In addition to revamping its iMac and Mac mini desktops at the beginning of March, Apple also updated its highest-end, professional-level Mac Pros. Available, as before, in four- and eight-core configurations, the newest Mac Pros have a number of new technologies and design features, including Intel's latest Xeon CPUs.
For the most part, the upgrade has resulted in performance gains over the previous generation of Mac Pros, despite the fact that our baseline, £2,500 eight-core review unit has a significantly slower processor clock speed. The four-core Mac Pro starts at £1,900.
The design tweaks in the new systems also further distance them from even the most image-conscious Windows-based competitors. Heavy Photoshop users may wish for a faster CPU clock, but anyone engaged in professional digital-media production work or other tasks that take advantage of the Mac Pro's full system power will enjoy noticeable performance benefits on top of best-in-class design.
At least on the outside, the Mac Pro looks very similar to previous models. Your taste may vary, but we still find the sculpted brushed-aluminium chassis one of the most attractive desktop designs out there.
Apple has added few external features to the new Mac Pro. The only major difference is a pair of new video ports on the Nvidia GeForce GT 120 graphics card. Instead of a pair of standard DVI ports, as in the past, the new card now includes dual-link DVI and mini DisplayPort outputs. As before, you can add up to three more graphics cards to the Mac Pro for additional display support. Keep in mind that adding those cards will not get you increased 3D graphics performance via Nvidia's SLI or ATI's CrossFireX multi-GPU technologies.
The Mac Pro's interior is segmented into distinct zones for the various hardware components. The optical drives and power supply are concealed behind pull-out metal drawers, and, below, sits the familiar row of four removable hard-drive trays. Apple has preserved the cable-free hard-drive interface we came to love in the older Mac Pro in the new model. We've seen numerous Windows vendors imitate this design in the two years since its debut.
In addition, the expansion-card slots, CPUs and memory have also received improved design elements. Rather than relying on the various annoying retainer tabs common to PCI Express graphics slots on PC motherboards, Apple uses a single metal rod that spans across all four expansion slots to hold its cards in place. It's a simple solution to a problem you will only encounter when you add or remove an expansion card, but, given the price of the Mac Pro, we appreciate that the rod mechanism makes card upgrades that much easier.
As for the CPUs and memory, if you recall the older Mac Pro, you'll remember its memory attached to a unique removable tray that fitted into the motherboard like one large expansion card. Apple has taken that concept a step further in this new system, and now you can remove the entire CPU and memory portion of the motherboard via a simple tray design.