New Apple Mac Pro - will it influence future SFF designs?

caycep

Weaksauce
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I have to admit I am a big fan of the Mac (well, and iOS) platforms - hopefully that isn't a taboo subject here. With the release of the Mac Pro, which accommodates workstation-class CPU and GPUs shrunk to a size that gives mini-ITX a run for its money, I figure it might be an interesting thought experiment to see what it would mean for future SFF designs. Will the "thermal core" design catch on? I suppose Silverstone is sort of looking at that route with its SG08, SG10, FT03-mini and TJ08-E designs, but it's still constrained by current form factors in terms of motherboard, drives and add-on CPU cards.

If a lot of the form factors are limited by current standard sizes of motherboards, GPU cards, drives, PSU's, etc - would there be a push towards designing towards MacPro-sized daughter cards? Looking at pictures of the basic design, it doesn't seem incredibly convoluted as the daughter cards on the thermal core are just plain rectangles that are bolted on.

I think one of the biggest constraints is the GPU - one can argue that most of what we are building here is essentially a giant GPU/Fan with a little computer attached to to it. Could this push nvidia/AMD or a challenger to "disrupt" the market and and put 770/780 or AMD-equivalent GPU capabilities in a remarkably smaller form factor/power budget? Is there still room to go in terms of the laws of physics?
 
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Look at it ! Only a cynic could hate what has been achieved with this design. I've been mighty impressed with the design and I wanted to make a PC loosely based on the design but it's damn near impossible to do the same (2 GPU's and 1 CPU around a triangular heatsink in a tube).

I've done a PowerMac G5 casemod recently and the build quality of that case amazed me. Even 10 years ago they were using PWM fans with sound dampening and everything has had tremendous work put into it. Many people will make negative comments about the new Mac Pro but from someone who loves good design (not just pretty, but functional) this is undoubtibly huge for SFF.

But we won't see much in retail because it can never be. Apple achieved this because it designed about everything except the chips, even the GPU boards and WiFi adapter are completely custom. To get at this level of efficiency (power/volume), you need to be able to design everything. And since most of us aren't really going to run homegrown GPU PCB's and self-designed motherboards, this will never be. I only hope some manufacturers like Silverstone take note of the vertical windtunnel design and redesign the Fortress Mini.

BTW: as you can see, the GPU cards are not just triangles and considering they have no industry-standard connectors, I can't see how we'd ever see those in retail.
 
I would love to see Apple make a version of this for gaming. I think there are a lot of people who would buy something in the space between an iMac and this.
 
What they have done with the new Mac Pro is truely impressive.
Also it to me seems quite logical why they cut away all internal PCIe expansion slots ...
Thunderbolt ... Not that it is that good or the solution to all problems, but if they want to push Thuderbolt, they had to take away pretty much alll other ways of expansion.
 
I too wish they had an option for non-workstation GPUs, but alas, I do not believe that would be in their best interest given their target market (and weak alternative markets - even if non-workstation GPUs were offered the market would not bear strong sales in this direction).
 
The new mac pro is an incredible use of space, the engineering behind it is quite amazing, at least in my opinion. That being said I don't think we will see the use of a central heatsink because apple only got away with it because they designed each and every piece in the new mac pro. Hell the only things that follow any kind of standard are the ram and SSD.

If a company were to develop some new standards so that we could have a heatsink similar to the macpro I would be all about it. The cost be damned, I love small cases.
 
it is impressive, and i would be curious how much it costs them in R&D to come up with this, have the custom made motherboards and so on done as well..
 
The reason why PC DIY is cheap and easy is because all manufactures uses same standards.

While apple went the other way, and they want to keep all its hardware design exclusive and expensive. Some times not necessarily because it's better, just because they want to be different. When other manufactures came out with similar design, guess how apple will respond?

So I don't see why are we having this thread because there will be no similar design - at least not commercially - in the market for PC diy or PC manufactures.
 
I won't lie, personally I'm not a fan of that trashcan/cylinder look, but seeing the insides might I just say "Hot Damn"? Those are some beautiful interiors they're hiding in a crappy case. I guess it had to be sleek, though, because Apple. So what if I see their parents anytime I go to see a movie?

For those hoping for similar designs, I'm with Ivyelion. Let's not forget Apple's abusive power. Triangular heatsink? Lawsuit. Curved edges? Lawsuit. The latter is actually true in terms of phones and tablets.
 
I would echo what's already been said: the Mac Pro is highly proprietary, while the rest of the industry is stuck with decades-old standards that preclude a lot of the engineering efficiency Apple's managed.

On the 'thermal core' concept, Intel's BTX standard from a few years back bore some similarities, in terms of taking into account the thermal demands of current hardware and designing the system airflow around that. Particularly the mirroring of the PCI slots, so the fan intake on the GPU faces inward, enables a more coherent and effective cooling model. Quickie illustration:



It's kind of too bad BTX never gained any traction. But, the fact that it didn't also leaves the door open for newer, better standards to come about, which is what needs to happen to move things forward.
 
I would echo what's already been said: the Mac Pro is highly proprietary, while the rest of the industry is stuck with decades-old standards that preclude a lot of the engineering efficiency Apple's managed.

On the 'thermal core' concept, Intel's BTX standard from a few years back bore some similarities, in terms of taking into account the thermal demands of current hardware and designing the system airflow around that. Particularly the mirroring of the PCI slots, so the fan intake on the GPU faces inward, enables a more coherent and effective cooling model. Quickie illustration:



It's kind of too bad BTX never gained any traction. But, the fact that it didn't also leaves the door open for newer, better standards to come about, which is what needs to happen to move things forward.


Yeah, I think this is the hope. Maybe there is movement, what with NUC and all that. But if the Mac Pro does well in the market, I hope that lights a fire for the PC DIY companies to be creative in coming up with something like this.

Personally, I think if they achieve a reduction in the power consumption-to-performance of GPU's that might be a huge step. Or maybe better optimizations from the software side...not entirely sure how this might be achieved but with the size of current GPU cards and the cooling solutions required there, it just seems like an area where large gains could be made. CPU/motherboard/memory is already pretty impressive with mini-ITX, low-power/low-profile memory, etc.
 
I am not impressed as it is completely proprietary. Nothing else fits the case other than what came with it, just like my phone or tablet. Apple is doing nothing for standards.
 
Thing is, that was just a modification of an existing Gigabyte board design. Going that route is vastly simpler and less costly than engineering a completely new board from the ground up. Besides which, at this point developing a BTX board would be little different from a purely proprietary board; BTX is a dead standard as far as the industry is concerned. You're not going to get people excited about crowdfunding a dead standard. Any new standards will need widespread industry support to get anywhere.

I am not impressed as it is completely proprietary. Nothing else fits the case other than what came with it, just like my phone or tablet. Apple is doing nothing for standards.
I agree with the sentiment in regards to standards - as most here, I enjoy upgrading, tweaking, and customizing builds, which proprietary hardware largely precludes (and standards enable) - but, like Phuncz, I can still appreciate what they were able to achieve as far as engineering. It may not be for me, but it's still a cool piece of tech, and I'm glad there's someone out there doing it.
 
That's the problem with a new motherboard layout: it needs specific motherboards AND cases. Which means the typical "chicken & egg" problem, because one is useless without the other.

But considering 1TB SSD's are real and even possible on mSATA or M.2 mitigating yet another component needing space and cabling, we should be looking at minimizing the other parts that are wasting space like heatsinks and fans. Apple's idea of a single, shared heatsink with a single fan isn't too far-fetched, although impossible on the same scale as the Mac Pro without complete customization of every component.

The only problem I'm having not to go forward with a Mac Pro inspired build is that I have no idea how I would connect two GPU's on an mITX motherboard.
 
That's the problem with a new motherboard layout: it needs specific motherboards AND cases. Which means the typical "chicken & egg" problem, because one is useless without the other.

But considering 1TB SSD's are real and even possible on mSATA or M.2 mitigating yet another component needing space and cabling, we should be looking at minimizing the other parts that are wasting space like heatsinks and fans. Apple's idea of a single, shared heatsink with a single fan isn't too far-fetched, although impossible on the same scale as the Mac Pro without complete customization of every component.

The only problem I'm having not to go forward with a Mac Pro inspired build is that I have no idea how I would connect two GPU's on an mITX motherboard.

I think this is true short term....but with the overall restriction being size, one step to make this possible is to define a spec that has the sizes spelled out for the next 5-10 years or so.

I think if you
a) standardize a heatsink dimension that makes sense (say, base it on the Mac Pro dimensions, with a standard location for heat contacts, etc).

b) standardize the daughter card dimensions off of that,

then theoretically, maybe you move towards a viable platform based around this.

The size part seems to be catching up in a way - if Intel can make NUC's, and with more "big components" seeming to become miniaturized as part of SOC stacks and so forth, motherboards/daughterboards at this scale seem at least to be feasible to me. At least Apple has proven it.

In a way, perhaps this is more of an argument for a big-step-back-big-picture-top-down review of computing, at least every once in a while, vs. the bottom-up approach typically seen from the PC world.
 
No manufacturer will be interested in custom designs for a VERY small group of interested parties when mITX already caters to most of the SFF demands. Especially standardizing something that is clearly going to be patented all over. And with the PC market in a downwards trajectory, the chances are even slimmer.

We shouldn't wish for copies of Apple's design, but I want to see people bring new ideas to the table, inspired by Apple's design. We should think about how Apple made something half the size of the Ncase M1 with two to three times the potential performance. While the Ncase M1 is a feat of its own, Apple has given us new ways to look at hardware layout that should spark our imagination. They managed to fill a cylindrical shape to the brim with hardware and still managed the most dense desktop and workstation computer ever, that is also quiet and expandable (to a degree).

I like the Intel NUC concept and it has potential, but it has very clear limits and has only been able to materialize because it is much more capable as a system builder's component or a light Office PC than a workstation or gaming rig. The Mac Pro is in a league of it's own with the potential for a 12-core high performance CPU, 64GB of 1866MHz RAM, dual PCIe SSD's and two workstation-class GPU's along with six Thunderbolt 2.0 (20Gbps) ports. It eats my computer for breakfast, only has one fan and it still is quieter, although a lot more expensive.
 
it is impressive, and i would be curious how much it costs them in R&D to come up with this, have the custom made motherboards and so on done as well..

Considering many good motherboards retail for under $100, it is fairly cheap to custom make motherboards and other components.

Considering that there was a low volume custom case on one the treads for not too outragous of price

All it takes is the marketing decision to do so.

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An example of a reasonable design project:

An expandable PC case: Add a combination USB3 and power connection to the side of the case. Design a module to hold some number of hard drives that use the power connection to power the drives and pass through to the next module. Use the USB connection for data transfer. Most likely have a hub in each module to connect drives and pass through. 16TB per module.

There are other data transfer means that will work.
 
Considering many good motherboards retail for under $100, it is fairly cheap to custom make motherboards and other components.
I think you are missing the point why custom, low-volume (1,000's and less) costs a lot more than mass-produced. Not only does it need to be designed, but also sourced, tooled, prototyped, tested, packaged, shipped and supported. And let's not forget the startup-costs, variable costs, licensing and whatnot.
 
Considering many good motherboards retail for under $100, it is fairly cheap to custom make motherboards and other components.

Considering that there was a low volume custom case on one the treads for not too outragous of price

All it takes is the marketing decision to do so.

Think that's oversimplifying it a bit.

Apple also had to research a lot: cooling, power requirements, custom graphics cards and memory slot designs... you get the idea. Also, odds are that you won't find an off-the-shelf board from ASUS or Gigabyte with six Thunderbolt 2 ports. Combine this with the enclosure and it's potentially a big effort.
 
The 3 great things about this case is it's size, shared heatsinks/fans, and a simple airflow design. There are already itx cases where the case itself is a heatsink, I could see a steambox like cases with a shared GPU/CPU heatsink, but main issue is CPU and GPU positions varying and heatsinks being rigid.

Also most PSU's don't have have have air that flow through it, but at a 90 degree angle, which wouldn't work well.
 
arguably the Piston PC business is going in the same direction.

i'd love to see it as an open standard, and yes, it might not be engineered for absolute efficiency to the nth degree in the way the new mac pro is, but it would be great to have,

that and more FT03 style cases.
 
The only problem I'm having not to go forward with a Mac Pro inspired build is that I have no idea how I would connect two GPU's on an mITX motherboard.
Damn it, I found a solution, now I have no valid excuse not to. I'm probably going to build this thing. I'll unveil the info when I have the hardware to test and verify this. I guess I should start looking into learning CAD or find someone who will do this project with me.
 
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