The PowerMac name is being retired after 8 years of use, and the new machine will be called the Mac Pro. “Pro” is the operative word here; high-end professionals are the target market for this high-end machine. Apple threw down the gauntlet with the Mac Pro – it’s a very impressive system.

It’s always a little confusing when a machine debuts with all-new architecture, so I’ve written a simplified overview of the features on the Mac Pro.

First, Apple offers one standard Mac Pro configuration that can be greatly customized. The standard configuration includes:
– Two 2.66 GHz Xeon 5100 Processors – 1 GB FB-DIMM RAM (2×512 MB) – 250 GB Hard Drive, 3 empty slots (3 Gbps SATA) – NVidia GeForce 7300 GT (256 MB VRAM) – SuperDrive (2 slots total, 1 open) – 4 PCI-Express Slots (One occupied by graphics card)

THE PROCESSORS

Apple is using two Intel Xeon (codename Woodcrest) processors in every Mac Pro. It was widely expected that Apple would power the Mac Pro with the slower (but still excellent) Core 2 Duo (codename Merom) processors. Apple will probably use the Core 2 Duo in a future machine.

The Xeon used in the Mac Pro is a brand-new, server class processor. Like the G5, it is a 64-bit processor, allowing speed advantages with applications designed to take advantage of 64-bit processing (such as many scientific applications, and Tiger server.) It’s currently available in 2GHz, 2.66GHz, or 3GHz speeds, and has an excellent roadmap for future speed bumps.

Each Xeon processor has 4MB of shared L2 cache; as Apple writes, “that much L2 cache enhances processor performance by keeping data and instructions closer to the processor cores.”

For all it’s power, the Xeon is a relatively quiet processor – it’s energy efficiency rarely requires system fans to come on.

Apple calls these Quad Xeons. Each Xeon chip features two processors; thus two Xeons together makes a quad.

Each processor has an independent 1.33 GHz front-side bus; the G4 topped out at a 167MHz front-size bus!

The Xeon is an excellent, incredible chip.

VIDEO CARD

Some people (mostly hardcore gamers) have been disappointed with the Mac Pro’s default 256 MB Geforce 7300 GT video card. However, the 7300 is a great card; it has a dual-DVI and standard DVI port, and will run a 30” Apple display, along a second display. The GeForce 7300 GT is faster than the previous GeForce 6600 GT and X600. The Mac Pro can host up to four graphics cards, so you could run four 30” monitors at the same time (yes, that’s ridiculous.)

Apple offers an upgrade to a 512 MB Radeon X1900 for $350, or to the 512 MB Nvidia Quadro FX 4500 for $1650. Both will run two 30” Apple displays at the same time. The FX 4500 is considered to be an ultra-high end option, with the highest possible performance. That’s why it costs more than a black MacBook. The FX4500 has an integrated stereo 3D port, so you can use stereo goggles for stereo visualization applications.

EXPANDABILITY

Every Mac Pro ships with a 16x dual-layer Superdrive, and has an open slot allowing you to install a second Superdrive, so you can copy a CD or DVD disk-to-disk. I remember when Apple dropped dual optical drives with the introduction of the G5, making some people very upset. Now that we once again have the option for dual optical drives, various people are saying, “who cares?”

The Mac Pro has eight RAM slots, and can recognize up to 16 GB of RAM. The Mac Pro takes 667MHz DDR2 buffered Error-Correcting Code (ECC) RAM; the RAM must be installed in pairs. We are selling a 512 MB chip for $125.00, a 1 GB chip for $185, and a 2 GB chip for $399.00. RAM is installed on a special riser card, that comes with the Mac Pro. This new RAM is very fast; each chip has it’s own mini-processor. Also, the Mac Pro has twice the width of the memory architecture of the G5.

The Mac Pro can host up to four 3Gb/s internal SATA hard drives (compared to two in the G5.) The Mac Pro comes with hard drive trays, similar to the Xserve. You put your SATA drive into the tray, and then slide and lock it into the Mac Pro. This is my second favorite feature of the Mac Pro (after the awesome Xeon processors.) You can swap these drives out as needed. Two thousand gigabytes (2 terabytes) of data storage can be hosted inside the Mac Pro. You can use OS X to create a RAID 0 or RAID 1 with the internal drives.

The Mac Pro features four PCI express slots. One of these is a double-wide PCI Express Graphics Slot, which means you can use the new double-wide video cards without using up one of the three open PCI express slots.

PORTS

The Mac Pro sports: two independent 10/100/1000BASE-T (gigabit) Ethernet interfaces with support for jumbo frames, two FireWire 800 ports (one on front panel, one on back panel) two FireWire 400 ports (one on front panel, one on back panel,) five USB 2.0 ports (two on front panel, three on back panel,) two USB 1.1 ports on included keyboard, front-panel headphone minijack and speaker, optical digital audio input and output Toslink ports, and analog stereo line-level input and output minijacks.

I’m glad to see that Apple has a Firewire 800 port on the back and front of the Mac Pro; Apple remains committed to Firewire 800!

CONFIGURE TO ORDER OPTIONS

Apple is bragging that the Mac Pro can be configured four million different ways. The default Quad Xeon processor is the 2.66; you can also choose a Quad 2 GHz and save $300, or choose the Quad 3 GHZ for an additional $800.

You can upgrade the default Nvidia 7300 video card to Radeon X1900 for $350, or upgrade to the Nvidia Quadro FX 4500 for $1650. You can also add multiple cards to a single machine.

You can add a second Superdrive for $100. You can add

Bluetooth and wi/fi are not built-in; you have to custom order these. While most high-end computer professionals I know don’t use wi/fi or bluetooth on their desktop workstations, plenty do, and would like to have this built-in. It will cost $79 to add bluetooth and wi/fi to the Mac Pro.

The Mac Pro does not have a built-in modem.

Apple will also add additional RAM and hard drives to the Mac Pro for you. Small Dog Electronics charges considerably less than Apple for our brand-name alternatives to Apple’s offerings on those. This will not void your Apple warranty.

COST CONSIDERATIONS

Yes, the Mac Pro is cheaper than a comparable Windows-based PC. There is much speculation that many people will buy the Mac Pro, install Boot Camp and Windows, and use the Mac Pro as a Windows machine. Read this link for a detailed price comparison:

http://reviews.cnet.com/4531-10921_7-6625581.html?tag=blog

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