At present, modern VR headsets are for the most part unsupported on Apple computers, largely because many of the company’s computers do not meet the recommended hardware specifications. Apple may rarely hint at it, but the company is thinking about VR… and so are its customers. Recently Apple has admitted that the current Mac Pro isn’t standing up to the needs of some of its customers, and VR is one reason why.

“We are in the process of what we call ‘completely rethinking’ the Mac Pro,” Phil Schiller, Apple’s SVP of Worldwide Marketing told TechCrunch last week.

mac-pro
Photo courtesy Apple

Apple had introduced the current cylindrical Mac Pro back in 2013, an impressively compact device which aimed to replace those big silver Mac Pro towers of years past. But the design, which features by default dual graphics cards, was built on the idea that multi-GPU architecture would become the norm for high-power computing. However, while the usage of the dedicated GPU has grown since then, most applications remain optimized to render on one big (and hot) GPU.

Photo courtesy Apple
Inside the Mac Pro | Photo courtesy Apple

That’s become a sticky problem for the Mac Pro, which has a neat triangular cooling architecture—with a CPU on one side and a GPU on the other two—that was designed for even heat distribution on each face, but the nature of largely single-GPU optimized applications means the system reaches a thermal bottleneck before it can reach its maximum performance (which would require distributing the GPU load effectively across both GPUs).

“I think we designed ourselves into a bit of a thermal corner, if you will,” says Apple’s SVP of Software Engineering, Craig Federighi, as reported by TechCrunch. “We designed a system that we thought with the kind of GPUs that at the time we thought we needed, and that we thought we could well serve with a two GPU architecture… that that was the thermal limit we needed, or the thermal capacity we needed. But workloads didn’t materialize to fit that as broadly as we hoped.”

When asked by TechCrunch’s Matthew Panzarino what sorts of high-power computing tasks are being held back by the present design, Apple brought VR into view.

“There’s certain scientific loads that are very GPU intensive and they want to throw the largest GPU at it that they can,” says Federighi. “There are heavy 3D graphics [applications] or graphics and compute mixed loads. Those can be in VR, those can be in certain kinds of high-end cinema production tasks where most of the software out there that’s been written to target those doesn’t know how to balance itself well across multiple GPUs but can scale across a single large GPU.”

Indeed, while NVIDIA and AMD both offer support for using more than one GPU for VR rendering, few developers are optimizing VR applications for a dual GPU architecture.

And so Apple is committing to bringing a new Mac Pro into the world, one that will better scale with the needs of its customers.

“We’re working on it,” says Schiller. “We have a team working hard on it right now, and we want to architect it so that we can keep it fresh with regular improvements, and we’re committed to making it our highest-end, high-throughput desktop system, designed for our demanding pro customers.”

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Apple CEO: VR Has "Lower Commercial Interest" than AR, New Hires from Magic Leap & Oculus

Granted, the company says that major refresh won’t come until sometime after 2017.

Back in the days of the Rift DK2 development kit, Oculus for the most part supported Apple computers. But in 2015 announced it was ‘pausing’ software development for Mac and Linux to focus on Windows as the only compatible platform for the consumer launch of the Rift.

In 2016, Oculus ex-founder Palmer Luckey said that Oculus would be happy to support MacOS “if they ever release a [high performance] computer.” He talked about the Mac Pro specifically:

It just boils down to the fact that Apple doesn’t prioritize high-end GPUs. You can buy a $6,000 Mac Pro with the top-of-the-line AMD FirePro D700 and it still doesn’t match our recommended spec. If they prioritize higher-end GPUs like they used to for a while back in the day… we’d love to support Mac. But right now there’s just not a single machine out there [from Apple] that supports it. So even if we can support on the software side, there’s just no audience of [Mac users] that can run the vast majority of [VR] software out there.

Between Oculus and HTC/Valve, the companies have largely agreed to a ‘recommended VR spec’ which today means an Intel Core i5-4590 equivalent and an NVIDIA GTX 1060 or Radeon RX 480 equivalent.

Will the new Mac Pro be VR ready? Apple’s recent words seem to indicate the answer is yes when it comes to hardware, but the company and its MacOS will still need support from other ecosystem players to achieve software compatibility.

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  • GrangerFX

    Apple’s reactionary response to the hardware requirements for VR demonstrates a devastating lack of vision in the company. Developers, including Oculus, have been complaining for the past two years that there is no Mac that has enough GPU/CPU performance to drive VR headsets. Apple has also slacked on support for the latest OpenGL Vulkan and OpenCL 2.x. Their own Metal is in no way up to the task. I have zero faith that the company can release computers that are powerful enough for VR, supported by the latest SDKs, affordable in relation to similar Windows PCs and laptops currently on the market and update frequently in the future. Apple’s continued insistence that there is no need to add touch screens to their computers is proof that their lack of vision will continue for the foreseeable future.

    • burzum

      Apple stopped producing workstations and “productive” hardware long time ago and gone the “lifestyle” asset route. Average hardware for a very high price and some marketing bullshit talk that makes people buy it because it’s hip and expensive. Honestly, I don’t understand why developers buy Apple laptops at all. If you don’t want windows, there are plenty of cheaper but not less powerful laptops you can run Linux on. If apple really manages it to come up with a VR ready Mac it’s probably incredible expensive and you get yesterdays hardware for the price of the hardware from tomorrow. Oh, and I actually own Apple products – the ones my company gave me – and I have experience with them and I don’t see any advantage they have over any other (business class) hardware.

      • GrangerFX

        Some of us have to do cross platform work. Frankly I still prefer Mac OS over Windows (there are no ads for one thing). I prefer Apple’s development philosophy in general including their making old SDKs obsolete and removing them over time. However you make an excellent point. My next computer will almost certainly be a Windows based gamer laptop or desktop running Mac OS in a VM. For the cost of one “pro” Mac, I can afford to buy a NVidia 1070 based laptop and a 1080 based desktop computer.

    • SPQRUSA

      You are way underestimating Apple and the capability of Metal over Vulcan or OpenCL which are both super-crufty. Apple mobile devices are consistently more powerful than every competitor in terms of graphics and imaging performance. The benchmarks don’t lie here.

      As for macbook, I agree. Macbook has been under engineered lending mainly to their inability to expand components and their super aggressive QA and development lifecycle – it takes two years from concept to production compared to less than one year for competitor laptops. This makes MacBooks at least one year behind their competitors in terms of raw ASIC capability. That will change soon.

      Macbook will soon start following the iOS route where Apple controls the ASIC destiny. And in that regard, Apple is one year ahead of the competition in terms of raw ASIC compute capability.

  • Joel Lovell

    I will second GrangerFX, after manyyears as a die hard mac user my initial acquisition of the higher end dual GPU mac pro was such a horrible experience (no cuda so gambled upon a fix for opencl so that I could use that amd GPU horsepower which never materialized) so having no working GPU rendering meant my video and 3D rendering experience was only twice the performance of my 2012 macbook pro. Sold it at a $1200 loss only months after buying it I was able to build a custom PC with a single Titan X that rendered images in an hour that took 15 on the Mac Pro.

    • Ouch, but I have many stories like this. You don’t need to share, but are you now running Windows or a Hackintosh?

      • Joel Lovell

        Windows 10; 64GB system, SSD, Titan X, water cooled 8-core Intel.

  • NooYawker

    How difficult is it to drop a 1080 into their production line?

    • Bob the Builder

      Ars Technica’s review of the Mac Pro (https://arstechnica.com/apple/2014/01/two-steps-forward-a-review-of-the-2013-mac-pro/3) puts the TDP of the FirePro D700 at 108W. Wikipedia puts the TDP of the GTX 1080 at 180W (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GeForce_10_series#GeForce_10_.2810xx.29_series). Also, one of the highest rated comments on the Ars Technica review links to an AnandTech review (http://www.anandtech.com/show/7603/mac-pro-review-late-2013/9) saying that the Mac Pro GPUs are only FirePros in name. They’re really underclocked Radeons.

      From what I’ve heard, GPU failure is actually a common occurrence among Mac Pro users. Apple incorrectly predicted that future software would be better at balancing the heat and power load between two GPUs. So the Mac Pro is so compactly designed that it can barely handle one of its current GPUs under heavy load.

      • >>”So the Mac Pro is so compactly designed that it can barely handle one of its current GPUs under heavy load.”

        What? that bit is nothing like my experience. I have one and it can work flat out for days on end without a hitch and have never experienced visible degradation of system performance due to “barely” coping.

        >>”saying that the Mac Pro GPUs are only FirePros in name. They’re really underclocked Radeons.”

        It is the same with all pro cards if you think about what makes a card “Pro”. Pro cards are often the same hardware as the gaming card but are under-clocked and have drivers tweaked for stability where gaming cards are over-clocked and have drivers tweaked for performance. The only major difference in a select few Pro cards is the ones that have large amounts of ECC Vram for scientific processing and you get better business support on Pro cards but the majority of them are underclocked consumer cards.

        • Slo Creators

          In my experience they also have more memory, but yes you are quite right.

        • Sponge Bob

          me thinks Pro cards are also used for large compute clusters so must be very stable and long lived
          gaming cards – who cares ?

          • Aye, NVidia released the Tesla range for just that market.

  • zambutu

    Ex founder Palmer luckey? Does quiting un found the company?

    • benz145

      Of course not, which is why you can thus infer that he’s the founder but no longer with the company ; )

  • I have to call BS on Apple’s explanation of why they couldn’t upgrade the Mac Pro until now. First, Apple will continue to run into problems designing power, when esthetics take priority. Even so, with NVIDIA’s newest Pascal GPU being even more conservative in power consumption (conversely heat generation), there is no reason that they could have changed out the AMD FirePro based GPUs with a single 1060 or even 1070 since the FirePro are not the coolest chips even three years ago. Also, the XEON has been overkill as well. My theory is they wanted something with workstation specs, but completely ignored the prosumer, or even the budget workstation user that gets by with i7s and regular graphics cards. They also ignored what “Pro” meant to many designers and developers that have embraced 3D modeling and rendering tools and could care less what the “box” looked like since it tucked out-of-sight under their desk. But my pet theory is an internal ban against using NVIDIA graphics inside their Macs. It has been a few years now and I have not once seen the name NVIDIA as an embedded discrete graphic solution in their iMacs, Mac minis and Macbooks. Was it because NVIDIA wouldn’t allow them to bully them into lower profit margins like AMD, or was it the fact that for many Mac developers just continue to use their license on an old Mac to build a far superior Hackintosh, which has no trouble running NVIDIA cards.
    In my humble opinion I think it is both the Hackintosh and the fact Windows 10 & the 3D tools available for it has shown Apple the writing on the wall, and it is in red.

    • Bob the Builder

      https://arstechnica.com/apple/2014/01/two-steps-forward-a-review-of-the-2013-mac-pro/3

      Ars Technica’s review of the Mac Pro puts the TDP of the FirePro D700 at 108W. Wikipedia puts the TDP of the GTX 1070 at 150W. Also, one of the highest rated comments on the Ars Technica review links to an AnandTech review saying that the Mac Pro GPUs are only FirePros in name. They’re really based on Radeons.

      From what I’ve heard, GPU failure is actually a common occurrence among Mac Pro users. Apple incorrectly predicted that future software would be better at balancing the heat and power load between two GPUs. So the Mac Pro is so compactly designed that it can barely handle one of its current GPUs under heavy load.

      • Ryne Landers

        You’ve commented with the TDP of the GTX 1080 and the GTX 1070 now, and neither one matters.

        The fact is, you can get the full desktop 1080 or 1060 in laptops and the TDPs are much lower with the same exact hardware. The 1060 in laptops clocks in slightly under the outgoing 970m, and is estimated at 80W.

        A 1070 laptop part is actually more powerful than its desktop counterpart (thanks to 128 more CUDA cores) and has a lower TDP, estimated to be around 120W. If the Radeon has 108W per card, that’s a much higher TDP than a single 1060 or 1070 chip, in say, an MXM module. Even more, a single 1070 is more powerful than both D700s under load, which means that even if you were running a single 1070 at further reduced capability or dropping down to a 1060, and we buy the assumption made by Apple’s statements here that most load only use one card, you get reduced TDP and power draw with much greater performance.

    • I agree with 99% of everything you said there. I was so hoping for a NVidia based Mac Pro back in 2012-2013. The one thing I disagree with though is a Hackintosh. They are great for dabbling in MacOS but not for business use where stability and reliability is high on your list. I tried to write apps in xCode on a hackintosh, it was a nightmare getting things to work, was it me or the hardware etc. When a new version of macOS gets released you have to install a load of new kexts which have a 50/50 chance of ballsing up your Hackintosh too. So, with too much risk I just got a Mac, Bootcamped it for a Windows/Mac machine and never looked at building a Hackintosh again.

      • Slo Creators

        You are absolutely correct, Hackintoshes are not for the faint of heart, and I also own a couple Macs that I have up to date, and only use the Hackintosh for Unity and Unreal development, but in saying that some of the features of Scenekit that allow for baking are incredibly slow on my Macs, and do my modeling and baking on a PC.

        I can only say Apple did this to themselves. Creating such a high, iron cladded wall surrounding their ecosystem, and pushing extreme pricing for mediocre specification means they truly are out of touch with modern creators, which is why only executives, children with parents with deep pockets and the Mac zealot are using Macs. Those who do more than type & look cool at coffee shops only care about the end result And if your box looks good (which many do) that is just icing on the cake.

  • I have the 2013 Mac Pro with dual D700’s. It was bought on release mainly for development as I liked the style of it and still use it today side by side a 1080Ti rendering PC. The main area Apple went wrong was wanting to write their own drivers for the custom AMD GPU’s. This resulted in a never-never driver update path. AMD have released loads of driver updates but the Mac Pro will not use them unless you find hacked drivers. This drove me mad. Apple stayed silent. Unfortunately, once bitten, twice shy. Unless they bring out another boxed based Mac pro with full support for switching out the hardware for 3rd party items then i will skip it.

    I work in XCode writing apps, Final Cut Pro and other creative apps for media and it has served its purpose for that. It is tiny, silent, has extremely fast hard disk access for both internal and external thunderbolt and most crucially for me, has not failed once.

    For me, it was an OK investment when I look back at what I have done on it. And they still hold a good price second hand even after 4 years due to their stability and scientific use, audio workstations (because they are near silent) etc.

    Looking on Ebay, I should be able to get back 40 to 50% of what I bought it for which is pretty good after 4 years. Also, Mac OS is very nice to use on a daily basis and is a must have if you want to develop iOS / MacOS apps.

    Saying all that, I am not excusing Apple and the new Mac Pro. Apple screwed up, I was conned and they regressed when design overpowered function with no upgrade path since release. My faith in them to deliver functional equipment is somewhat sceptical now as they push for hip and trendy over everything else. I do not need Mac VR or Mac Gaming so next time I will stick to an Apple laptop for my Apple based projects.

  • Sponge Bob

    why would anyone waste money on apple crap, especially for VR ?
    for 2500 one can buy a super duper Windows gaming laptop from MSI or HP running VR just fine
    for same 25000 one can build an *upgradable* desktop supercomputer PC with top notch specs for VR

    why buy apple at all ???

    • SPQRUSA

      Shill MSFT much? Microsoft is wrought with driver hell, insane incompatibility issues, and generally under-baked drivers. Sure, if you want the latest and greatest driver update from XYZ vendor to give you 1% more FPS in the latest game – go MSFT. If you need a reliable industrial computer for writing code built on a Unix base – Apple is your only choice. Get real with Linux – you have to be an IT guy just to get half the crap to work.

      • Sponge Bob

        I am actually a Unix/Linux guy
        I prefer an *upgradable* custom built full-tower “desktop” – with dual boot of Win 10 and Linux ( might go VMware route though to run Linux)
        Hardware base Apple is overpriced crap if we talk anything VR
        And Linux is barely supported by some VR “enthusiasts”
        So Win 10 is the only practical choice right now for VR – like it or not
        Win 10 and …sigh …C++ (MSVS).. as much as I like developing in Python
        – no such thing for VR today

        • SPQRUSA

          Again – “overpriced crap” – I have owned every PC under the sun and have been doing this since the 80s – my macbook and iMac present a tiny fraction of the problems compared to a windows box. sure you don’t get the latest and greatest GPU or CPU, which for the most part are way over priced, but you get a solid reliable computer which isn’t loaded with MSFT hack-ware.

        • Nairobi

          “Windows 10 is the only practical choice right now for VR”
          Wrong. Windows 7 still has great support for developing, playing, and enjoying VR.

          • Sponge Bob

            I meant *windows* not linux or osx
            win 10 pro is default on all newly purchased high-end Pcs and laptops VR capable

  • Lucidfeuer

    It’s crazy how Steve Job’s legacy has left nothing but an absolute vapid vacuum in their governance and it’s only a matter of time before they’ve completely eroded it.

    Their lack of vision is baffling but is the best exemple of how it takes a person or a team of people who actually know how to think and conceive to make great products, not just mediocre impostors marketers, engineers, designers or managers.

    And also there’s that over-speculation parasite problem which doesn’t even let them the freedom to change their politics. They could destroy Samsung and other-brand just by releasing an iPhone 8 based (head-track FFS) foldable VR headset, which is easy to do but that they won’t because of the agendas and governance structure they’re stuck in.

    Can’t wait for the future generation of entrepreneur that are going to wipe them out of the market with a sling of a back-hand so much these mediocre corporations are oblivious to the future of the markets, structures and products.

    • Get Schwifty!

      Can you explain how their governance structure works that is so impeding?

      • Lucidfeuer

        Yes: Steve Jobs. In order to have a whole corporate politics oriented around conception, especially in the vision of a person who is so specific in the details, it requires a highly controlled structure of governance and checks.

        It works when you have a Steve Jobs, but then when he was cast aside and ill, Apple was left with a very rigorous hierarchical structure reinforced by more investment, budget, prospective, risk or quality control management checks that you can think of.

        And then there’s the fact that a dedicated entrepreneur selling real products by doing real business was not only replaced by a stock manager as CEO but also the whole board was superceded by parasitic scum speculators in particular with the entry of riches like Carl Icahan for the stocks to artificially stagnate when Apple was on the low these past years (not by rational business decision makers), which put Apple in a situation that is so fucking irrational that it’s speculation over-valuation matches nowhere near their actual business results up to the point that despite having the biggest company cash pool of the world they had to borrow 6 billions debt dollars just to remunerate stockholders as due.

        So there are reason why Apple’s product are exactly how they are today: Apple is hands-tied and knees down with very little concrete manoeuvre to iterate, invent, change any of the course they’re set on.

        • Sponge Bob

          if they can’t offer VR capable and economically practical desktops and notebooks they are done for sure in that space

    • Sponge Bob

      they may be oblivious to the future but are very good at reverse-engineering and copying other’s tech, patented or not – they don’t care
      same for samsung and other big boys

      BTW, why do you think positional head-tracking is easy ?
      how are you proposing to track it – with 2 external cameras or 2 lighthouses ?
      none of these are easy options…
      that’s why samsung decided to stay away for now…

      • Lucidfeuer

        One cheap IR cam like the Oculus stand would have been well enough. It’s unacceptable for Samsung as a business company and in a VR market endeavour to have release a GearVR that is exactly the same in 2017 when VR is still threatened to be just a fad so much we’re far from even having ONE usable, practical headset the way it should be for the general market to exist.

        My solution is a research WIP, we’ll see.

        • Sponge Bob

          I still have DK2 and it does ok tracking of BIG (and IR LEDs infested) headset with one camera but in the close proximity to it (no room scale of course – you would need at least 2 cameras for that)
          BUT, it’s wired via USB to PC !
          Now try it with wireless camera – if you want to avoid latency you would need to combine IR camera with GPU and wirelessly transmit just the computed coords, not the images
          So its not just external IR camera- its a whole image processing unit
          Multiply it by 2 if you want room scale
          Plus, you would need to cover outside of GearVR with multiple IR LEDs and light them up in certain sequence – lijke Oculus does
          Or have multiple photodiodes on the outside and external lighhouses
          None if these are cheap options – gear VR would cost at least 300$ with all the stuff I mentioned (plus 700$ for phone) and would weight twice as much
          And I didn’t even mention controllers…

    • Slo Creators

      First stop holding Jobs in such high regard. It is his vision that wanted to do away with Mac Pro, and he was much more consumer orientated. Also to think Apple could just could fabricate a UHD screen is also a little nieve. Apple relies on OEMs to do research for them, than they base their designs on the components available. Apple strength is to acquire IP, industrial design and push the OEM for best prices with JiT processing so they are never tied with excess inventory. Case in Point is the supposed AMOLED screen from Samsung. This has already left them in a bind since they have no second source, which I have heard was going to be LG. This also explains why they continue to use LCD from JDI, plentiful and quite cheap. To see the price differential between AMOLED and LED is shocking, and if you are looking at these price differentials on most of your components, you can understand the profits.

      • Lucidfeuer

        Rationalising bullshit over bullshit. You make an excellent post-Apple consumer, you’d buy absolutely any shit even if they’d spit in your face. Good for speculators.

  • Hogo

    a logistics manager can never replace a visionary. at least, not well anyways.

  • Michigan Jay Sunde

    I believed in Apple. I still give them props for their major breakthroughs in UI, UX, laptops, music players, phones and tablets… but after 20 loyal years and probably 8 different machines, they MADE me build a Windows system by just completely forfeiting on the desktop AND mobile VR market, and leaving their innovative Mac Pro to languish like a sad joke in the VFX / content-creation space. It was a KILLER machine for like six months. Damn them for forcing me to use Windows. I hope Schiller is for real, and that my long, dark exodus from the Mac will finally end in 2018! :)

    (I’m even leaving iOS when the S8+GearVR drops. I swore I’d never go Android. Look what they’ve done to me!)

    • realtrisk

      Made you get a brain?

  • Chris Muttaqi Donaher

    What an excellent article!