It's here, it's quiet and it's fast; we got our Mac Pro on Friday and spent every day since taking it apart, using it and benchmarking it. There's far too much to include in one review, so we're breaking it up into three parts. We've already published the first part of our coverage last week, where we discussed the specifications of the new system as well as inadvertently turned the article into a primer on the implications of the FB-DIMMs that the Mac Pro uses. So if you want a brief two-page technical overview of FB-DIMMs, you'll want to consult that article.

Part two is what you're reading today; here we're going to be looking at the Mac Pro as a Mac (mostly) and compare the performance of two speed grades (2.0GHz and 2.66GHz) to the outgoing PowerMac G5. We'll also take the thing apart and give you a nice tour in pictures of the new chassis.


PowerMac G5 (left), Mac Pro box (guess where)

The third and final part will have two focuses - DIY upgrades (e.g. swapping CPUs and sticking in your own FB-DIMMs) as well as performance under Windows XP. Apple just released an updated version of Boot Camp with support for the Mac Pro that should hopefully address some of the serious performance issues we ran into while running Windows XP on our machine. Give us a week and you'll have part 3 to peruse at your leisure.

With our plan of attack laid out, it's time to dive into the Mac Pro and we'll start where very few Mac users like to: at its price. In the past we've generally shied away from getting too caught up in the price debate, because honestly if you're buying a Mac, you're doing so because of the OS and assigning value to that is difficult. Some users are content with other OSes and see no value in OS X, and to them the value in a Mac is simply the total cost of the components that make up the machine. At the same time there are other users who prefer OS X and thus find additional value in a system that is able to run that OS. Regardless of which camp you fall into, the Mac Pro is competitively priced. We'll let the table below do the talking:

Apple Mac Pro

Dell Precision Workstation 490

Home Built Config

CPU

2 x Xeon 5150 (2.66GHz)

2 x Xeon 5150 (2.66GHz)

2 x Xeon 5150 (2.66GHz)

Memory

2x 512MB DDR2-667 FB-DIMMs

2x 512MB DDR2-667 FB-DIMMs

2x 512MB DDR2-667 FB-DIMMs

Graphics

GeForce 7300 GT

Quadro NVS 285

GeForce 7300 GT

Hard Drive

250GB SATA 3Gbps

250GB SATA 3Gbps

Seagate 7200.9 250GB 3Gbps

Optical

SuperDrive (DVD+R DL/DVD+-RW/CD-RW)

16X DVD+-RW

Lite-On 16X DVD+-R DL

Notes

Free 17" LCD, had to add sound card, mouse and 1394a card

Includes Supermicro X7DAE motherboard priced at $474; does not include price of OS, case or power supply

Price

$2499 ($2299 with educational discount)

$3110

$2390

The Dell is clearly more expensive, although you can knock off $100 - $200 thanks to the bundled LCD (unfortunately Dell gives you $0 credit if you remove the monitor from your order). We're able to come close with our own configuration by shopping at Newegg and other vendors through our shopping partner, but note that the $2390 total does not include an OS, case or power supply.

If you're in the market for a dual socket dual core Xeon workstation, Apple's Mac Pro is definitely a bargain. The only real issue here is that not everyone needs or can adequately use a dual socket Xeon workstation, in which case you can argue that there's better value in a cheaper single socket Core 2 system. Unfortunately Apple does not offer any such system, which leads us to believe that we'll either eventually see the introduction of a cheaper single socket Mac Pro or maybe even a new product line simply called the "Mac" that uses desktop Core 2 processors instead of their Xeon counterparts.


Click to Enlarge

Bottom line? The default configuration of the Mac Pro is priced very competitively for what you get; whether or not you need what you get is a different discussion entirely.


Click to Enlarge

Mac Pro vs. PowerMac G5
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  • dborod - Monday, August 21, 2006 - link

    I also miss the Keyboard II. As an alternative I use the TactilePro from Matias (tactilepro.com). To quote from their web site: "The Matias Tactile Pro Keyboard is built from the same premium keyswitch technology that Apple used in its original Apple Extended Keyboard, widely viewed as the best keyboard Apple ever made."

    I agree.
    Reply
  • Maury Markowitz - Friday, August 18, 2006 - link

    I actually use the Keyboard II. ON MY PC! Reply
  • Maury Markowitz - Wednesday, August 16, 2006 - link

    You're basically asking why you should bother with a woman when you can "operate" with your hand. After all, you can do everything with your hand that you can do with a woman, right, so what could a woman offer?

    No, really, I'm not joking here. I'm using this blatently outrageous imagery to get my point across. There are things in life that you simply can not put into words, yet to claim they don't exist is obviously untrue. Try watching your kid being born some time, try putting THAT into words!

    I didn't even know the answer myself until last winter. My friend was on a four-month trip, so he lent me his Mac while he was gone so I could handle his e-mail (he has a small company). Some things are not as good on the Mac as the PC, some things are just _different_, but a lot of things are better. There's no simpler way to say it.

    There's no laundry-list of features that will convince you of this, you just have to try it for a while. It's entirely possible that you won't even notice much of a difference after trying it out. But I'm betting that's not true for the vast majority of people. In my experience the Mac simply looked better, ran smoother, and was much quieter than my PC. I wanted to buy one then and there, but the lack of games meant I'd need to keep a PC around as well, so it was very difficult to justify. Now that the new machines run Windows too, there's no good excuse any more. Now I'm saving up.

    Maury
    Reply
  • plinden - Wednesday, August 16, 2006 - link

    An answer to this can only be a mix of objective and subjective, but this is what I like about OS X:

    * The OS is more stable and professional, easier to use and better looking than Windows or Linux (I've used Windows since Win3.1 and *nix since before that - it's maybe not more stable than Linux, but definitely much easier to use).

    * I can do in OS X whatever I can do in Linux and Windows. (If you really need something like AutoCAD, go ahead and get a windows-only PC. It's cheaper than a Mac + XP install disks).

    * I can install on a backup boot (without going through any WGA crap) on an external FireWire drive and USB2 (with the Intel Macs) without having to hack anything on the install disk.

    * OS X is much more secure ... whether through obscurity or better design, it doesn't matter. You can't get infected with a virus or other malware. I tried hard to infect my backup install with that "virus" that was released back in February, but it couldn't do anything. Because I was running, as I normally do, without administrator privileges.

    * You don't need to be administrator to be able to do anything ... yes that mostly the fault of third party developers who don't understand, but MS didn't do a lot to educate them on writing apps to be used as non-administrators.

    * OS X is *nix, and I can clone my development environment across Linux and Solaris without needing to download and install something like cygwin (I'm a big fan of cygwin, but I would rather not have to use it).

    * I can run OS X, Linux or Windows (if I really want it) on one machine.

    * I can spend my time doing productive work, rather than running virus and spyware scans, defragging the hard drive or tweaking services.msc in Windows ... or trying to make sure I don't trash one of my Linux apps by installing a binary that doesn't work in my kernel version (because I didn't have time to get the source code and all dependencies and build with the correct version of gcc). I've enjoyed tweaking Windows and Linux in the past, but now I'm a productive member of society and just want to be able to meet my project deadlines.

    Instead, why don't I rephrase your question and ask "what does Windows bring me that OS X doesn't?"

    Assume, like 90+% of the general population, that I don't play graphics-intensive 3D games.
    Reply
  • Desslok - Wednesday, August 16, 2006 - link

    Nothing beats their current iLife software suite. At least nothing I have found comes close to it on the PC side, plus now that you can run XP on them you can have the best of both worlds. Albeit no SLI/Crossfire, but then again how many people really use SLI? Reply
  • retrospooty - Wednesday, August 16, 2006 - link

    I keep asking the same question, and ilife keeps coming up as the answer, but no-one cares to explain what it is an/or why it is better then the PC equivalent. What is ilife, and why is it so great? Reply
  • Desslok - Wednesday, August 16, 2006 - link

    Read the reviews on iLife if you want to know more. They can explain it much better than I. Reply
  • retrospooty - Wednesday, August 16, 2006 - link

    Thanks, I did at your suggestion... So its a suite of iTunes, iPhoto, iMovie, iDVD, GarageBand, and iWeb... Oh boy, I am totally unimpressed. I have all that on my PC using various free crap. I am sure they are nice apps for what they do, but hardly worth purchasing (thus the reason they are free). That is SOOOO not a reason to buy a MAC over PC (to me anyhow). I prefer to build my own hardware and have a way faster system. Reply
  • plinden - Wednesday, August 16, 2006 - link

    Unlike you, I've used both iLife and free crap (as you aptly call it), and apart from Picassa (as a replacement for iPhoto) there's no contest. I have been able to very quickly and easily put together DVDs of the kids for the rest of the family using iMovie and iDVD. Sure I have done something similar with Windows Movie Maker, but the result is nowhere near as good.

    But ignoring iLife (it's not one of the reasons I give for liking Macs) there is still no reason for me to switch back to Windows.

    90% of my time on my computers is spent working ... that includes code development. Compilation time for my code on my Mac is the same as in Linux but is twice as fast per CPU cycle as in Windows.

    So explain to me again why Macs are crap ... what? ... oh games. Right, well I guess I'm too cheap to spend thousands on a toy.
    Reply
  • retrospooty - Wednesday, August 16, 2006 - link

    I never said macs are crap specifically... I was just asking what the draw is. I would personally not buy ANY computer from ANY major manufacturer. Not Dell, not sony, gateway, Apple, or any other manufacturer, because they are all crap. Cheap mobo's and memory bought in bulk and sold to the masses. Junk. Reply

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