Apple Mac Pro (Mid 2010)

Summary: The top-end 12-core Mac Pro reviewed here is an expensive specialist purchase, but there are plenty of more affordable configurations for those with less exotic requirements. We have some quibbles, but the Mac Pro is highly recommended. However, cautious buyers may want to wait for the 2011 version with Intel's forthcoming Sandy Bridge processors.

  • Editors' rating:
    8.2
  • User rating:
    0.0
  • RRP:
    GBP £5,752.00

Pros

  • Tried-and-trusted tool-free-access chassis
  • Plenty of configuration options
  • Excellent performance, especially with apps that exploit multiple CPU threads and cores

Cons

  • Expensive, particularly as high-end options are added
  • No ATI CrossFire support to exploit dual-GPU configurations
  • No eSATA or USB 3.0 support
  • No HDMI ports or adapters

Apple's Mac Pro is a workstation-class desktop that's long been a preferred platform for professional photographers, video editors and other graphics professionals. The most recent upgrade, in August 2010, brought support for Intel's latest 32nm 'Westmere' Xeon processors, the fastest of which offered by Apple is the 6-core X5670 running at 2.93GHz. Our top-end review sample came with two of these heavy-duty CPUs, resulting in the most powerful Mac that money (rather a lot of it) can buy.

Design
The 2010 Mac Pro's chassis is identical to that of the 2009 Nehalem-generation Mac Pro — indeed, the basic design of this symphony in brushed aluminium hasn't changed substantially since the Power Mac G5 days. Removing the side panel by pulling a lever at the back reveals a neat, accessible and modular internal layout.

The 2010 Mac Pro has the same tried-and-trusted internal layout as the previous generation

As before, the CPUs and memory are housed on a daughterboard that slides out from the bottom of the case when you engage a couple of latches on the front of the supporting tray. If you buy a fully-stocked system like our 12-core review unit with 12GB of 1,333MHz DDR3 RAM, you're unlikely to be doing much upgrading, but it's a nice bit of design. We did find the tray a little fiddly to return, though; you need to press down in just the right place as you're sliding it in, to line up the multi-pin connector.

CPUs and memory live on a pull-out daughterboard; you can fit up to 32GB of DDR3 RAM on the eight-slot dual-socket board

There are four pull-out 3.5in. SATA drive trays slung beneath the optical drive cage (which also slides out for easy access) and the power supply. Our review unit not only had a 2TB hard drive spinning at 7,200rpm, but also a 512GB SSD boot disk. The latter — an eye-watering £1,029.99 (inc. VAT) option — is a 2.5in. unit housed in an adapter to fit the 3.5in. tray. If you want to buy your own (cheaper) SSD, you'll have to rig up your own adapter, because Apple's unit isn't available separately. And if you need a hardware RAID solution, Apple's Mac Pro RAID Card will add another £572 (inc. VAT) to the price.

The Mac Pro has four cable-free 3.5in. drive trays supporting up to 8TB of hard drive storage; SSD options are also available, but they're expensive

For expansion, there are two PCI Express 2.0 x4 slots and one x16 slot free. The retaining bracket for the cards uses thumbscrews, so no tools are needed to swap cards in and out.

Features
As mentioned above, our review Mac Pro unit came with two six-core Intel Xeon X5670 processors, which run at 2.93GHz under normal circumstances. When running applications that don't use the full complement of cores, Intel's Turbo Boost technology allows clock speed to increase to a maximum of 3.33GHz, so long as the entire CPU remains within its specified 'thermal envelope'. Hyper-Threading support allows suitably written applications to run two threads per core, giving our review unit an impressive total of 24 'virtual cores'.

Other CPU options for the Mac Pro are a dual eight-core Westmere configuration using the 2.4GHz Xeon E5620, which can reach 2.66GHz with Turbo Boost, and an entry-level single quad-core Nehalem (45nm) model using the 2.8/3.06GHz Xeon W3530. The entry-level prices for these models are £2,799 (inc. VAT; £2,382 ex. VAT) and £1,999 (inc. VAT; £1,701 ex. VAT) respectively.

The graphics processing unit (GPU) in our review sample was the top-end ATI Radeon HD 5870 with 1GB of GDDR5 memory. This is a £170 (inc. VAT) option over the standard 1GB Radeon HD 5770. Alternatively, £199 (inc. VAT) extra gets you two HD 5770s and support for up to six monitors — each card has a dual-link DVI port and two Mini-DisplayPort connectors (you'll have to pay extra [£21 inc. VAT] for a VGA adatper). There's no CrossFire support for extra performance from the second GPU, which is disappointing. We connected our RadeonHD 5870's dual-link DVI port to a 30in. Dell UltraSharp monitor to drive it at 2,560 by 1,600 pixels.

Our review unit came with a single 1GB ATI Radeon HD 5870, which can drive up to three monitors via its dual-link DVI port and pair of Mini-DisplayPorts

At the back you'll also find three USB 2.0 ports (no USB 3.0 yet), two FireWire 800 ports (no eSATA yet), digital and analogue audio in/out jacks and a pair of Gigabit Ethernet ports. There are two more USB 2.0 and FireWire 800 ports at the front, along with a headphone jack and the power button. Wireless connectivity is present in the shape of Wi-Fi (802.11a/b/g/n) and Bluetooth (2.1+EDR).

The supplied touch-sensitive Magic Mouse is a Bluetooth unit powered by a pair of AA batteries, while the keyboard is a USB unit with a separate numeric keypad. We found both perfectly comfortable to use, and there's always the option of the (Bluetooth-connected) Magic Trackpad (£59 inc. VAT) if you want something a little different input-wise.

Performance
Given its specification, you're entitled to expect pretty spectacular performance from this 12-core Mac Pro, especially from applications that exploit its multiplicity of cores and threads. We've compared the Mac Pro on a number of performance metrics with Apple's latest 27in. iMac, which is powered by a 2.8GHz quad-core Core i5 processor with 4GB of 1,333MHz DDR3 RAM, a 256GB boot SSD and a 1TB hard disk spinning at 7,200rpm. The iMac's graphics are handled by a ATI Radeon HD 5750 with 1GB of video memory.

Boot time
The Mac Pro and 27in. iMac both run Mac OS x 10.6.4 and have boot SSDs, 1,333MHz DDR3 RAM and similarly clocked CPUs. Both take less than a minute from switch-on to idle desktop, but the Mac Pro is just over 10 seconds quicker at 39.16 seconds:

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Boot times (switch-on to usable desktop) for the 2010 Mac Pro and 27in. iMac (shorter bars are better)

Cinebench 11.5 CPU
Cinebench examines the performance of both the CPU (in single-core and multicore modes) and graphics subsystems. The CPU test can be run in both single-core and multicore modes, and when running in the former mode, the scores for the 2.93GHz Xeon (Mac Pro) and 2.8GHz Core i7 (iMac) are very similar. In multicore mode, the 12-core Mac Pro shows its muscle, delivering nearly four times the performance of the quad-core iMac:

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The Cinebench 11.5 CPU test scene contains some 2,000 objects which in turn contain more than 300,000 polygons in total (longer bars are better)

Cinebench 11.5 OpenGL
Both of the 1GB ATI Radeon HD cards — 5870 in the Mac Pro and 5750 in the iMac — deliver reasonable results of around 31fps in the Cinebench 11.5 OpenGL test. Both GPUs also deliver identical 99.3 percent Reference Match results, indicating a good level of hardware feature support.

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Cinebench 11.5 uses a complex 3D scene depicting a car chase; the graphics card displays a huge amount of geometry and textures, plus a variety of effects including environments, bump maps, transparency and lighting (longer bars are better)

Photoshop CS5
Photoshop provides an all-round test of a multicore system's performance. We used Hardware Heaven's Photoshop Bench V3 test, which applies 15 filters and operations to a 109MB photo and records the timings. The 12-core Mac Pro completes the task script 19 seconds quicker than the quad-core iMac — an advantage that's likely to widen as bigger files are used.

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Hardware Heaven's Photoshop Bench V3 uses a 109MB photo and applies a series of filters and operations via an Actions script (shorter bars are better)

Power consumption
A workstation-class desktop like the 12-core Mac Pro is never going to be exactly 'green' in terms of power consumption, and our measurements with a Voltcraft VC 140 Plus multimeter certainly bear this out. To ensure broadly comparable results with the 27in. iMac, we have added the average power consumption of our 30in. Dell UltraSharp monitor (86.3W) to the figures obtained for the Mac Pro system unit. When running the Cinebench 11.5 CPU test, the Mac Pro consumes 379W compared to the iMac's 202W.

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Power consumption measured at the Mac OS desktop (Idle) and when running Cinebench 11.5's CPU test (Load) (shorter bars are better)

Conclusion
The 2010 Mac Pro is a very fine workstation-class desktop. Its stylish and practical design is little changed from previous versions for a good reason: it works. The top-end 12-core system reviewed here, with its £6,759 (inc. VAT; £5,752 ex. VAT) price tag, is clearly a specialist purchase, but there are plenty of more affordable configurations for those with less exotic requirements.

We have some quibbles, including lack of USB 3.0 and eSATA, no CrossFire support in dual-GPU configurations and the difficulty of DIY SSD solutions. Otherwise, it's highly recommended, although cautious buyers should be aware of Intel's forthcoming 32nm Sandy Bridge processors, whose new architecture should deliver significant performance and power consumption improvements.

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Topics: Hardware, Reviews

About

Hello, I'm the Reviews Editor at ZDNet UK. My experience with computers started at London's Imperial College, where I studied Zoology and then Environmental Technology. This was sufficiently long ago (mid-1970s) that Fortran, IBM punched-card machines and mainframes were involved, followed by green-screen terminals and eventually the pers... Full Bio

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