Hands on with the Mac Pro: Testing the limits

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Rosetta and Intel transition issues

As I look back on what I wrote in the spring in this section of the mini’s report, I still think my general conclusions drawn back then are still true today—just a bit less so (in a good way!) in some regards.

Regarding Rosetta, I wrote:

For most typical users, who spend their time in e-mail, on the web, and working on simple letters and spreadsheets, I don’t think Rosetta is going to be noticed much, if at all. If, on the other hand, you’re a power user who works on massive Excel spreadsheets, huge image-laden Word documents, or monstrous 20MB advertising layout TIFFs in Photoshop, you’re going to want to wait for native versions of your applications before you switch.

That’s definitely still a true statement today, but the speed of the Mac Pro means that even a non-native Photoshop isn’t an excessively slow Photoshop—as long as you’re working with reasonably sized images. For most remaining Rosetta apps, unless they’re doing something special with graphics, you probably won’t even notice that they’re running in Rosetta. Apple realized early on that Rosetta would be the key to a successful Intel transition, and it seems to me like they’re gotten it pretty much right. I’m still astounded that something like Tiger Woods PGA Tour even launches in Rosetta, much less runs at a semi-decent frame rate.

Regarding that Intel transition, back in March I wrote (about the mini):

At the end of the day, the mini is really just another Mac, regardless of what’s powering it. If nobody told you, you wouldn’t know there’s anything different under the hood. The machine is a Mac, just one with a different engine powering it than we’re all used to.

Of course, we’re now completely transitioned to Intel, and some models are already into their second generation. I think anyone who has used an Intel Mac will tell you that it’s still got the soul of a Mac. It still runs OS X. It still works with peripherals as well as it always has. Sure, some things have changed under the hood, but the machines are still Macs. Back in March, I lamented the lack of both Snapz Pro and SideTrack, but now, both are available for the Intel Macs. In March, we had about 1,000 Universal applications to pick from. Now that figure is well over 4,000.

The combination of Apple’s industrial design and Intel’s speedy chips has created some of the fastest, most expandable, and least expensive Macs that we’ve ever seen (more on that in a minute). If I had to grade the Intel transition, I’d probably have to give Apple an A- or a B+, as there’s not much to fault them on. Sure, a native Adobe suite would’ve been nice to have, but beyond that, I feel the transition has gone much better than I expected. For my takeaway points, I’m going to repeat two from the spring, and add one new one.

Three takeaway points

  • Most typical users won’t find Rosetta to be an intrusive, slowing technology, despite the benchmark results.
  • Native applications tend to be quite fast, and Java applications are already native by default.
  • The added CPU and video horsepower on the Mac Pro make it even harder to use “but I’ll have to run things in Rosetta” as an excuse not to upgrade to an Intel Mac.
  • Conclusion

    As I write this, I’ve had the Mac Pro for almost exactly one week. It’s been a busy week, with lots of shuffling between the two machines (they’re on opposite sides of the desk at the moment), and lots of file copying (and recopying) and system updating (and re-updating). Through all of that, I’ve been impressed with the Mac Pro’s quietness and speedy operation. Assuming Macworld bought everything on my machine through the Apple store, it retailed for $3,126 (2.66GHz model with 2GB of RAM, Bluetooth, AirPort, one 250GB drive, and the ATI X1900 XT video card). While that’s not an insignificant amount of money, I would argue that it’s an amazing value on two different fronts.

    First, there’s just the raw value of the machine. Compared to my Dual G5, prices have dropped tremendously (as they generally do in computing). I ordered my machine on June 23, 2003, in this configuration:

  • Dual 2GHz PowerPC G5, 512MB DDR400 SDRAM
  • 160GB Serial ATA - 7200rpm
  • SuperDrive (DVD-R/CD-RW)
  • ATI Radeon 9800 Pro (256MB)
  • Keyboard, mouse, internal modem, and an “accessory kit”
  • For all of that, I wrote Apple a check for $3,299. Adjusting for inflation, that would be $3,638 in today’s money. So for $500 less, I have a machine with twice as many processors (and those processors are much faster), a larger and faster (SATA 2) hard drive, a much better video card, a faster SuperDrive, room for three more (instead of one more) internal drive and a second optical drive, Bluetooth, AirPort… and no modem. Clearly today’s Mac Pro contains a lot more technology for a lesser cost.

    Second, there’s the “two mints in one” value of the Mac Pro. It’s not just that that Mac Pro is an excellent OS X box. It’s also a very capable Windows XP machine. If I had a “real” job, this one machine could easily take the place of two—consider a graphic designer who has to use some corporate Windows XP-only application, for instance. So instead of having two huge boxes sitting on their desk, the designer would have just one, and use either Parallels Desktop or Boot Camp for when they needed access to Windows XP.

    So there you have it, my in-depth look at the Mac Pro. And now it’s time to actually finish my data migration, which I’d set aside to complete this report. I can’t wait to make the switch, and move the Mac Pro into its permanent spot on my production line. The Dual G5 will become some sort of home server, though I’m not quite sure in what regard just yet—perhaps that project will be the subject of a future report.

    [ Rob Griffiths is a senior editor at Macworld.]

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