Apple's Mac Pro - A True PowerMac Successorby Anand Lal Shimpi on August 16, 2006 12:27 PM EST
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We'll start off our look at the Mac Pro's performance with some low level memory tests, since arguably the most controversial aspect of the Mac Pro is its use of Fully Buffered DIMMs. For more information about FB-DIMMs be sure to read our original article on the Mac Pro.
The G5 had a very quick 12-cycle L2 cache, which gives it a slight performance advantage compared to the 14-cycle L2 of the Xeons in the Mac Pro. Access latency is only one part of the puzzle however, as the G5s benchmarked here only had a 512KB L2 cache (the G5 later got an upgrade to a 1MB cache) while the Xeons in the Mac Pro have a 4MB L2 cache per chip. The G5 had a slightly faster L2, but you can reach higher clocks with the Xeon thus minimizing the effective latency and you can fit more data into the larger L2.
And here we see the real killer with FB-DIMMs; although the Mac Pro boasts lower latency memory accesses than the PowerMac G5, it actually takes longer to access main memory than the Core Duo processor in the MacBook Pro. This is much worse than it sounds once you take into account the fact that the MacBook Pro features a 667MHz FSB compared to the 1333MHz FSB (per chip) used in the Mac Pro.
We can further put things in perspective by looking at memory latency under Windows XP, compared to Intel's Core 2 processor. Remember that the Core 2 is identical to the Xeons in the Mac Pro, the difference being that the chipset uses regular DDR2 memory instead of DDR2-667 FB-DIMMs. Note that for our Core 2 system in the comparison below we ran the memory at DDR2-667 at 5-5-5-15 timings as well as DDR2-800 at 4-4-4-12 to provide apples-to-apples as well as apples-to-fastest comparisons.
||CPU-Z 1.35 (8192KB, 256-byte stride)||Everest READ||Everest WRITE|
|Apple Mac Pro 2.66GHz (DDR2-667 FB-DIMM Quad Channel)||100 ns||87.4 ns||4292 MB/s||3759 MB/s|
|Apple Mac Pro 2.66GHz (DDR2-667 FB-DIMM Dual Channel)||105.8 ns||92.3 ns||4141 MB/s||3096 MB/s|
|Intel Core 2 Duo E6700 2.66GHz (DDR2-800 4-4-4-12 Dual Channel)||59.9 ns||52.8 ns||7413 MB/s||4859 MB/s|
|Intel Core 2 Duo E6700 2.66GHz (DDR2-667 5-5-5-15 Dual Channel)||68.9 ns||59 ns||6782 MB/s||4858 MB/s|
It's not Apple's fault, but FB-DIMMs absolutely kill memory latency; even running in quad channel mode, the FB-DIMM equipped Mac Pro takes 45% more time to access memory than our DDR2 equipped test bed at the same memory frequency. Things don't get any prettier when we look at memory bandwidth either.
Remember the overhead we were worried about with the serialization of parallel memory requests? With four FBD channels, the best we're able to see out of the Mac Pro is 4.292GB/s, compared to the 6.782GB/s of bandwidth our dual channel Core 2 testbed is able to provide. The efficiency table below says it all:
|CPU||Peak Theoretical Bandwidth
|Apple Mac Pro 2.66GHz (DDR2-667 FB-DIMM Quad Channel)||21.3GB/s||4.292GB/s||20%|
|Apple Mac Pro 2.66GHz (DDR2-667 FB-DIMM Dual Channel)||10.67GB/s||4.141GB/s||38.8%|
|Intel Core 2 Duo E6700 2.66GHz (DDR2-800 4-4-4-12 Dual Channel)||12.8GB/s||7.413GB/s||57.9%|
|Intel Core 2 Duo E6700 2.66GHz (DDR2-667 5-5-5-15 Dual Channel)||10.67GB/s||6.782GB/s||63.6%|
FB-DIMMs are simply not good for memory performance; the added capacity allowed by having 8 FB-DIMM slots on the Mac Pro had better be worth it, because if Apple were to release a Core 2 based Mac chances are that it could give the Mac Pro a run for its money in a number of memory sensitive tasks.