Benchmarks: 2.93GHz Xeon-based Mac Pros

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With its four hard drive bays, two optical drive bays and four PCI Express 2.0 card slots, the Mac Pro is Apple’s most configurable Mac, and the company offers a host of different upgrades and options. Macworld Lab tested a couple of different Mac Pro configure-to-order (CTO) systems and the results include our first Speedmark 5 score to top 400.

To refresh your memory, the latest Mac Pros come in two standard configurations. The $2,499 Mac Pro features a 2.66GHz Quad-Core Xeon processor based on Intel’s Nehalem architecture. It has a 640GB hard drive, 3GB of 1066MHz DDR3 SDRAM, and an Nvidia GeForce GT 120 graphics card with 512MB of DDR3 memory. The second standard configuration model is a $3,299 Eight-Core model that uses two Quad-Core Xeon processors running at 2.26GHz. It has twice the amount of SDRAM as the $2,499 Mac Pro, but uses the same Nvidia graphics card and same hard drive.

The CTO Mac Pros that we received for testing had 1TB hard drives (an option that will run you an extra $100) and ATI Radeon HD 4870 graphics cards with 512MB of GDDR5 graphics memory (a $200 upgrade). Both CTO models featured faster 2.93GHz Quad-Core Xeon processors-a $500 upgrade for the Quad-Core 2.66GHz model, and a $2,600 upgrade for the standard Eight-Core 2.26GHz model.

In our tests of these custom Mac Pros, we found that the CTO Quad-Core was about 8 percent faster in our Speedmark 5 overall system performance test suite than the standard 2.66GHz configuration. The 2.93GHz Quad-Core Mac Pro was 11 percent faster in Cinema 4D tests and about 7 percent faster in our ProRes to H.264 Compressor test. As seen in our recent gaming performance benchmarks, the ATI Radeon HD 4870 is a better performer than the Nvidia GeForce GT 120 graphics card in the standard configuration, with high resolution game tests showing the 2.93GHz Quad Core Mac Pro with its optional ATI card displaying more than twice the number of frames per second in our Quake 4 tests and nearly three times as many frames in our Call of Duty 4 tests.

CTO Nehalem Mac Pro benchmarks

Speedmark 5 Adobe
Photoshop CS3
Cinema 4D
XL 10.5
Finder Quake 4 Call of
Duty 4
Mathematica Compressor
OVERALL SCORE SUITE RENDER ZIP ARCHIVE 1600x1200 1920x1200 Mathematica-Mark 7 ProRez to H.264
Mac Pro 2.93GHz Eight-Core
402 0:32 0:10 3:05 92.7 69.8 20.6 6:57
Mac Pro 2.93GHz Quad-Core
377 0:33 0:16 3:13 91.3 69.9 11.0 8:59
Mac Pro 2.26GHz Eight-Core
343 0:36 0:13 3:55 41.1 24.1 16.8 8:14
Mac Pro 2.66GHz Quad-Core
348 0:35 0:18 3:27 41.6 24.3 10.1 9:38
Mac Pro 2.8GHz Eight-Core
(Harpertown, 3GB RAM)
319 0:39 0:16 3:47 21.5 16.9 9.7 9:02
Mac Pro 2.66GHz Quad-Core
(Woodcrest, 3GB RAM )
262 0:44 0:28 4:01 19.8 6.1 6.9 12:52
24-inch iMac Core 2 Duo/3.06GHz 308 0:39 0:41 3:24 73.2 42.2 4.1 28:32
>Better <Better <Better <Better >Better >Better >Better <Better

Best results in red. Reference systems in italics. * denotes configure-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, Compressor, and Finder scores are in minutes:seconds. Quake and Call of Duty scores are Frames per Second, and MathematicaMark 7 results are just numbers, the higher the better. All systems were running Mac OS X 10.5.6 with the new Eight-Core Mac Pros outfitted with 6GB of RAM, the rest of the Mac Pros have 3GB of memory, and the 24inch iMacs had 4GB. 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 Quake 4's timedemo run at 1600x1200 with Ultimate quality settings and 2X antialialsing enabled. For Call of Duty we ran a self recorded timedemo at 1920x1200 with Shadows on and 4X antilaliasing enabled. We ran Mathematica 7's built-in benchmark, MathematicaMark 7. We used Compressor to encode a 6minute:26second ProRes file to the application's h.264 foriPod/iPhone 640x480 preset with QMaster set to create a cluster comprised of the maximum number of instances per system.—MACWORLD LAB TESTING BY JAMES GALBRAITH, CHRIS HOLT AND HELEN WILLIAMSON

The Eight-Core 2.93GHz Mac Pro, which uses a pair of Quad-Core processors, was 17 percent faster than the standard 2.26GHz Eight-Core Mac Pro in our Speedmark tests, 16 percent faster in our ProRes Compressor test and 23 percent faster in Cinema 4D. Again, the custom system, with its speedy ATI Radeon HD 4870 graphics was considerably faster than the systems with standard GeForce GT120 graphics cards. Processor speeds weren’t much of a factor in our games test results. If you’re a hard-core 3-D gamer, the $200 upgrade to the ATI Radeon HD 4870 seems like a no-brainer, though the stock Nvidia GeForce GT 120 graphics card is certainly no slouch.

As we saw in our review of the standard configuration Mac Pro models, in many cases, it is better to have fewer but faster processors rather than more cores running slower. But in the few applications that can take full advantage of multiple core processors-like Compressor, Cinema 4D and Mathematica-the Quad-Core 2.93GHz was not as fast as the standard Eight-Core 2.26GHz Mac Pro.

We ran a few tests with more RAM, but as our tests are run one at a time, there wasn’t much of an impact. The Eight-Core 2.93GHz Mac Pro with 12GB of RAM scored a 407 in our Speedmark tests, just 5 points higher than the 402 score earned running the tests with 6GB.

Check back soon. We’ll test a few more configurations with internal RAIDs.

[James Galbraith is Macworld’s lab director.]

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