Quad core and eight-core Mac Pros (Mid 2010) review

It used to be that if you wanted the fastest processors, the biggest hard drives and most powerful graphics, then Apple’s tower computers, like the Mac Pro and Power Mac that it replaced, were the only real options available to Mac users.  

These days, however, the once cute and consumer-y iMacs stand their own against (and sometimes surpass) the Mac Pro in day-to-day application performance. Does that mean that the Mac Pro has lost its relevance in today’s work environment? Hardly.

This review will focus on the £1,999 2.8GHz Quad-Core Mac Pro with 3GB of RAM, 1TB hard drive and ATI Radeon HD 5770 graphics card with 1GB of GDDR5 video RAM, and the £2,799 2.4GHz 8-core Mac Pro with the same hard drive and graphics, but 6GB of RAM. Both systems include an 18X DVD-burning SuperDrive with dual layer burning support.

A third configuration with 12 processing cores and a price tag of £3,999 will be reviewed separately.

The Mac Pro continues to be all about expandability. There are literally billions of configuration combinations available, choose from 4, 6, 8 and 12 processing cores, from one to four hard drives or SSDs, up to 32GB of RAM, Apple RAID card, multiple graphics cards, and more. Anyone who’s struggled to install anything more than RAM in the rest of Apple’s Mac lineup, can appreciate how easily these components can be accessed, swapped and installed.

And though highly parallel applications that take full advantage of up to 24 virtual processing cores are scarce, for the people using Mathematica, Cinema 4D and other high-end software, the performance advantage is undeniable.

Another reason to choose a Mac Pro is for display versatility. Many users despise glossy screens, while others require larger, smaller displays or monitors with higher end color control and accuracy or color critical work. With an iMac, you’re pretty much stuck with what Apple offers, and for some that just isn’t enough.

Some things never seem to change

Externally, the Mac Pro’s case design hasn’t changed since the line’s introduction in August 2006. And with the exception of the second optical drive slot, the case is pretty much the same as the 1.6GHz G5 Power Macintosh model introduced in June of 2003.

Internal changes have been made over the years, but this latest model doesn’t introduce any – keeping the processor and RAM riser card that first showed up in last year’s Mac Pro.

Quad core and eight-core Mac Pros (Mid 2010)

The Mac Pro has two FireWire 800 ports, 2 USB 2.0 ports, and a headphone jack conveniently located on the front of the case. On the back you’ll find two additional FireWire 800 ports, three USB 2.0 ports, two Gigabit Ethernet ports, as well as optical audio in and out TOSLINK ports, and analog audio in and out minijacks.

There are two more USB 2.0 ports on the included wired Apple Keyboard. Apple’s wireless Magic Mouse comes standard. Apple’s Wireless keyboard is available for an additional £17.

Welcome Westmere

The entry-level Mac Pro, uses a single quad-core Xeon “Nehalem” processor. This is the same processor that debuted in the last generation of Mac Pros, but running at a higher clock speed. The 8-core Mac Pro (as well as the 6 and 12-core models) marks the debut of Intel’s Westmere Xeon processors on the Mac. Based on a 32nm process, as opposed to Nehalem’s 45nm process, the new Westmere offers up to 6 cores per processor, while providing a 50 per cent larger L3 cache (12MB shared per processor vs 8MB) than the Nehalem processors.

Both the Westmere and Nehalem processors support Intel’s HyperThreading and TurboBoost features that can offer twice as many virtual cores to applications that can make use of them or power down extra cores providing more power to the one or two cores that a typical application might actually use.

There is one other subtle change. The new Mac Pro models are the first Mac OS X systems to use a 64bit kernel by default– some systems running OS X Server have already the switch.

Quad core and eight-core Mac Pros (Mid 2010)

iMacs and MacBook Pros from early 2008 and later can use the 64bit kernel, but by default launch the 32bit kernel instead. Applications and hardware that require kernel extensions may need to be updated to work with the 64-bit kernel.  You can force the Mac Pro to use the 32-bit kernel by holding down the numbers 3 and 2 on your keyboard during startup. Hold down the 6 and 4 to start using the 64-bit kernel again.

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