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Review: Apple's new Mac Pro is a speed demon

The upgraded Mac Pro pushes apps to the limit

March 14, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - In front of me, two 30-in. Apple Cinema Displays glow softly at my desk. Beside me sits the fastest stock-configuration Macintosh that Apple Inc. has ever shipped: a superfast eight-core Mac Pro. Inside the Mac -- and on full display on those screens -- is Mac OS X 10.5, better known as Leopard, Apple's latest operating system. All around me is the work I've been putting off that is now getting done.

The latest update to Apple's Mac Pro desktop line was unveiled early in January, just before this year's Macworld Expo. The timing of the announcement raised a few questions -- for example, if this was such an important release, why wasn't it announced by CEO Steve Jobs himself at Macworld? Macworld's focus turned out to be Apple's ultra-graceful MacBook Air, but one thing is certain: This Mac Pro packs a mighty punch in raw bandwidth and horsepower.

Pushing the Mac speed envelope

Although eight-core models were already available, they only came as a pricey special-order option. Now they're pretty much the whole lineup: The entry-level model starts at $2,799 for two quad-core chips. From there, the price rises rather precipitously, hitting $4,399 for two 3.2-GHz quad-core chips. (If you wish, you can skimp and get a 2.8-GHz quad-core machine for $2,299, which is $500 less than the base price.)

Inside all of the new Mac Pro machines are Intel Xeon 5400-series processors, code-named Harpertown. My review unit is the eight-core 2.8-GHz model, stacked with 4GB of memory -- double the standard configuration. Each quad-core processor sports 12MB of Level 2 cache memory, so this particular Mac Pro has 24MB. The main logic board architecture also received an upgrade -- it now sports high-bandwidth, dual independent 1,600-MHz front-side buses, allowing you to use up to 32GB of 800-MHz DDR2 ECC FB-DIMM memory.

Spending note: That amount of RAM will cost you more than the Mac Pro itself, even at third-party resellers. And if you buy it from Apple, the 32GB will set you back $9,100.

Inside the now-familiar aluminum case, the review unit came with two 1TB hard drives, filling up two drive bays and leaving another two open. The Mac Pro can hold as much as 4TB of internal storage.

The new Mac Pro can easily drive two 30-in. Apple Cinema Displays.
Click to view larger image.

Graphics sit on a double-wide 16-lane PCI Express 2.0 slot, which is large enough to hold even the biggest graphic cards without sacrificing the other three neighboring ports. Of the four PCI Express slots available, two are x16 PCI Express 2.0 slots offering high-speed data transfers of 8GB/sec., and two are PCI Express x4 slots, which are more standard-issue fare.

The graphics card is nothing to sneeze at: an ATI Radeon HD 2600 with 256MB of GDDR3 dedicated video RAM capable of pushing enough power for two 2560-by-1600-pixel, 30-in. Cinema Displays. The $1,799 displays themselves are gorgeous, displaying deep blacks and vibrant hues at a resolution sharp enough to show off Mac OS X Leopard's amazingly detailed and fluid graphics while rendering even small text clearly.



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