Windows 7 Ultimate on Nehalem Mac Pro

Apple's most powerful Mac rides high on the Windows Experience Index

Early this week, I tested Apple's most powerful Mac, the eight-core Nehalem Mac Pro, running the January (build 7000) pre-release of Microsoft's Windows 7 Ultimate operating system. The version of the Boot Camp utility and the driver kit that ships with Nehalem Mac Pro recognized the 32-bit Windows 7 build as Vista. Windows 7 build 7000 ran many applications just fine, but Device Manager couldn't make sense of the Mac Pro's bus architecture. Even after I installed the Boot Camp drivers, and made a second try using chipset drivers downloaded directly from Intel, a slew of system resources were flagged with exclamation points in Device Manager. The system crashed during Windows Experience rating.

The January pre-release of Windows 7 required x86 Vista Boot Camp drivers. Apple's choice of Ethernet controller and HD audio chip were too late-model to ship with the Windows 7 OS. However, the Broadcom 802.11n Wi-Fi (AirPort Extreme) adapter and Bluetooth ports worked fine.

[ Read Tom Yager's review of the Nehalem Mac Pro, "Mac Pro: The perfect workstation." | Read Paul Venezia's analysis and benchmarks of the Intel Nehalem Xeon processor, "Intel's Nehalem simply sizzles." ]

I upgraded Nehalem Mac Pro's Boot Camp partition to the RC version (build 7100) of Windows 7 yesterday, skipping straight to the x64 release. That was a PC-style breeze: Boot from the Windows 7 install DVD, target the NTFS partition created by Boot Camp (you may need to format it first), and wait about 10 minutes. There's no need to go back to Mac OS X to reboot to a new Windows install. Holding down Option (Alt on a PC keyboard) at boot time reveals that Nehalem Mac Pro sees both legacy BIOS and EFI (Extensible Firmware Interface) boot entries on the Windows 7 DVD. The legacy boot option shows up titled "Windows," and clicking that brings up the familiar "press any key to boot from CD or DVD..." prompt.

I just finished up the install, but so far, everything looks really good. Without resorting to the Boot Camp drivers, Device Manager shows only one exclamation point next to a USB Input Device. The vendor ID is 05AC, which is Apple, and the product ID is 9232. The nearest hit is for a 30-inch Cinema Display, which I have, so I'm going with that. I'm not going to overwrite Windows 7's bundled drivers with Apple's over this one issue.

Whereas the maximum Windows Experience score is 5.9 in Windows Vista, it's 7.9 in Windows 7. (See "Engineering the Windows 7 'Windows Experience Index'" on Microsoft's Windows 7 team blog to learn why.) It bears noting that with AMD's Radeon 4870 HD graphics card, Nehalem Mac Pro's Windows Experience score is (ironically?) quite high, dragged down only by the solo 7,200-rpm Serial ATA hard drive. In any case, it certainly sets a score to beat.

You have to squint to see it, but the screen grab shows that Mac Pro scores mighty well in Windows Experience.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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