Using the 2010 Mac Pro – The Hits
It's been a week since I first set up my new Mac Pro and so far, it's mostly a dream machine.
Cores vs. Speed
At the moment, the majority of professional applications are unable to make good use of multiple cores. In some cases, only one or two cores are ever in use. That's why the 6-core Westmere processor is such a good choice; its high clock rate lets even applications with limited multi-core support breeze through their processes. All of the processor options for the Mac Pro support Turbo Boost, so if only a single core is in use, the processor can shut down the unused cores, and boost the clock rate to the remaining active core to goose performance still further.
Applications that can utilize multiple cores will have six of them available. Add the hyperthreading technology into the mix and you have 12 threads that can run concurrently. That really puts the pop in performance.
There are plenty of other hits that make the Mac Pro the right choice for many individuals: expandability in the form of four drive bays, each sporting dedicated SATA 2 connections; PCI-e expansion slots; twin optical drive bays that just beg to have an SSD installed in the unused lower bay; and memory support for 32 GB in the single-processor models and 64 GB in the dual-processor models
Or the complete lack of it. I don't have a meter to measure SPL (Sound Pressure Level), but the Mac Pro is whisper quiet, well below any background noise level in my office. That's wonderful, because I like a quiet work environment, and so do many professionals who use their Mac Pros in studio work.
Using the 2010 Mac Pro – The Misses
By sitting on its hands, Apple missed an opportunity to show some leadership in the professional workstation market, at least as far as engineering for the Mac Pro. Apple should have introduced a Mac Pro with new capabilities, such as SATA 3 support for those four internal drive bays, USB 3 for external ports, or FireWire 1600/3200, to breathe new life into the ageing FireWire ports, which can no longer keep up with the bandwidth demands of external drives. The other improvement that would have been nice is support for eSATA, which can run at the native speed of most external hard drives. A bootable eSATA capability would have really endeared the 2010 Mac Pro to many professional users.
Instead, Apple made minimal upgrades to the 2009 Mac Pro, and let Intel and ATI do all of the engineering, in the form of new processors and graphics cards, which are really the key to the 2010 Mac Pro's performance.
Another miss in the Mac Pro seems to be a bit of stinginess on Apple's part. In previous incarnations, Apple provided a few graphics adapters as part of the Mac Pro package. All of those adapters are now an added cost item.
Keyboards are a very personal thing, so let me just say I thoroughly dislike the Apple Extended Keyboard that comes with the Mac Pro. The keys have too little travel, making touch typing painful, at least for my delicate little fingers. Or perhaps I am too ham-fisted to use this wimpy keyboard successfully. Hard to say which it is, but either way, the stock keyboard got the toss after less than a day of use.
Using the 2010 Mac Pro – Conclusion
Overall, I am very happy with my 2010 Mac Pro. I've picked some nits in things I didn't like, and disagreed with some of the engineering decisions Apple made. But in the end, the 2010 Mac Pro is a winner, and will make a good workstation for anyone who needs a performance-proven expandable Mac.
I don't think the 2010 Mac Pro is an upgrade candidate for anyone with a Nehalem-based Mac Pro. The performance increase is there, but it's not a substantial enough improvement to justify so quickly retiring a relatively new Mac Pro.
Those with older Mac Pros will find the 2010 Mac Pro a nice upgrade, with more power and performance than is available from the older Mac Pro models.
If you're new to the Mac Pro, one of the most common questions concerns which model to get. I like to divide the Mac Pro into two basic configurations: the single-processor models and the dual-processor models.
With the advent of 4- and 6-core processors that can run two threads per core, I find the single-processor models to be more than sufficient for many uses. The only downside I see to the single-processor model is that memory is limited to 32 GB. The dual-processor model effectively doubles the amount of memory supported. As a result, if you use applications that need access to very large amounts of RAM, the dual-processor model is the obvious choice.
I'm glad I chose the 2010 Mac Pro as the replacement for my 2006 Mac Pro. I considered a quad-core iMac, but after having the Mac Pro for a week, I wouldn't trade this baby for any other Mac.