How new Mac Pro borrows from Apple’s best designs

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Mac Pro cheese grater
The new Mac Pro.
Photo: Apple

WWDC 2019 bug It’s obvious that the new Mac Pro, unveiled this week during Apple’s WWDC keynote, is a reboot of the venerable Power Mac G5, a machine released in 2003 that featured a distinctive “cheese grater” grille.

Aside from looks, there are many similarities to the G5, plus a couple of ideas from other older Apple machines. Here are some of the clearest design influences on the new Mac Pro.

2019 Mac Pro design: The new cheese grater

The overall look and feel of the new Mac Pro and the older G5 are essentially the same. Both are large towers with easy access to their internals. Both machines are largely designed around air flow. They both boast massive grilles front and back, plus banks of fans to move a steady stream of air across the hot internal components.

Apple makes a big deal about the new Mac Pro’s modularity. The older G5 was also modular, or at least semi-modular. That design made it easy to add extra hard drives, for instance. It had empty drive slots and extra connectors for several more drives. Later models supported swappable CPUs. And the machine offered eight expansion slots for adding things like graphics cards.

The new Mac Pro design takes this to 11, adding more memory, more CPU cores and more slots. But the idea remains the same.

Of course, Apple replaced the G5 in 2013 by the largely non-upgradeable trashcan Mac Pro. So the new machine is very much a return to the G5 philosophy — maximum configurability.

Accessing internals like a PowerMac Cube

The biggest difference between the new Mac Pro and the older G5 is how they allow access to their internals. The old G5’s large side door came off to allow access.

The new Mac Pro is different: The entire case comes off. Such easy access to the Mac Pro’s guts brings to mind the Power Mac G4 Cube, a machine released in 2000 that earned praised for its distinctive design but bombed in the marketplace.

As with the 2019 Mac Pro, you could access the guts of the G4 Cube by taking off the entire outer shell with the help of a handle. In the Cube’s case, you flipped over the machine and withdrew the insides from the bottom.

The new Mac Pro flips that idea on its head. Instead of pulling the guts out from the bottom, you remove the machine’s cover from the top. But the basic idea is exactly the same.

In this video from WWDC, Apple CEO Tim Cook and Chief Design Officer Jony Ive appear to be discussing how the new machine is opened up like the old Power Mac Cube.

As with the new 2019 Mac Pro design, the guts of Apple Power Mac G4 Cube were easy to access.
The guts of the Power Mac G4 Cube.
Photo: Wikipedia

Sunflower iMac monitor arm

Another influence appears to the iMac G4, the funky-looking, half-dome machine that made the cover of Time magazine on its debut in 2002. The machine’s design was supposedly inspired by sunflowers in Steve Jobs’ garden, but supporting the screen on an adjustable arm was a bear. A lot of time and effort went into the “neck” that supported the monitor.

It needed to be easy to move, but then had to stay put when adjusted. It required engineering a complex arm with a hidden counterbalancing mechanism inside (detailed in my book, Jony Ive: The Genius Behind Apple’s Greatest Products).

Looking at a promotional video for the new Mac Pro, it looks like Apple hid a similar mechanism inside the outrageously priced stand for the new Pro Display XDR monitor. The video briefly shows a complicated balancing mechanism hidden inside the $999 monitor stand. It looks very similar to the ratchet-and-spring mechanism used in the sunflower iMac.

Apple Pro Display XDR neck internals
The neck internals of Apple’s new Pro Display XDR.
Photo: Apple
The insides of an iMac G4 neck, circa 2002
The insides of an iMac G4’s neck, circa 2002.
Photo: MacRumors member kge420

iMac cable hole

One last similarity I noticed was the cable hole at the back of the monitor stand for neatly routing wires that emerge out the back. I first saw this cable routing feature on the flat-screen iMac G5, which debuted in 2004.

A hole for cables may have debuted on earlier machines, but it’s such a simple, effective solution, it persists in even the latest hardware.

The back of an iMac, showing the cable hole in the stand
The back of an iMac, showing the cable hole in the stand.
Photo: Leander Kahney/Cult of Mac
The back of the new Pro Display XDR, showing the cable hole
The back of the new Pro Display XDR, showing the cable hole.
Photo: Nobi Hayashi

By borrowing (and adapting) innovative features from its previous machines, Apple turned the 2019 Mac Pro into a truly head-turning computer.

That distinctive cheese grater styling, with the intricately machined cooling vents, simply screams “Apple design.” True believers love it, and even skeptics must admit the new Mac Pro looks delightfully devastating.

Prior to Monday’s WWDC keynote, the world was waiting anxiously to see if Cupertino could deliver a truly mind-blowing pro machine. By staying true to its roots, and packing powerhouse components into a distinctive design, Apple pulled off the impossible again.

Other influences on 2019 Mac Pro design?

Did you spot any design details from earlier machines that I missed? Please detail them in the comments.