Lab tests: New quad-core and eight-core Mac Pros

The new Mac Pros announced in July have finally arrived at Macworld Lab. And while we ran into some hiccups during our tests, we’re able to share our first results.

The new Mac Pros use the identical case design as the systems they replace, with the biggest differences being in the available CPU and GPU options. Apple offers two standard configurations, a $2499 system with a single quad-core 2.8GHz Intel Xeon Nehalem processor, 3GB of RAM, 1TB hard drive, and ATI Radeon HD 5770 graphics with 1GB GDDR5 video RAM; and a $3499 system with identical graphics and storage specs, but with 6GB of RAM and two quad-core 2.4GHz Intel Xeon Westmere processors (eight cores total). A third system, a 12-core model with two 2.66GHz six-core Xeon Westmere processors and the same storage, RAM, and graphics specifications as the eight-core model is considered a pre-configured build-to-order model, meaning you won’t find it on the shelves of the brick and mortar Apple Stores.

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Promise SmartStor DS4600

Promise’s SmartStor DS4600 is a direct-attached storage (DAS) enclosure that can house up to four hard drives. It’s suitable for a direct connection to servers or workstations, it supports RAID arrays, and its design allows you to hot-swap the hard drives. Its management interface and build quality leave something to be desired, however.

The DS4600 can be connected to a Mac or server through the single eSATA, USB 2.0 or FireWire 400 ports or one of the two FireWire 800 ports. It has the same physical design as the Promise SmartStor NS4600 ( ) network-attached storage (NAS) device. Four drive bays sit behind a lockable front panel. Instead of caddies, the SmartStor DS4600 uses plastic rails that surround the drive in order to prevent vibration during operation. We didn’t notice any vibrations, but the rails’ lack of rigidity makes installing drives painful.

Promise includes its SmartNAVI software to manage the SmartStor DS4600 DAS device, and it’s available in Mac and PC versions. Using SmartNAVI, you can configure RAID volumes, monitor hard drive health and upgrade firmware. Media Centre and Photo Album functions are also available, but these are of questionable usefulness without the ability to serve media over a network.

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Lab tested: 27-inch Core i7 iMac/2.93GHz quad core with SSD

Ladies and gentlemen, the fastest Mac we’ve ever seen is currently sitting in the Macworld Lab. It’s the 27-inch 2.93GHz quad core Core i7 iMac, equipped with a solid-state drive (SSD). This built-to-order (BTO) model posted the highest Speedmark 6 score of any iMac we’ve tested—for now.

The 27-inch 2.93GHz quad core Core i7 iMac with SSD isn’t one of the four standard configurations Apple offers, and Macworld doesn't mouse-rate BTO models. To get the Core i7 CPU and SSD, you have to customize a 27-inch 2.8GHz quad core Core i5 iMac ( ) when ordering through the online Apple Store. Upgrading to the 2.93GHz Core i7 adds $200 to the $1999 base price. Substituting a 256GB SSD for the hard drive adds another $600. So the total price of the iMac we tested (with 4GB of RAM) is $2799.

We used our Speedmark 6 test suite to gauge the performance of the 2.93GHz quad core Core i7 iMac and to see how well it performs compared other current iMacs. Overall, the 2.93GHz quad core Core i7 iMac with an SSD is impressive, posting a Speedmark 6 score of 254, currently the highest Speedmark 6 score posted by any Mac. (We just received two of the three new Mac Pro models, and we'll test them and provide results soon. We think that the new Mac Pros will beat the Core i7 iMac, but the story will be how much of a performance difference there is.)

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Seagate FreeAgent GoFlex Ultra-Portable Drive 500GB

With most external hard drives, you can never really have too many ports. Sure, it’s great that Western Digital’s USB-only My Passport for Mac ( ) is fast and relatively inexpensive, but most people need a device with a little more flexibility, like Iomega’s 500GB eGo Mac Edition ( ) and its FireWire 400 & 800 support.

However, Seagate’s FreeAgent GoFlex Ultra-Portable hard drives might just change the status quo, as these devices don’t support any specific form of data transfer. That’s to say, not right out of the box. If all you need is standard USB 2.0 connectivity, the 500GB GoFlex comes pre-packaged with it, along with some spiffy backup software to sweeten the deal. However, the drive can also support connectivity for FireWire 800, eSATA, and even USB 3.0, although the latter of that list is still pretty meaningless for Mac users.

Seagate accomplishes this by way of the GoFlex’s rear dock, a detachable adapter that comes included with the connection cable of your choice. In a way, this is actually pretty smart, since the interface of the drive is essentially a blank slate; aside from the USB 2.0 adapter, you’re only adding on what you want to pay for. If you have a Mac Pro with an available add-on eSATA card, all you need to buy on top of the GoFlex is the eSATA upgrade cable ($20). If you have a MacBook Pro or any of the newer Macs, you can just buy the FireWire 800 adapter ($40) and be done with it. Feasibly, you could also have a drive that’s ahead of the curve when (and if) Apple ever starts supporting USB 3.0 ($30).

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Apricorn Aegis Padlock Pro 640GB

Any hard drive can try to break speed barriers when backing up and copying data, but the Aegis Padlock Pro has an ace up its sleeve. Apricorn’s latest portable hard drive isn’t the fastest storage device you can buy, but it might be one of the most secure options you can find. Aside from having unique data protection features, it’s also one of few portable hard drives that’s both eSATA-compatible and relies on internal bus power.

But what immediately separates the Padlock Pro from the pack, however, is its data-securing features. Even if some hardcore data thief manages to physically remove the hard drive from the Padlock Pro’s shell, Apricorn still has your files protected with 256-bit AES encryption, the same kind approved by the U.S. government.

Aside from the built-in encryption, the drive’s main security feature is a button panel that lets you protect your data with a password. When you plug in the Padlock Pro for the first time, you can immediately set up your own administrative PIN number, which can be any simple code of at least six digits. In addition to your main PIN, the Padlock Pro can also support up to 10 unique user passwords, which is great if you want to share the drive among friends or co-workers. Moreover, you can edit your user password without admin privileges on the fly, so you thankfully won’t have to worry about everyone remembering two sets of PIN numbers.

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Lab tested: 27-inch Core i5 iMac/3.6GHz (BTO)

After posting our benchmark results for the four new standard configuration iMacs, several readers had the same request: test the new 3.6GHz Core i5 iMac, a built-to-order (BTO) option for the 3.2GHz Core i3 iMacs. You spoke, we listened and we ordered a custom 27-inch iMac with the 3.6GHz Core i5 dual core processor, though we upped the ante by adding a second drive to the system, a 256GB solid-state drive (SSD) to complement the 1TB 7200-rpm drive that comes standard. We tested the system twice (once booted from the hard drive and then booted from the SSD) and the results are intriguing.

The drive and processor upgrades add $750 and $200 respectively to the cost of the standard $1699 27-inch 3.2GHz Core i3 iMac, bringing the price to $2649.

Processor boost

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