The New Mac Pro

A lot of ink has been spilt over the past week discussing the design language adopted by iOS 7. It is, without a doubt, the most significant visual change to the platform since it was introduced. It’s fascinating, somewhat flawed, forward looking yet slightly regressive all at the same time. It deserves the attention it’s garnered.

But.

I keep finding myself thinking about this new Mac Pro. I’d always been a Mac Pro kind of person until my old Pro died and it looked like the product was stagnant so I bought a 27″ Core i7 iMac. Which was amazing and I totally fell in love. I’ll never need a Mac Pro again, I thought. Then the hard drive in that died and now I work on a relatively old MacBook Air as my primary. (It’s plugged into a 27″ Thunderbolt Display. I’m not an animal.) And, it turns out, even working on this old Air is fine. I don’t need the crazy compute muscle I used to think I needed.

But.

I keep finding myself thinking about this new Mac Pro. It’s not that I’m lusting after speed of the memory, SSD, CPU, or GPUs for what I do. The more I think about this new Mac Pro the more I find myself wanting to write software for it. To me it’s become the most interesting piece of new hardware since the original iPad. Well, maybe Retina in the iPhone 4 but that didn’t present an entire new class of problems to think about.

This new Mac Pro does. I don’t think Geekbench scores for this machine will be terribly meaningful. Benchmarks have the curse of trying to capture how a machine will perform under typical, or extreme, conditions. What they don’t do is give a broad perspective of the actual capabilities of the machine. They’re informed by history. If you do something new history will be less relevant.

The new Mac Pro has two distinct GPUs. Each of which has “up to 6GB” of RAM which is sitting at the end of an “up to 40GB/s” PCI Express 3 bus. That’s some serious working space at the end of a very wide pipe, one that was, until a few years ago, what you’d have to direct RAM access.

This machine fascinates me not because it seems like it’ll make everything I currently do faster. It fascinates me because it’s fundamentally new. There’s only one CPU socket and it bets heavily on the bus and GPU performance. While this looks to software to be just another Mac, it isn’t. Its capabilities aren’t traditional. The CPU is a front end to a couple of very capable massively parallel processors at the end of a relatively fast bus. One of those GPUs isn’t even hooked up to do graphics. I think that’s a serious tell. If you leverage your massively parallel GPU to run a computation that runs even one second and in that time you can’t update your screen, that’s a problem. Have one GPU dedicated to rendering and a second available for serious computation and you’ve got an architecture that’ll feel incredible to work with.

I’ve no idea how this will actually work out. I expect Rev A. to be riddled with minor problems because of all the new suppliers and how new a design this machine actually is. I am very excited to see how things go, how this architecture plays itself out and how software adapts to make the best use of this sort of hardware.

Apple sat on the Mac Pro for years. They’ve come at the problem space with fresh eyes and have pointed in a direction I believe in. One that’s not particularly suited to getting the best scores on current benchmarks but one that’s more serious and looking to the future.

I’m not excited to buy the new Mac Pro for the speed advantage it will give me.

But.

I keep finding myself thinking up applications for all that compute power and dreaming up what kind of software I could write to take advantage of it.

Not since the iPad have I really rethought what was possible. Sure, iOS 7 is incredibly interesting and shakes everything up. But I think this new Mac Pro is exactly that. Something new.

A Word About Comics

The hesitancy of comiXology to publish Saga #12 has been in the news this past week. Eventually everything sorted itself out and the issue was published on time. It had nothing to do with Apple censorship, nothing to do with Image comics or their creators. It was, as I understand it, a decision of comiXology’s not to put the issue up for sale. So, that stinks. You’d like to think the future of comic distribution would be going to bat for the best creators and their work.

Yeah, yeah. A minor hiccup in the grand scheme of things.

Let’s talk about what comics actually are. They’re an art form in which sequential images are displayed in order to tell a story. Mike Monteiro ranted recently on his terrific Let’s Make Mistakes podcast about the term, “graphic novel”. While I agree that’s a horrible term, Mike, it’s like you’re telling an entire field of professionals to call themselves, “creatives”.

The word “comics” evokes dismissal as light hearted taffy. To be comic is to be funny. That’s an incredibly poor encapsulation of what comic-books can be. They are sequential artwork and writing placed carefully upon a page, the sum of all that design work tells the story.

Yeah, super-heroes have stolen the art form from us for any number of reasons. But let’s not conflate application with possibility. Do we judge the value of television by Dallas or The Wire? Jackass The Movie didn’t diminish Citizen Kane or 2001 did it?

There is incredibly great work out there that is trapped in the confines of what is called “comics”. It’s a disservice to the work that it’s so easy to dismiss. It’s bold, it’s brilliant, it often requires a sense of the world in which it is a part but, really, there’s a richness there that belies the confines of “comic”.

NSNorth

I am thrilled to have been invited to speak at NSNorth at the end of April. Many of my fellow speakers are good friends and others I hold in high regard for their work. The organizers aren’t half bad either.

The number of tickets available is very limited so if you’d like to attend please sign up soon.

I’m a fan of these smaller independent conferences. I believe in the value of interacting with the community in more personable groups. When I call someone an abject and unapproachable asshole it makes a lot more sense when they’re standing next to me and laughing.

Gus will be speaking. I hear he makes pizza.

I hope to see you there.