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Mac Pro Westmere Hits and Misses

Last updated 2010-08-21 - Send Feedback
Related: GPU, Mac Pro, Macs, memory, video

The August 2010 Mac Pro is not a major leap forward except perhaps for those that can use a 12-core machine, but nonetheless offers worthwhile advances for everyone, but also disappointments.

The August 2010 Mac Pro can take either the new Westmere processor, or the existing Nehalem processor. So it’s little different than the prior model-line changes. It is an evolutionary move.

Hits

The good stuff.

  • More processor options, including 12 core options and a perfect “sweet spot” hexacore 3.33GHz option with 12MB cache.
  • Faster memory. Of no practical significance.
  • Faster graphics cards: Radeon 5770 or 5870 with 1GB memory. A yawner for most users.
  • Better display support: dual Mini DisplayPort port, and one dual-link DVI port.

Video

Apple states that “The ATI Radeon HD 5770 ... not only provides faster performance compared to previous Mac Pro standard graphics cards — it’s also faster than the top-of-the-line graphics cards in the previous generation.

In other words, the base video card is darn fast. A good reason to not worry about it, because I’ve never been able to measure any improvement for anything that I do with the “faster” video card. But there will be specific tasks for which this is a plus.

Misses

  • Still only 4 or 8 memory slots. This is all-out brain-dead; motherboards out there in the PC world offer 12 or 16 slots!
  • Still only 3 Gbit/sec SATA. No 6 Gbit/sec ports. So much for faster solid state drives.
  • Solid state drive option, but inferior choice of solid state drive. See next page.
  • No USB 3.0 or faster Firewire.
  • No eSATA support built-in; requires buying an eSATA PCIe card.
  • Fastest clock speed of 3.33Ghz, no overclocking to the 4GHz range.
  • Still only 4 drive bays. Power users really can use six bays for both performance and backup. Two more bays for 2.5" SSDs, would have made it a much more flexible machine.
  • Bus throughput for SATA drives the same? (Tops out at ~640MB/sec for Nehalem).
  • Noise — the power-pig video card has a notably louder fan, which is as loud as the Mac Pro itself in my subjective assessment— louder than two of the GT120 cards in my 2009 Mac Pro.

So much for “green” engineering — watch your electric bill

In a first, the base video card requires an internal power cable, which means it will suck juice.And it has a fan which is about as loud as the Mac Pro itself. This was not true of the GT120 video card in the Mac Pro Nehalem (I have two of the GT120 cards installed in my 2009 Mac Pro). My electric bill hits $0.49/KWh here in California, so this really sucks.

The optional 5870 card doubles the bandwidth and processing power, but requires two internal power cables, which means it sucks up even more power, and makes more noise. It might even take more power than the Mac Pro itself (when in use).

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