Apple aims at pro Mac markets with all-new AMD GPU

Once upon a time, two interesting announcements aimed at pro Mac users might have attracted more attention....

Apple, Mac, MacOS, mac OS X, OS X, MacBook, MacBook pro, Mac, Mac Pro, AMD, ARM, WWDC

Apple’s business has grown so extensive that enhancements that might once have been major announcements now arrive in the form of quiet, stealthy product updates that don’t get much attention. Two newly introduced Mac enhancements go a long way to illustrate this point.

Graphics for the few

I was blown away by the speed and performance of the 16-inch MacBook Pro when I took a look at the machine. It delivered more computing performance than a humble scribbler like myself actually needs – and Apple is already improving on it.

With WWDC 2020 just one week away, the company has quietly enhanced the available build-to-order options around these Macs with the addition of a new AMD Radeon Pro 5600M GPU selection. The new configuration is available to purchase now and costs an additional $600.

This is a step above for these Macs, as it means the most demanding Mac professionals can get hold of systems that deliver performance up to 75% faster than the entry-level MacBook Pro 16, and it's up to 3.5 times faster than a previous generation 15-inch model.

These kinds of performance benefits are great, though not everyone is going to be able to make use of them. Mac users involved in high-end 3D modelling, games development, color grading or video special effects may be interested.

The 7nm AMD graphics processor is very new. AMD says it can deliver up to 5.3 Terraflops of single precision floating point performance. It’s also equipped with 8GB of HBM2 memory, which is capable of handling 394 GBps bandwidth. It’s built using AMD’s RDNA architecture, which basically means kicking out excellent performance without consuming vast chunks of battery life.

The thing is, not so many years ago the introduction of this much additional horsepower to the Mac range would have merited a little more fanfare than this stealth update got.

The Mac you (probably) don’t need

Apple has pushed out another quiet improvement. Also aimed at the most demanding high-end users, this is an enhancement the majority of computer users don’t really need – not because it’s not good, but because most people don’t need this kind of performance boost.

The update comes in the form of an SSD kit for the Mac Pro. This lets users upgrade their internal storage from the original factory configuration and is available in 1TB, 2TB, 4TB and 8TB storage options.

Once again, this is a machine at the top of the PC performance tree – it’s a computer for the few of us – but if you happen to be one of those few, than this new improvement will likely be welcome.

Once again, there may well have been a time when the introduction of these new SSD units as a user serviceable part might have been seen as of more consequence. But these days for Apple it’s seen as too minor to mention.

That’s a shame, I suppose, given that these updates show that while much of the company’s attention sits on iPhones, iPads and the future ARM Mac transition, it also continues to provide powerful tools for pro users. (It does, of course, follow that major strategic error when Apple seemed to forget that high end users will always want the best possible computing kit.

This renewed focus on providing powerful tools for high-end Mac users is nice, but it also illustrates a discussion the company will inevitably need to have if it does announce a move to ARM-based processors in Macs next week.

You see, not only will it have to convince developers of the mission-critical software these high end users depend on to support the chip, but it must also try to convince high end users to continue to invest in its platforms.

Sure, the Mac audience is a slim portion of the company’s overall business today, and the high-end markets are an even a slimmer slice of that. But the most demanding users now are the ones who light the way to what everyday consumers will need tomorrow – particularly as the Mac’s adoption in the enterprise continues to grow.

Things are shaping up pretty interesting for WWDC, I feel.

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Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.

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