Mac Pro Review: Apple last updated the Mac Pro in March of 2009. The 17-month span between the 2009 and 2010 Mac Pros was the longest wait for an update in the Mac Pro's lifetime. With that much time to spend on designing the 2010 version, Apple should have been able to wow us with new features and capabilities. Instead, we get a warmed-over 2009 Mac Pro, with new processor configurations.
While I'm sad that we didn't get a genuinely new Mac Pro, I'm happy to report that the new processors breathe new life into the Mac Pro. The processors are available with 4, 6, 8, or 12 cores, in speeds from 2.4 GHz to 3.33 GHz.
Mac Pro Review – New Processor Offerings
The summer 2010 Mac Pro brings a number of new horsepower options to Apple's pro desktop. With a stable of six different processors and two well-regarded ATI graphics cards to choose from, you can configure your new Mac Pro to meet your current and future needs.
Mac Pro Processor Options
Apple created three standard configurations: a base quad-core model that uses the same Intel Xeon Nehalem processor family first introduced in the 2009 Mac Pro, and 8-core and 12-core models, both of which use Xeon Westmere processors, the newest advances from Intel.
In addition to the three standard configurations, there are custom configurations that provide access to three additional processors, including a 6-core Mac Pro that may well be the sweet spot in value to performance.
Quad-Core 2.8 GHz (3.06 w/Turbo Boost) Intel Xeon Nehalem processor.
Quad-Core 3.2 GHz (3.46 w/Turbo Boost) Intel Xeon Nehalem processor.
6-Core 3.33 GHz (3.6 w/Turbo Boost) Intel Xeon Westmere processor.
2.4 GHz (2.66 w/Turbo Boost) Quad-Core Intel Xeon Westmere (8 cores total).
2.66 GHz (3.06 w/Turbo Boost) 6-Core Intel Xeon Westmere (12 cores total).
2.93 GHz (3.33 w/Turbo Boost) 6-Core Intel Xeon Westmere (12 cores total).
All of the processor options for the Mac Pro support running up to two threads per core, essentially making each processor appear to have twice the amount of available cores. They also support TurboBoost, which can increase the processor's core clock rate when a single core is in use.
Mac Pro Review – New Graphics Offerings
Apple is outfitting the summer 2010 Mac Pros with one of two graphics cards. The stock Mac Pros all get the ATI Radeon HD 5770 with 1 GB of GDDR5 memory. There's also an optional ATI Radeon HD 5870 with 1 GB of GDDR5 memory.
Both of these graphics cards represent an improvement over offerings available with the 2009 Mac Pro. The stock ATI Radeon HD 5770 uses a 128-bit memory bus with an effective bandwidth of 76.8 GB/s. The high-speed memory bus feeds the card 800 stream processing units and 40 texture units.
The ATI Radeon HD 5870 essentially doubles the specifications of the 5770, with a 256-bit memory bus and an effective bandwidth of 153.6 GB/s. Stream processing units and texture processing units double in count to 1600 and 80, respectively.
What this means in real-world performance is that even the stock ATI Radeon HD 5770 will outperform either of the graphics options that were available in the 2009 Mac Pro. The ATI Radeon HD 5870 will blow the cooling fans off those older offerings.
Of course, you don't get all of that graphics performance for free. The stock ATI Radeon HD 5770 will no doubt be the mainstream choice for the Mac Pro, but for those of you upgrading to the 5870, be aware that this card is going to require close to twice the power draw of the 5770, and could limit the other types of PCI-e cards you can install, since the 5870 will use both of the auxiliary PCI power connectors on the Mac Pro.
Both ATI Radeon cards provide two Mini DisplayPort connectors and a single dual-link DVI connector. Each card can drive up to three displays.
Mac Pro Review – Memory
The summer 2010 Mac Pro's memory and storage options are pretty mundane. They're also not all that important, since many Mac Pro users will custom configure memory and storage to meet their particular needs. The only change is in memory speed, with the quad-core and 8-core Mac Pros using 1066 MHz DDR3 ECC SDRAM, and the 6-core and 12-core models using faster 1333 MHz DDR3 ECC SDRAM.
Aside from the speed increase, memory configurations haven't changed since the 2009 Mac Pros. The single-processor Mac Pros can use up to four memory modules, while the dual-processor Mac Pros have eight memory module slots available. Memory slots can be populated with 1, 2, 4, or 8 GB modules, with the default memory configuration being 3 x 1 GB SRAM (3 GB total) modules for the single-processor model and 6 x 1 GB SRAM (6 GB total) for the dual-processor model.
All of the processors use three memory channels, with Apple providing four memory slots. This configuration results in the following memory topology:
Processor memory channel 1: RAM module 1
Processor memory channel 2: RAM module 2
Processor memory channel 3: RAM module 3 + 4
This asymmetric memory topology delivers the best memory performance when only the first three RAM modules are populated. You can provision all four memory banks (or all eight on the dual-processor models), but if you're using a Nehalem processor, there will be a slight memory bandwidth loss. Westmere-based systems shouldn't experience this same level of bandwidth loss, as Intel has said it optimized the memory controller to support dual banks per memory channel.
Mac Pro Review – Where’s the Beef?
The 2010 Mac Pro delivers plenty of raw performance with its new processor offerings, and plenty of graphics giddy-up. What's missing is any new system I/O (input/output).
The Mac Pro retains all the expected ports: FireWire 800, USB 2.0, optical audio in and out, stereo line level in and out, and multichannel audio over Mini DisplayPort. But aside from the audio over Mini DisplayPort, there's nothing new. And there should be something new, because it's been 17 months since the last Mac Pro update. During that time, we've seen USB 3.0 make its debut. FireWire 1600 and 3200 standards were approved in mid 2008, too late for inclusion in the 2009 Mac Pro, but there's no excuse for their lack in the 2010 model.
Other hoped-for improvements were native support for one or more bootable eSATA ports, and integrated hardware-based RAID for those four wonderful hard drive bays in the Mac Pro. Instead, we got nada. And because we got nada, I have to take at least one star rating point away from what is in every other aspect a nice update to the Mac Pro.
Go on to Page 2 for an in-depth review of the single-processor 3.33 GHz 6-core Mac Pro.