Opening day at Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference always marks the release of new products. Steve Jobs' keynote rolled out two new 64-bit Intel Xeon-based systems, Mac Pro and Xserve. These new systems, based on Intel's just-released Core Microarchitecture "Woodcrest" Xeon, replace the Power Mac G5 and Xserve G5, both of which were based on IBM's PowerPC 970 series of 64-bit RISC processors. Apple's Woodcrest Xserve and Mac Pro are state of the art for Intel 64-bit x86 design, but they cost considerably less than the lesser-performing PowerPC machines they're replacing.
The Intel-based Mac Pro and Xserve restore Apple's tradition of keeping its high-end desktop/workstation closer to sync with regard to their base hardware configurations. Both have just one baseline model--each used to have three--with shared specs: Two dual-core Xeon 5100 Series CPUs with 4 MB of shared Level 2 cache; dual 1.33 GHz front-side buses, one per processor; 1 GB of 667 MHz DDR2 fully buffered DIMM (FBDIMM) memory with error correcting code (ECC), with room to expand to 16 GB when 2 GB FBDIMMs are used; two gigabit Ethernet ports; a single 300 gigabit-per-second Serial ATA (SATA) hard drive; and PCI Express expansion slots.
Beyond this level, Xserve and Mac Pro baseline configurations diverge. The standard-issue Xserve comes with 1 GB of RAM, two 2 GHz Xeon CPUs, three 800 MHz FireWire ports and two USB 2.0 ports. Customers can configure Xserve to their preferences prior to delivery with processor speed upgrades to 2.66 or 3 GHz, 15,000 RPM serial-attached SCSI (SAS) drives, a low-end ATI PCI Express graphics card, a DVD burner and an additional 650-watt power supply. Apple claims that its on-line configure to order (CTO) system is much easier to use, more flexible and imposes fewer delivery delays.
Apple refers to the inclusion of "lights out" management in Xserve, meaning that it can be managed even when powered down or when the OS fails to boot. In a briefing with Apple executives, no details of Xserve's management hardware and software were offered; additional details may be available soon.
Xserve is scheduled to ship in October 2006, with initial deliveries bundling the OS X Server Tiger (OS X 10.4) operating system with an unlimited client license. The standard Xserve will have a retail price of $2,999, which gives Apple's rack server a favorable position among Intel-based rack servers. During his keynote address, Steve Jobs illustrated that Xserve costs a bit less than a comparable rack server from Dell. Competition among Core Microarchitecture servers will quickly drive prices down, so Apple's price advantage will dwindle with time. Apple's tradition is to keep systems at their original retail pricing rather than scale them down to match market standards. However, in comparing Xserve's prices to those of other x86 servers, the unlimited-client edition of OS X Server must be taken into account. By itself, Apple's server software costs $999, and is a bargain compared to commercial Linux and Windows Server.