Mac Pro Quad-Core/2.66GHz 2009 Edition full review - Page 2

New Mac Pro processor

The new Mac Pro uses Intel’s Xeon 3500 or 5500 quad-core processors, part of the new Nehalem family of microprocessors. Several major architectural innovations have the new processors featuring all four cores on a single die, making its 8MB of L3 cache available to any and all processing cores.

The memory controller is now on-chip, giving the processor faster access to the main memory, and eliminating memory latency by up to 40 per cent.

Previously, the Mac Pro had 12MB of L2 cache per processor, with 6MB shared between pairs of processing cores. Each processor now has full access to 8MB of L3 as well as a small amount of dedicated L2 cache, whereas the previous Mac Pro had no L3 cache.

A technology called Hyper-Threading creates two virtual cores per each physical core, allowing each physical core to run two processes at once, which helps use the available processing power more efficiently. Also new to the Nehalem processors is a technology Intel calls Turbo Boost.

Turbo Boost helps speed up the majority of applications that haven’t been written to take full advantage of multicore processors by allowing the system to spin down idle processing cores while increasing the speed of the processors in use. This lets a 2.93GHz Xeon, for example, run at speeds as high as 3.33GHz, Apple says.

Performance

So do all of these innovations translate to better performance? The 2.66GHz quad-core Mac Pro posted faster speeds in Photoshop, Compressor, iMovie, iTunes, and 3-D game benchmarks than the previous standard eight-core Mac Pro. That’s pretty impressive considering that the new Mac Pro is using only half the number of processing cores as last year’s standard configuration - and at a slower speed.

The new quad-core’s score in our overall system performance suite, Speedmark 5, was 16 per cent faster than that of the previous 2.8GHz eight-core Mac Pro. It was also 27 per cent faster in our Photoshop tests, and 20 per cent faster at Compressor than the older system.

The new 2.26GHz eight-core Mac Pro has twice as many processing cores as the 2.66GHz quad-core model, but each core runs 15 per cent slower than the cores in that 2.66GHz quad-core Mac Pro. Because many applications have a difficult time using even four processors efficiently, the advantage of having eight was not apparent in most of the application tests that make up our Speedmark benchmark test suite. In fact, the new eight-core system posted a lower Speedmark score than the quad-core system, and bested it in just one test - Cinema 4D, where it posted a 28 per cent faster time.

Pro app testing

We run Speedmark on all Mac systems, so the suite is light on the few industrial-strength professional applications that take full advantage of multicore processors.

Speedmark tests are also run one at a time, which can mask the advantage of increased RAM. For those reasons, we decided to add a couple of tests to the suite to better test the Mac Pro, namely Mathematica and a ProRes Compressor test.

In these tests, the applications recognized and used all 16 virtual cores of the new eight-core Mac Pro. In MathematicaMark 7, the new quad-core Mac Pro received a score of 10.1, nearly identical to the 9.7 score of last year’s eight-core 2.8GHz Mac Pro. The new 2.26GHz Mac Pro scored 16.8, or 73 per cent higher than last year’s eight-core Mac Pro. In our ProRes encode test to Compressor’s H.264 iPod/iPhone 640 by 480 preset, the new 2.66GHz Mac Pro took 9 minutes and 38 seconds to convert our 6 minute and 41 second clip, about 6.6 per cent longer than the older eight-core 2.8GHz system did.

The new 2.26GHz Mac Pro was about 8.9 per cent faster than last year’s model. The new Mac Pro’s graphics performance showed much improvement when running 3-D games at high resolution. With the Nvidia GeForce GT 120 graphics, the new Mac Pros were able to push through 44 per cent more frames per second than last year’s standard 2.8GHz eight-core Mac Pro when running Call of Duty 4 at 1,920 by 1,200 pixels, and nearly twice as many frames per second when running Quake 4 at high resolution.

The new 3.06GHz 24-inch iMac, with its Nvidia GeForce 130 graphics chip, beat both Mac Pros in our most of our graphics tests.

[James Galbraith is Macworld’s lab director.]

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