iOS 7 was definitely the main attraction at today's Worldwide Developer Conference, but it wasn't the only one. Apple also lifted the curtain on an intriguing new Mac Pro, some Haswell-powered MacBook Air laptops, and the next release of OS X, which is dubbed Mavericks (after the surfing location, not Tom Cruise's character in Top Gun).
The reworked Mac Pro is probably the most interesting of the bunch. Unlike the current system, which is a sexy but conventional-looking mid-tower, the next-gen Mac Pro has a cylindrical shape and a tiny footprint. It's just 9.9" tall and 6.6" wide, and it almost looks more like a high-tech coffee machine than a workstation.
The guts of the system are pretty workstation-y, though. There's a Xeon processor with up to 12 cores, quad-channel DDR3 memory, PCI Express solid-state storage capable of 1GB/s writes, and dual AMD FirePro GPUs with a combined 4096 ALUs and 528GB/s of memory bandwidth. Connectivity includes six Thunderbolt 2 ports, four USB 3.0, two Gigabit Ethernet, and HDMI 1.4.
The tight confines of the cylinder don't leave much room for expansion, but that's what all those Thunderbolt 2 ports are for—and Apple stresses that expansion is supposed to be external. Each port can pump 20Gbps of bandwidth, which allows the new Mac Pro to drive as many as three 4K displays simultaneously. Yowza.
The tube-shaped Mac Pro will be assembled in the U.S. and will come out later this year. The pictures on Apple's website are a little murky, but it looks like there's a huge, triangular heatsink at the core of the machine and a single, large fan at the top. I wonder how effectively that design keeps everything cool.
Next up on the hardware front: new MacBook Air laptops. I was expecting Retina displays and design changes here, but Apple delivered neither. Instead, the updated Airs simply add Haswell ULT processors, 802.11ac wireless connectivity, and longer battery run times. Apple quotes run times of nine hours for the 11" model and 12 hours for the 13" one.
At least, unlike the Mac Pro, these are available today. The 11" Air starts at $999 with 128GB of solid-state storage, and the 13" variant will set you back an extra $100—also with a 128GB SSD.
OS X Mavericks doesn't share iOS 7's overhauled design language, but it does bring about some enhancements aimed at power users: tabbed Finder windows, document tagging, and better multi-display support. Apple has done a lot of work behind the scenes to improve performance and battery life, as well, like preventing hidden applications from hogging CPU time. A memory compression scheme reduces wake times and boosts system responsiveness, and a feature called Timer Coalescing "groups low-level operations together" to make sure the CPU spends more time at its low-power idle state.
Other additions include iCloud Keychain, which will store your passwords in the cloud; an improved notifications scheme, which even let you receive iOS app notifications on your Mac; and OS X versions of the iOS Maps and iBooks apps, so you can follow hilariously incorrect directions to your cousin's wedding and read up on anger management techniques, all from the comfort of your MacBook Air. How cool is that?
Apple expects to make OS X Mavericks available to the public at large this fall.
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