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Apple ships new Mac Pro, Xserve ahead of Macworld

The most powerful Macs were upgraded Tuesday with new quad-core chips from Intel and tons of configuration options.

Correction 5:30 p.m. PST: This blog initially mischaracterized the nature of the unlimited client license for Mac OS X Server Leopard that comes with a new Apple Xserve. It allows purchasers to connect an unlimited number of clients to that server.

Apple got a little business out of the way before next week's Macworld extravaganza, announcing new versions of the Mac Pro and Xserve to go along with new Intel chips.

These systems are very high-end computers, designed for heavy work rather than organizing photos of your latest trip to St. Louis. Both the Mac Pro and the Xserve are available with two of Intel's Xeon 5400 series quad-core processors, and come with loads of memory and other performance-oriented features, like RAID hard drives.

This is Apple's latest Mac Pro, unveiled Tuesday. Click for more pictures of it and the latest Xserve. Apple

Apple's Mac business has expanded quite a bit over the past year or so, but creative professionals are still the base of that support and these are two products were designed for them, according to David Moody, vice president of Mac product marketing. Very few businesses have standardized on Mac OS X Server in the server room, and therefore the market for the Xserve is somewhat limited. Still, smaller shops that want to have a Mac OS X environment front to back, as well as educational customers, are key Xserve customers.

The Mac Pro is a little different, as it represents the most powerful computer Apple can put together, and is a favorite of graphics professionals that need tons of horsepower. It's also one of the few Apple products for which there are dozens of configuration options; most other Mac products have just three or four choices for combinations of processor, memory, and storage.

Those choices extend to graphics, where Mac Pro customers can select the ATI Radeon HD 2600 XT graphics card as the standard option, or add a few weeks to their ship times if they prefer Nvidia's GeForce 8800 GT or Quadro FX 5600. Even though those products are already available, Moody said Apple needed a few more weeks to make them available for the Mac Pro.

The standard price for the Mac Pro is $2,799, and that includes two quad-core Xeon processors, 2GBs of memory, and a 320-GB hard drive. You can add to that very quickly with some of the configure-to-order options; an additional 2GBs of memory will cost you $500.

If you know what you're doing, you can probably save a lot of money by selecting the standard configuration and adding your own components in after the system arrives. The newest Mac Pro uses the same chassis as the previous generation, which makes it very easy to get into the guts of the system and add memory or storage as desired.

A Xserve will set you back $2,999 in the standard configuration, which comes with only a single quad-core Xeon processor and 2GBs of memory. It does come with an unlimited client license for Mac OS X Leopard, meaning that if you buy an Xserve you can upgrade all the Macs in your shop to Leopard for free. Update 5:30 p.m. PST: Wishful thinking, as several readers pointed out below. An Apple representative confirmed the unlimited license allows you to connect as many clients as you like to the Xserve, not to suddenly get a bunch of Macs in the office up and running on Leopard.

So, cross off two rumors from the list of potential Macworld keynote announcements. These products are definitely the kind of thing that would get lost in any potential news about slim new notebooks, iPhones, or movie rentals, some of the early bets on the Macworld announcement schedule, which makes it a little easier to understand why they came out this week.