Although supplies of some components Apple wants to use in the 2010 Mac Pro may cause further delays that cannot yet be precisely anticipated even by senior executives at Infinite Loop itself, a considerable leap forward for Cupertino’s high-end workstation is widely anticipated in the next few weeks.
As is typical among seasoned rumor-mongers, we are hesitant to try to predict in anything but general terms when to expect this update; Apple has extremely high standards for predictable supplies of components (brought about by snafus like the major delay in availability of PowerPC G4 processors when they were first introduced), and is quite willing to push back its own planned announcement dates if there is the slightest question of availability or quality-control problems. These policies didn’t save Infinite Loop from problems with the recent Late 2009 iMac which included flickering and color gradients in early-serial-number displays, but that incident only redoubled the company’s resolve to be patient with its product introductions and err on the side of caution. Apple is under a microscope far more intensely than most other technology companies, and has an extremely low tolerance for such risks.
That said, the Mac Pro picture is coming together rapidly now that many of its anticipated component suppliers including Intel, ATi (AMD) and NVIDIA are beginning to ship the parts that will form the new workstation lineup.
There has been considerable discussion in the past year since the introduction of the current models about the possibility of Apple moving away from its exclusive use in the Pro family of costly Xeon-class Intel processors, which are often priced much higher than their very similar non-Xeon cousins. These non-Xeon chips are restricted to single-socket motherboards, but most of their other differences are of no consequence to a large segment of users. An example is the Lynnfield Core i7 quad-core CPU used in the high end 27-inch iMac, which is in the same general category as the Bloomfield Xeon in current quad-core Mac Pro and costs substantially less than either Bloomfield or its Lynnfield Xeon cousin.
There are certainly reasons for users to hope that Apple would consider such a move — and according to some of our oldest, most reliable sources at Infinite Loop’s hardware engineering offices, they have been doing exactly that for quite some time. Prototypes have been spotted with non-Xeon CPUs/motherboards, but they are a small minority and appear to be used only for comparison testing against the company’s Xeon based designs rather than being serious competitors for a place in the final lineup.
This has been said countless times on Rumors, but we’ve watched Apple make last-minute changes of direction more than once. It should go without saying: always take any rumor with the appropriate dose of sodium chloride.
Along with evaluating its many options in the processor arena, Infinite Loop has also revised its plan for graphics cards to be utilized in the new Pro desktop lineup more than once over the past few months according to sources — largely due to problems at NVIDIA and increased efforts by ATi/AMD to cater to Apple’s specific needs with manpower as well as other resources. Apple has been moving toward greater adoption of ATi graphics processors across its entire Mac lineup; at one point earlier this year it looked like the Pro would shift from being a primarily NVIDIA-based (GeForce GT120 standard on current models, with ATi Radeon 4870 as an option) product line to an ATI-based one with a 4000-series Radeon as default and two build-to-order options: an NVIDIA 200 or 400 series, and ATI 5000 series (probably 5870).
Since that time, NVIDIA has resolved the worst of its problems with the new 400-series (480 and 470) by disabling one or two of the 400-series chip’s 16 stream-processor clusters respectively. This obviously reduces performance, but was the only way for NVIDIA to get the products to market — they are already 6 months late, an entire refresh cycle in the GPU market. ATi still has quite a lead on NVIDIA in many areas, but the 400 series at least puts them back into the competition and catches up to key features (summarized as support for Microsoft’s DirectX 11, but many of which are applicable to Mac OS X & OpenGL/OpenCL as well) that ATi has had for quite some time now.
Given this and other recent moves on NVIDIA’s part which have pleasantly surprised key decision makers at Infinite Loop, the latest word from our sources is that a more balanced GPU strategy is being considered for the Pro. We are not confident as yet whether the standard GPU(s, since there may now be two: one for the entry level machines and another for the high end) will be from ATi or NVIDIA — word from sources indicates that Apple was still talking to both companies very actively and debating this very issue as recently as last week — but an NVIDIA 400-series graphics card, most likely the 470, will almost certainly be a build to order option.
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