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YEAR IN REVIEW:
Best Performing Mac Products
for 2006

Originally posted December 22nd, 2006, by rob-ART morgan, mad scientist

BEST PERFORMING SYSTEMS

The Mac Pro with four Xeon processors running at 3GHz each, 4MB of shared L2 cache, and 1.33GHz 64-bit frontside bus -- It is the fastest Mac ever and one of the easiest to upgrade. It has removable trays for up to four drives plus two optical bays. We recommend configuring the optional Radeon X1900 XT graphics card. With eight memory slots, it's equipped to handle up to 16GB of fully-buffered memory which will be even more useful when OS X Leopard is released.

MacBook Pro Core 2 Duo 2.33GHz 17" laptop with Mobility Radeon X1600 (256MB) -- It's an excellent compromise between performance and portability (1" thick, 6.8 lbs). There are faster, thicker, heavier laptops (AlienWare Aurora and Area-51 series), but you won't find anything "slicker."

24" iMac Core 2 Duo with optional GeForce 7600 GPU -- If you are on a limited budget or have limited desk space, this is a hot setup. As a gaming machine, you would have to buy a Mac Pro with the optional Radeon X1900 XT to beat it. I only wish it came in Black plastic or Silver aluminum.


BEST PERFORMANCE UPGRADES AND ACCESSORIES

ATI Radeon X1900 G5 Mac Edition (Dual-Core G5 Power Macs) -- If you own the "last" G5 Power Mac (dual-core or quad-core with PCIe slots), ATI doesn't want you to be orphaned when it comes to graphics card upgrades. They created a special version of the X1900 just for you. It's especially helpful since Apple (ahem!) doesn't offer an aftermarket kit for the GeForce 7800 GT!

MaxConnect Optical Bay Kit for Mac Pro -- This kit enables you to install up to eight drives inside your Mac Pro. That way you can have a RAID set for booting and another RAID set for video/audio capture/playback. Moo ha ha...

Nikon D80 digital SLR camera -- This is a bargain for a 10 megapixel SLR camera that accepts lenses from our "old" D70S. Though I get to play with the newest, fastest Macs, Bet-TAY has dibbs on the newest, fastest Nikon. But I'm very happy with "hand-me-down" D70S since it uses CompactFlash cards instead of Secure Digital "wafers." (See the next product as for why that's better.)

SanDisk Extreme FireWire 800 Reader -- As indicated above, I "inherited" the Nikon D70S. But the really cool part is that when I use the SanDisk Extreme IV CF cards, I can read the photos into my Mac using the Extreme FireWire 800 reader from SanDisk. This is the fastest card reader and the fastest CF card combination known to man. It blows away those USB 2.0 readers used for reading SD cards. (Shhh. Don't tell Bet-TAY.)

LaCie Little Big Disk -- This is a unique FireWire 800 bus powered HW RAID 0 pair that uses two 7200rpm 100GB notebook drives and makes a great auxillary storage unit for your PowerBook or MacBook Pro.

Maxtor MaXLine Pro 500 3G SATA Hard Drive -- We voted this the best all-around performing 7200rpm SATA 3G drive for the Mac Pro and G5 Power Mac. We use it for our primary boot drive on our Mac Pro and Quad-Core G5. We have to mention the 750GB Seagate Barracuda 7200.10 since it sets new standards in capacity and sustained transfer rates. But its poor small random file transfer speeds keep it from being the best all-around.

Western Digital Raptor 10K 150GB -- This drive deserves mention as an alternate boot drive. It's faster than the MaXLine but has less than one third of the capacity -- although two of them would make a great bootable RAID 0 pair.

Patriot Xporter flash drive -- This 200X "jump" drive is the fastest one we've tested; nice rubber casing

BEST PERFORMANCE TECHNOLOGIES

Multi-Threaded OpenGL -- Your graphics card is often "loafing" while the CPUs are "huffing and puffing." Multi-threaded OpenGL puts the GPU to work doing more than one task. "Coffee break" is over! This technology has been implemented in both Doom 3 and World of Warcraft.

Serial ATA Port Multiplication -- With 300MB/s theoretical bandwidth per data channel, it's wasted if you are just connecting one drive (which typically tops out at 65-70MB/s). Port Multiplication (PM) allows you to put multiple drives on each port/data channel. However, we've found that the practical limit to use up the bandwidth is four drives since the actual transfer max per channel is about 225MB/s.

Have you noticed all the five bay PM enclosures that connect five drives to one SATA port/channel? You may not go any faster than four drives but you won't see a radical drop in transfer speed normally experienced when a storage volume is filled near capacity. (NOTE: you won't see 225MB/s if you connect a five bay enclosure to your MacBook Pro's ExpressCard. The chipset currently used by all SATA ExpressCards limits your transfer speed to around half that or about 120MB/s.)

Direct connect SATA -- FirmTek started this trend with their SATA enclosures where the drive plugs directly into the backplane with no extra cables between the backplane and the external port. Apple picked up the concept and applied it to their Mac Pro. The idea is to eliminate potential signal loss or interference.

Variable GPU clocking -- Apple cleverly uses variable core clock and memory clock speeds on the Mobility Radeon X1600 GPU inside the MacBook Pro. This keeps the temperatures down when you are using applications that don't demand graphics processing. Launch Doom 3 or Quake 4 and your X1600's core clock speed jumps from 311MHz to 423MHz or 472MHz, depending on whether you have the 15" or 17" model. Quit the application and it drops back to 311MHz.

"Partnership" caching -- We reported on this when OS X Tiger was first released. We set Photoshop CS2's memory cache to 100MB, then opened and rotated a 300MB file. Using Activity Monitor, we confirmed that over 7GB of RAM was in use though Photoshop CS2 was the only app running. Adobe confirmed that the OS X is "asked" to use available memory for caching when Photoshop runs out of its "supply."

ORDER YOUR MAC PRO (or Quad-Core G5)
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WHERE TO ORDER YOUR MAC PRO MEMORY
You can order extra Mac Pro memory from
Apple USA when you custom order your Mac Pro, though it might delay delivery. Plus, we think Apple charges too much for their memory upgrades.

We recommend getting your memory upgrades from third party vendors. In our initial Mac Pro testing, we used kits provided by Other World Computing. They are a good source for quality memory at a reasonable price. Plus OWC has a "Trade In Your Factory Memory" REBATE program.

TransIntl.com is shipping Mac Pro memory with Apple suggested heat sink specs. They took great care to engineer their heat sinks for maximum thermal efficiency using 6 fins on each side (versus 4 on the Apple factory modules) and special aluminum alloy. We tested these and can vouch that their heat sinks are truly efficient in absorbing and dissipating heat.

MaxUpgrades offers their unique "MacSink" design for a heat sink (using 2 clips instead of 4) which results in more fin area exposed to the airflow. We've tested them and they are very effective. MaxUpgrades will sell you the memory with the heat sink or just the heat sink. Their prices are very competitive, too.

MAC PRO GRAPHICS CARD OPTIONS
The GeForce 7300 GT (16X, 256MB, dual-link DVI + single-link DVI port) is standard. However, we recommend the Radeon X1900 XT (16X, 512MB, two dual-link DVI ports) as a CTO option. It's much faster than the GeForce 7300 GT and just a hair slower than the expensive Quadro FX 4500. To custom order your Mac Pro with the Radeon X1900 XT, go to the Apple Store and click on the Mac Pro graphic.

You can order the Radeon X1900 XT as an aftermarket kit. Visit the Apple Store and click on DISPLAYS in the left margin or do a search on "X1900." If you have a dual-core G5 Power Mac (PCIe slots), then you can get the Radeon X1900 G5 Edition from ATI Direct as well as from OWC (seach for "Radeon") and Small Dog.

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2005-2006 Rob Art Morgan
"BARE facts on Macintosh speed FEATS"
Email , the webmaster and mad scientist