2010 calls Apple, wants its Mac Pro back

With all the hype surrounding the Retina-equipped MacBook Pro, few noticed that Apple has updated its Mac Pro desktop. The term "updated" is probably a little too generous, though. As former Mac designer Andy Hertzfeld points out, the years-old system received only a CPU clock speed bump. Users now have their choice of Xeon E5645 and W3565 CPUs, which were first released in early 2010 and late 2009, respectively.

The Mac Pro starts at $2500, so what other cutting-edge technology does it offer? Radeon 5770 or 5870 graphics cards, both launched in the fall of 2009. The system can be configured with a 512GB solid-state drive, but its performance will be limited by the Mac Pro's reliance on old-school 3Gbps Serial ATA ports. There's no USB 3.0 connectivity, either, and not even Thunderbolt support. PCI Express? 2.0 only. And the next update isn't due until next year!

Don't worry; it'll be "really great." In an email reportedly sent to a Mac user, Apple CEO Tim Cook says a new Mac Pro will be released in 2013. Forbes has the the full text, which notes the "revolutionary" and "incredible" features recently added to Apple's Final Cut Pro X and Aperture software. If the next Mac Pro will only be "really great," perhaps we shouldn't get our hopes up for something extraordinary or magical.

I can't help but contrast the Mac Pro's specifications with those of the beefy Double-Stuff workstation configuration from our current System Guide. For around $2800, that system packs a water-cooled, six-core, Sandy Bridge-E CPU; an X79 motherboard loaded with USB 3.0 and SATA 6Gbps ports; a cutting-edge Radeon HD 7970 graphics card; 256GB of solid-state storage backed by 2TB of redundant hard drive capacity; and 16GB of RAM. There's a discrete sound card in there, too, and the Cooler Master chassis is very snazzy. The base Mac Pro looks pretty sad by comparison.

To be fair, the Mac Pro can be configured with dual six-core CPUs... for $3800. Asus makes a well-equipped, dual-socket workstation board if you'd rather pair two current-generation CPUs.

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