The benefit of additional RAM often becomes clear when working with multiple applications simultaneously. To see the effect of this increased RAM on our Mac Pro's performance, we ran our Professional Multitask suite, timing our Photoshop actions script while using Compressor to encode a movie and Cinema 4D to render a scene at the same time. In the Multitask test, the standard system took 1 minute, 4 seconds. The same system with 8GB of RAM took just 48 seconds, or 25 percent less time, to complete the tests.
For the first time in a long time -- if not ever -- Apple offers a hardware RAID card as a build-to-order option on a product outside of its Xserve line. The Mac Pro RAID Card can support four internal SAS or SATA drives. It also supports many different RAID levels and includes a battery that can help you escape a power outage without data loss.
We installed four of the 300GB, 15,000RPM SAS drives in a RAID 0 (striped) configuration in our otherwise standard 2.8GHz Mac Pro. In our finder tests, we saw very impressive file duplication times, 11 seconds to duplicate a 1GB folder with the SAS RAID vs 31 seconds with the single SATA drive. And even though adding RAM alone didn't affect file duplications times, pairing it with the SAS RAID took another 3 seconds off of the time.
The base system with the RAID was faster at just about everything, but especially at unzipping a 2GB archive, exporting an iMovie to Quicktime's e-mail presets, and importing JPEGS into iPhoto. Compressor and HandBrake were also faster, just not by as much. In fact the only performance drawback we found was the RAID system's long startup time -- it took about 70 seconds to boot up with the SAS RAID installed instead of 27 seconds with the standard 320GB SATA hard drive spinning inside.
As impressive as that overall performance may be, few among us would be willing to pay the extra $3,850 for snappier file duplication. No, for that kind of monetary investment, you'd likely be making a living using demanding professional applications. When we ran our Professional Multitasking Suite on the standard configuration with the SAS RAID installed, the configured system was 33 percent faster at completing the task -- more of a performance increase than running the standard system with 320GB SATA drive and 8GB RAM.
We also ran a Final Cut test where we looked to see how many ProRes-encoded video streams we could play simultaneously in a multiclip configuration. In this test, the base system was able to play two clips at once, but began sputtering and dropping frames when trying to add a third. Bumping the RAM up in the base configuration to 8GB, we were able to run that third clip. Once we installed the Mac Pro RAID Card and the four SAS drives, we were able to run the maximum allowed 16 clips at once. Few may ever need that capability, but don't you feel better knowing that you could if you wanted to?
We've already reported on the performance differences between the ATI Radeon 6600 XT and the Nvidia GeForce 8800 GT, but in summary, the Nvidia wasn't as fast as the ATI in our Unreal Tournament testing. UT is an older game, but we continue to include it due to its compatibility with a wide range of systems.