Mac Pro: Woodcrest goes to work

Apple's US$2,499 Mac Pro has little in common with other two-socket Woodcrest systems, apart from the fact that it has the same pair of CPUs and the same chip set.

Mac Pro's exterior was cooked up for a 64-bit PowerPC, renowned for being fast as hell and twice as hot. Apple stripped the enclosure to bare walls, added three giant fans, and then turned its engineers loose on the ample real estate.

Mac Pro is port city front and back, with five USB, four FireWire (including two 800Mbps), two digital audio, three analog audio, and two Gigabit Ethernet connections. Inside, the system has four full-length PCI Express slots.

As for storage, the deal maker is a four-bay strip of zero-cabling, serial ATA hard drive trays. With 750GB drives, Mac Pro holds a stunning 3TB of storage.

Mac Pro uses 667MHz fully buffered DIMM memory, as is standard with Woodcrest systems. But instead of fixing DIMM sockets to the motherboard, Apple placed the sockets and supporting circuitry on removable riser cards, which are extremely easy to install and remove.

Tricked out with the highest-end graphics card, four hard drives, and 4GB of RAM, Mac Pro idles at about 220 watts. In sleep, that falls to about 7 watts. It takes Mac Pro only four seconds to wake, not much longer than it takes Windows to recover from suspend.

On everyday CPU benchmarks, any Woodcrest box can run as fast as a Mac Pro. But CPU power isn't all there is to performance. With a three-drive RAID 0 stripe set on Mac Pro, the performance boost is phenomenal. Plus, OS X has several mechanisms for safe backups without parity or mirroring overhead.

As with all Macs, when Mac Pro is running flat out with a maximum compute load, it will maintain top CPU clock speed and voltage beyond what other vendors consider to be the thermal danger zone. But the system is designed for it.

Another unique performance edge stems from OS X's use of the GPU (graphics processing unit). Mac software can take advantage of the GPU with no extra effort; the precision math libraries that come with Apple's free development tools natively support whatever GPU is in the system.

With Mac Pro, Apple has done what it always does: design as though there is no competition, treat chipmakers as suppliers rather than keepers of the gospels, and let customers boss the company around. Mac Pro is engineered to satisfy workstation and power users who never expected to be spoiled by a US$2,499 computer. And yes, it will run Windows.

Company: Apple

Score: Excellent -- 8.9

CriteriaScoreWeight
Ease-of-use10.030.0
Application compatibility7.020.0
Manageability9.015.0
Connectivity10.015.0
Performance8.010.0
Value8.010.0
Product:Apple Mac Pro
Cost:Standard configuration with two dual-core 2.66GHz Xeon CPUs, 1GB memory, NVIDIA GeForce 7300 GT graphics card, dual-layer DVD burner, and 250GB hard drive: US$2,499. Numerous configure-to-order options are available.
Bottom Line:Apple's 64-bit Mac Pro workstation, which also serves as Apple's killer desktop, leverages Apple's in-house hardware and software engineering to create a system that stands well apart from the crowded Woodcrest field. Mac Pro is designed for expandability, long life and quiet operation, and, as are all Macs, it is completely compatible with Apple's system management software (Remote Desktop 3 and OS X Server).

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Tom Yager

InfoWorld
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