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New Intel Xeon E3 Chips For Servers or Possibly the Mac Pro

TheRegister.com reports on Intel’s new Sandy Bridge Xeon E3 processors, due for release around late April, 2011.

The Xeon E3 is designed for use in servers which do not need on-chip graphics support— machines like the Mac Pro, which have a separate video card. They would not be suitable for an iMac without some kind of graphics support.

New Xeon E3 chips

Notes

Four processor cores with hyperthreading is plenty for most users, especially with these high TurboBoost speeds.

  • At this point, only 4-core processors are announced. The prospect of 6-core or 8-core or 10/12-core processors is probably months away, perhaps late summer at the earliest.
  • The fastest processor runs at 3.5 GHz, with TurboBoost up to 3.9GHz. Given the astonishing performance of the 2.3GHz MacBook Pro, it seems a good bet that any of the processors running at 3.1 GHz or faster would give the existing 3.33 GHz 6-core Mac Pro a run for its money on most every task.
  • The processors support 4 slots of dual-channel 1333MHz memory, not triple channel memory, so memory bandwidth would be the same as the 2.3GHz MacBook Pro, or 2/3 that of the current Mac Pro (when 3 memory modules are used).

Mini tower?

What these Xeon E3 processors would be perfect for, and what I deem very unlikely given Apple’s less than rapt attention to the Mac Pro: a mini-tower Mac Pro— something 1/2 to 2/3 the size of the existing Mac Pro, perhaps with 4 drive bays for laptop size drives (think SSD), and 4 memory slots.

The low power versions of the Xeon E3 could make a powerful mini server a reality. Think about a shoebox-size box with 4 cores and 2 or 3 internal drive bays... could be an awesome rig for most everyone. Likely? No.

Faster 4 core?

Apple could offer a 4-core Mac Pro that would likely run rings around the current 4-core offerings, and that might well be what happens, and Apple might just sit on its hands for months until more processor options are rolled out.

Timely move, or more procrastination?

The iPad/iPhone dominate Apple’s business, with the Mac Pro good for perhaps 1% or so. So it’s not like Apple would consider the Mac Pro a top priority.

We shall have to wait until mid April to know if anything new is coming. But given Apple’s procrastination in 2010, I’d say the odds are modest for a new Mac Pro, unless there are compelling profit margin factors to make it worth Apple’s while to move earlier.

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