Macintosh buying guide 2010

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Apple’s top-performing workstation was updated last August. The Mac Pro line expanded from two to three standard-configuration models. The entry-level Mac Pro features a quad-core processor, while the top configuration has 12 processing cores. In between is a Mac Pro model with eight processing cores.

The Mac Pros also have a new graphics card: all the standard configuration models feature a 1TB ATI Radeon HD 5770.

Configurations: The first Mac Pro has a quad-core 2.8GHz Xeon Nehalem processor, 3GB of RAM, and a 1TB hard drive. It costs $2499. (Get best current price.)

The second Mac Pro has two quad-core 2.4GHz Xeon Nehalem processors, 6GB of RAM, and a 1TB hard drive for $3499 (Get best current price.)

The third Mac Pro has two six-core 2.66GHz Xeon Westmere processors, 6GB of RAM, and a 1TB hard drive for $4999.

The Mac Pro has a ton of build-to-order options. You can add more RAM--up to the 16GB limit for each Mac Pro. Apple fills only one of the four hard-drive bays with the standard configurations, but gives you the option to add more drives or flash-storage drives, and even configure them as a RAID. You can also add a second SuperDrive or upgrade the graphics card. A complete list of options is available on the Mac Pro tech specs Web page.

Performance: The Mac Pros are fast—they more than doubled the Speedmark 6.5 score of a 2.4GHz Mac mini. To get the most performance out of a Mac Pro, it helps to use software that can take full advantage of the multiple processing cores.

In our benchmark tests, the eight-core Mac Pro showed an overall marginal improvement on the quad-core Mac Pro. The eight-core showed larger gains on the quad-core in programs that are designed for multiple cores. The 12-core Mac Pro is one of the fastest Macs we’ve ever tested.

Macworld’s buying advice: The Mac Pro is ideal for the most demanding user, one who needs processing powerand hardware expandability. Yes, they are expensive machines, but they are well worth it for professionals, and they’ll still be very usable four or five years from now. If you don’t need expandability but still need speed, consider a 27-inch 2.8GHz Core i5 iMac.

Senior Contributor Rob Griffiths is a very demanding user. The Mac Pro is fast, has room to grow, and can drive more than two displays. Here’s why he is a Mac Pro addict.

Read our complete review of the quad-core and eight-core Mac Pros

Read our complete review of the 12-core Mac Pro

[Roman Loyola is a Macworld senior editor.]

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