Professional designers, digital media hobbyists and those simply into great design: meet your new lust object. Apple's new Mac Pro (£1,699 for the base model) is a winner on multiple levels. From the outside, it looks great -- far more put together than any Windows-based box. Inside, it boasts powerful specs, including two dual-core Intel Xeon processors, for a total of four processing cores. And to top it off, it's a great value.
The only thing that's missing, if anything, is a practical reason for a casual user to justify the purchase; there's more computer here than you'll need for day-to-day tasks. Some users might miss the Apple Remote that made the Mac Mini and the iMac so accessible as Media Center PCs, and as always, Apple's high-end desktop is not intended for the gaming crowd.
Photoshop performance also lags behind that of comparable Windows-based PCs because Adobe still hasn't released an Intel-friendly version for Mac OS X. Those few issues shouldn't surprise anyone, however, and on balance, the Mac Pro more than makes up for them. If you need a fast computer for digital media creation, the Mac Pro should be your first stop.
No Windows-based PC can compare to the sheer economy and innovation involved in the design of the Apple Mac Pro. The exterior is largely unchanged from that of the Power Mac G5, maintaining the same 'cheese grater' appearance on the front and rear panels and the same brushed aluminium on the sides, the top and the bottom. Key differences on the Mac Pro's front panel include an added optical-drive slot, an extra USB 2.0 port and a FireWire 800 jack. The latter particularly benefits designers who move their work between machines via external hard drives, since the faster, easy-to-access FireWire 800 input can transmit data quicker than USB 2.0 or standard FireWire 400.
The back panel of the Mac Pro also has a different layout than that of the Power Mac G5, but the changes are more a function of the internal design, which is one of the most exciting things about this system. The Power Mac G5 impressed people with its clean interior. The Mac Pro's internals are better because they're not simply clean -- they introduce new ideas about how to best build a PC.
Our favourite feature of the Mac Pro is the hard drive design. Too often, we see hard drives that block expansion bays, are hard to remove or whose power and data cables dangle around the inside of a system like a cheap party banner. Instead, Apple has mounted the hard drives in a row directly under the optical drive cage and the power supply.
Each drive attaches to a numbered bracket (Apple calls them 'sleds') that slides into an outward-facing bay. The brackets lock into place when you lift the side-panel-removal tab on the rear of the Mac Pro, and the numbers on each bracket tell you what bay the attached drive belongs to. The number system prevents mixing up your boot drives with your data storage drives, but perhaps the best part of this design is that you don't have to deal with any cables: Apple has mounted all of the necessary connections directly in line with each hard drive bay and out of the way of the rest of the system.
The connections line up perfectly with the hard drives and their brackets, and drives require little-to-no force to remove and reinstall. The only caveat is that the drives aren't hot-swappable, meaning you can't take them out and put them back in when the Mac Pro is powered on. However, hot-swapping is more a feature of a server, and not something we'd expect from a high-end desktop or most workstations.
The Mac Pro also has a new mechanism for adding and removing system memory. Instead of requiring you to reach into the system and wade through overhanging cables to get to the memory slots, the Mac Pro has two removable circuit boards, each of which features four memory slots. These cards fit a little more snugly than the hard drive brackets, but they require only about as much pressure to reseat as a typical PC expansion card. This system eliminates the need to lay the Mac Pro down on its side to swap memory in and out, which is useful because you don't always have that much work space available, particularly with a system of this size.