updated 12:29 am EDT, Fri August 10, 2012
Code names may hint at lack of optical drives
Some internal configuration files that reveal a list of Macs that support flash drive or USB booting in Mountain Lion may have inadvertently tipped Apple's hand on future iMac and Mac Pro configurations. A report by AppleInsider also indicates that the as-yet-unannounced models could be the first desktops in nearly 20 years that don't include a built-in optical drive, a long-desired Apple engineering goal. The configuration files with the new model numbers are seen inside Boot Camp Assistant.
All current models of Mac can be made to boot from a USB flash drive of sufficient capacity, but the Boot Camp Assistant software has a listing of newer Mac models that support booting a legacy PC operating system from a USB drive, primarily used to create bootable images of Windows for machines that lack an optical drive. The listing in the configuration file includes an unreleased "MP60" or sixth-generation Mac Pro (6,0), and an "IM130" or 13th-generation iMac (13,0).
Apple CEO Tim Cook, in a later-confirmed email to a customer, promised that Apple was working on "something really great" for pro customers "later next year" (meaning sometime in 2013). Cook's email came in response to disappointment that the last revision to the Mac Pro (released during June's WWDC) was so minor, and that Mac Pro customers had waited years for a major revision -- so long, in fact, that rumors had circulated that the company was abandoning the model until Cook's email became public.
Apple has released upgraded -- and occasionally internally modified -- versions of the Mac Pro since 2005, but has stuck to essentially the same design for machine since before it jumped to Intel chips. The current Mac Pro, like its predecessors, remains the quietest and most problem-free pro desktops available, but lags behind recent advances in the PC world, including USB 3.0, faster and newer chips and RAM, and the use of newer technologies like SSD RAID. Some have speculated that the next Mac Pro may even move to return Apple to the enterprise and corporate world as a more serious player -- an arena the company all but backed out of entirely in recent years.
It's believed that Apple is likely to update the iMac sooner, as it normally receives a roughly-yearly refresh and hasn't had one since last May, making it "overdue." Benchmarks that appear to be legitimate have appeared on some testing sites such as Geekbench, though the site's operators caution that some machines that appear to be unreleased Mac models are actually illegal "Hackintoshes." The updated speed tests show a modest gain in power one would expect from the addition of Intel's Ivy Bridge processors and slightly faster RAM.
The loss of built-in optical drives is expected to be less of an issue for Mac Pro users than the more consumer-oriented iMac, but use of DVD drives is dropping dramatically across the board as users get used to downloading or streaming video and storing their own large files on network drives and cloud storage. Apple has never supported either of the two HD video disc formats that emerged earlier this century, but even after Blu-Ray became dominant, Apple pressed ahead with its preferred solution of more-efficient video streaming and downloading. This could be in part to what Apple co-founder and former CEO Steve Jobs called a "bag of hurt" when it came to licensing Blu-Ray to suit Apple's terms.
With falling prices on SSD storage, cheap hard drives, video sites like Vimeo and YouTube and digital video format improvements, the requirement of optical drives or the need to burn DVDs has lessened substantially. For those who do need to continue authoring discs or copying data from discs (for example, a new iMac owner who has decided to "rip" his entire CD collection digitally), future external optical drive peripherals are ironically likely to get faster thanks to improved connections such as Thunderbolt, which can easily be adapted to use eSATA, USB 3.0 and Firewire 800 drives.
The lack of optical drives also eliminates a bottleneck to thinner designs, as well as one of the major repair headaches for Mac owners when a disc gets stuck or a drive malfuctions. Repair usually involves taking the entire machine apart, an expensive option that (in the case of the iMac) takes the entire machine out of service while the work is being done. [via AppleInsider]