90: Envisioning a Mac Pro-bo

I've been crafting a vision of what the Mac Pro (Mid 2018) may look like ever since the line was declared definitely-not-dead in April. I don't have many pro needs; podcast production, light image editing, and the occasional Handbrake session are as intensive as my computing gets. Even so, I built my core idea around the one thing I struggled with when configuring an iMac: storage (especially the question of to NAS or not to NAS).

 I'm sure Jony can do better than this.

I'm sure Jony can do better than this.

There's a lot that's appealing about network attached storage. It offers redundancy, it's available from everywhere in the world, and it can be shared among devices while at home. But it has major downsides too. It's essentially a second computer and carries the price tag to match, even before you fill it with hard drives or SSDs. And because NASes like those from Drobo and especially Synology are computers, they run their own operating system…which isn't Mac OS. I don't care how lightweight and convenient it is; I want no part in managing a Linux box through a fake Windows GUI in a browser. Even if I took that leap, dealing with network drives still isn't a native Mac experience. (I see this frequently at work with our office-wide Samba share. You can't put files in the trash and Spotlight is nonexistent. It's no way to live.) So I configured my iMac with a 2TB Fusion Drive and hung a 4TB USB drive off the back.

Even though the drives I hooked up to my iMac are nowhere near full, I would love to see a device that integrates the mass storage of a NAS with the power and software of a high-end Mac — a Mac Pro-bo, if you will. I considered it a total pipe dream for a while. Remember, the last Mac to offer expandable, multiple drive storage was a 40-pound cheese grater from 2012. But the recent sneak peek at the iMac Pro actually gives me more hope than ever that we'll see something like it.

On the WWDC slides and on the iMac Pro website, there's a new schema for what Apple considers the pro setup, and it's a 5K display sitting next to a box full of hard drives. Given the current lineup, that involves an iMac display and a third-party box to the side. The converse — a trash can Mac Pro with a third-party display — proved less than viable. The big design question for the future Mac Pro is whether these two components, one centered around the display and one centered around storage, are the "modules" Apple referred to in the Mac Pro roundtable.

 The other future of computing.

The other future of computing.

Swappable storage, backed by APFS and macOS would certainly be a unique product. Many assume that the Mac Pro has to be even more expensive than the iMac Pro, but Myke Hurley and Jason Snell pointed out on Upgrade that it might be best if the Mac Pro sat in the middle. Tim Cook's Apple loves to hit every price point, and there's a huge gulf between $2300 at the top of the iMac range and $5000. I imagine that $3500 could offer a lot in terms of CPU, RAM, and storage in a compact Mac — especially with no display and nothing but air in some storage bays. Max out the storage or add a putative $1500 Apple 5K display and the Mac Pro would be comparable in features and price to its all-in-one cousin, with room to grow. It's still just a dream, but maybe it's not so farfetched after all.