On the Mac Pro, the xMac and What’s Happening in 2013

John Siracusa, in 2005, for Ars Technica:

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the xMac. My xMac. The Mac that I want to buy. Reduced to one sentence, it’s a completely configurable, headless Mac that trades expandability for reduced size and cost.

The idea of the xMac is older than this article, as John explains, but it’s pretty simple: a Mac that trades some of the flexibility of the Mac Pro for a big reduction in price. A Mac mini-priced system with a few PCI Express 2.0 slots, a nice RAM ceiling would tickle the fancy of many Mac nerds who dislike the iMac’s severe lack of upgradability.

Turns out the dream didn’t just live in John’s heart. Here’s Dan Frakes at Macworld in 2006:

What I‘d like to see is a minitower design with—and this is just one possible configuration that would fulfill my wish—a reasonably powerful processor (perhaps a higher-end Core 2 Duo or a single Xeon); a good graphics card in an upgradeable slot; a decent amount of RAM and hard-drive space; a single free PCI Express slot; and room for one additional hard drive. The ability to swap out the optical drive would be a nice touch…And in my ongoing daydream, the MMMM would sell for a relatively reasonable $1499 to $1599.

While Dan’s name for this machine stinks compared to John’s, the idea is basically the same.

And the idea is still alive. Here’s Dan, writing just this week:

What if that Mac minitower isn’t just a new Mac Pro, but the new Mac Pro? It sounds crazy, but thanks to both technological advances and shifts in the pro market, Apple could conceivably offer a “pro” minitower and drop the full-size Mac Pro completely. I wouldn’t bet my paycheck on such a move, but for the first time, the technology is there—and Apple has a penchant for making bold, “We know better than you—trust us” moves.

Won’t high-end pro users abandon the Mac platform without a “true” Mac Pro? Some will, there’s no doubt. But many already have, arguing that it’s Apple that has been slowly abandoning the high-end market over the past half decade.

As a weird side effect of knowing a lot of nerds both in real life and on the Internet, I can tell you that most people don’t ever fill their Mac Pros with additional cards. Many, however, add tons of RAM and additional hard drives.

So, what if the xMac were just the Mac Pro that kept a high RAM ceiling, but cut back some of the other options. Does anyone need two optical drives? Besides rigs set up for audio recording, I’m not sure who has a machine full of PCI cards.

All of this, of course, is conjecture. While Tim Cook has made statements about the Mac Pro and 2013 in the past, nothing’s been announced yet. Will Apple ditch the Mac Pro in favor of a smaller, slightly less configurable machine? My gut says yes, that the next Mac Pro will be less configurable, but make up for it with Thunderbolt, all while retaining the ability to add several hard drives and lots of RAM.

I could get behind that.