Apple Mac Pro (Winter 2009) review: Apple Mac Pro (Winter 2009)

Multimedia multitasking (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Apple Mac Pro 2009

(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Rendering Multiple CPUs  
Rendering Single CPU  
Apple Mac Pro 2009
Apple Mac Pro 2008 8GB
Apple Mac Pro 2008 4GB
Velocity Micro Edge Z55

We found a much better outlook for the new eight-core Mac Pro on programs that rely on the strength of the system as a whole, such as Apple's Final Cut Studio 2, and on our multitasking and Cinebench tests that split the work between multiple processing cores. Keep in mind that our comparison Mac Pros also have eight CPU cores, and a faster clock speed than the new model, but the new Mac Pro was able to overtake them on all of the above tests. The fact that our default $3,299 review unit outpaced the 8GB version of the old model, which would have cost $4,299 as tested, proves that not only is the new Mac Pro faster on these media rich programs than previous Mac Pros, it also provides more bang for your buck.

Call of Duty 4 (in fps)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Apple Mac Pro 2009

The gaming prospects of our Mac Pro review unit are less exciting. Yes, the 512MB GeForce GT 120 card provides a marked improvement in 3D performance compared with the older Mac Pros. But our Call of Duty 4 time-demo tests ran at 1,680x1,050 and 4x anti-aliasing, both relatively forgiving settings, and the new Mac Pro was unable to hit an even 30 frames per second. Yes, you can purchase a faster 3D card from Apple, but you'd have to pay a minimum of $2,699 to upgrade even the less expensive four-core Mac Pro. If gaming on a Mac is your goal, you still have to pay a disproportionate amount compared with a Windows desktop with the same level of 3D performance. Alternatively, the default graphics card will certainly let you dabble in 3D games, although you're better off with lower resolutions and image quality settings, as well as less demanding titles.

As we've said, our performance results apply only to the new eight-core Mac Pro in its default configuration. Apple offers a 2.66GHz, 3GB four-core model beginning at $2,499, as well various CPU, memory, hard-drive, and other upgrades for our eight-core model. Our review unit will cost you $3,299. You can also buy a 2.93GHz, 32GB, 4TB hard-drive model with a RAID card, four 3D cards, and a second DVD burner for $14,249. Incidentally, in spite of what we said earlier about the new DDR3 RAM working fastest in groups of three memory sticks, Apple also offers 8GB, 16GB, and the aforementioned 32GB configuration in groups of four and eight sticks. Apple says it offers this option for customers who might care less about memory speed and more about the sheer amount of RAM.

Like Apple's new iMac, the Mac Pro also has an option for the numeric-keypad-free version of the Apple keyboard, although the default option gets you the standard full-size model. The Mac Pro also has no default wireless networking, not a must-have in a traditional desktop, but you can add an AirPort Extreme card for an extra $50. Other options include various mini DisplayPort adapters, as well as different Fiber Channel PCI Express cards and professional software packages.

In addition to the video ports mentioned earlier, the Mac Pro also gets you a handful of digital and analog audio jacks, as well as USB 2.0 and FireWire 800 ports on the front and back. We'd still rather see Apple adopt the external eSATA standard for even faster external-hard-drive transfers than FireWire 800.

Finally, our opinion of Apple's service and support policies remains the same throughout its entire desktop line. The one-year parts and labor warranty is standard across the desktop industry, and we find that reasonable enough. But the 90-day limit on phone support stings even on the lowly Mac Mini. Applying that same standard to expensive, professional-grade hardware like the Mac Pro is even harder to stomach. You can always look on Apple's support site, its user forum, or even drag your system in to an Apple Store, but otherwise if you want a longer term for phone-based assistance you need to purchase the AppleCare Protection Plan, which for $249 gets you three years of phone service and also three years of warranty coverage.

Find out more about how we test desktop systems.

System configurations:

Apple Mac Pro (Two 2.26GHz Quad-Core Intel Xeon, Winter 2009)
Mac OS X 10.5.6; (2) 2.26GHz Intel Xeon 5500; 6GB 1,066MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 640GB 7,200 rpm hard drive; 512MB Nvidia GeForce GT 120 graphics card

Apple Mac Pro (4GB, 2008)
Mac OS X 10.5.6; (2) 2.8GHz Intel Xeon E5440; 4GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 320GB 7,200 rpm hard drive; 256MB ATI Radeon HD 2600 XT graphics card

Apple Mac Pro (8GB, 2008)
Mac OS X 10.5.6; (2) 2.8GHz Intel Xeon E5440; 8GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM; 320GB 7,200 rpm hard drive; 256MB ATI Radeon HD 2600 XT graphics card

Velocity Micro Edge Z55
Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit); 3.0GHz Intel Core i7-920 (overclocked); 6GB 1,066MHz DDR3 SDRAM; (2) 512MB ATI Radeon HD 4870 graphics cards; 750GB 7,200 rpm Hitachi hard drive

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