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

The upgraded Mac Pro pushes apps to the limit

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Despite those admittedly nitpicky issues, the enclosure itself is a dream to work with. As I noted earlier, this particular Mac Pro came with two 1TB drives installed, leaving two of the four hard-drive bays inside free. The bays resemble those in the Xserve, so adding or swapping drives is simple. Just pull out the drive cart, attach a hard drive to it with four screws, and slide the combo back into the machine -- no messing with cables.

While not new to the Mac Pro line, it's a setup that makes adding and moving storage media from one Mac Pro to another surprisingly quick. I can think of more than a few graphics shops that could use that feature at crunch time, when transferring big projects via FireWire won't cut it.

Similarly, swapping out the graphics card or accessing the PCI Express expansion slots is almost too easy, as if Apple removed half the fun of getting into computers. Keeping with that trend, accessing the Mac Pro's eight FB-DIMM slots, located on memory riser cards, is also very, very easy.

Speed sells

When a colleague of mine heard that I was testing this particular configuration, he posed a question: "Given the price difference, is it worth purchasing Apple's Pro lines when the consumer lines seem plenty fast enough?"

I do a lot of digital video work, so I decided the best way to find out the answer was to actually try to get some work done. This included finishing up the video projects I've been putting off, converting digital video formats for files long ignored and encoding some video content to different formats.

From a cold boot, the Mac Pro needed just 40 seconds for the Dock to appear and the desktop to load. I started throwing processor-intensive video applications like Final Cut Pro, Handbrake and Visual Hub at it. Throughout my tests, the Mac Pro was at least three times faster than the consumer models I compared it with, including a Core 2 Duo Mac mini with a 1.83-GHz processor and 1GB of RAM, and a Core 2 Duo MacBook with the 2-GHz chip and 1GB of RAM.

For instance, it took the Mac mini and the MacBook about three and a half hours to convert a 1-hour, 58-minute movie from a DVD to a high-bit-rate H.264 mpeg4 file; the same task took just over 45 minutes on the Mac Pro. In another test, it took 84 minutes and 40 seconds on the Mac mini to convert a 45-minute AVI file to an H.264 movie file; on the Mac Pro, the job took just 12 minutes. Working with Final Cut Pro yielded similarly impressive results, with most jobs taking one-third the time needed on Apple's consumer hardware.

In other words, when time is money, spending more on a Mac Pro can offer payback in myriad ways.

The Mac Pro is aimed first and foremost at professionals -- although well-off speed demons will want it, too -- and Apple's latest revision to the lineup is more than worth the price of admission. Given the plethora of build-to-order options Apple now offers, there's a Mac Pro for just about any task. This is an amazing machine that is as fast as it is stable, offering pure brute force and processing power at a competitive price for what you get.

Michael DeAgonia is a computer consultant and technologist who has been using Macintoshes and working on them professionally since 1993. His tech-support background includes tenures at Computerworld, colleges, the biopharmaceutical industry, the graphics industry and Apple. Currently, he is working as a Macintosh administrator at a large media company.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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