The Mac Pro ‘Trash Can’: Remembering One of Apple’s Most Controversial Designs Nine Years Later

Apple launched the controversial Mac Pro “trash can” nine years ago, featuring one of its most criticized designs that persisted during a period of widespread discontent with the Mac line.

The redesign took the ‌Mac Pro‌ in a whole new direction, headlined by a brushed aluminum cylinder that was unofficially referred to as a “trash can.” All components of the ‌Mac Pro‌ are mounted around a central heat sink core, cooled by a single fan that draws air from under the case, through the core, and out the top. The fan could spin slower than smaller fans and keep the Mac extremely quiet, even during heavy operations.

Apple announced the radically redesigned ‌Mac Pro‌ at WWDC in 2013. During the announcement, Apple’s Phil Schiller infamously commented, “I can’t innovate, my ass.” The comment was aimed at lounge critics who pointed out the lack of updates to the previous ‌Mac Pro‌ and claimed that Apple had largely abandoned its professional user base and was out of ideas.

schiller mac pro‌Phil Schiller‌ introduces the redesigned ‌Mac Pro‌ in 2013

Apple said the new ‌Mac Pro‌ offered twice the overall performance of the previous generation and took up less than one-eighth the volume, thanks to its unified thermal core. The ‌Mac Pro‌ combined Intel Xeon processors with dual AMD FirePro workstation GPUs, enabling it to deliver seven teraflops of computing power.

While the flashy design was certainly ambitious, users were unhappy with the way almost all expansion had to be serviced externally by Thunderbolt 2 ports. Professional users who relied on powerful hardware couldn’t overcome the lack of slots. ‌Mac Pro‌ internals to add graphics cards and memory.

The result was a device that couldn’t keep up with changing hardware trends. Even Apple seemed unsure how to offer a significant hardware upgrade to the ‌Mac Pro‌: In 2019, it was possible to buy a ‌Mac Pro‌ from Apple’s trash can, with no upgrades to the device for the six years since its release.

This prompted Apple to make a rare admission of product failure during a meeting with reporters in April 2017, explaining in detail why the device was not as successful as expected. In 2019, Apple’s complete mea culpa came in the form of another ‌Mac Pro‌ redesign, which brought the machine back to a highly modular tower form factor with eight PCIe slots and three booster fans.

In many respects, however, what 2013’s ‌Mac Pro‌ set out to achieve—a powerful little computer for professionals, with external expansion only—lives on, and has been executed more effectively by 2022’s Mac Studio.

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