Mac Pro With Apple Silicon Won't Have Upgradeable RAM, Report Claims

Mac Pro
The 2019 Mac Pro next to an Apple XDR Display (Image credit: Apple)

Apple has one more computer to convert to Apple Silicon: the Mac Pro. And it sounds like it will be more familiar than we expected. According to Mark Gurman's "Power On" newsletter for Bloomberg, an upcoming refresh will appear identical to the 2019 version.

To some, that's a bit of a shame, as many of Apple's designs featuring its own silicon have been evolving. But more interesting to us here at Tom's Hardware is what's going on inside. Previous Bloomberg reports suggested that a high-end Mac Pro with 48 CPU cores and 152 graphics clusters was languishing, and now Gurman says it has been canceled. Instead, he writes that Apple will release the Mac Pro with the M2 Ultra, an evolution of the M1 Ultra found in the Mac Studio.

Apple Silicon chips have all had RAM onboard, and that makes for an odd setup for the Mac Pro. Gurman's newsletter suggests that unlike the Intel Xeon-based model from 2019, the upcoming Mac Pro won't have upgradeable RAM. That being said, he reports that there will be two SSD storage slots and room for "graphics, media and networking cards."

It's extremely interesting to see the suggestion that graphics cards will be modular here, as Apple has been relying on its own integrated graphics on all Apple Silicon devices. (Apple claimed the Mac Studio with M1 Ultra rivals the RTX 3090, though independent testing suggested that wasn't the case, especially in gaming.) I suppose it's possible that somewhere, Apple is writing drivers for AMD or Nvidia's cards. Or it could be using something like the Apple Afterburner card, which it introduced with the 2019 Mac Pro for Video editing in the ProRes and ProRes RAW codecs. The existing Mac Pros are based on Intel Xeon chips and work with AMD Radeon Pro graphics (the most recent are W6000X cards designed exclusively for Apple's tower, bringing AMD's RDNA 2 graphics in 2021).

When Apple released the Mac Studio, it said in its announcement video that the beefed-up Mac Mini wasn't replacing the Mac Pro. There will be a question, however, of which to get if upgradeability is limited anyway, especially if the Mac Studio gets a bump to M2 Ultra. But it's likely that the Mac Pro will cost far more than the Studio currently does.

In other Mac news, Gurman reports that the 14- and 16-inch MacBook Pros, some of the best ultrabooks, will get spec bumps with M2 Pro and M2 Max chips in the first half of the year, and that there's still a planned 15-inch MacBook Air sometime in 2023.

The iPad, Apple Watch and AirPods are likely to see small bumps, with no news for Apple TV hardware. Some of this is due to Apple's focus on announcing a mixed-reality headset, possibly called Reality Pro, ahead of its Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) in June, reportedly to launch in the fall.

Andrew E. Freedman is a senior editor at Tom's Hardware focusing on laptops, desktops and gaming. He also keeps up with the latest news. A lover of all things gaming and tech, his previous work has shown up in Tom's Guide, Laptop Mag, Kotaku, PCMag and Complex, among others. Follow him on Twitter: @FreedmanAE

  • Giroro
    There probably isn't a lot of overlap in the Venn Diagram of "People who think they need a $20k Apple workstation to run Photoshop" and "People who know how to slot RAM into a motherboard".
    But I have no idea who would actually need to spend $20k+ on a Mac Pro. I don't think Apple even knows. I assume its "nobody".
    Reply
  • Heat_Fan89
    Giroro said:
    There probably isn't a lot of overlap in the Venn Diagram of "People who think they need a $20k Apple workstation to run Photoshop" and "People who know how to slot RAM into a motherboard".
    But I have no idea who would actually need to spend $20k+ on a Mac Pro. I don't think Apple even knows. I assume its "nobody".
    Oh they know who will spend $20K on an Mac Pro. There target audience are Apple elitist who hate Microsoft and Windows. What I find really funny are those that hate Windows but wish Parallels was available for Apple silicon.
    Reply
  • hotaru.hino
    From the perspective of company logistics, and I'm being an armchair logistics person, the lack of upgradeable RAM isn't a problem per se since the company will probably just get something overkill anyway (I had a work computer that had a high end video card... and none of the work I did required it). The problem is the lack of replaceable line items. Granted I don't think integrated RAM is more prone to failure, but it is still one more thing you can't replace if something goes wrong.
    Reply
  • EricC-Clearwater
    Heat_Fan89 said:
    Oh they know who will spend $20K on an Mac Pro. There target audience are Apple elitist who hate Microsoft and Windows. What I find really funny are those that hate Windows but wish Parallels was available for Apple silicon.

    Parallels is good to have since really extends the usefulness of one device. I make music in Mac, but I develop in windows. I rather never have to enter Windows, but sometimes I have to handle an issue and my work laptop is not around. I also run linux distros on Parallels on my Mac for software development reasons (Mac Server is no longer (thank goodness) and almost all cloud based server offerings are in linux at least - windows for those who want to pay up the nose). Many times if I want to mass update files or do other things, I will open Powershell via Parallels, make my changes and then go back to working on the Mac. Finder is just not as functional, IMO.
    Reply
  • bit_user
    I suppose it's possible that somewhere, Apple is writing drivers for AMD or Nvidia's cards.
    As mentioned in the article, the 2019 Mac Pro has updated GPU offerings, including the RDNA2 range. AMD will certainly still be under contract to maintain drivers for their GPUs, under OS X. So, the obvious solution would be for AMD to provide dGPUs for the new Mac Pro, also.

    What's sort of interesting is that AMD would have to port its drivers to ARM. However, AMD drivers on Linux will work on both ARM, POWER, RISC-V, and other CPU ISAs.

    So, I wonder if this will mean that the new Mac actually has less RAM than the max configuration of the 2019 model. Does anyone know? That would seem to be an issue, for some.

    Dropping down to the implementation details, it seems almost certain that Apple will have to implement an external PCIe switch, in order to support SSDs + PCIe-based peripherals. I doubt the M2 Ultra would have anywhere near enough lanes, especially if they were planning another version that's 2x as large!
    Reply
  • camtasia_kid
    Very disappointing if true. Flexibility and extension of investment are very important to true professionals. I suppose the Tesla/latte/show off m,y Fauci Ouchy crowd might plunk down $25k to run Safari at blazing speeds; however, I could outfit a small office with 5 Mac Studio Ultras, and vastly increase productivity vs one, leviathan, inflexible Mac Pro. Wondering if we are even an Apple shop/customer any longer?
    Reply
  • bit_user
    BTW, what's with all these Apple leaks? I guess they've chilled out about leakers, since the Jobs era? Didn't Jobs cancel the GPU contract with Nvidia over leaks, or something like that?
    Reply
  • Amdlova
    With today tech shinigamis think will use vram than dram... unify memory something like that, some graphics from amd and nvidia surpass 48gb... :)
    Reply
  • Sleepy_Hollowed
    Heat_Fan89 said:
    Oh they know who will spend $20K on an Mac Pro. There target audience are Apple elitist who hate Microsoft and Windows. What I find really funny are those that hate Windows but wish Parallels was available for Apple silicon.
    It's been for over a year, same for vmware fusion, and Apple even has their own hypervisor in beta, for free, on M series macs:

    https://www.parallels.com/blogs/parallels-desktop-m1/
    https://developer.apple.com/documentation/hypervisor
    Reply
  • thestryker
    bit_user said:
    What's sort of interesting is that AMD would have to port its drivers to ARM. However, AMD drivers on Linux will work on both ARM, POWER, RISC-V, and other CPU ISAs.
    They did do work with Samsung using RDNA 2 with one of the Exynos CPUs so maybe they've already done some native software work. I too think they would be the most likely third party vendor for Apple with regards to graphics.
    Reply