Apple has announced the Mac Pro, its Intel-processor-based workstation for professional users. The cost starts at £1,699 (incuding VAT).

Ushered in during Apple CEO Steve Jobs' keynote speech, the Mac Pro exploits the Xeon (Woodcrest) processor from Intel - this makes it twice as fast as any preceeding Power Mac, according to the company. It offers a shared 4MB L2 cache.

The Mac Pro is a quad Xeon processor-driven 64-bit desktop workstation with two new Dual-Core Intel Xeon processors running up to 3.0 GHz and a new system architecture that delivers up to twice the performance of the Power Mac G5 Quad.

Apple promises advanced performance, greater expansion, higher performance graphics options and unprecedented customisation in its new machine.

The newly redesigned Mac Pro features an all-new, direct-attach storage solution for cable-free, snap-in installation of up to four 500GB Serial ATA hard drives for a total of 2TB of internal storage - the most ever on a Mac. It offers support for two optical drives to simultaneously read and/or write to CDs and DVDs.

The design includes three full-length PCI Express expansion slots and one double-wide PCI Express graphics slot to support high-powered, double-wide graphics cards. The front panel of the Mac Pro includes a FireWire 800 port, a FireWire 400 port and two USB 2.0 ports with additional FireWire 800, FireWire 400 and three USB 2.0 ports on the back panel. Mac Pro also includes dual Gigabit Ethernet ports, optical digital input and output, analogue audio input and output, and optional built-in support for AirPort Extreme and Bluetooth 2.0+EDR.

Graphic performance is provided by the nVidia GeForce 7300 GT with 256MB of video memory, providing built-in support for dual-displays and Apple’s 30-inch Cinema HD Display. The ATI Radeon X1900 XT and the NVIDIA Quadro FX 4500, both with 512MB of video memory, are available as build-to-order options and provide built-in support for up to two 30-inch Apple Cinema HD Displays. The Quadro FX 4500 also includes a stereo 3D port to connect goggles for stereo-in-a-window applications. The Mac Pro supports up to four PCI Express graphics cards to drive up to eight displays at once for advanced visualisation and large display walls.

The Mac Pro is shipping today with the standard prebuilt configuration, including two 2.66 GHz Dual-Core Intel Xeon processors. It costs $2,499.

The $2,499 Mac Pro offers two 2.66 GHz Dual-Core Intel Xeon processors; 1GB of 667 MHz DDR2 memory, expandable up to 16GB; 250GB Serial ATA (3Gb/s) hard drive running at 7,200 rpm; 16x SuperDrive™ with double-layer support (DVD+R DL/DVD±RW/CD-RW); four PCI Express slots: one double-wide graphics slot and three full-length expansion slots.

“Apple has successfully completed the transition to using Intel processors in just seven months - 210 days to be exact,” said Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO. “And what better product to complete it with than the new Mac Pro, the workstation Mac users have been dreaming about.”

"Today, the Power Mac is going to fade into history," Apple CEO Steve Jobs told thousands of developers gathered at his keynote speech in San Francisco, at the Moscone Center.

The new Mac Pro features the new Dual-Core Intel Xeon 5100 series processor based on Intel's Core microarchitecture. This means the Mac Pro can be up to twice as fast as the Power Mac G5 Quad running industry standard benchmarks. It features two Dual-Core Intel Xeon processors running up to 3GHz, each with 4MB of shared L2 cache and independent 1.33GHz front-side buses. With 66 MHz DDR2 fully buffered memory, the Mac Pro also boasts a 256-bit wide memory architecture for amazing bandwidth.

"This is the Mac that so many of our highest-end customers dreamed of," Apple VP worldwide product marketing, Phil Schiller said. "These are screaming-fast machines and the new king of the hill for the Mac is the Mac Pro."

Apple also took a step to combat the entrenched belief that its machines cannot be tweaked for specific uses. The new pro Macs are customisable, it explained, with "4.9 million" build-to-order options including: two 2.0GHz or 3.0GHz Dual-Core Intel Xeon processors; up to 16GB of 667MHz DDR2 fully-buffered ECC memory; up to four 500GB Serial ATA hard drives running at 7,200 rpm; up to two 16x SuperDrives with double-layer support; ATI Radeon X1900 XT and NVIDIA Quadro FX 4500 graphics cards, both with 512MB of GDDR3 SDRAM; AirPort Extreme module, Bluetooth 2.0+EDR module; Apple USB Modem; Apple Wireless Keyboard and Apple wireless Mighty Mouse; Mac OS X Server Tiger; Apple Xsan; and Apple Fibre Channel PCI Express Card.