Apple ships new eight-core Harpertown Mac Pro and Xserve

Apple has once again taken up Intel's fresh-from-the-fab processor technology to give its two top-end systems a serious performance kick. Apple has reengineered its Xserve rack server and Mac Pro desktop/workstation for Intel's 45 nanometer quad-core Harpertown Xeon CPU with 12 MB of shared Level 2 cache per socket.

Xserve's top configuration now reaches to eight 3 GHz cores. Xserve's second socket is empty by default, making the standard config four cores, but the incremental config-to-order (CTO) cost to take the base Xserve to eight cores is just $500. The new Mac Pro elevates the standard configuration from four cores to eight while maintaining the previous Mac Pro's price level. That change is especially significant given that before today, a CTO eight core Mac Pro carried a premium of $1,200 over the standard four core system.

Apple claims that its new Mac Pro and Xserve deliver an impressively linear 1.9 to 2.3 times increase over the compute speed of prior four-core models, and with 800 MHz DDR2 memory (up from 667), 60 percent higher memory throughput. The new systems share support for PCI-Express 2.0 expansion cards, an option to upgrade to multiple 1 TB swappable hard drives, and when 4 GB FBDIMMs (fully buffered dual inline memory modules) are used, room for up to 32 GB of system memory. Both Xserve and Mac Pro are now shipping with 2 GB of RAM standard (previously 1 GB) and a SuperDrive dual-layer DVD burner.

Intel's Harpertown CPU is more energy efficient; Intel claims power consumption of 80 watts per socket, dropping to as little as 4 watts when idle. Apple has swapped out Xserve's redundant power supplies for stronger 750 watt units that exceed Energy Star 80 percent efficiency requirements. Mac Pro's system enclosure is identical to the previous model, while Xserve now has a USB 2.0 socket on its front panel.

Mac Pro and Xserve ship standard with discrete AMD/ATI 3-D graphics processing units (GPUs). Mac Pro's baseline config utilizes the Radeon HD 2600 XT with 256 MB of video memory, while Xserve ships with an on-board Radeon X1300. Mac Pro can support up to four AMD/ATI or NVidia graphics cards, while a 16x PCI-Express slot on Xserve permits the optional use of a standalone graphics adapter to supplant the built-in GPU.

AMD/ATI graphics cards are available now. An Apple spokesman said that optional NVidia graphics cards are "several weeks away."

Apple's systems are engineered in-house, not based on Intel reference designs. Mac Pro and Xserve are thoroughly instrumented for multi-point monitoring of power utilization, temperature and fan speed. Both systems have standard swappable hard drive backplanes--Mac Pro has four internal swappable drive bays, while Xserve has three front-facing bays--and the option to use either Serial ATA or Serial Attached SCSI (SAS) drives. SAS is new to this generation of Mac Pro, a benefit of the optional hardware RAID controller. The same RAID controller is an option for Xserve, but Xserve is capable of using any mix of SATA and SAS drives without the RAID option.

At $2,799, the standard Mac Pro ships with two 2.8 GHz quad-core Xeon CPUs, an AMD/ATI Radeon HD 2600 XT graphics card with 256 MB of video RAM, a 320 GB SATA hard drive, a 16X SuperDrive DVD burner with dual-layer support, Bluetooth 2.0, 2 GB of 800 MHz DDR2 memory, and Apple's wired aluminum keyboard and Mighty Mouse. Mac Pro ships with OS X Leopard and the iLife '08 personal digital media suite installed.

In its $2,999 standard configuration, Apple's Xserve has a single quad-core, 2.8 GHz CPU, an 80 GB SATA hard drive, 2 GB of 800 MHz DDR2 memory and a slot-loading SuperDrive DVD burner. Both systems have a large catalog of configure-to-order options that are factory-installed and tested by Apple.

The new Mac Pro and Xserve are shipping today via Apple's on-line and retail stores, and through authorized resellers.