The Mac Pro Report: The Night Owl Nails it Again!

August 9th, 2006

I am not a psychic, nor do I engage in informed speculation for a living. Besides, if I tried either, I’d fail miserably. On the other hand, when I recently suggested the ideal layout for Apple’s Intel-based professional desktop, I think I nailed it very closely indeed.

Rather than repeat the entire article and bask in the praise, here’s the relevant paragraph: “So it’s quite possible, as some rumor sites suggest, that the Mac Pro will look very much like today’s Power Mac G5. But wait a minute! Consider all that elaborate cooling gear, including the liquid system on the high-end models. Right now, only two hard drives fit inside, and there’s but a single optical device. Since the Intel chips supposedly run a whole lot cooler, you have to believe Apple will simplify the ventilation network and provide more room for extra drives, perhaps four as in the Power Mac G4. There also ought to be room for a second optical drive, just as you see even in lower priced PC minitowers.”

Now there is no mystery why Apple used Intel’s expensive “Woodcrest” or Xeon dual-core processors. It’s the only product in the current line that lets you use more than one, and what is surprising is Apple’s aggressive pricing. Now it may not seem that $2,499 for the standard Quad Xeon 2.66GHz configuration is cheap, but, gentle reader, we’re not talking about a mere personal computer here. This is a workstation, pure and simple.

When you place the Mac Pro in that exalted category, you have to examine similar products from the competition. During the WWDC keynote, Apple VP Phil Schiller claimed that a comparably equipped Dell costs $1,000 more. This has been an issue that’s been hotly debated ever since. One blogger, whose name shall go unmentioned, even suggested he could deliver a custom-built job with the same configuration for $1,500. Unfortunately, he neglected to tell his readers that the standard price for the two dual-core chips, listed as the Xeon 5150, is higher than that all by themselves. Then you have to add the case, power supply, drives, logic board and the rest of the gear.

So is Apple sacrificing profits to grow market share? Apple never sacrifices profits, so I suspect they’re getting a sweetheart deal from Intel on those Xeon chips, and passing the savings on to you.

But real question is this: Should you buy one now or wait for something better to come along? With promised speed boosts of 1.3 to 1.8 times on native software compared to the last generation of Power Macs, this would seem a no-brainer. But there may be side issues to consider. If you’re using a legacy or PowerPC application, such as Photoshop, even with the speed improvement, there will be some slowdown compared to what you can get on a G5 Quad right now.

Even more compelling is the fact that Intel isn’t resting on its laurels and will have a new quad processor chip out in the final quarter of this year. Imagine a Mac Pro with two of those babies!

In addition, as I’ve already suggested, I have this feeling, and it is just a feeling mind you, that Apple and its partner in developing Rosetta, Transitive, are hard at work for a faster version of the PowerPC emulator in time for Leopard next spring. Right now performance is roughly cut in half, but imagine if you could get, say, 75% of the speed of the native application in emulation, and I do not consider that possibility impossible.

Consider, for example, the higher amount of cache on the new Intel Core 2 Duo processors, and you’ll see where lots of enhancements are possible.

Right now, if you have a G5 at hand, you may just want to consider your options a little more carefully. But if you have an older Mac, there’s no argument. The Mac Pro will represent one huge performance upgrade for you, and that it’s shipping right now is no mean achievement.

As for me, I’m going to hold out for eight processors!

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2 Responses to “The Mac Pro Report: The Night Owl Nails it Again!”

  1. Don says:

    Great educated guess.

    Bitter-sweet victory for Apple. I had high hopes for the G5 and got my first Mac because of it. Little did I know that it would be one of the last revision of PowerMacs made. Mac Pro looks real good as I could dump my G5 and my PC and consolidate into one great machine. Like you, I’m gonna wait on this one. Probably a good time to start selling my G5 before the value starts to drop further.

  2. Terry says:

    State of the art is what’s on the shelf. It’s the user experience that matters most. Fix the Finder. Make firewire more reliable. Put it in the fastest machine you need for the task at hand.

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