Apple takes orders for pricey Mac Pros

Top-end model can cost more than $17K with all the options

Apple Inc. today began taking orders for its most expensive computer, the Mac Pro, but won't ship the tower-style desktop to customers for at least a week and a half.

The company announced the impending refresh of the Mac Pro line last month when it revamped the more popular iMac. At the time, Apple said the new Mac Pros would debut in August.

Apple priced the three standard configurations at $2,499, $3,499 and $4,999 for machines with a single quad-core, two quad-core, or two six-core Intel processors, respectively.

The lowest-priced Mac Pro is powered by a 2.8-GHz quad-core Intel Xeon processor built on the older "Nehalem" architecture -- the same architecture used by the Core i3, i5 and i7 CPUs in the cheaper iMacs -- and it includes 3GB of memory and a single 1TB hard drive.

Upper-end Mac Pros are equipped with the newer "Westmere" Xeon processors in either eight- or 12-core configurations. The midrange Mac Pro boasts two 2.4-GHz quad-core Xeons, while the top-of-the-line model runs a pair of 2.66-GHz six-Core Xeon processors. The previous record for processor cores on a Mac was the eight-core Mac Pro that debuted in March 2009 for $3,299.

The Nehalem architecture is based on a 45-nanometer manufacturing process, while the Westmere chips are 32nm.

While the price of the low-end $2,499 Mac Pro didn't change, the price of the midrange model jumped $200. The newest system features slightly faster processors -- 2.4-GHz versus 2.26-GHz -- a bigger hard drive and more memory on the graphics card.

The new Mac Pros follow the lead of the just-refreshed iMacs, ditching Nvidia graphics cards for ATI-labeled discrete graphics cards from Advanced Micro Devices Inc. Nor are there any Nvidia at-the-factory options for the current line of Mac Pros.

All three standard models come with a single ATI Radeon HD 5770 card with 1GB of video RAM, but options include two of those same cards or a swap for a single ATI Radeon HD 5870 card with 1GB that raises the price by $200.

The top standard-model price in the line is $4,999, but that figure can rise quickly with the addition of a slew of options -- ranging from faster processors and additional hard drives to more memory and solid-state drives.

The most expensive configuration of the 12-core Mac Pro, for instance, comes to $17,249 when equipped with 2.9-GHz processors, 32GB of memory, two optical drives, four SSD drives totaling 2TB of storage, a pair of graphics cards, a RAID card and a quad-channel Fibre Channel card.

According to Apple's online store, orders for the new Mac Pros will ship in seven to 10 business days.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His e-mail address is gkeizer@ix.netcom.com.

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