We expected two hardware announcements at WWDC: a MacBook and the Mac Pro. We got them both. The MacBook Air has Apple’s launching point to an all-new architecture, while the new Mac Pro might be the most controversial machine Apple has ever released.
The MacBook Air showed up almost exactly as we thought it would be, save one omission. Those looking for a Retina display will have to wait a little while longer. Where the screen and case are unchanged, it’s Apple’s beachhead for the 4th generation of Intel-core CPUs called Haswell. Haswell is faster and has better graphics in the 5000HD integrated chip. Most important is much improved battery life. The new Airs give you 9 hours of battery life on the 11-inch model and 12 in the 13-inch. That’s just under double the battery life in basically the same case. That’s some impressive engineering by Intel. WiFi is provided by 802.11AC, a first from Apple. Apple released a new Airport Extreme and Time Capsule so users can use this ultra-fast wireless. Sadly, the Airport Express stays 802.11n.
The 2013 edition of the Macbook Air is available now. Both the 11-inch and 13-inch models come standard with 128GB of flash storage. Both also come with the same 1.3ghz dual core i5 CPU. 11-inch models starts at $999, 13-inch at $1099.
The Mac Pro inherited its case from the PowerMac G5 and despite some fairly substantial internal changes, you’ve been looking at the same machine for over a decade. That has changed radically with the new Mac Pro. Gone is the cheese grater case and its been replaced by a nearly 10-inch cylinder that looks like a giant soda pop can. Internally, it resembles the much maligned PowerMac Cube. The logic board and graphics cards are arranged on the faces of the Mac Pro with a cooling core in the middle. From an engineering perspective, this is a beautiful machine.
For stats, you get twin six-core Xeon E5 CPUs. Graphics power is provided by two professional AMD FirePro graphics cards. 4 DDR3 ECC DIMM slots for memory. For I/O ports, you get 4 USB 3.0, 6 20gbps Thunderbolt 2 ports, 2 Gigabit ethernet ports, an HDMI 1.4 port, and speaker and headphone jacks. The Thunderbolt 2 ports can drive up to 3 4K displays. Wireless is also the new and ultra-fast 802.11AC variant.
Notice I didn’t talk about storage or expandability. Yeah, about that… Storage is provided by an SSD stick much like the MacBook Air and Retina Pro. All additional expandability is provided by the I/O ports. Storage will have to be via DAS, NAS, or SAN arrays like a Drobo. The role of PCI-E cards wil be replaced by Expansion chassis or external devices. Even the graphics cards appear to be non-upgradable. Like the Cube over 10 years ago this could prove a very controversial decision. Without an upgraded conventional Mac Pro alongside the new machine, Apple is betting the farm on this machine. Apple will either revolutionize professional desktops as we know it or alienate certain groups of users completely. There will be no middle ground.
The new Mac Pro will release sometime later this year. Pricing will be announced at a later date.
WWDC 2013 will be a keynote to remember. It’ll won’t be the year we go completely Retina, but will be the day Apple released one of the most talked about machines for the next 10 years. Good or bad, Apple showed it can still make a major splash.