Mac Pro: The perfect workstation

With more than double the memory throughput of an eight-core, 3GHz Xserve, the massively parallel Nehalem-based Mac Pro is built to rock your world

Bottom Line

Nehalem Mac Pro is impeccably built, extraordinarily configurable and expandable, owner-serviceable, quiet, green, friendly, fast, and custom-made for Snow Leopard. Apple made one machine fit for commercial desktop, workstation, or pedestal server duty without straining at any role.

Since 2006, Apple has been doing Intel the favor of building desktops, workstations, and notebooks that make Intel x86 processors look like works of genius. It seems only fair that Intel has returned the gift by custom-engineering an x86 architecture with RISC-like attributes just for Apple's most demanding customers. 

Intel completely rearchitected its x86 CPU beyond the core. Most PC users won't notice, but the Nehalem Xeon processor really lets OS X Leopard off its leash. With all 16 logical processors (two CPUs with four cores each and two thread contexts per core) overcommitted with burn-in compute and memory workloads, the "Nehalem" Mac Pro has the headroom to run a full plate of Mac GUI applications with the accustomed responsiveness. The Mac Pro feels like a new machine.

[ For more on Intel's new Xeon CPU, see "Intel's Nehalem simply sizzles" and "Where does Nehalem get its juice?" ]

Frankly, the Nehalem Mac Pro feels like a RISC workstation. The Leopard 10.5.6 OS that ships with the Nehalem Mac Pro is custom-tuned for Nehalem's parallel-friendly redesign and Mac Pro's remarkable power management, so don't let its OS X install disc get mixed in with your others. When Snow Leopard ships, this same machine will be born again with a full 64-bit kernel and new tools, frameworks, and language features that put pervasive parallelism front and center, right where workstation users need it. If you want the full heart-stopping Snow Leopard experience, the Nehalem Mac Pro is where you'll find it.

I already discussed the Mac Pro's extraordinary build quality and design, and I'm going at the nuts and bolts of Nehalem on a parallel track (using Mac Pro, Xserve, and Snow Leopard to do it). That groundwork sets up a very simple review of the Mac Pro itself, for which I had the benefit of testing two units (2.26GHz and 2.93GHz).

More throughput, less filling
The key to meaningful parallelism is throughput. Maximizing throughput is the cornerstone of OS X's architecture, and Intel's Nehalem processor redesign finally puts the hardware on the same page. The 2.93GHz eight-core Nehalem Mac Pro has the highest memory throughput of any two-socket Intel x86 system I've tested, well more than twice that of last year's 3GHz eight-core "Harpertown" Xserve (see review). The 2.26GHz eight-core Mac Pro, which is the entry-level dual socket model at $3,299, very nearly matches the faster Mac Pro's memory throughput.

Test Center Scorecard
Mac Pro ("Nehalem")9910108



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