Ars Technica reviews Apple Mac Pro Quad Xeon 64-bit workstation

“Better known by its code name Woodcrest, the Xeon 5100 series provides the brains for Apple’s new Mac Pro towers. Although it shares a name with Intel’s longstanding server-centric CPU, the 5100s are different beasts from their Netburst predecessors. They are built on the same Core architecture as Merom (Core 2 Duo) laptop CPUs and the just-released desktop CPU Conroe (also Core 2 Duo),” Eric Bangeman reports for Ars Technica.

“Apple is using three Xeons across the Mac Pro line: the 5130 (2.0GHz), 5150 (2.66GHz), and the 5160 (3.0GHz). The default configuration for the Mac Pro uses Van Halen’s favorite CPU, the Xeon 5150, with the 5130 and 5160 available as build-to-order options for $300 less and $800 more, respectively. Since the machine being reviewed has the 5150, I’ll just touch on that processor. However, the CPUs are identical except for the speed. A detailed look at the Xeon architecture is outside the scope of this review, but we can hit a few of the highlights of the 5150,” Bangeman reports.

Bangeman reports, “Although the Mac Pro uses the same enclosure as the Power Macintosh G5, Apple has made some small changes on the outside and bigger ones on the inside. More ports in the front means it’s easier to plug and unplug devices, and additional USB 2.0 ports means fewer hubs. I do miss the modem, since I’ve been using my G5 to receive faxes.”

Bangeman reports, “The interior layout is a big win for Apple. Four drive bays is adequate for a pro tower, although support for something little better than 7200rpm SATA would have been nice. It’s also great having room for a second optical drive. Adding a second DVD burner, extra hard drives, and RAM are all very straightforward and simple operations. The layout of the interior is very well done and everything is easy to get to. Putting the graphics card in a double wide slot so that it doesn’t block another PCIe slot is another smooth choice.”

“In terms of performance, it’s good news—with a caveat. While the fully-buffered memory, the screaming-fast Xeon 5150s, and the 1333MHz FSB are all great, Apple’s video card choice is most definitely not. It’s like having a can of Schlitz with filet mignon, or having an oompah band play Oktoberfest at Carnegie Hall. It doesn’t fit, and it detracts from the overall experience. The ATI Radeon X1900XT offered as a build-to-order option would have been a fantastic choice, but given Apple’s desire for a $2,499 price tag and high margins, that was not an option. Still, one of the GeForce 7600s would have been a more appropriate choice,” Bangeman reports.

“A pair of x16 PCIe slots would have been nice as well. Unfortunately, Intel doesn’t have a Xeon chipset capable of support that at this point. Perhaps down the road,” Bangeman reports. “Despite that, the Mac Pro is a very solid graphics or video editing workstation. When all the major ‘pro’ applications have made the transition to Universal Binaries, the PowerPC years will be little more than a memory.”

Full comprehensive review (as usual) – a must read for those considering purchasing Apple’s Mac Pro here.

Related MacDailyNews articles:
Apple Mac Pro Quad-core Xeon easily beats Power Mac G5 Quad – August 11, 2006
Benchmark duel: Apple Mac Pro vs. Power Mac G5 – August 10, 2006

24 Comments

  1. I for one and happy that Apple chose not to bump the price by using a higher end video card. I don’t need it….

    For audio professionals and scientists who need processing power instead of GPU power this machine and pricepoint are a dream.

    For graphics and video pros, there are plenty of BTO options available.

  2. Great review of great machines… but since you asked, they seemed to be trying too hard to find fault (and still came up with 9/10!):

    * They fault the poor software bundle. What bundle do other towers come with? Less than iLife–which is actually excellent compared to what comes with Windows! Pros need whatever is used in THEIR field, so of course pro apps are not bundled.

    * They fault the choice of a low-end GPU. But that makes no sense: you can order a better one if you want and STILL come out much cheaper than a Dell or HP. Not everyone needs a super GPU–but it’s still a valid complaint… IF the Mac Pro didn’t already cost a thousand dollars less than a PC.

    But only 1 point off for that. Just nit-picking.

    Mmmmm…. nits.

  3. Trevor: Exactly. Not all Mac Pro users are going to be doing Video editing. I currently have a Dual G5 at work which gets very intensive use for scientific analysis, but nothing I needs anything remotely close to the kind of 3D acceleration provided by high end cards (hence why I can get by on a 64Mb NVidia GeForce 5400, which is pretty crap). The most important thing for me is the 64 bit-ness, memory size and throughput, storage and most of all, speed.

    As far are graphics are concerned, I could easily make do with the GMA 950 that is in the Mac mini. I know, because when I work at home I use an Intel Mac mini and it performs up surprisingly well compared to my G5 at work.

  4. iPhone: Annonced on Monday, maybe. Released? Of course not. The thing needs FCC approval which takes several months before it can be sold. We’ll know about it for months before we can actually buy it.

  5. Here’s a very important difference between the Dell Precision workstations and the Mac Pro that everyone seems to be overlooking when comparing the two products:

    The Dells use the 5000 series Xeons, not the 5100 Woodcrest Xeons. Of course it’s almost impossible to find this info on Dell’s website. This is huge! We’re talking about a generation difference in processor architecture, and the Dell still costs more.

  6. You can custom configure the Dell with the new Woodcrest Xeon (or two). But the price far surpasses the base Mac Pro, even after upgrading the Mac Pro’s graphics card. It has been great to be a Mac user for the past several years and it just keeps getting better. Now we win on purchase price, too!

  7. uhhhhh, hello?

    everyone including the writer is missing somehting!!

    “A pair of x16 PCIe slots would have been nice as well. Unfortunately, Intel doesn’t have a Xeon chipset capable of support that at this point. Perhaps down the road,” Bangeman reports. “Despite that, the Mac Pro is a very solid graphics or video editing workstation. When all the major ‘pro’ applications have made the transition to Universal Binaries, the PowerPC years will be little more than a memory.”

    a pair? no chipset??!!?!?

    The Mac Pro has 4 full length x16 pci e slots!!!!!!!

    64 lanes of PCIe traffic….. more than ANY other motherboard / platform

    intel made a custom chipset for Apple… is no one else thinking about this?

    I am just wondering if you can get SLI to work, I am guessing its a crossfire only solution, thats what it is for the other intel chipsets,

  8. my bad, should have read the whole article, I wonder where that quate came form above then,,,

    The slots themselves are fed from both the north- and southbridges, using a set of muxes to determine what slots are fed and from which chip. Ultimately, they all end up back at the northbridge.

    By default, the Mac Pro is configured with slot 1 set at 16 lanes (x16), slot 2 at x1, and slots 3 and 4 at x4. The AirPort Express slot mentioned above uses a single lane. If you don’t like that set-up, you can switch from x16, x1, x4, x4 to one of the following configurations:

    x8, x8, x1, x8
    x8, x8, x4, x4
    x16, x1, x1, x8
    The last one would appear to the best if you’re adding another video card. I’ve got an ATI Radeon X1900XT on order, which I’ll drop to slot 1 while moving the NVIDIA GeForce 7300GT over to slot 4. Unfortunately, the lack of ability to have two 16-lane slots going at the same time rules out x16 Crossfire and SLI configurations. This is a limitation of the Intel 5000X chipset, which can only support 28 total PCI Express lanes. Assuming Crossfire or SLI video cards become available for the Mac Pro, there is no reason why it wouldn’t be able to handle an x8 Crossfire or SLI configuration.

    If you want more details on the Mac Pro’s PCIe implementation, you can get them straight from the horse’s mouth.

  9. okay… whats the deal… is the mac pro really using the ntel 5000X chipset??

    is it really limited to 28 lanes?

    I am thinking thats no so bad, none of the stand alone cards use more than 8x do they??? anyone??

    except the 7950Gx2 cards, wich are basically 2 cards in one anyway..

  10. cmon, somebody correct me if I’m wrong but the nvidia 7900 or the ati 1900 cards only use 8 lanes right? so why would 3 of those cards be right at home in this system??

    or one 7950GX2, and one 7900, etc etc…

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