What’s next for iMac and Mac Pro?

Right now, the Core i7 iMac is the king of Apple’s hill — and a growing dominant force in the market generally as its remarkable value equation becomes more widely understood, offering ~35% better performance than the i5 model (due to the lack of HyperThreading which allows two threads to run on each core, making the CPU considerably more efficient) for only $200 more. It even rivals and sometimes exceeds the performance of the Mac Pro by nature of its more advanced Lynnfield CPU which can “turbo” to higher clock speeds, up to 3.46GHz, than the Gainestown Xeon chips in the Pro when only 1 or 2 cores are active. Gaming is a perfect example of where this can be particularly beneficial.

Lynnfield also has other advantages, such as putting the PCI Express controller on the CPU. Though it only supports two DDR3 memory channels against Gainestown’s three, this makes little difference for a quad-core computer and can be almost entirely negated by upgrading the iMac to DDR3-1333MHz memory (stock OEM RAM is 1066MHz, but 1333MHz RAM has been confirmed to work as long as it has CL7 timing).

Until the next generation of dual-chip-capable Core i7 “Nehalem” processors hits the market early next year with up to six cores per chip — making a 12-core/24-thread Mac Pro possible at a surprisingly reasonable price, with new features offering all of Lynnfield’s advantages and then some — this disparity will continue to drive many consumers, even “pro” class power users, away from the Mac Pro. Few workloads really take full advantage of all eight cores/16 threads on the Pro, and the higher Turbo speeds of Lynnfield are generally more beneficial to real-world performance.

The quad iMacs even have socketed CPUs, allowing for future chip upgrades….something that had been the exclusive purview of the Mac Pro for some time.

So, when will we see Mac Pro updated with next-generation chips including six-core 32nm “Gulftown” processors? What else will be new about this 2010 Mac Pro, and when/how will the iMac next be updated to keep pace?

Although some of the juiciest Mac Pro reports are still under partial embargo — something we hope will change within the next month at the outside — and need further confirmation, we have compiled a short list of the key improvements anticipated in the 2010 Mac Pro:

*Will be among the first computers to ship with Gulftown “Core i9 Xeon 5600 Series” CPUs in Late Q1 2010 — current Apple roadmap posits announcement in March with second-generation Gainestown models shipping immediately and the Gulftown model(s) shipping in April with a slow ramp-up of volume. Other models are expected to ship with second-generation Gainestown chips.

*All models will employ triple-channel DDR3-1333 ECC memory, unless any models ship with non-Xeon desktop chips which would use non-ECC. This is up from DDR3-1066 in current models.

*New enclosure similar to prototypes reported on during the 2009 Pro development process by Rumors earlier this year; somewhat larger, new “corner handle” design, and many prototypes have featured the addition of beautiful anodized black aluminum panels which help differentiate the Pro from all the other “silver unibody” Macs while following the company’s trend toward using more black design elements (most often seen in display edges currently).

*Quad-core/single-chip Gainestown 2G model at 2.93GHz. There has been rampant speculation about entry level Mac Pro models switching to desktop (Lynnfield, Bloomfield 2G) chips from the more expensive Gainestown Xeon versions, but so far we have been unable to confirm this despite hearing of Lynnfield-based prototypes — and there is no indication in Apple’s roadmap documents either way; they only specify “Quad-Core Nehalem.” Note that this is not the current Gainestown family, but an upcoming Q1 2010 revision. Pricing will be considerably lower.

*Eight-core/dual-chip Gainestown 2G models at 2.66, 2.93 and 3.33GHz with significantly reduced pricing.

*Twelve-core/dual-chip Gulftown at 3.06GHz for the high-end model. Pricing should be similar to the current high-end octo-core 2.93GHz model (around or just under $6,000).

*Graphics processor options to include: nVidia GT200 series (probably GT270), possible GT300. ATi Radeon 5970, and at long last, a dual-GPU model, the 5970X2(!).

*Storage options to include SSD solid-state drives. A built-in, front-mounted SD slot has also been mentioned as part of the new enclosure design and would probably sit between the two optical drive slots.

We’ll have more details on Apple’s entire Early 2010 desktop lineup soon, but here are a few tidbits on a modest Early 2010 iMac speed bump mentioned in the new roadmap documents Cupertino has put together in the past few weeks:

*Most likely shipping in March or April, though some sources suggest uncertainty over wholesale component cost curves could push this into May depending on market conditions.

*Core 2 models updated to “Clarkdale” Core i3 32-nanometer desktop CPUs at 2.93 and 3.06GHz with on-chip integrated graphics (replacing nVIDIA 9400). Clarkdale Core i3 adds HyperThreading (two cores, four threads) for a considerable performance bump of 30%+ but does not support Turbo.

*Lynnfield (quad core) models updated with a new 2.93GHz Core i7 model and optional SSD solid-state drives. Slight price cut to existing 2.66GHz Core i5 model.

*27-inch models available with optional Radeon 4870 graphics processor over existing 4850 for a significant (but not dramatic) performance bump. Rumors of a dual-GPU 4870X2 model are thus far unsubstantiated, and questionable due to heat problems.

*Addition of an eSATA external storage port on all models, which will dramatically improve bandwidth for external drives over Firewire 800. This will be part of eSATA adoption across the entire Mac line over the course of 2010.

Stay tuned for much more on this and all things Apple over the coming weeks….as always, if you have questions, comments, corrections/feedback or anything else to say: use the DISQUS comments form below, follow us on Twitter, send us an email, or chat with us on AIM (MacOSRumors)!


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  • frlane

    I am one of the 'Pro' users that has never considered an iMac. However, my dual G5 PowerMac was dying, and the old 17″ square monitor was looking small these days. So, I could get a MacPro and a new monitor and spend $6000, or get an i7 iMac with a 27″ monitor built in for $2300. I chose the iMac, and it is AWESOME! I am able to edit HD video much more efficiently, and the screen is incredible.

    Thanks Apple for finally making a powerful iMac, and for allowing it to cannibalize the 'Pro' line!

  • Kevbrad

    Apparently Apple realizes that the MacPro needs to separate itself from the new iMac. As an owner of a 2009 MacPro, I received a online survey from Apple yesterday about how I use the machine, and what I would like see added to a future version. We all know that the processors will scale up with new i7's & i9's, but I told them that more powerful GPU's, especially 2x cards or SLA/Crossfire support was important because OpenCL would scale up performance to greater level then the new iMac (with new enclosure on the iMac heat will be more or an issue). I would also like to see Apple add a larger LED Cinema Display now that the have it up to 27″ on the iMac.

  • christox

    I want usb 3.0 on the iMac's and better GPU's

  • christox

    I also want usb 3.0 and better GPU's on the 27″ iMac

  • The Harlinator

    The iMac will NOT cannibalize the pro line LOL… The iMac is crippled on the storage end, you can't use any PCIe cards… they aren't pro!
    Probably most semi pros would use them but for any real work you need something with the storage and the bandwidth. iMac is a wonderful box and it's more for creatives into PS website design etc. but not for real pro audio video etc.

  • The Harlinator

    Then you have to deliver it and I'll beat you to the game on the final render because I can use a matrox card. Plus, no PCIe cards for audio processing etc. the iMacs are pretty fast but still in need of some help. Be about 5 years until a native solution will be mainstream and then the codecs will change to demand even more power so the pro machines will always be needed.

  • The Harlinator

    The iMac will NOT cannibalize the pro line LOL… The iMac is crippled on the storage end, you can't use any PCIe cards… they aren't pro!
    Probably most semi pros would use them but for any real work you need something with the storage and the bandwidth. iMac is a wonderful box and it's more for creatives into PS website design etc. but not for real pro audio video etc.

  • The Harlinator

    Then you have to deliver it and I'll beat you to the game on the final render because I can use a matrox card. Plus, no PCIe cards for audio processing etc. the iMacs are pretty fast but still in need of some help. Be about 5 years until a native solution will be mainstream and then the codecs will change to demand even more power so the pro machines will always be needed.