updated 06:34 am EST, Tue January 7, 2014
New Mac Pro is the most exciting Apple computer in years
Electronista and MacNN has its hands on one of the eagerly sought after (but hard to find) Apple Mac Pro units. Ours is the high-end stock configuration, which is powered by an Intel Xeon 6-core matched with 16GB of RAM and paired with dual AMD FirePro D500 GPUs. While Apple may have dropped 'Computer' from its corporate name in 2007, the Mac Pro is a bold statement that Apple and computers remain synonymous even if it has broadened its audience. Further, it is a stark reminder that Apple still makes computers for the professional market, although no one has ever seen a professional workstation like this before.
Apple has been accused at times by some of placing style above substance on occasions. Let us state unequivocally that as stunning as the Mac Pro looks first hand, inside it is one powerful beast of a machine. After you get past just how amazing the radical design and finish of the Mac Pro looks (which is less black and more like 'Space Gray' in appearance), you then simply marvel at how compact it is. We have pictured it next to a 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro and as you can see, the Mac Pro stands only slightly taller than the MacBook with its display open. At first blush it seems that it is more likely to be the semi-pro tower than many Mac lovers would still love to see Apple make. Yet, on this inside, there is nothing semi-pro about the technology that lies beneath its removable aluminum sleeve.
Taking the enclosure off simply requires the lock on the rear to be released and it pops straight off, providing easy access to its internal components. Teardowns have revealed that the Mac Pro is largely upgradeable, which is good news for those who invest in a Mac Pro over the medium to long term. The CPU uses a standard LGA 2011 socket that accommodates all four of the Intel Xeon processors that Apple is currently offering. The 3.5GHz 6-core Xeon E5 fitted to our Mac Pro incorporates 12MB of L3 cache and is capable of boosting to 3.9GHz. Standard RAM is 16GB with all four memory controllers (4x4GB DDR3 ECC RAM) clocked at 1866MHz, which is user upgradeable to a massive 64GB.
The dual AMD FirePro D500 graphics processors are coupled to 3GB of GDDR5 VRAM each with a combined theoretical peak graphics performance of 4.4 teraflops. However, Apple has engineered Mac OS X Mavericks with OpenCL, allowing programs to harness the processing power of the AMD GPUs for general processing duties, if required. Although custom designed for the Mac Pro, it is possible that Apple may make graphics upgrades available at a future time, or a third-party may produce an alternative down the track. The same may be true for the standard 256GB PCIe-based flash storage, which is a bespoke design - third parties have already developed flash storage that is tailor made for Apple machines.
When you plug in the Mac Pro, the next thing that strikes you is just how quiet it is under normal use. We have yet to run the Mac Pro through its paces, but even under a full processing load, Apple says that it does not get any louder than around 17-18dbA - the previous generation could get as loud as 30dbA. Like all Macs, the Mac Pro is extremely easy to set up and get running. Transferring data from one machine to the Mac Pro over Thunderbolt is incredibly fast - moving 79GB of data from a 128GB MacBook Pro took just 10 minutes. Rotating the Mac Pro will reveal the I/O ports on the rear, while also lighting them up so you can easily find what your are looking for in darker rooms. You will find an HDMI 1.4 port with support for 4K Ultra HD, six Thunderbolt 2 ports, four USB 3.0 ports, two Gigabit Ethernet ports, a line-in port and a headphone out port. Despite all that incredible connectivity, it is missing the convenience of an SD card slot.
We will be running some complete benchmarks on the Mac Pro (in both Mac OS X and Windows 8.1) and have them up on the site ahead of our full review. We couldn't resist the temptation to get a sneak peak at its performance potential and quickly ran the Mac Pro through the Maxon Cinebench R15 to test its graphics chops. It blazed through its tough GPU test scoring 80.13fps, although we are currently investigating whether the test addresses both GPU's or just one. It also scored 961 on the Cinebench CPU test, which is very fast, but which is likely to be outpaced by 'Haswell' 6-core Core i7 chips as they run a newer microarchitecture. Although the Xeon E5s in the Mac Pros are the latest generation workstation chips from Intel, they run Intel's older 'Ivy Bridge' microarchitecture. Briefly, this is not a big deal for the Mac Pros intended purposes, as Xeon chips are geared for multicore-optimized, multithreaded applications, but is worth noting.
As recent reports suggest, for the hardware on offer here, Apple has done an excellent job of keeping a lid on the overall cost of the Mac Pro. What may have been lost in terms of internal expandability has been returned with the inclusion of absolutely cutting edge technology and extensive external expandability. There is little doubt that the Mac Pro is something special and is as innovative as anything Apple has ever done. As we delve deeper into the Mac Pro's capabilities over the coming days, we will aim to find out just how special it is.
Update: Maxon has confirmed that Cinebench R15 does not currently address the second GPU. The score of 80fps is produced by just one of the two AMD FirePro D500 GPUs.
By Sanjiv Sathiah