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Hands on: The new Mac Pro is 'one screamer'

It's what every creative production professional will want

By Yuval Kossovsky
August 18, 2006 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Early last week, Apple Computer inc. CEO Steve Jobs officially took the wraps off of Apple's newest professional desktop machine, the Mac Pro. Better yet, it was available immediately -- without the usual weeks-long wait that sometimes plagues the release of new Macs.

Earlier this week, I got a chance to work with a Mac Pro for an hour or so to see how it stacks up against the now-discontinued Power Mac G5. The model offered by Apple for purposes of this quick review was the standard configuration, which has the stock 2.66-GHz Xeon processors, 1GB of RAM, a 250GB hard drive, a single 16x SuperDrive and the Nvidia GeForce 7300 GT graphics card with 256MB of video RAM.


Xeon inside

The dual-core, dual-processor, 64-bit machine is significantly quieter than Apple's previous top-of-the-line machine, the Power Mac G5 Quad, no doubt due to the lower power requirements and dramatically lower heat output from Intel Corp.'s Xeon "Woodcrest" chips. While the Mac Pro's outer casing is not appreciably different from the Quad G5, the inside has been completely revamped. Since the heat output of the new system is so much lower than in the G5, the number of fans has been cut from nine to four, and the liquid cooling system is gone. That leaves much more room for computing components, and having fewer fans means less noise.

Yes, these machines are as silent as they are slick looking, and the internal components are also now much easier to self-service. The DVD drives (you can now have two) are in removable, sliding bays. The PCI expansion slots are easier to populate, with a single, captive thumbscrew holding the bar that maintains the card placement. In other words, there are no more screws to lose and no tools needed to add or remove cards. The PCI slots are all configurable as 1, 2, 4 or 8x slots, and the first slot is a double-wide to accommodate many of the newer graphics cards without blocking another slot.

Additionally, the hard drive bays are lined up across the inside in a configuration similar to an XServe, where SATA drives easily slide out on a cable-free sled. Professional operations will really appreciate the fact that -- unlike the Xserve -- the Mac Pro drives can be upgraded by buying any SATA drive and putting 4 screws in the tray to hold it in place. Now, that's easy.

As for RAM, it now resides on a removable riser so a user can gently pull the whole assembly out, rest it on its attached rubber strips (no more worrying about static), and install new RAM without slicing fingers. Note: the RAM in the new Mac Pro is a special type called Fully Buffered DIMM (FB-DIMM) that was designed by Intel specifically to work with the Woodcrest processors. These RAM chips have a 256-bit-wide data path and onboard application-specific integrated circuits to ensure optimal integration. It also yields a stunning 21.3GB/sec of throughput to the processors. Each DIMM pair has a heat sink built into it to keep heat in check without adding fans or noise.

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