Benchmarks: 2.93GHz Xeon-based Mac Pros

With its four hard drive bays, two optical drive bays and four PCI Express 2.0 card slots, the Mac Pro is Apple's most configurable Mac, and the company offers a host of different upgrades and options. Macworld Lab tested a couple of different Mac Pro configure-to-order (CTO) systems and the results include our first Speedmark 5 score to top 400.

To refresh your memory, the latest Mac Pros come in two standard configurations. The $2,499 Mac Pro features a 2.66GHz Quad-Core Xeon processor based on Intel's Nehalem architecture. It has a 640GB hard drive, 3GB of 1066MHz DDR3 SDRAM, and an Nvidia GeForce GT 120 graphics card with 512MB of DDR3 memory. The second standard configuration model is a $3,299 Eight-Core model that uses two Quad-Core Xeon processors running at 2.26GHz. It has twice the amount of SDRAM as the $2,499 Mac Pro, but uses the same Nvidia graphics card and same hard drive.

The CTO Mac Pros that we received for testing had 1TB hard drives (an option that will run you an extra $100) and ATI Radeon HD 4870 graphics cards with 512MB of GDDR5 graphics memory (a $200 upgrade). Both CTO models featured faster 2.93GHz Quad-Core Xeon processors-a $500 upgrade for the Quad-Core 2.66GHz model, and a $2,600 upgrade for the standard Eight-Core 2.26GHz model.

In our tests of these custom Mac Pros, we found that the CTO Quad-Core was about 8 percent faster in our Speedmark 5 overall system performance test suite than the standard 2.66GHz configuration. The 2.93GHz Quad-Core Mac Pro was 11 percent faster in Cinema 4D tests and about 7 percent faster in our ProRes to H.264 Compressor test. As seen in our recent gaming performance benchmarks, the ATI Radeon HD 4870 is a better performer than the Nvidia GeForce GT 120 graphics card in the standard configuration, with high resolution game tests showing the 2.93GHz Quad Core Mac Pro with its optional ATI card displaying more than twice the number of frames per second in our Quake 4 tests and nearly three times as many frames in our Call of Duty 4 tests.

The Eight-Core 2.93GHz Mac Pro, which uses a pair of Quad-Core processors, was 17 percent faster than the standard 2.26GHz Eight-Core Mac Pro in our Speedmark tests, 16 percent faster in our ProRes Compressor test and 23 percent faster in Cinema 4D. Again, the custom system, with its speedy ATI Radeon HD 4870 graphics was considerably faster than the systems with standard GeForce GT120 graphics cards. Processor speeds weren't much of a factor in our games test results. If you're a hard-core 3-D gamer, the $200 upgrade to the ATI Radeon HD 4870 seems like a no-brainer, though the stock Nvidia GeForce GT 120 graphics card is certainly no slouch.

As we saw in our review of the standard configuration Mac Pro models, in many cases, it is better to have fewer but faster processors rather than more cores running slower. But in the few applications that can take full advantage of multiple core processors-like Compressor, Cinema 4D and Mathematica-the Quad-Core 2.93GHz was not as fast as the standard Eight-Core 2.26GHz Mac Pro.

We ran a few tests with more RAM, but as our tests are run one at a time, there wasn't much of an impact. The Eight-Core 2.93GHz Mac Pro with 12GB of RAM scored a 407 in our Speedmark tests, just 5 points higher than the 402 score earned running the tests with 6GB.

Check back soon. We'll test a few more configurations with internal RAIDs.

[James Galbraith is Macworld's lab director.]

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