Apple unveils octa-core Mac Pro

Company targets developers, animators, and other high-end workstation users with its 2 quad-core Xeon processor option

FRAMINGHAM, MASS. -- Apple Inc. Tuesday added an option to its Mac Pro desktop line that lets customers build out systems equipped with two of Intel's fastest quad-core Xeon processors, marking the first time users have been able to buy a Mac powered by eight -- yes, eight -- processor cores.

The Mac Pro, which starts at US$2,499 for a standard-configuration desktop machine with dual 2.66-GHz dual-core processors, jumps $1,498 when the option for two 3-GHz quad-core Xeon chips is selected. That makes the cheapest eight-core Mac $3,997. Buyers at the other end of the scale can also order a Mac Pro with two 2-GHz processors; that model sells for $2,200.

Intel introduced the quad-core Xeon 5300 series processors last November and aimed them at the server and high-end gaming PC market. Other computer makers, including Dell Inc. and Hewlett-Packard Co., have been selling Xeon 5300-equipped servers and workstations since then.

A Dell Precision 690 system configured close to the lowest-priced eight-core Mac Pro -- two 2.66-GHz quad-core Xeon chips, 1GB RAM, a 250GB drive and no monitor -- checks out at $5,432.

Intel's Xeon line officially tops out with the 2.66-GHz 5355 processor, which is the fastest chip that can be dropped into Dell's Precision workstations. According to reports, however, the brand-new 3-GHz chip offered by Apple is in "limited production," and the computer maker grabbed what supply was available. Intel did not immediately return calls for confirmation on the availability of the 3-GHz Xeon.

Apple is targeting developers, animators and other high-end workstation users. "The eight-core Mac offers greater performance for some processing-intensive tasks, such as 3D modeling, animation and scientific applications," said company spokeswoman Teresa Brewer in an e-mail.

In a separate announcement today, Apple reduced the prices of its Apple Cinema Dislay LCD monitors by between $100 and $200 depending on model. The 20-in. display, for instance, is now priced at $599, down $100, while the 30-inch model now costs $1,799. It was $1,999.

Dual quad-core Mac Pro machines can be ordered at Apple's online store. Systems ship within three to five days.