The Mac Hardware Report: The Eight-Core Odyssey

April 4th, 2007

The question lots of you were waiting for has finally been answered. There’s now an eight-core option for the Mac Pro, something that’s been a long time coming. But there’s a good reason why this product took so long to arrive, and it’s not because Apple was cooling its heels or developing a major upgrade for Apple’s professional desktop line.

In fact, today’s Mac Pro is precisely the same as the one that debuted last August. It looks the same — despite rumors that another case design was in the offing — and the internals are mostly the same. But there is now one awesome new option: You now have your new desktop equipped with a pair of 3.0GHz four-core processors for $1, 498 extra.

Did I say 3GHz?

Up till now, Intel’s catalog of “Clovertown” processors — that’s the four-core version of the current iteration of the Xeon — topped out at 2.66GHz. Now as much as many of you would find a pair of these babies more than sufficient to pack a wallop, only a small number of applications truly take advantage of multiprocessor configurations. In many cases, then, that 2.66GHz version would be slightly slower than the 3GHz dual-core Xeon.

So would it make much sense to pay hundreds of dollars extra for a questionable performance boost? I suspect Apple thought the same, which is why Apple never offered the 2.66GHz Clovertown chip.

Now, I don’t pretend to understand all or even some of the reasons you make decisions about what computer to buy and when. But I do think it makes an awful lot of sense to wait for the right four-core processor rather than just use the speediest model introduced last year. In fact, I gather from some unconfirmed reports that Apple may even have an exclusive on the 3GHz Clovertowns, at least for the time being.

No matter. I’m quite sure that a lot of content creators will be tallying up their orders for today’s fastest Mac on the planet, in anticipation for the forthcoming release of Adobe Creative Suite 3. In addition, you’ll be seeing lots and lots of benchmarking of the new model. Indeed, I do wonder how much can a pair of quad-core processors boost performance, and how many applications in a content creator’s palette can really take advantage of all that power.

In fact, I’m tempted to consider buying one myself, although the price is rather daunting. Without mentioning names, one of my close friends called me a few hours after the announcement, saying nothing but “eight-core, eight-core, eight-core” and so forth and so on.

What’s more, just having the bragging rights of owing such a beast may be sufficient for some of you to reach for your checkbooks or credit cards. But isn’t that true whenever Apple boosts the power of its speediest Mac?

However, let’s all be realistic. After all, you know well that processor speeds can only increase over time. More to the point, Intel has a well-defined roadmap, with deadlines that it has, of late, managed to meet with a decent amount of headroom.

In fact, in just a few months, that quad-core 3GHz Clovertown will be obsolete. During the second half of 2007, Intel will be introducing a new processor family that’ll beat the pants off anything available now. Code-named Penryn, these processors will, according to Intel, “benefit from enhancements to the Intel® Coreâ„¢ microarchitecture and also Intel’s industry-leading 45nm Hi-k process technology with its hafnium-based high-K + metal gate transistor design, which results in higher performance and more energy-efficient processors.”

What this means in English is that the new chips will use less power and have lots of on-chip enhancements that are said to increase potential performance by up to 40% and perhaps more. But that’s something you probably don’t have to be concerned about right now, as there are always speedier chips on the horizon.

Today, you have the Eight-Core Mac Pro, and that ought to be plenty to crow about.

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2 Responses to “The Mac Hardware Report: The Eight-Core Odyssey”

  1. Dana Sutton says:

    Here’s an interesting thing to try on an Intel Mac. First, launch Activity Monitor and set it to observe processor activity. Then launch a Power Mac program that requires Rosetta (MS Word, Excel, Dreamweaver, or what have you). As you work in that program you’ll observe that all your processor cores are actively engaged. I’ve never seen a discussion of how exactly Rosetta works, but it seems to involve some sort of multicore technology. I’d like to see Rosetta speed tests on a new — um, what are we going to call this eight-core Mac Pro, the Octopus?? I have a four-core Mac Pro, but I’m not kicking myself for not waiting for this beast to appear, since I assume that down the road a bit a third-party industry for supplying aftermarket processor upgrades is going to spring up, as we now have for the G-4.

  2. Fascinating comment indeed, and one that confirms what I’ve read on the subject, and a little of what I’ve experienced with my MacBook Pro. This augers well for Rosetta performance with this new Eight-Core beast.

    In fact, I’m willing to bet that Rosetta might, in fact, beat native performance on some apps. But that was to be expected over time.


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