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Review: More Power for the Latest Mac Pro

Macworld Speedmark tests of the latest high-end desktops (the 2.8 GHz octa-core Mac Pro, released last week) show that they are noticeably faster compared to the quad-core 2-core Mac Pro, 6 GHz which it replaces in the Apple product line. Most impressively, the new Mac Pro nearly achieves the performance of the previous generation 3GHz octa-core Mac Pro model, suggesting that internal changes made to the Mac Pro lineup are also increasing its performance. This new group of Mac Pro models includes several internal enhancements, such as a faster system bus, faster memory, and two Intel Xeon Quad-Core processors as standard equipment.

However, not all results were as promising in Apple’s latest desktop model. The 2.8GHz octa-core system was a bit lazier in some of our tests, results we put down to the Seagate hard drive.

Like the previous generation Mac Pro, Apple offers “recommended settings” as well as a long list of customization options. Macworld USA has purchased the recommended configuration; a EUR 2,449 Mac Pro with two Intel Xeon Quad-Core processors (with a total of eight cores) running at 2.8 GHz. The computer ships with 2 GB of fully buffered DDR2 800 MHz EEC RAM memory, a 320GB internal hard drive, an ATI Radeon HD 2600 XT graphics card with 256MB GDDR3 memory running in a dedicated 16-lane PCI Express slot.

Optional upgrades for the recommended configuration are a faster processor running at 3.0 GHz and 3.2 GHz (priced at € 700 and € 1,390, respectively), faster graphics cards including the NVIDIA Quadro FX5600 with 1.5 GB of graphics memory (for an additional price of 2,470 EUR). Also available as an option is the ability to use 15,000 rpm Serial Attached SCSI disks, which implies an additional cost of EUR 560 to replace the standard 320GB 7,200 rpm drive with a 300GB SAS drive, priced at 690 EUR for each additional 300GB SAS drive. A Mac Pro RAID PCI Express card is also required to use these drives, which costs € 690. A final configuration consists of a single 2.8 GHz Quad-Core processor for € 430 less than the base price of the tested model.

We have ordered each of the four available Mac Pro configurations, and we plan to evaluate each one as soon as we receive it. For now, we will focus on the Mac at hand: the 2.8 GHz octa-core model. We have compared it to Apple’s previous recommended configuration, a Quad-Core model (or two Dual-Core) at 2, 8 GHz. We have also included a custom configuration for the latest generation Mac Pro: a desktop with two Quad-Core processors at 3 GHz. Finally, we have used as reference equipment a pair of custom-configured Macs: the iMac Core 2 Duo 2.8 GHz, with the same clock speed as the new Mac Pro, and the fastest MacBook Pro to date, a Core 2 Duo 2.66 GHz notebook.

Overall, the new 2.8GHz Mac Pro was a solid rival, outperforming the previous recommended Mac Pro settings in virtually all tests. In our overall Speedmark 5 benchmark test, the 2.8 GHz Mac Pro outperformed 22 percent over the previous 2.66 GHz Mac Pro. Some individual tests, such as the Cinema 4D and Compressor, showed that the new 2.8 GHz model offers even more impressive performance, with the 2.66 GHz model taking 74 percent longer to complete these tests compared to the new model. In other tests, such as the one related to MP3 encoding in iTunes and our Photoshop test suite, the performance improvements between Mac Pro systems at 2.8 and 2.66 GHz were somewhat more modest.

When the results are compared between the new 2.8 GHz Mac Pro and the previous 3 GHz octa-core Mac Pro it is observed that both systems are very even, with half of the tests showing that the new system is faster, while the other half gives victory to the old system. Speedmark shows the previous 3 GHz Mac Pro with 317 performance over 314 performance for the new 2.8 GHz model. However, note that each core of the new Mac Pro runs 200 MHz slower. than the 3 GHz model. This indicates that some internal improvements are having a positive effect on the performance of the 2.8 GHz Mac Pro. For example, the 2.8 GHz model outperforms the 3 GHz Mac Pro in our compression tests with HandBrake, iTunes, iMovie and Compressor.

Buying the new 2.8 GHz Mac Pro over other benchmarks, the new Mac Pro stands out even more. The new Mac Pro was 50 percent faster than the MacBook Pro in overall performance and finished some tests, including those of HandBrake and Cinema 4D, about a third of the time required by the MacBook Pro. The iMac at 2.8 GHz, with its super-fast 500GB hard drive, proved to be a fairly fast all-in-one system, beating the Mac Pro in Photoshop and Finder tests.

The hard drive also proved to be a determining factor in other tests.

Our multitasking test suite with professional applications measures the performance of a system running Photoshop, Compressor, and Cinema 4D simultaneously. In that test, the 3 GHz system showed faster time by a fairly obvious margin. The 2.8 GHz octa-core system took 29 seconds longer compared to the 3 GHz model, while the 2.66 Mac Pro Quad-Core model was just three seconds behind the new model. Remember that these systems are running on only 2GB of RAM (the standard amount of memory supplied with Mac Pro), so the speed of the hard drives is a determining factor in tests such as multitasking.

When we swapped the 250GB Western Digital drive from the 2.66GHz Mac Pro to the 320GB Seagate from the 2.8GHz Mac Pro, the performance of the 2.66GHz model dropped 14 percent to 1 minute and 37 seconds, significantly accelerating the performance of the 2.8 GHz model by 31 percent.