World exclusive review: Apple’s 8-core Mac Pro with Nehalem processors

  • Expert Rating: We rate this 8 out of 10We rate this 8 out of 10We rate this 8 out of 10We rate this 8 out of 10We rate this 8 out of 10 We rate this 8 out of 10

  • Price When Reviewed: 1685 . 2175

  • Pros: Excellent After Effects and Cinebench performance. Offers a huge amount more power for current Mac-based creatives. Great internal chassis design. First Xeon 5500 series workstation available.

  • Cons: ‘Enhanced’ Core i7 Windows workstations offer almost as much power for a much lower price. Mini DisplayPort output is currently irrelevant. No FireWire or eSATA ports. No 64-bit version of Photoshop for Mac OS X.

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Photoshop’s everyday performance is boosted by the graphics card. The included nVidia GeForce GT 120 isn’t a particularly fast card -- in Cinebench its real-time 3D score was a mediocre 5,573 – but it has 512MB RAM. This really helps Photoshop’s display to refresh quickly when zooming or transforming large images. The GT 120 has a Mini DisplayPort output alongside the standard dual-link DVI, which is currently a little redundant as the only monitor that current supports the standard is Apple’s glossy LED Cinema Display, which is wholly inappropriate for professional creatives.

The only graphic card available as a build-to-order option is AMD’s ATI Radeon HD 4870, which should give the Mac Pro some 3D oomph. You can stick in two, three or four GT 120s , but this is really only for medical or financial setups with more than two displays. There’s no option to include a workstation-class card such as one from AMD’s FirePro or nVidia’s Quadro ranges -- but then the only option before was the very niche, ultra-powerful and pricey Quadro 4600 board.

Our motion graphics/VFX test in After Effects CS4 provides a great way of measuring the performance of the processors, RAM and drive system combined. The ‘Nehalem’ Mac Pro completed rendering our 10-second 3D composition of VFX on four HD uncompressed layers in an outstanding 6 minutes and 49s seconds. This is almost a third of the time it took the older Mac Pro and 33 per cent faster than the ‘enhanced’ system detailed above.

The ‘Nehalem’ Mac Pro’s chassis has been reorganized rather than redesigned. The original innovations are still there -- ultra-quiet running, easy access to all of the components through slide out trays for RAM and slide-out bays for hard drives -- but they’re in slightly different positions.

The only real change is the ditching of all of the FireWire ports in favour of FireWire 800, which is a right pain if you’ve got FireWire hardware. You can buy FireWire 800 to FireWire cables for £25 each at the Apple Store. Apple’s dogged attachement to FireWire 800 puts the company at odds with most creatives, and we’d much prefer Apple had kept a couple of FireWire ports and ditched FireWire 800 for the much faster and widely-supported eSATA.

The ‘Nehalem’ Mac Pro is an obvious upgrade choice for current Mac-based creative pros -- though we’ll have to wait until early April to see how it measures up against Windows-based competitors.

Specifications – Apple Mac Pro

CPU: 2x Intel Xeon 5500 series (2.23GHz/quad core + SMT)

RAM (standard): 6GB

RAM (Max): 32GB

Graphics card: nVidia GeForce GT 120

Graphics RAM: 512GB

Hard disk type: Serial ATA

Hard disks: 640GB/7,200rpm

Bays: 2x 5.25-inch ext, 4x 3.5-inch int

Free bays: 5.25-inch ext 3x 3.5-inch int

Optical drive: DVD±RW

Dimensions: 511-x-206-x-475mm

Ports: 5x USB 2.0, 4x FireWire 800, 2x gigabit ethernet

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