The New Mac Pro Design Theme is Eerily Familiar.  But How?

| John Martellaro's Blog

When I first saw the new Mac Pro, introduced by Phil Schiller at the WWDC Keynote, I had a vague feeling that I'd seen that design element before. The cylindrical tower of power. I couldn't quite put my finger on it, but my brain was nagging me. What was it?

At first, I thought of Apple's retail store, the glass cylinder in Shanghai.

Apple's reail store entrance in Shanghai. (Credit: Apple)

My brain said, no, that's not exactly what I was feeling.

Next, I thought about the original Cray I, I-A and II series of supercomputers. The Cray I was first installed at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico in 1976, and its iconic cylindrical design was no accident, according to Cray. "In order to increase the speed of this system, the Cray-1 had a unique "C" shape which enabled integrated circuits to be closer together. No wire in the system was more than four feet long."

By the way, if you're curious (I know you are) that Cray I supercomputer cost US$8.8M (back then) and was rated at 160 megaflops compared to the new Mac Pro's 7.5 teraflops, about 47,000 times faster.


And yet... and yet.... that still wasn't what the back of my brain was telegraphing to me.

I was thinking of something dark.

Roughly cylindrical.

With access panels on the outside.

And low level indicator lights.

With spooky blue power exuding from its internal cylindrical aperture.

And then it hit me. I finally found it.



That's it! Of course, the actual Mac Pro is quite a bit smaller. But I suppose one could place a 4-inch action figure of Obi Wan Kenobi next it it on the desk, someday, and have the same effect.

From my own experience, I can see how these subliminal ideas percolate in the mind of a creator and get all mushed together. What comes out is something fresh and original, but the seeds may well have been in exposure to previous concepts. Then, they're combined with natural mathematical and engineering concepts to come up with something new, but subconsciously reminiscent of something else.

That's what often grants a certain je ne sai quoi feel to a great design. Jonathan Ive is brilliant that way.

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What utter crap.

This really should just be the new Mac mini….

Lee Dronick

An old Electrolux vacuum cleaner.


What you’re saying about ideas percolating subliminally is really true. Last week I was talking to one of our engineers. On his desk he had a plastic proof of concept model of a light pod from one of our robots. It mounts on an arm and is round so that it can rotate and point the lights in any direction. I looked at the white plastic model and had the same feeling as you: it reminded me of something. Then it hit me. It was a close match to the pod from 2001, except that it’s 4 inches across not 10 feet. I mentioned this and the engineer was taken aback. He’d never thought of it. In fact he hadn’t seen the film since he went to a theater with his dad decades ago. But he immediately saw the resemblance and he wondered if somehow when his dad asked him to design the light pod it was lurking in the back of his head.


I think that lock thingy on the left ruins the feng shui…


Good one Lee, except that the old Electrolux sucks. Like the new Mac Pro,  this blows wink


@daemon: Why would they make the Mac Mini 7 times taller and 4-5 times the volume for the sake of putting it in a cylinder?

It kind of reminds me of Mr. Fusion (albeit black instead of white) from the Back to the Future movies. I don’t suppose it runs on banana peels, though.


Could it be the Mythical Mid Range Tower at last?

Lee Dronick

Yes, but the Electrolux had its own “series of tubes.” smile

I wonder if Apple trademarked the cylindrical computer shape because I bet that there will be copycats.


@ctopher: I agree… to make it more symmetrical they should have put the power button on the opposite side from the lock, and put in a second HDMI port where the power button is.

IMO, there should also be an Apple logo about 2/3 of the way up on the “front”.


Nah. It’s the new Cube, revisited in the Round.


Shiny black, and when the shroud is removed slotted vents and intricate circuitry; Darth Vader kept coming to my mind as I watched the keynote.




It kind of reminds me of Mr. Fusion (albeit black instead of white) from the Back to the Future movies. I don’t suppose it runs on banana peels, though.

Of course not. Not without the stale beer, that it. smile



John, any idea of the width of the glass cylinder in Shanghai? I did a quick search and found that it’s twelve meters tall, but can’t find a width. I’m curious as to how proportional it is to the new MPro. They look very similar, proportionally.

John Martellaro

mrmwebmax: Apple patented the design. and you might be able to work back to the design drawings at Patently Apple to obtain the dimensions. Start here.


Not Star Wars, Star Trek IV - The Voyage Home. It’s modelled on the gigantic space liquorice bite that almost destroyed the planet when it couldn’t find any whales…


Two words: Siva Lingam.


Lee, no doubt HP will be quick to point out that this is where PCs were always going, and that the cylindrical shape is where computer building naturally leads, just like a wedge shape is where laptop building naturally leads.

Gareth Harris

We are just seeing the golden ratio in the height to width.

Paul Goodwin

Interesting John. I had forgotten what the Cray looked like. I just looked up the Cray 1. 1975, 80Mhz, 80 Mflops, Cray 2 160 mflops. By 1982 Crays were up to 800 Mflops. They were pretty amazing. Amazing considering that in 1990, the 33 Mhz 68040 Quadras were about 4.5 Mflops. My wife’s $3000 1988 Mac SE was probably about 1-2 that. It got her started in the new field of desktop publishing. 7 Teraflops…..insane. I remember reading articles on how hard it was to build the Crays. They were very custom built. Hand tweaked internal wire routing to get the things working reliably at their high speeds.

Gareth Harris

About 50 years ago the CDC 6600 I worked on was considered the first supercomputer. It could do 1 megaflop. Yes, that’s 1 - one, eins, un, uno - megaflop.

This machine had its own building, its own motor generators and about 40 of us to keep it running. It cost about $8.5 million 1966 dollars. Now an IPhone is a few hundred dollars, runs off batteries, a three year old can use it, is thousands of time faster - AND it fits in your pocket.

Mostly we wrote in assembler. Larger projects were done in Minnesota FORTRAN, because it was the best compiler we had.

Joke of the era: I wanted to impress the girls by learning a language, so I learned FORTRAN.

Paul Goodwin

Haha Gareth. I remember using the punch cards, and Fortran. In 1967 in the math dept of the local university, they had a calculator for the students to use. It was as big as a roll top desk. And if I remember correctly, it did considerably less that what you can do with a $5 calculator today. We got to see a lot of technology change. 1 megaflop in 1966 was amazing. People would sell their grandmothers for such things


Hi John,

Had the same niggling feeling I had seen that design paradigm used elsewhere as well. Couldn’t figure what it was till I saw this on Mac Roumors:

Cough! Not as pretty

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