New Mac Pro part 2 – the issue of storage

In my previous post I talked about the new Mac Pro announced by Apple on 10 June 2013. I’m pleased Apple are finally supporting pro users again as many of us have felt rather left behind of late. This week Apple have further reached out to the pro community by launching a new version of Logic Pro – early indications are that this is a solid upgrade to Apple’s leading audio software.

But let’s get back to the issue in hand – the new Mac Pro.

My main area of concern with the new machine is one of storage. My current Mac Pro has 4 drive bays into which I’ve been able to add (and replace when required) several hard drives to cope with my operating system, applications and data. No need for any external nastiness caused by chassis, cables and power points. I plug in a new/replacement hard drive and just carry on as before.

Simple.

Internal expansion – What internal expansion?
The new Mac Pro, however, has no internal expansion. Apple are pinning their hopes on users being happy with plugging external devices into the Thunderbolt 2 ports. It also comes with USB 3 and gigabit ethernet so there are plenty of expansion options – however these all require additional and likely pricey purchases, as well as cables to connect them to the computer and – let’s not forget – a free socket to plug the new hardware in to.

Unlike many of my professional colleagues, I’m trying to look at this change as a chance to review my workflow. Yes, given the choice, I’d prefer some kind of internal expansion option for hard drives to be in the new Pro. However, I completely get why Apple are going down this road. Gone are the days when you could release a tower computer and expect that design to last for a decade or more. Technology continues to progress at an alarming rate. (Don’t get me started on 3D printers – they give me the creeps.) If you think about it, it makes sense to have a small computer that packs a whole load of punch into which you can plug in whatever devices you need now… and also in the future.

There are down sides to this logic as it doesn’t look as if you will be able to upgrade the graphics cards in the new machine; something that many people do with the current format Mac Pros to extend their life. However – past Mac Pros didn’t always come with the most cutting edge graphics inside and this new model is absolutely bleeding edge so perhaps that’s not such a big issue. It looks like you’ll be able to replace the RAM and I also have a feeling that the on-board PCIe Flash storage will be replaceable on a removable card – it looks like that although the price will (at least initially) be uber-expensive even if it’s possible at all.

For video professionals, the obvious route will be Thunderbolt 2. The new Mac Pro is likely to be the first device to have TB 2 in it and I’ll be surprised if there are any affordable TB 2 compatible devices out there to make use of these new ports when the machine launches. TB 1 is no slouch, however, so I suppose this will offer those who need fast data storage something to use in the interim.

I hope that some TB 1 external devices will be firmware upgradable to support TB 2 although I suspect that some kind of hardware upgrade will also be required. I’ve got a USB 2 external drive that can be upgraded to USB 3 with a new part and firmware so I’d hope that that this kind of thing will be possible for those who need it.

My plans as they stand at the moment
Personally, I’m hoping that the on board PCIe Flash storage has an option around the 500MB mark. This would give plenty of room for the OS, my applications and also some wriggle room for scratch space and working space for any projects that really need fast access – such as video editing. I’m thinking that any finished work (or data that doesn’t require fast access such as web work and iOS code) could be stored externally.

Rather than doing this to a Thunderbolt device, my thoughts at the moment, are to go down the NAS route. This would solve more than one problem. It puts my data on a central hub for access by any device on my network without requiring my main computer to be switched on. It can also be an FTP/Web server thereby replacing my ageing PowerPC Mac Mini used for that purpose at moment. The Mac Mini going would free up a vital power socket for the NAS).

A NAS can offer me RAID thereby giving me constant backup to replace Time Machine. I’m thinking of adopting a local GIT repository for versioning. I can continue to do weekly external backups to a USB or Thunderbolt drive to store off-site like I do at the moment using SuperDuper! although the NAS devices I’ve looked at have an automated backup to USB that can be configured that works in a similar way.

The whole rotating thing
The new Mac Pro has all of its external ports together on the back. The idea is that you rotate the machine when you need to plug anything into a port. When you do so, the ports helpfully light up so you can see where they are.

I’m not the first person who on seeing this on the WWDC live keynote stream on 10 June immediately thought that that won’t work. When you’ve got just a handful of cables plugged in to the Pro (including a kettle lead for power) when you try to twist the machine to plug in, say, a USB stick you’re going pull half the contents of your desk across with it, tangle the cables up and probably knock over your chosen beverage at the same time.

Who came up with that? Sounds barmy to me.

I expect to see that idea tweaked somewhat in future revisions.

Conclusion
Despite my reservations about internal storage and the rotating-the-machine-cable-jumble problem, overall I see many positives to changing my workflow. Having to use an external device for storage doesn’t have to be the great disappointment that some people are saying that it will be for them.

I only wish Apple would release firm specs for the new machine including the capacity of the internal PCIe Flash storage. I wouldn’t even particularly care if they didn’t announce the price – just tell us exactly what the spec is and I’ll be happy because if they did that I could buy a NAS device now meaning my wallet would have time to recover before I want to purchase a new Mac Pro later in the year.

Still, I’m not complaining. On the pro machine (and software) side of things, all is good at the moment. (Apart from Adobe, but there’s another post coming about that in a few days time.)

What are your thoughts? Make a comment below: