Mac Pro 2.66GHz 12-core review

Apple released three new Mac Pro models in August. The £1,999 2.8GHz quad-core model and the £2,799 2.4GHz quad-core (x2, eight cores total) model were reviewed in our October issue. Here we will assess Apple’s 12-core Mac Pro. At £3,999 this is Apple’s most expensive off-the-shelf Mac, but does that mean it’s the fastest Mac money can buy?

This flagship model has two 2.66GHz 6-core Intel Xeon Westmere processors (twelve cores in total) with 6GB RAM, a 1TB hard drive, and the same 1GB ATI Radeon HD 5770 graphics card as the other 2010 Mac Pros. Our Macworld system performance test suite, Speedmark 6.5, results show it to be considerably faster than Apple’s other standard Mac Pro models released this year, achieving a Speedmark 6.5 result of 261 compared to the 216 of the 8-core model, and 207 for the quad-core Mac Pro.

Built for speed

Apple’s standard models don’t always offer the best combination of speed and value for money, as we discovered when we compared this 12-core model to some of the build-to-order (BTO) options for the Mac Pro. Apple offers its Macs in a number of standard configurations. But it offers upgrades for each system that can increase the performance – and the price.

The upgrades include faster processors, faster storage devices and more RAM, and these BTO options usually provide considerably improved performance over the base standard configuration that you start with. The Macworld Lab got a few of these BTO Mac Pros, and our Speedmark 6.5 results show that four of the five fastest Macs we’ve tested are BTO configurations.

As Macworld Lab has experienced with past benchmark test results, the speed of the individual processing cores on a processor affects overall performance more that the number of processing cores. In fact, the BTO 12-core 2.66GHz Mac Pro with 12GB of RAM and a £4,359 price tag (though our RAM was provided by Crucial not Apple), was not the overall fastest Mac that we’ve tested. That honour goes to a £2,959 BTO Mac Pro with a 6-core 3.33GHz processor and 3GB of RAM, which edged out its 12-core sibling by one point in Speedmark 6.5. The 6-core 3.33GHz Mac Pro beat the 12-core 2.66GHz Mac Pro in 12 of the 17 individual tasks that make up Speedmark 6.5.

Surprisingly, the amount of RAM didn’t matter much with our Mac Pro tests. The results from the 12-core 2.66GHz Mac Pro with 6GB of RAM (the standard configuration) were nearly identical to the results of the same Mac Pro with 12GB of RAM. Even our multitasking test wasn’t faster on the 2.66GHz 12-core Mac Pro with 12GB of RAM.

In the few Speedmark tests that make use of all 12-cores (and with Intel’s Hyper Threading technology, all 24 virtual cores), like MathematicaMark, CineBench CPU, and HandBrake, the more processors available, the better the performance. For example, the 12-core 2.66GHz Mac Pro finished the CineBench CPU test in one-fifth of the time it took the 2.66GHz Core i7 MacBook Pro to complete the test. It was also 33 per cent faster than the 6-core 3.33GHz Mac Pro

OUR VERDICT

At four grand the 12-core Mac Pro is no impulse buy. Nor is it the fastest Mac you can buy, that accolade goes to the BTO 6-core 3.33GHz Mac Pro; it beats the standard 12-core model by just two points, but costs £1,040 less. However, if you’re using programs that will take advantage of the 12-cores (or 24 virtual cores) then the 12-core Mac Pro is the fastest Mac on offer.