Goodbye G5. Hello Mac Pro.

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I’m going to interrupt the usual schedule of reviews and articles to be posted on the site, to bring you the recent announcement of the Mac Pro.

As you all probably know (and if you don’t, where have you been!) Apple announced a major product yesterday at the start of the WWDC conference for 2006.

The much hyped, much talked about and much expected successor to the PowerMac G5 has finally arrived to the applause of the Apple crowd.

Sitting at the heart of the Mac Pro is not the Core 2 Duo as everyone would have guessed, but an Intel Xeon (based on the Core 2 Duo) has found its home in all three models of the Mac Pro. We’re not just talking one of these kick ass chips. We’re talking two of them for an impressive Quad Core system. Yes, even on the low end model!

This astonishing system has been made even more amazing with this hot of the press 64-bit Xeon chip from Intel.

The new Mac Pro completes the Apple family of computer systems rather nicely, as the PowerPC era begins to get overshadowed by the big boys at Intel. The hefty Intel Xeon ‘Woodcrest’ processor boasts some impressive performance figures and features.

Following on from the footsteps of the G5, the Xeon chip is indeed 64-bit with native 32-bit backwards compatibility. Apple has decided to go with just a single configuration for this machine, but with a wide range of flexible BTO options amounting to more than 4 million possible configurations.

The standard configuration comes with 2 x 2.66GHz Xeon chips, 1GB of DDR2 667MHz buffered RAM, NVIDIA GeForce 7300GT with 256MB of RAM supporting Dual-Link DVI, 250GB 7200RPM SATA drive and a 16x Dual Format/Dual Layer SuperDrive.

Whilst on the topic of the Xeon chip, you have the option to get 2 x 2GHz, 2 x 2.66GHz or the flagship, sock blowing 3GHz model. Each chip sits on a 1.33GHz dual independent front side bus delivering a staggering 21.3 GB/s and between the two processors there’s a healthy 4MB of L2 shared cache.

These remarkable figures mean that the Mac Pro exceeds the top of the line Quad Core 2.5GHz G5 PowerMac by as much as 2x as its ancestor.

Despite wide speculation and leaked rumours of a drastically changed design for the new Mac Pro, the chassis has remained largely unchanged. Despite this, it’s still as gorgeous as it was when it first came out, if anything it looks even better now with less cooling fans to deal with thus less noise and sitting at the heart would be the new Xeon chip. This thing isn’t the same, it’s completely different!

The major difference that you’ll notice on the front is slots for two optical drives. Whilst the outside looks much the same, the inside has been gutted and re-decorated. And typically Apple, the guts of this behemoth is beautiful.

Inside you won’t find a single part out of place. Everything has been designed to have its place and to fit its place. The cable-free installation design means no cables and no connectors for you to mess about with when you want to add more hardware.

Never have I seen the inside of a system so well thought out and so beautiful to the naked eye. Not only are the insides tool free, the enclosure has a new re-designed latch means no screws and easy access to the inside of the Mac Pro when you need to.

The four drive bays are pure elegance. Lined neatly across a single row rather than stacked as you would find inside any other machine, you can fit as much as 2TB of storage inside this box of goodies.

The double-wide graphics slot means you won’t have any trouble fitting in those ridiculously big graphics cards.

Apple have raised the bar yet again and created a product that not only meets the expectations of its users, it has pushed the barriers of performance of what we expect and produce a far more technologically advanced system in an award-winning enclosure that its closest competitors can only dream of ever creating. Copy cats will always be about, but let it be known from this day that Apple set the gold standard for system design.

I forgot to mention before that the MacPro can support up to 4 graphics cards. Yes, that’s correct, not one or two, and lets just skip three, but yes, four graphics cards. You can add in an extra 3 7300GT cards to this system in the BTO screen and will cost you no more than £310. Those needing the Quadro solution will need to cry a few tears and hand over an astounding £1,120.

There’s a wide range of choices for the graphics system in the Mac Pro. Starting of with the default NVIDIA 7300GT with 256MB of RAM and capable of supporting a single-link DVI and dual-link DVI means you could attach a 30-inch Cinema Display and a 23 or 20-inch Cinema Display.

There’s also the choice of 2, 3 or 4 x 7300GT cards each packing 256MB of RAM and capable of supporting up to 8 displays. And despite much speculation that Apple would stock NVIDIA cards exclusively now that AMD are going to buy ATi, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to see the ATi Radeon X1900 XT with 512MB of GDDR3 RAM and support for 2 dual-link DVI connections at an upgrade cost of £239.99.

Us mere mortals can only dream of having 8 Cinema Displays lined up neatly on our desks, or even two 30-inch Cinema Display. I think even Abraham Maslow would struggle to argue that having such a display set up on any desk would fail to reach self-actualisation in anyones life. It certainly would for me. By the way, if you’ve been saving up for a Cinema Display, Apple just dropped the prices on them, so they’re a little bit better value. After all, who wants to hook any Mac to a display that’s not designed, prototyped, manufactured and supported by Apple?

Tomorrow morning, when you go to work, simply go to your boss and show him the details of the Mac Pro and say to your boss, my productivity could improve 2x if only you had this and two 30-inch Cinema Displays to work with.

Final Cut Pro users will be happy to see the performance improvement is 1.4x on the Quad Xeon 3GHz model and 1.3x on the Quad Xeon 2.66GHz. Logic Pro users will discover nearly 2x the performance over the Quad Core G5.

So those are the major features of the Mac Pro. How about the bits and pieces that makes up this great system.

Well, apart from the optional AirPort Extreme (which I think should be included), you also have the optional Bluetooth 2.0 module. What you do get pre-fitted and as standard is a 1 Gigabit Ethernet port, 2x FireWire 800 ports (one front and one back), 2x FireWire 400 (one on front and one on back), 5x USB 2.0 ports (two on front panel, three on back), front-panel headphone mini-jack and speaker, optical digital audio input and output Toslink ports, Analogue stereo line-level input and output mini-jacks. Inside the box you’ll also find the Apple Keyboard and Mighty Mouse with the Wireless Mighty Mouse being optional. The usual set of OS X and iLife 06 software is also included.

Once again, Apple has stunned the computer industry and created a product that not only just re-defines how a system should be made, but it has created a product that is technologically superior in hardware and design that only its competitors can dream of achieving.

The design of the insides and out of this system clearly demonstrates the passion that not only Apple as a company has for its products but the people behind the scenes. The engineers, the designers and the hardware manufacturers, it?��Ǩ�Ѣs only when they all come together are they able to create something of this beauty and set a gold standard for how a system should be built.

The sleek looks inside of this machine ultimately hides the power that sits underneath the cosmetic aluminium. The design itself completely belies just how complex this system is. Turning your typical tower design on its head yet again, the Mac Pro is a towering giant that crushes any system that comes near it. It is the mother of all systems, and to think that this is just the beginning. I can not wait until the next round of upgrades.

So until then, the best advice I can give is to save up and go get this super duper computer, if not for its technology then for its work of art.

2006-08-08 Onwah Tsang

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