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Mac Pro 3D test scores revisited

Updated 3D gaming scores for Apple's new Mac Pro

Sarah Tew/CNET

We've received a few e-mails since our post last week on Apple's new Mac Pro and its higher-end 3D graphics card option, AMD's Radeon HD 4870. Echoing the comments in the original post, some folks wanted to know how we tested. Others wanted us to test the Mac Pro in Boot Camp. Also, AMD wanted us to show actual test results to back up our claim that the combination of the Mac Pro and its Radeon HD 4870 card was not great for gaming, especially compared with competing Windows desktops.

We're happy to oblige everyone.

First, how we tested. We used the same Call of Duty 4 timedemo files Apple uses for its own performance assessments. At least, that's what Apple said it sent to us. We also followed Apple's exact recommended test procedure and settings, which were even more aggressive than we originally intended. Here's the full breakdown, which we applied to all four systems in the charts below:

Graphics options:
  • Video mode: 1,680x1,050
  • Sync every frame: No
  • Aspect ratio: Auto
  • Anti-aliasing: 4x
  • Every frame: No
  • Shadows: Yes
  • Specular map: Yes
  • Depth of field: Yes
  • Glow: Yes
  • Number of dynamic lights: Normal
  • Soften smoke edges: Yes
  • Ragdoll: Yes
  • Bullet impacts: Yes
  • Model detail: Normal
  • Water detail: Normal

Texture settings:
  • Texture filtering: Trilinear
  • Anisotropic filtering: Maximum (drag slider completely to the right)
  • Texture quality: Manual
  • Texture resolution: Extra
  • Normal map resolution: Extra
  • Specular map resolution: Extra

Game options:
  • Enable console: Yes

The numbers below incorporate the Mac OS X-based scores we ran last week, as well as the Windows Vista 64-bit scores we generated today. We made sure all relevant software was updated to its must current version in both cases, including each OS, graphics driver, and version of Call of Duty 4. Fortunately, Apple's timedemo files also worked in Vista. The software playing field is as level as we can get it between the two operating systems.

Call of Duty 4 (in frames per second)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

Note: Test configuration: (1,680x1,024, 4x aa)

The Mac Pro gains a step in Boot Camp, but the sub-$1,000 Velocity Micro Edge Z5 is the clear winner on Apple's own test. The specifications on that Velocity Micro system include a factory-overclocked 2.93GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Q9400, 4GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM, a vendor-specific 512MB ATI Radeon HD 4850 3D card (with faster core and memory clocks than standard), a 750GB 7,200rpm hard drive, and Windows Vista 64-bit. The review will hopefully post tomorrow.

Before anyone jumps all over us, we're absolutely not arguing that a $999 Windows PC is a better all-around computer than the Mac Pro. In the course of our regular benchmarking, the new Mac Pro blasted through our multitasking test in 133 seconds, a new record, and posted a second best (behind only an $8,800 Maingear) 21,204 score on our multicore Cinebench test. The Velocity Micro system took 440 seconds for multitasking, and managed only a 12,931 on Cinebench. If we had to buy a system for digital media production, we'd pick up the Mac Pro in a heartbeat.

Also to the Mac Pro's credit, its gaming profile improves considerably in Vista via Boot Camp compared with what we saw in OS X. What we want to make crystal clear, however, is that with two quad-core Nehalem-based Intel chips and a well-regarded 512MB ATI Radeon HD4870 graphics card, the Mac Pro might sound tempting as a serious gaming system. It's certainly a more competent gamer than older models, especially if you rely on Boot Camp. But from the standpoint of pure 3D bang-for-your-buck, the Windows gaming ecosystem holds a clear advantage over the Mac Pro, with faster gaming PCs available for $2,500 to $2,600 less.