From the Lab: The Fastest Mac Ever

We’ve published our review of the standard configuration of Apple’s recently revised Mac Pro line, but that’s not the final chapter in the Mac Pro story.

In addition to the eight-core, 2.8GHz model we reviewed, Apple offers three other build-to-order configurations. We’ve already tested the 3GHz, eight-core Mac Pro and the 2.8GHz, four-core system, and we finally received the last piece of the Mac Pro puzzle—an eight-core 3.2GHz model. As you might expect, this machine, powered by a pair of 3.2GHz 4-core Xeon processors, is the fastest Mac we’ve tested yet.

As I mentioned in the last set of Mac Pro benchmarks, our first 3.2GHz Mac Pro model (purchased from Apple’s online store for $4,399) showed up DOA. A call to tech support and the Apple Store here in San Francisco quickly netted us an RMA number and printable Fed Ex airbill to exchange the system. Receiving a non-functioning product is never fun, but this exchange process was rather painless.

This 3.2GHz Mac Pro system has the same 320GB 7,200-rpm SATA hard drive, 2GB of 800MHz DDR2 fully-buffered ECC memory, and ATI Radeon HD 2600XT graphics card you’ll find in Apple’s recommended 2.8GHz 8-core system (which costs $2,799).

Here’s how the 3.2GHz Mac Pro compares to some of the other models released by Apple last month; our results also include an older eight-core 3GHz Mac Pro and a four-core Power Mac G5. (To compare those figures to other systems, here’s our chart of other Speedmark 5 scores.)

3.2GHz Mac Pro Benchmarks

Speed- mark 5 Adobe PS CS3 Cinema 4D XL 10.5 Comp. 3 iMovie HD iTunes 7.5 Unreal Tourney 2004 Quake 4 Finder H’Brake Pro App Multi 2GB RAM Pro App Multi 4GB RAM
OVERALL SCORE SUITE RENDER MPEG2 ENCODE AGED EFFECT MP3 ENCODE FRAME RATE FRAME RATE ZIP ARCHIVE H.264 ENCODE SUITE SUITE
Mac Pro Xeon/3.2GHz (8 cores)* 342 0:39 0:13 0:51 0:28 0:42 111.7 33.7 3:34 0:56 1:02 0:59
Mac Pro Xeon/3GHz (8 cores)* 327 0:40 0:15 0:52 0:30 0:44 106.4 32.9 3:43 1:02 1:06 1:03
Mac Pro Xeon/2.8GHz (8 cores) 314 0:49 0:16 0:46 0:30 0:47 100.8 33.3 3:51 0:54 1:17 1:11
Mac Pro Xeon/3GHz (8 cores)(2007)* 317 0:44 0:15 1:02 0:34 0:51 95.4 51.4 3:41 0:57 1:20 1:12
Power Mac G5/2.5GHz (4 cores) 225 1:12 0:32 1:28 0:37 0:48 32.6 37.7 4:47 2:25 2:28 2:23
>Better <Better <Better <Better <Better <Better >Better >Better <Better <Better <Better <Better

Best results in red. Reference systems in italics. * denotes build-to-order configuration.

Speedmark 5 scores are relative to those of a 1.5GHz Core Solo Mac mini, which is assigned a score of 100. Adobe Photoshop, Cinema 4D XL, iMovie, iTunes, and Finder scores are in minutes:seconds. All systems were running Mac OS X 10.5.1 with 2GB of RAM. The Photoshop Suite test is a set of 14 scripted tasks using a 50MB file. Photoshop’s memory was set to 70 percent and History was set to Minimum. We recorded how long it took to render a scene in Cinema 4D XL. We used Compressor to encode a 6 minute, 26 second DV file using the DVD: Fastest Encode 120 minutes - 4:3 setting. In iMovie, we applied the Aged Film effect from the Video FX. menu to a one minute movie. We converted 45 minutes of AAC audio files to MP3 using iTunes’ High Quality setting. We used Unreal Tournament 2004’s Antalus Botmatch average-frames-per-second score; we tested at a resolution of 1,024 by 768 pixels at the Maximum setting with both audio and graphics enabled. We created a Zip archive in the Finder from a 2GB folder. For the Professional Application Multitasking suite, we recorded how long it took Photoshop to run our standard test suite while a longer Cinema 4D task and our Compressor encode test ran in the background.—MACWORLD LAB TESTING BY JAMES GALBRAITH, JERRY JUNG, AND BRIAN CHEN.

In our tests, we found the new 3.2GHz Mac Pro to be nearly 9 percent faster than the stock, 2.8GHZ 8-core Mac Pro, and 4.6 percent faster than the build—to-order 3GHz system in Speedmark, our overall performance benchmark. The 3.2GHz model was 16 percent and 13 percent faster than those two systems in our Cinema 4D render test—currently the best, pure processing test we have.

Other results show the 3.2GHz system to be faster than those systems in just about every application, including 3-D game frame rate tests and Finder tasks. The exceptions: a couple of tests (HandBrake and Compressor) where the 2.8GHz model inexplicably took first prize.

In comparing the new top-of-the-line build-to-order Mac Pro with last year’s fastest available model, a 3GHz, eight-core system, we find the new 3.2 GHz model to be 8 percent faster at Speedmark, 9 percent faster in our Photoshop test suite, and 13 percent faster at Cinema 4D.

The one test where the older 3GHz machine bested the newer model was in the Quake average frame rate tests—in fact, even the Power Mac G5 turned in a better score on this test than the new Mac Pros. Their lower scores could be due to a lack of graphics driver optimization, but the ATI Radeon HD 2600XT does represent the low end of the graphics cards offered for these new Mac Pros. We’ve seen improvement in the past after subsequent OS X updates. We’ll be sure to retest these systems again when the next updates arrive.

We still plan to publish results on some of the other options, such as SAS drives, the Apple RAID card, and the two optional graphics cards as soon as we get our hands on them.

[James Galbraith is Macworld Lab director.]

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