offering storage upgrades for other models with proprietary connectors such as the MacBook Air and Retina MacBook Pro. It may at some point find a way to offer storage upgrades for the Mac Pro, having dealt with Apple's proprietary connectors before.
One area of the new Mac Pro continues to look un-upgradable, however; the custom-built AMD FirePro dual GPU cards, which the company says are optimized for OS X Mavericks. The cards are similar to, but distinct from, some of AMD's other graphic-card offerings and are thus not compatible for upgrading except through Apple at the time of ordering.
The cards are far more powerful than consumer graphics cards -- selling for as much as $3,400 each for the top-end card, which offers 6GB of VRAM per card -- but not, at least for the time being, upgradable. Thus, pros who are considering buying a Mac Pro should budget for the best GPUs they can afford, since most other components are easily upgradable -- and the one question mark, storage upgradability, can easily be overcome thanks to the plethora of 20Gbps Thunderbolt 2 and USB 3.0 ports the new Mac Pro sports.
While some have complained that the Mac Pro design doesn't allow for internal storage expansion, peripheral makers will undoubtedly create (and have already begun selling) complementary RAID arrays and other high-speed, professional-level storage solutions that can be placed under a desk or hidden away -- leaving behind just the Mac Pro itself, at one-eighth the volume of the previous model but many times faster in speed using optimized software. Even without tuned software, the new Mac Pro offers more than 100 percent improvement in most areas -- and reviewers never fail to note the remarkable lack of noise coming from the machine, even when under load. Final Cut Pro users in particular appear wowed at the system's abilities and potential.