Mac Pro’s CPU upgradeability confirmed

Mac Pro (swapped CPU, OWC 001)

Despite what some would call a steep asking price, Apple’s desktop powerhouse – the new Mac Pro – has been universally regarded by reviewers as the dream machine for content creators who desperately wanted a reasonably priced monster workstation that would make real-time 4K video editing a reality. And despite scarce availability – online orders slipped to February and in-store availability is not expected before March – the new Mac Pro never ceases to amaze us.

Some power users have voiced their concern that Apple would, as is often its wont, lock down the system to allow only for memory upgrades. As it turns out, the new Mac Pro is one of Apple’s most expandable Macs, if not the most expandable one.

A teardown analysis by iFixIt has revealed a socketed Intel CPU, accessible RAM and no proprietary Torx screws (go figure!), giving the workstation an eight out of ten for repairability.

Earlier in the week, Other World Computing (OWC) has confirmed that the Mac Pro’s Intel Xeon E5 processor was socketed and removable. Today, the OWC team said it’s successfully swapped the stock CPU with an eight-core Xeon E5–2667 V2 chip not offered as the Online Apple Store’s built-to-order option…

What OWC did was it replaced the machine’s stock 3.5GHz Intel E5–1650 V2 six-core chip with a 3.3GHz E5–2667 V2 eight-core variant. That processor model comes with 25MB of L3 cache and is not offered as a custom-built option by the Online Apple Store.

OWC then put the workstation through its paces using Geekbench benchmarking tool, revealing a 30 percent boost in multi-core performance over Apple’s standard eight-core CPU. OWC ran tests using 64GB of its own branded memory installed.

Mac Pro (Geekbench, original CPU, OWC 001)Mac Pro (Geekbench, swapped CPU, OWC 002)
Left: original Mac Pro CPU with a Geekbench score of 27004. Right: the faster eight-core CPU showing a 30 percent better multi-core score of 24429.

In other words, the 30 percent improvement courtesy of an eight-core CPU upgrade bests even the twelve-core performance of the previous-generation Mac Pro, OWC said.

So there you have it: the new Mac Pro indeed sports a socketted, removable CPU that allows for user upgrades, even if we don’t know how tinkering with the CPU would affect your warranty.

Nevertheless, this development is kinda big deal for intrepid fixers as RAM and CPU upgrades on Apple’s web store are somewhat overpriced so you’ll be doing yourself a favor and saving sizable amount by upgrading the system yourself.

Note that these high-performing Intel workstation chips don’t come cheap: the 3.3GHz eight-core Xeon E5–2667 V2 variant OWC used is a $2,000 value! By comparison, $2,000 will buy you the slower 3GHz eight-core Intel Xeon E5 with 25MB of L3 cache over at the Online Apple Store.

Mac Pro (CPU upgrades, Online Apple Store)

With that in mind, you could (and should) opt for a cheaper $2,999 stock Mac Pro configuration knowing you could safely perform DIY upgrades at a later date, if need be.

iFixit’s teardown praises the Mac Pro’s compactness and modularity – nearly everything is user-replaceable and the workstation is easy to disassemble.

The Mac Pro is both small and repairable. In fact, it’s the most repairable Apple product we’ve seen all year. The hood pops off with the flick of a switch. There’s not a proprietary screw in sight and the RAM can be replaced without any tools.

SSD could potentially be expanded – with more storage options available via external Thunderbolt drives – and several components can be replaced independently, the iFixIt team discovered. I’d guess user-installable GPU upgrades would arrive later this year.

The machine’s AMD FirePro dual-GPUs are custom-made to deliver “unprecedented levels of performance”, in AMD’s own words. Specifically, the AMD FirePro D300/D500/D700 dual-GPUs have the ability to edit full-resolution 4K video and simultaneously render effects in the background, in real-time, and still have enough oomph to power up to three 4K displays.

Late-2013 Mac Pro (sideways, The Verge 001)
Image via The Verge’s Mac Pro hands-on video.

Just don’t call it overpriced: AnandTech concluded in its monster review that the machine is indeed price-comparable to equivalent Windows workstations.

Notable exception: DIY systems that cost slightly less to build, but don’t look pretty and are not as integrated and fluid as the Mac Pro. Besides, you don’t get to run Final Cut Pro.

The new Mac Pro also uses uses 68 percent less energy than the previous-generation model, an Apple scorecard reveals, and is safe to operate horizontally.

Rack-mount options supporting horizontal operation coming in 3…2…1…