Pros: Eight processor cores; low cost.
Cons: Limited RAM reduces performance dramatically; poor keyboard.
Those who’ve been involved in buying creative workstations for many years might be surprised to find that Apple’s model is the least expensive in this group test, but the Mac Pro has been priced to match its rivals since it was introduced just over two years ago. The reason for its low price is that it has only 2GB of RAM; the other workstations here have either twice or quadruple this. This lack of RAM means that the Mac Pro is woefully underpowered in many creative applications.
The low memory affects not only RAM-hungry applications such as Photoshop – where only Dell’s badly configured T7400 was slower – but multi-threaded applications such as After Effects, too. For pure processor-based rendering, the Mac Pro behaves as you’d expect from a workstation with eight cores running at 2.8GHz: better than single-chip models, but behind those with faster dual Xeon set-ups.
As well as including the latest Intel chips and motherboard technology, Apple’s latest Mac Pro also includes a new graphics card and a stylish ultra-thin keyboard. The ATI Radeon HD 2600 XT proved to be surprisingly powerful for an included-as-standard graphics board, only topped by the Xworks X8i-C2Q workstation-class FireGL V5600 graphics card. The Mac Pro suffers from Apple’s usual limited range of graphics cards options, but for our design-based tasks, the 2600 XT is more than good enough.
Unfortunately, the same is not true for the new keyboard. It looks great – a thin slab of silver with clinical white keys – but the keys click rather than retreating beneath your fingers, so typing feels rather peculiar. The wired Mighty Mouse is great, but most of Apple’s rivals include wireless mice.
Thankfully Apple has kept the Mac Pro’s own design the same, as it includes some excellent internal systems, including removable RAM trays and push-in hard drives that make adding more memory or hard drives very easy indeed.
This model was reviewed as part of our group test of workstations for graphics professionals.