updated 01:35 am EDT, Fri August 15, 2014
Server-quality processor arriving en masse in September with up to 18 cores
Apple's much-lauded 2013 Mac Pro redesign will celebrate its first year of shipping just after Christmas, but that anniversary might bring with it an upgraded version. Intel has announced that its successor processor to the "Romley" series used in the latest Mac Pro will arrive in quantity in September. Furthering the speculation, AMD has begun outing its successors to the W7000/W8000/W9000 FirePro graphics cards, which are roughly equivalent to the custom-made D-series used in the current Mac Pro.
Known as "Grantley," the Xeon E5 v3 chips do carry a higher thermal rating, but also support still-faster DDR4-2133 RAM which will help improve performance. While it is not confirmed that the first significant upgrade of the current Mac Pro would use the chips, they are seen as the logical successor. Despite the higher thermal rating, performance specs should be incremental apart from the boost provided by faster RAM support: the new processors are clocked at roughly the same speed as their predecessors.
Intel is offering four-core versions, called the E5-1620 v3 or E5-1630 v3 at 3.5GHz, a drop down from the previous version apart from the highest-end model of this line, which stays at 3.7GHz. The six-core version, the E5-1650, stays at 3.5Ghz. The eight-core chip, however, moves from 3.0GHz in the v2 version of the E5-1680 to 3.2GHz in the v3 version.
In addition, a processor enthusiast site, ChipLoco, notes that Intel is also making available a pre-order for the E5-2600 series -- which can actually act as a processor upgrade for the existing top-of-the-line Mac Pro model, though the fact that it runs hotter could cause problems in the carefully-designed thermal venting system the current Mac Pro users. Other server variants of the same series offer 12-core and 18-core versions.
In conjunction with the Intel developments, AMD has begun introducing new pro-level graphics cards that could be modified by Apple to become successors to its current options. One of the new cards is the W7100, a successor to the W7000 card that is the rough equivalent of the D300 used in the lower-end Mac Pros. Final Cut Pro blogger "Alex D" says that the new AMD cards "have at least doubled the RAM and added 40 percent more stream processors, with the W8100 and W9100 having wider memory busses and many more transistors."
AMD creates custom versions of these GPUs for Apple, and thus the stat counts on the W-series cards may not directly correlate to what Apple ends up specifying for its needs. But the comparison does give hints of what kind of performance levels could be achieved if the Mac Pro utilizes both refreshed processors and graphics cards in a future update.