A Perspective — Not a Review — on the Mac Pro

August 17th, 2006

It’s fair to say that a number of Mac Pros are already in user’s hands, and the reviews are coming fast and thick. I think you can get a pretty fair assessment of the product by checking at least three of them, from Ars Technica, Macworld and Bare Feats. The latter is primarily a benchmarking site, but if numbers are your game, it’s a great place to play, and this particular review is an ultimate shootout that features the 3GHz Mac Pro compared against a Power Mac G5 Quad.

Perhaps the most important element of all, however, is the fact that the Mac Pro, and the forthcoming Intel-based Xserve, mark the completion of a minor miracle in the tech world. For the second time in its history, Apple has successfully ditched a processor family and moved on, this time, in a sense, to the competing chip company it once mocked.

The Bare Feats article is the most telling of all, because of heralds a significant milestone in the advance of the Intel-based Mac. For the first time, Rosetta emulation performance approaches, and in one case surpasses, that of the fastest Power PC. This means that you can use older power-hungry applications such as Photoshop without giving up very much in the way of productivity. And wait till the Universal version comes out next year!

Being the ultimate Mac workstation, some naturally want to compare its price to a similarly equipped entrant from the PC market. Apple choose Dell as its counterpart, simply because Dell is the number one PC maker, although its sales haven’t grown quite as fast as they used to.

Although the issue is highly controversial, as usual, Charles Gaba’s System Shootouts had a unique slant on the issue. He set a price point of $3,200 for his benchmark, and was able to come up with a Mac Pro and a Dell Precision 890 tower with a fairly similar range of standard equipment for the same price. But there was one creative exception, which is that he had to add a 20-inch Apple Cinema Display to raise the Mac Pro’s price to match that of the Dell, which didn’t include a monitor.

To be sure, this sort of price shopping is a difficult chore, made all the more complicated by the fact that it seems that no two people arrive at the same price in customizing a computer at Dell. Depending on which of their online stores you visit, and whether or not you find the proper coupon somewhere, the price you pay will differ, often by several hundred dollars. You always feel like the harried customer of a car dealer, where three different people buying the very same vehicle, with the exact same options, will pay three different prices.

It is also a watershed moment, because the arrival of the Mac Pro means that the Power Mac, which bowed in 1994, is now history, except for the remainders you might find at a dealer here and there.

As with other models in its MacIntel line, Apple used a very similar case design, at least from the outside. This choice not only sped them to market, but offered the aura of continuity with their predecessors. Moreover, byy using the cooler-running Intel “Woodcrest” or Xeon chips, Apple was able to simplify the ventilation system drastically. Yes, no more liquid cooling to be concerned about. So there’s room for two more hard drives and a second optical device.

The downside to all this joy is the specially designed DDR2 FB-DIMM ECC (667 MHz) (fully buffered) RAM that Apple requires, which come with special heat sinks. They are a lot more expensive, even from the few third parties that have added them to their product rosters.

Although there are reports of speedier versions of previous entrants in the Intel-based line, the real heavy lifting is essentially over for Apple, at least for now.

The job remains undone for a number of software developers, however, who are still struggling to build Universal versions of their sprawling productivity applications. I’m sure when the likes of Adobe and Microsoft began their move to upgrade their flagship applications, they didn’t except Apple to get its work completed so soon.

By next spring, however, I fully expect to see even speedier Mac Pros, with a pair of quad processors inside. Most of the Universal applications you’ve aching for will be available, and Apple will be ready to roll out Leopard. That assumes, of course, that the schedule can be met, which seems a pretty good bet.

Though I’ve already said I’m not really that involved in the alleged Mac Versus PC wars, I have to wonder where Microsoft will be by then. Will Vista finally make it past the starting gate and in what state of completion? But will anyone, except a few Windows devotees, really care?

And, finally, on this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE, David Biedny will deliver his official eulogy for the Power Mac.

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5 Responses to “A Perspective — Not a Review — on the Mac Pro”

  1. Fett says:

    “But will anyone, except a few Windows devotees, really care?”
    Yes Gene, you’re still in the Mac/PC war. There will be more than a “few”.

  2. Andrew says:

    Vista will sell in the millions, even to a good number of Intel Mac owners I’d be willing to bet.

  3. Actually the switch to Intel marks the third (or fourth, depending on how you count) chip change for Apple.

    The fist chip Apple used was the MOS 6502. When the Macintosh came along in 1984, Apple switched to the Motorola 6800 chips. In 1994, with the formation of the Apple-IBM-Motorola triumvirate, the PowerPC line of chips were introduced. And lastly in 2006 Apple migrated it’s entire product line (sans iPod) to Intel chips.

    Change number one: From Motorola 68000 to PowerPC.

    Change number two: To Intel.

    The chips used in models prior to the Mac aren’t relevant to this discussion.


  4. Dana Sutton says:

    I guess I’m not as excited about the Mac Pro as I ought to be. You see, I don’t use Photoshop or any high-end graphics or scientific software that is written to take advantage of muitiprocessors. In my work I use single-processor programs like Dreamweaver and Offfice, and I don’t think Adobe or Microsoft are in any hurry to rewrite their apps. to make them multi-processor friendly. So okay, I can see the use of a dual-processor Mac for people like me (and I expect people like me are a large percentage of Mac users): one to run a program, the other to handle background tasks. But four??? So why should I have to pay for four cores when I can really only take advantage of two? Okay, you tell me to go out and buy an iMac. But I already have a nice 23″ Apple cinema monitor, and I want more speed and power than the iMac has to offer. It seems to me there’s a gaping hole in the current Apple lineup which addresses the needs of a large number of users, I should be able to buy a 2-core MacPro and use the money I’ve saved by paying for only a single two-core processor to buy extra memory.

  5. Andrew says:

    What is needed (not by mobile-using me) is something in between the Mac Mini and the Mac Pro. Then again, Apple’s long had this same hold in their lineup, and they do okay.

    For me, I’m waiting on a reliable Intel-powered Mac laptop. After three MacBooks, I won’t try a fourth.

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