We have a minor niggle with the removable memory trays, in that they make the problem of installing the memory in the correct order a little more complicated. Put your sticks in the wrong slots, and you'll throttle your memory bandwidth. The Mac Pro's side panel has a diagram that attempts to explain the proper order to use, but the instructions could be a little more intuitive. We'd also wager that it won't occur to many users to realise that the order makes a difference.
For further expansion, the Mac Pro comes with four x16 PCI Express slots. The advantage here is that the x16 slots can accommodate all types of PCI Express cards -- x16, x4 and x1. This doesn't mean that you can double up on 3D graphics power the way Nvidia's SLI and ATI's CrossFire technologies allow on high-end gaming boxes, but what you can do is install four graphics cards and output to up to eight different displays. That capability could be of benefit to designers, desktop publishers, people in the finance industry and anyone else who wants more screen space than a single display affords.
The optical drive cage is a removable box in the upper-left corner of the system into which you can fit up to two optical drives. Unlike with the hard drives, you still need to wrangle with cables, but with the cage in place they're kept away from the rest of the system.
As for the CPUs, Apple has mounted a metal casing over them that's not easy to remove. This doesn't invite making your own processor upgrades, but the team at PowerMax showed that the processor casing can be removed, proving that DIY CPU upgrades are a possibility.
Like Apple's Power Macs before it, the Mac Pro is clearly aimed at professionals. Its default £1,699 configuration that we tested features some average components, including a single 250GB hard drive, a lone SuperDrive 16x DVD burner, and a budget-level 256MB GeForce 7300 GT graphics card. Where it'll start impressing you is with its two 2.66GHz Intel Xeon processors and 1GB of high-end system memory by way of two 512MB 667MHz DDR2 ECC SDRAM modules. ECC, or error-correcting code, is a feature of server-class memory designed to ensure stability. It makes plenty of sense to include ECC memory in a professional-level desktop, but it's overkill for everyday use or even for gamers.
Like the Power Mac G5 Quad it replaces, the Mac Pro comes with two dual-core CPUs, effectively giving it four independent processing threads. You can see the benefits of four threads in our performance section. What matters more in our features discussion is the type of chips it uses. The server-class Xeon chips are based on Intel's new Core architecture, the same design behind Intel's category-leading Core 2 Duo desktop chips. These new Xeons incorporate all of the power-efficiency and performance-enhancing capabilities of their desktop counterparts. That means that not only is the Mac Pro fast, it's also efficient. Yes, it has a massive heat sink, but it also has but four system fans; the PowerPC G5 Quad had nine.
Apple made a big deal about the Mac Pro's value proposition when the system was introduced at the company's Worldwide Developers Conference in early August. A slide at the show compared the baseline Mac Pro to a Dell Precision 690 workstation with a similar configuration, and the price difference was more than $1,000 (£528) in Apple's favour. We did the same comparison on our own and saw a $1,340 (£704) difference, so we wonder if Apple was being generous. The customisation options between the two vary, though. Dell has more hard drive configuration options, including 10,000rpm drives, which Apple still doesn't offer (the company said that its customers want capacity more than speed). For professionals with the luxury to choose, it's hard to make a blanket statement about which is the superior platform for value and flexibility, because the configuration options and specific professional needs vary widely. But starting from the baseline specs, at least, it appears that the Mac Pro's initial offer is a much better deal.
If you're thinking of using the Mac Pro for pleasure as well as work, you should consider a couple of things. We probably don't need to underline the fact that Macs aren't good for gaming, but what we find interesting is that Apple hasn't made the Mac Pro as Media Center-friendly as the Mac Mini and the iMac. There's no Bluetooth or AirPort wireless networking built in, although you can add them for £50. Nor is there an option at all for the Apple Remote to run Apple's Front Row software. We don't expect that the lack of a remote will trouble professional users, but the Power Macs had a history of crossing over into consumer-level territory, and the omission of a remote from the Mac Pro (admittedly, not as intuitive a platform for the remote) seems to isolate it further from the casual buyer.