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BRIEFING: Preliminary Performance Analysis of the "early 2009" Mac Pro

Posted March 3rd, 2009, by rob-ART morgan, mad scientist
Updated March 12th, 2009, with more info on the Radeon 4870.

We plan to test the 'early 2009' Mac Pro "Nehalem*" and post those results on this site. In the meantime, we have some comments about the performance you can expect from it compared to the previous generation. (* Named after the original tribe of Tillamook Indians by the same name and pronounced ne-HAY-lem -- rhymes with Salem.)

1. PAY NO ATTENTION TO THE CORE CLOCK SPEED
How can a 2.93GHz 8-core Mac Pro be faster than a 3.2GHz 8-core Mac Pro? One word: Architecture. The new "Nehalem" based Mac Pro is a leap forward in several ways.

Based on our extrapolations from Apple's published performance tests, the "early 2009" 2.26GHz 8-core will equal or beat the "early 2008" 3.2GHz 8-core on most benchmarks and the "early 2009" 2.66GHz 8-core will beat it on all benchmarks. In other words, you don't have to spend $6K+ on the 2.93GHz version to beat the fastest "early 2008" Mac Pro.

2. KUDOS TO APPLE FOR CHOOSING THE RADEON 4870 AS CTO
Our tests with the Radeon 4870 running under Windows Vista 64 showed it to be as much as 60% faster than the GeForce 8800 GT when running 3D accelerated games. Running 3DMark06, the fill rate was 132% faster and the particle shader was 86% faster.
And when we tested the retail Radeon 3870, it was superior to the GeForce 8800 GT when running GPU intensive Pro Apps like Motion and iMaginator.

Therefore, we are thrilled to see the Radeon 4870 offered as a CTO option on the "early 2009" Mac Pro. It would be even more thrilling if Apple also offered a 4870x2 version but we don't want to be greedy. On second thought, we are greedy.

Good news for owners of the "early 2008" Mac Pro, according to THIS PAGE on the Apple Store, the Radeon 4870 can be ordered in kit form for $349 (USD).

Since writing this article, we tested the Radeon HD 4870 in the first generation Clovertown Mac Pro and published those results. We booted with the same build of OS X 10.5.6 that ships with the Nehalem Mac Pros.

Originally Apple specified that this card required OS X 10.5.7, but that since has been changed to 10.5.6. However, you need the newest ATI drivers (Feb 4, 2009) instead of the Sep 19, 2009 version older Macs are likely to have -- if you can figure out how to properly install them -- just copying them into the System/Library/Extensions folder.

One other thing. All graphics cards for the 2009 Mac Pro come with one DVI port and one Mini DisplayPort. If you want to hook up a second display with standard DVI cable, you need the Mini DisplayPort to DVI or Mini DisplayPort to Dual-Link DVI adapter.

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copyright 2009 Rob Art Morgan
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