Final Words

The Mac Pro is pretty much everything the PowerMac G5 should have been. It's cooler, quieter, faster, has more expansion and it gives you more for your value than the older systems ever could.

If you were happy with your PowerMac G5, then you'll definitely be happy with the Mac Pro. And if you're a heavy multitasker, you will quickly be spoiled by the four very high performance cores that have found their way into the familiar looking chassis.

We did want a little more out of the system; for a company that usually embraces up and coming standards we wanted to see things like eSATA or CrossFire/SLI supported, but that's mostly for the geek in us that just likes playing around with interesting technologies. We would've also appreciated a more upgrade friendly setup; while we do appreciate how easy it is to install new drives and memory, replacing your CPUs is much more time intensive. Seeing as how you can now buy CPUs for your Mac from Newegg thanks to Apple using regular Intel processors, we'd assume that CPU upgrades will be done a bit more frequently especially as time goes on and prices drop.

From a performance standpoint, running OS X, the Mac Pro is truly Apple's fastest system by a long shot. Some of the performance advantages over the PowerMac G5 aren't enormous, but then you look at situations like iPhoto, Xcode or Final Cut Pro where the G5 is just put to shame. Rosetta performance is just about as good as it gets, the only real solution to that problem is for Adobe and Microsoft to hurry up and release updated software. Unfortunately since Apple isn't really a favorite of either company, it's not like greater than usual amounts of resources are being thrown at releasing new products specifically for the Mac platform.

Would we suggest staying away from the Mac Pro until all applications are available as Universal Binaries? No. But make sure you know what you're getting yourself into before you buy anything: emulated performance is bearable, but it's by no means fast.

One of our biggest concern about the Mac Pro is that users who don't need 8 memory slots or four cores would be better off if Apple released a single socket Core 2 based Mac tower. The memory performance of FBD on the Intel 5000X chipset is absolutely horrid and there's nothing you can do about it unless you switch entirely to an all serial interface or go back to using regular DDR2 memory.

The memory performance of the Mac Pro is noticeably better than the PowerMac G5 and competitive with other products in the Mac lineup (for now), but it's still significantly lower than where it could be. Intel seems married to its FBD strategy for now, which unfortunately means that as long as Apple wants two sockets for the Mac Pro, you'll need to deal with FBD. Our recommendation to Apple? Give us a Core 2 based tower. Our recommendation to Intel? Give us an alternative to FBD.

Power Consumption
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  • plinden - Thursday, August 17, 2006 - link

    I know of at least one multithreaded LAME encoder for iTunes, but I've never used it so don't know how fast it is - http://www.versiontracker.com/dyn/moreinfo/macosx/...">http://www.versiontracker.com/dyn/moreinfo/macosx/... Reply
  • Maury Markowitz - Wednesday, August 16, 2006 - link

    The MP3 process itself might not be, but the load -> encode -> write process most certainly is threadable.

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

    Reading and writing a file most likely doesn't use very much in system resources. Reply
  • Dennis Travis - Wednesday, August 16, 2006 - link

    Good job Anand. I can't wait for the next part!!

    Reply
  • WeirdZen - Wednesday, August 16, 2006 - link

    Something I have not seen mentioned is support for Video Cards. Now that these are using a different Bios, can we use standard PC Video Cards, or are we still forced to pay too much money for a slim selection of cards? Reply
  • Maury Markowitz - Wednesday, August 16, 2006 - link

    The basic answer is "no, but it is likely you can make them work with some effort". There are two basic problems, one is the boot firmware on the card, and the other is the drivers in the Mac OS (or lack thereof). Both can be addressed, and have been in the past. Here's the scoop:

    The firmware on the basic PC card is basically aimed at getting a BIOS-based machine up and running. Since the Mac uses EFI, this doesn't work, and a PC card in a Mac simply won't boot (nothing bad happens though, just nothing happens). The Mac cards replace this BIOS-based code with one that appears to work fine on both BIOS and EFI machines. So basically a Mac card will work fine in any PC, but most PC cards will not run in the Mac. EFI is expected to become more common in the future though, so we'll have to see how this turns out six months from now.

    Now it's just firmware. That means you can download it from a Mac version and upload it to a PC version and presto. The problem here is that the combination on the Mac drive ends up being larger, which shouldn't be surprising. So while most PC cards have a 64k flash on them for the firmware, the Mac version is about 110k and needs a 128k flash. SOME PC cards have this, but generally it's rare.

    Things are not so bad as they seem. In the past hackers have been able to strip out the PC-only code, leaving a smaller Mac-only version that will fit into 64k. It will be a little while before we know if this is possible for the EFI driver too, it's simply too early to know yet. Another option is to solder a 128k flash onto your card, but obviously that's much more "serious".

    The other issue is the drivers in the Mac OS. Every card has a unique ID and vendor code in it, and the Mac OS tries to look up cards by pattern matching on these IDs. So even if you did flash the firmware, the Mac wouldn't find the driver matching those codes, and fail to load it. The news here is very good though, because Apple puts practically everything into normal text files, including these codes. It's a triviality to find them in the driver and change them to match your card.

    So we'll all just have to wait a bit and see how it all turns out. The basic long-n-short is that its definitely _possible_ in theory.

    Finally, a word or two about SLI/CrossFire. These are a different matter entirely. Basically these systems use custom drivers that split every message being sent out of the video drivers and sends them to both cards at the same time. That way they both have an identical copy of the "world". Clearly the normal drivers cannot be used, and unless someone makes a driver for the Mac, these things simply aren't going to work.

    There is one oddball though, the GeForce 7950 GX2. This card is basically two 7900's bolted together, with SLI _internal_. From what I understand, the machine and OS has no idea that it's not talking to a bog-standard 7900. Assuming all the problems above can be worked out, it is just possible that the Quattro driver Apple has now could be adapted to work with this card. THAT would be good enough for me, Halo runs full-screen on a 30" LCD on this card...

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

    yeah Anand please tell us if we can buy nice cheap evga 7900GT and stick it inside this fruity beast Reply
  • VooDooAddict - Wednesday, August 16, 2006 - link

    I think this is a burning question amoung those of us thinking about this beast. Reply
  • ViRGE - Wednesday, August 16, 2006 - link

    Early results look like it won't happen. For Mac OS X, the card needs to support EFI, which means there needs to be a portion of the video BIOS programmed to handle it. Right now only Mac-specific cards seem to be able to do so, and PC cards can't be flashed because the Mac cards are using a larger EEPROM for the BIOS. Reply
  • delta53 - Wednesday, August 16, 2006 - link

    They go on and on about the price difference and fail to tell you that the Apple doesn't include at monitor or a protection plan which the price of the dell includes both. The price for the apple plan is $249 for 3 years. Dell will take off $149 for the monitor. Therefore, the Apple with protection plan without monitor is $2748.00 and the Dell with the protection plan without monitor is $2961.00. Price difference $213.00. That is comparing apples to apples. Reply

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