Mac users seem to have more choices than ever when it comes to configuring Apple hardware. Sure, in the past, you could often add a hard drive here or extra RAM there, but now a bevy of options are yours for the choosing, as Macworld Lab discovered when we tested a tricked-out MacBook Pro. We're turning our attention back to the assorted add ons available for Apple's desktop offerings, specifically the Mac Pro. As customizable as the MacBook Pro proved to be, we've found the Mac Pro to be perhaps the most configurable Mac ever to come out of Cupertino.
Let's start by considering the Mac Pro's standard configuration. The desktop comes with a pair of quad-core Intel Xeon processors; all eight cores run at 2.8GHz. The $2,799 desktop ships with 2GB of RAM, an ATI Radeon 2600 XT graphics card with 256MB of video memory, and a 320GB 7200 RPM SATA hard drive.
That's where the customization options come into play. You have three different processor choices -- a four-core 2.8GHz model for $500 off the base price; an eight-core 3GHz option for an extra $800; or an eight-core 3.2GHz chip that costs an extra $1,600.
You can also pick from two other graphics card configurations--an Nvidia GeForce 8800GT with twice the video memory of the standard ATI Radeon card for an additional cost of $200 or an Nvidia Quadro FX 5600 boasting 1.5GB of video memory. That particular add costs a paltry $2,850, or $51 more than the standard configuration Mac Pro. (We couldn't get our hands on the Quadro for this round of testing, but rest assured that we are now obsessed with obtaining one.)
The Mac Pro offers eight RAM slots capable of holding either 1GB or 2GB memory modules, you can upgrade from the machine's standard 2GB RAM up to 4GB, 8GB, or even 16GB. And while you were already able to add up to three extra hard drives, the new Mac Pro offers an optional SAS-based (Serial Attached SCSI) hardware RAID card (priced at $800) capable of running four internal SAS drives ($650 for the first to replace the standard SATA drive and $800 for each additional drive), each spinning more than twice as fast as the 7,200 RPM hard drive in the base model.
For this round of tests we've focused on individual upgrades available for the base model--testing the memory, hard drive, and graphics options separately and together. We also included the highest-priced, highest-performance Mac we've ever tested: a $9,949 behemoth with four SAS drives in a RAID 0 (striped) configuration, 8GB of RAM, the Nvidia GeForce 8800 GT graphics card, and eight processing cores running at 3.2GHz. That system became the first ever to earn a Speedmark 5 score above 400.
Here's what we found in testing each of the Mac Pro's assorted customization options.
As with our MacBook Pro testing, adding memory to a system only boosts performance in a couple of our individual tests -- namely, the Photoshop actions suite test and unzipping a 2GB file.
When we tested the standard configuration Mac Pro equipped with 2GB of memory, the system took 49 seconds to complete the Photoshop tasks. With 8GB of RAM, the system took 29 percent less time, clocking in at just 35 seconds. Unzipping the 2GB file took 1 minute 12 seconds with 2GB of RAM, but only 33 seconds with the 8GB of RAM installed.