The release of high-performance Mac Pro computers with Apple’s chip is behind schedule due to changes in the chip itself and the company’s production plans, reports Bloomberg.
When Apple announced plans to switch from Intel processors to chips of its own design in June 2020, the company planned for the transition to take about two years.
Now, at the end of 2022, it is clear that Apple has missed its self-imposed deadline to complete the transition. In addition to not offering a Mac Pro with an Apple processor, it still sells the most expensive version of the Mac mini desktop computer with an Intel processor.
Although Apple has said little about its upcoming Mac desktops or the reasons for the delay, the company continues to actively test the all-new M2 Pro-based Mac Pro and Mac mini, which should replace the rest of the Intel-based models.
Apple had intended to introduce the new Mac Pro as early as now, but the release of the high-end computer has been delayed due to a number of reasons, including numerous changes in its characteristics, a significant change in the company’s plans for high-performance processors and a potential shift in production.
When Apple first set out to create a replacement for the Intel Mac Pro, it planned a computer with a processor based on the original M1 chip. The approach involved two main configurations: one chip equal to the power of two M1 Max processors – the most powerful processor in the MacBook Pro – and another equal to four M1 Max combined.
A chip with the performance of two M1 Max was eventually first introduced in Mac Studio as the M1 Ultra, and Apple decided to push the Mac Pro to the M2 generation. The company then planned for the Mac Pro to come in two configurations: the M2 Ultra version and a dual-speed M2 Ultra that could be called the M2 Extreme.
The M2 Ultra chip had to have serious technical characteristics for professional users, including up to 24 processor cores, 76 graphics cores and the ability to equip the computer with at least 192 GB of memory.
The M2 Extreme chip would double those specs to 48 CPU cores and 152 graphics cores. But here’s the bad news: the company has probably abandoned this high-performance configuration, which may disappoint Apple’s most demanding users – photographers, illustrators, and programmers who appreciate such computing power.
The company made this decision due to the complexity and cost of manufacturing the processor, which is essentially four M2 Max chips fused together. It will also help Apple and its partner Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. to save resources on the production of chips for more massive machines.
In addition, there are concerns about how much consumers are willing to spend. Using the state-of-the-art M1 Ultra chip pushes the price of the Mac Studio to $5,000 – just $1,000 less than the current Mac Pro. But $3,000 more than the Mac Studio with the M1 Max.
Based on Apple’s current pricing structure, the Mac Pro M2 Extreme could probably cost at least $10,000, making it an extremely niche product that probably isn’t worth the development costs, engineering resources, and manufacturing capacity it would require.
The Mac Pro is expected to be built on the new generation M2 Ultra chip (rather than the M1 Ultra) and will retain one of its signature features: easy expansion with additional memory, drives, and other components.
The above-mentioned Mac mini update will be presented in the regular M2 and M2 Pro versions, while the new 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pros will appear early next year in the M2 Pro and M2 Max versions. The company also continues to eye Apple’s high-end silicon iMac Pro, but that machine has suffered internal delays for the same reasons as the Mac Pro.
Apple is also working on several new external monitors, including an update to the Pro Display XDR that launched alongside the Intel Mac Pro in 2019. However, it is possible that the company’s next high-end monitor will be released after the Mac Pro since the computer is at a higher level of readiness than the monitor.
These new monitors, like the Studio Display released alongside the Mac Studio, will contain an Apple chip. This will help them rely less on the resources of the connected computer.
Apple is also likely to make significant changes to the production of the Mac Pro.
The current version, at least for American buyers, is assembled at the Flex Ltd. factory. in Austin, Texas. But this is actually only the final stage. Apple manufactures parts in China, including major internal components, the power supply, and the case, and then assembles them in Texas.
The company decided to assemble in Texas in 2019 when it faced political pressure from the Trump administration. Apple planned to assemble the Intel Mac Pro in China, but moved the final stages to the US as an “olive branch”.
Then Donald Trump threatened Apple with significant tariffs on goods made in China. That could drive up costs and make it harder to manufacture key devices like the iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch. Turning the low-production Mac Pro into a PR stunt was a small price to pay to avoid this.
Now that Trump is out of office, the company can more safely move Mac Pro production to its comfort zone of Asia and avoid the misconception that the Mac Pro is a true “made in the USA” product.
The move to Asia, however, will come with a significant twist. Instead of rolling out assembly in China like most iPhone models and other products, the new high-end Mac is expected to be built in Vietnam. It’s a country that already makes some AirPods and may soon make laptops and the Apple Watch as well. Thus, this will mean a further reduction of Apple’s dependence on China.