Installing Windows XP, the Right Way

When we first reviewed the Mac Pro, we of course tried to install Windows XP on it. 

Although Apple's Bootcamp beta now allows you to install Windows on a separate hard drive, you'll need to physically remove your OS X boot drive before beginning the install process otherwise you'll be greeted with the following error:

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Even with Apple's updated Bootcamp 1.1 beta release, we encountered serious performance issues with SATA drives under XP; the fastest transfer rate attainable, regardless of drive used, was only 3.9MB/s, which obviously made the system very slow.  Video and CPU performance was fine, but with I/O performance so low the system was a very poor performer in most applications. 

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Thankfully, some clever OS X/XP users figured out the cause of the problem: the Intel 5000X drivers must be slipstreamed into the Windows XP SP2 install CD and loaded during Windows setup, not after, in order to avoid the problem.  We couldn't find a reason why this was true, but after following the instructions posted here (and later mirrored here) our SATA problems went away. 

The fix is simple; you need to download and extract the Intel chipset drivers for the 5000X, as well as the SATA drivers, and use a tool such as nLite to slipstream the drivers into your XP SP2 install CD.

If you've done it correctly, your SATA drives should now operate in Multi-Word DMA Mode 2 instead of PIO Mode when viewed in Device Manager. 

With Windows XP now working at full speed on the Mac Pro, we run into another hurdle in making the Mac Pro the perfect XP/OS X workstation: the video card.  Apple only offers three video card options for the Mac Pro: a GeForce 7300 GT, Quadro FX 4500 and a Radeon X1900 XT.  The problem is that the first option is a fairly low end GPU, and the remaining two are fairly expensive upgrades at $499 and $399 respectively.  It would be much nicer if we could simply use a PC video card in the system, as it would greatly expand the possibilities for upgrades and do so at much better prices. 

PC video cards will actually work in the Mac Pro under Windows XP, they will not however work under OS X or during any of the pre-boot period of starting the machine (e.g. you will not be able to see the startup disk selection screen if you hold down the Option key while the system starts).  If you install a PC video card in the Mac Pro you'll simply get a black screen until Windows starts loading, at which point everything will look normal.  We used this fact to our benefit by running all of our Windows XP game tests with a regular ATI Radeon X1900 XTX.  Interestingly enough, when we tried to use a Radeon X1900 XT 256MB, we got a lot of display corruption as you can see from the screenshot below:

We couldn't do anything to get rid of the corruption, and aren't sure why it happened only with the 256MB X1900 XT. 

On the OS X side, if you try to boot with a PC video card you'll simply get a black screen from start to finish.  We've tried ATI's Radeon X1900 XT as well as the new GeForce 7900 GS (the GPU supports OS X, but the cards themselves do not) and had no luck in OS X.  As soon as Mac versions of these cards are readily available, users should be able to rip the firmware off of one and work on putting it onto a PC card.  Until then, your video card selection for the Mac Pro is going to be quite limited. 

Great News: Quad Core Works Windows XP Performance - The Test
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  • Mhorydyn - Saturday, September 23, 2006 - link

    Hammong: I agree that I'd like to see some benchmarks done comparing gaming with 2 DIMMs and 4 DIMMs especially after seeing this:">

    For those too lazy to check it out, it shows the 3.0 GHz Woodcrest (5160) scoring roughly 3800 MB/s for both the Integer and the Floating Point benchmarks using SiSoft Sandra 2007 (dual channel). Going to quad channel nets an increase of nearly 2000 MB/s (5740-ish).
  • hammong - Saturday, September 23, 2006 - link

    Anand - I'd like to see these Windows XP benchmarks run again with 4 FB-DIMMS installed in the Mac Pro. As everybody is aware, the Mac Pro has 8 FB-DIMM slots, and is targeted at the high-memory workstation market. In order to take advanage of the 256-bit wide DDR2 memory bus on the Intel 5000x chipset, you need to populate the memory in 4- or 8-DIMM configurations.

    The Mac Pro, despite the gripe from some home builders, is a decent bargain in the Intel workstation market. Compare the system against a comparably equipped HP, IBM, or Dell professional workstation, and the cost difference is minimal. Yeah, you can slap a Tyan server motherboard in your case of choice and build a comparable system to spec, but you also provide your own drivers, warranty service, and can't run OSX without a hack. A business relying on OSX for productivity won't build their own - and the Mac Pro isn't targeted at the budget-conscious home PC user.

    I see a lot of good comments here. Keep it going - and lets see that 4-DIMM vs. 2-DIMM comparison!

  • JAS - Friday, September 22, 2006 - link

    Any findings since Apple posted the Mac Pro firmware update on 9/19/06?
  • MasterH8r - Thursday, September 14, 2006 - link

    quote: - It will cost far less to build that core 2 Duo system in the short term future as the typical market forces in the PC industry affect those prices while Apple historically keeps their flagship hardware prices elevated.

    Actually, Apple reduces their prices after their products have been available for a while. Just like everyone else. If Apple is currently selling these machines at a significantly lower price than comparably equiped machines from Dell, what makes you think they're going to suddenly jack their prices up in the 'short term future'?

    Historically, Apple has charged a high premium for their hardware, but that has changed signifcantly in the last couple of years. I wouldn't say they have a price advantage, but they're not gouging people like they used to.

    This is all moot anyway. A lot of people were able to justify the price premium because the one of the biggest advantages of owning a Mac stem from the tight integration of hardware and OS (they both come from the same place). That's not something you can get from another manufacturer. While it's true, that Windows has become an acceptable operating system of the last few years (and with the new features MS has stolen from OS X that will be included in Vista, I'm sure it will get better), it is still a third party OS on any machine it runs. It still has the uphill battle of working well on litterally thousands of different harware configurations.
  • muf - Tuesday, September 19, 2006 - link

    It seems that there is a new problem that is affecting multiple users that needs to be seen and tested on one of these big sites.
    I just threw in 2 more gigs into my mac pro bringing the total to 3 gigs. 2x1 gig sticks and 2x 512meg sticks. Interesting thing is, windows only reports 2 gigs installed. I run sandra to test things and it reports 4 dimms installed in windows and quad channel memory mode is active. OSX reports 3 gigs correctly. Linux also only reports 2 gigs as well.
    Someone on the official mac forums said that for some reason only 2 gigs is able to be seen by windows. There are quite a few people having this problem. Anand could you look into it and confirm with me?
  • spikespiegal - Wednesday, September 13, 2006 - link

    >>>>>The linked story illuminates a fundamental disadvantage to Microsoft (trying to roll out Vista with some degree of backward/forward compatibility with the still sort-of-large universe of hardware subsetted as "Vista compatible")<<<<<

    So, because Apple has fewer 32-bit applications and drivers to run in 64 bit operating systems, it's an advantage? Neat logic - guess that means I'll be retiring my 64-bit Opteron machines running a half dozen virtual 2003 servers and migrate to Apple. NT 4.0 didnt' exactly treat 16-bit devices efficiently either, but it didn't keep the market from embracing Win98 with more enthusiasm.

    I know more XP 64 users than 64-bit apple users. In fact, that ratio is like 100:1.

    That same graphics lab I used to work it has to run OSX 10.3 and 10.4 on different boxes to maintain hardware compatibility with various printers. Their Win 2000 boxes run everything.
  • msanj0la - Thursday, September 14, 2006 - link

    Quoting from the linked article,

    "Starting with Xcode 2.4, the OSX Universal binary format has been extended to support 32-bit and 64-bit for both PPC and Intel processors inside the same file, giving OSX quad universal binaries. Users don't have to choose between processor architectures nor 32-bit or 64-bit processors, either at the OS or application layers, it's all abstracted away from them - as it should be.

    Note that the non-emulated support in OSX is for applications and drivers. 32-bit programs on Vista 64 need to work on WOW emulation to run in Vista, and 32-bit drivers are a no-no. Lack of driver support is the main reason Windows XP x64 hasn't been widely adopted, and why the Vista fudge will ensure hardware incompatibilities between the two Windows versions remain for sometime to come."

    //end quote,

    The kernel of something / anything I get from The Inquirer bit is that a user who needs/wants a shrink wrapped 64 bit OS, and for whatever reason can't / won't go Linux, seems to have compelling or at least intriguing redirect from Vista to Leopard (with or without option to boot XP).

    I agree with everyone else who comments XP (and Win2K) are perfectly good platforms. I have no experience at all with 64 bit version of XP or lack of 64 bit drivers referenced in the Inquirer writeup, I figure someone who knows what they're doing can pick hardware known to have acceptable drivers before they build / buy / migrate existing system to XP64.
  • spikespiegal - Wednesday, September 13, 2006 - link

    Yeah....we all know Windows has only just recently been a decent platform for graphics work (not). I recall back in the mid 90's when I was managing the digital dept at a local graphics lab, and how we were able to run film recorders, burners, printers, simultaneous sessions of photoshop, and a host of other network task *simultaneously* on NT 3.51 while our Mac OS7/8 boxes would routinely 'time bomb' while simply running Photoshop.

    Those of you Apple-heads raving about this new box haven't seen the benchmarks at the end of the article, and must not have converted your G4 cubes to terrariums yet. Boy, it looks the like a 3ghz Core 2 Duo in the benchmark tests held it's own against the Mac Pro, and even beat it in several tasks. Now I ask all of you how much you can build a 3ghz Core 2 Duo box for compared to the Mac Pro, and if you still think the housing market is in a boom cycle.

    So, what I've learned from this article is:

    - The new Mac Pro costs about the same as a similiar machine you could build yourself or buy from Dell.

    - All of the above machines are inefficient given very few tasks other than brainless rendering programs and data compressors (Cough* bootleg DVD converters cough) can utilize more than one core at a time.

    - A single Core 2 Duo at the same clock sits well against the Mac Pro, costs considerably less to build, and is far more practical for a power desktop user to use.

    - It will cost far less to build that core 2 Duo system in the short term future as the typical market forces in the PC industry affect those prices while Apple historically keeps their flagship hardware prices elevated.

    - Apple doesn't let you use a Core 2 Duo desktop, but instead offers an under powered mobile processor in the new iMac to keep Mac Pro users feeling superior (while simultaneously winking at their G5 userbase to make them feel like *they* are still superior over the "Intel junk")

    - E-machine will be selling faster machines than the Mac Pro in less than a year for 1/3 the price. Don't flame me, just look at recent history in the PC industry.

    - If I buy Windows XP or Vista, I can run it on any platform or hardware I want -vs- being forced to spend +$2500. That's why Anandtech ran the benchmarks with Windows XP and not OSX, but evaded that point.
  • msanj0la - Wednesday, September 13, 2006 - link">64 Bit Leopard Knocks Spots off Vista

    I'm surprised / intrigued by the cost comparisons discussed here, having always imagined Apple's business model has rested (and would likely always rest) on marketing to niche audiences willing to pay relatively large premiums for the hardware

    The linked story illuminates a fundamental disadvantage to Microsoft (trying to roll out Vista with some degree of backward/forward compatibility with the still sort-of-large universe of hardware subsetted as "Vista compatible") - yes of course MS has tremendous resources and talent (but check the blogs of disgruntled MS insiders railing against quality and timeline for rolling out Vista and MS leadership in general) - this disadvantage bookends with giving credit to efforts / resources / talent / quality of strategy and execution Apple has leveraged in support of OSX Tiger (soon to be followed by Leopard)

    So yeah, I think Apple + Intel combination sets up with reasonably good odds of picking up market share from Dell and Microsoft.

    Side note, I have never owned a Mac, am sort of on the verge of a C2D build from parts, waiting on Kentsfield mostly for possible price effect on maybe the 6600 part, getting back to cost compares, overclocking a midrange or lower end C2D with carefully selected surrounding components might tilt the equation a bit, particularly for games, but I have to say, for someone who wants a turnkey deal that (paraphrasing Al Davis) "just runs, baby" Mac Pro, hmmmmm

  • Calin - Wednesday, September 13, 2006 - link

    "Apple's business model has rested (and would likely always rest) on marketing to niche audiences willing to pay relatively large premiums for the hardware"

    There were times when the Microsoft's consumer operating systems were not good enough for some tasks, and also the software for such tasks was running mainly on the Apple's platform. There was a time when Desktop Publishing was made only on Macs, there was a time when video editing was made almost only on Macs, there was a time when... There were times when the software optimised to run on Mac ran faster than what you could have on PC, was much less crash-prone, and so on.
    As of now, most of the software you find on Mac you can find on PC, with some limitations (like memory support for really great amounts of memory) Microsoft's consumer operating systems are stable enough, and the performance of the x86 ran circles around the Power architecture in older Macs. As a result, keeping high prices will only hurt Apple's market, and people that used a Mac will use a PC. Apple has nowhere to go now, as its market share would be cornered from all sides. Most of the "professional users" (I've seen this on a video editing computer in the days of the Pentium MMX) knows their program, and just a bit more. For them, having the wonderful Mac OS X interface or a command line interface has little effect, as long as their program runs nice, well and fast.

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