I’ve written about the Mac Pro a few times now, but not so much about the Mac desktop lineup as a whole. Right now, and the way it’s been for a few years now is Mac mini, iMac, and Mac Pro, priced like so:

Mac Desktops

Lots of price points covered, across a wide range. And here’s the laptops:

Mac Laptops

Again a lot of price points covered, but the range is a lot narrower, with 11 of the 13 models between $1,000 and $2,000. Counting the desktops that’s 13 out of 21 models. Considering the amount of coverage in that space, it’s not too surprising the ASP is in that range as well, at around $1,300 for both desktops and laptops these days.

Mix and ASP

Some wild assumptions and observations based on the data above:

  • Apple sees healthy enough demand in the $1K-2K space to focus primarily on it, particularly seen with the bulk of sales volume and models in the laptop range.
  • Overall sales skew towards lower end of that range.
  • Despite the presence of models below $1K, the desktop ASP still tends to skew higher than the laptops.

The last point is particularly interesting to me, since it seems to indicate a greater mix of mid and higher end models sold relative to the laptops. My wild guess is that the 27″ iMac (at the $1,799 and $1,999 price points) sees good enough sales to offset the Mac mini sales.

Whatever the case, the key point is that the $1K-2K range seems like Apple’s sweet spot. They have thorough coverage of the space, except one noticeable omission…

A headless Mac.


First some observations about the whole Apple product lineup that this crazy theory hinges on. One is that bigger generally costs more, and conversely, smaller costs less. The other is that most major product lines are split further into multiple unique models, like so:

High and Low product mix
[Bracketed] models presumed to be killed off or replaced soon.

Hey big surprise, both headless Macs aren’t there! Of course one view could be that the Mac mini and Mac Pro are the low and high end models of a singular unnamed general headless Mac desktop line, but I don’t think that works the same way as the other product lines due to the relative appeal of each one for a given customer.

Price plays a part coming from the Mac mini side, the fact that it’s the cheapest Mac is part of its appeal after all (the “mini” name is multifaceted). If you’re considering the Mac mini because the price, the Mac Pro is way out of the picture, on top of whatever other reasons someone may want the mini (usually size/form factor related). On the other end, if you’re considering a Mac Pro, the Mac mini is likely out of the picture due to performance. It’s a fine little machine in its own right for most people, but is majorly lacking in comparison if you have hefty computational or graphics needs.

So if you want something more than the Mac mini,1 or less than the Mac Pro, you basically have nothing other than the iMac, which itself isn’t an option if you don’t want the screen. There’s a big ass gap there for a headless Mac in Apple’s best selling price range.

Here’s where the new Mac Pro and my crazy theory come into play. First off I think it has much more mainstream consumer appeal than the outgoing model, which is a big deal. Whatever it gets priced at (let’s just assume “expensive”) is relatively irrelevant to that point. I believe that If they see sufficient mainstream demand there it opens up the possibility for a lower end model somewhere in the $1K-2K sweet spot, where the bulk of their customers are.

If you can think of the high end (presumably) expensive Mac Pro to be analogous to the 15″ MacBook Pro, a lower end model would be like the 13″ MBP. Smaller and lesser specs, with a reduced price to match.

Basically I’m saying they could do the same with a Mac Pro mini.

I figure something like $1,599 or $1,699 would work, basically starting price between the 21″ and 27″ iMacs. Any decent parts would still provide a performance differentiator compared to the Mac mini, but at a more accessible price than the Mac Pro. But what about it would make it “Pro” compared to the iMacs, and conversely not as high end as the bigger Mac Pros?

Luckily Intel just happens to have the perfect option for that with the Xeon E3.

They’re priced like standard Core i5/i7 parts, because that’s what they basically are, except with a key “workstation” feature: ECC RAM2 support. Compared to the E5s they’re actually a newer generation “Core” part (Haswell vs Ivy Bridge currently), but they’re held back in terms of cache, core count, and multi socket capability (not that that one matters here).

Xeon E3 v3 lineup
All models have 8 MB cache, and all have 4/8 cores/threads, except for the 1220 and 1225.

I sorted them by TDP cause I figure with a smaller enclosure, heat might be an issue. Sorting by TDP happened to nicely segment them by GPU as well. The integrated GPU gives them some little advantages over the E5s, particularly Quick Sync, and if power/heat is a concern, it’d let them shut off whatever discrete GPU to keep heat down when possible. Ideally they’d be able to go with the 84 W parts with GPU, if only because the base frequency compares favorably to the iMacs.

As for that discrete GPU, the simple route would be to go with a single FirePro, and lower end models if other factors limit selection (such as price and/or heat). Crazier option would be to retain the dual GPUs, which would be an obvious differentiator over the iMacs if the FirePro branding isn’t enough. Performance wise a Radeon (or two) would be fine, but like the Xeon E3, just using the FirePro name gives that little extra “workstation” credibility even if it’s not that different from the standard parts.

So the short version of all this:

  • Apple makes and sells most of their machines in the $1K-2K range, with desktops trending higher than laptops.
  • They tend to make unique higher and lower end versions of products, but they haven’t done so with the Mac Pro.
  • The new Mac Pro has more mainstream appeal than the outgoing model, and if it sells well even at $2,000+…
  • Hey look they just happen to have a giant gap in the $1K-2K range for a headless Mac! And there happens to be a bunch of viable “workstation” parts for a lower end model!

This is my new xMac:

Mac Pro mini
Same diameter as the Mac Pro, but 2/3rds the height: 6.6″ x 6.6″ x 6.6″…almost a cube if you will.

Xeon E3, FirePro, dual Thunderbolt 2, and the rest of the standard ports for under $2,000. The Mac Pro for the rest of us.

Well I guess it’s missing an SD card slot.

  1. Granted the Mac mini may finally have a decent higher end upgrade in both CPU and GPU if they go with the Iris Pro parts, it’d provide both a quad core CPU and a substantial GPU upgrade over the normal HD 5000/5100 (assuming that and dual core CPU are the standard lower end parts).
  2. Which itself isn’t that much more costly than regular RAM these days.