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BARE FEATS LAB - real world Mac speed tests

eXtreme gaming on the
Nehalem Mac Pro

Posted Tuesday, Aprl 1st, 2009, by rob-ART morgan, mad scientist

We decided to stress the graphics cards on the Nehalem Mac Pro 2.93GHz to the maximum. We don't think too many people play games at 2560x1600 with 4X anti-aliasing and all other settings either maxed out or high. But we think it reveals the strengths and weaknesses of the four graphics cards compatible with the 'early 2009' Mac Pro.

X-Plane was run with 4x Anisotropy and 2X Multi-sampling. We used "Save Replay" function to create a timedemo movie of a the X-15 being dropped from a bomber and diving toward the ground.

Enemy Territory: Quake Wars (1.5) was run with 8x Anisotropy and 4X Multi-sampling. You must use the console command 'r_multiSamples 4,' quit, relaunch. We used "High Quality" preset and the timedemo we created called "bf."

Call of Duty 4 (1.7.1) was run with 8x Anisotropy and 4X Multi-sampling. We used the default settings with Textures set to Trilinear and High. The timedemo file is called "mac_pipeline" but runs under Windows as well.

Halo UB 2.0.3 timedemo was run with 4X Multi-sampling and all other settings maxed out.

World of Warcraft (3.09) was run with 4X Multi-sampling and all other settings maxed out. We used our Narache Village run, a GPU stressing test developed in consultation with Blizzard Mac programming.

OpenGL Extensions Viewer (3.12) benchmark was set to Standard Framebuffer, 4X Multi-sampling, 8X Anisotropy, Use Fog and Transparency. The graph shows the results for OpenGL 2.1.

293 = 2.93GHz Nehalem 8-core Mac Pro with 12G of RAM (6x2G)
8800 = OEM GeForce 8800 GT (CTO option for 2008; available in kit)
3870 = Retail Radeon HD 3870 "Mac and PC Edition"
4870 = OEM Radeon HD 4870 (CTO option on 2009; available in kit)
120GT = OEM GeForce 120 GT (standard option 2009; available in kit)

1. The Radeon HD 4870 is a welcome CTO option for the 'early 2009' Nehalem Mac Pro. And we're glad to see that it is sold in kit form. You will need the February 2009 ATI drivers but those should be available to all users in the next Apple system update. (Though Apple only officially supports it in the 2009 and 2008 Mac Pro, we have confirmed it runs in the 2007 and 2006 models.)

2. Different cards are optimized for different games -- or vice versa. You can't take one game and make it the proxy for overall game performance. For example, the 4870 blows away all the others in the X-Plane test but the 8800 is nipping at its heels in the Halo and WoW tests. I imagine it's next to impossible for game developers to optimize their game for all brands and all models of GPU.

3. The Geforce 8800 GT is technically compatible with the 2009 Mac Pro but it required a beta copy of the next driver release to match the speeds we got on the 2008 Mac Pro. Hopefully Apple will include the version we used in their next system update. If you have an 8800 GT you plan to migrate to your 2009 Mac Pro, don't panic if it doesn't perform to it's full potential. Help is on the way.

4. We were going to include the Quadro FX 5600 in the shootout but decided not to because it was no faster than the GeForce 8800 GT in all but one instance and we were getting kernel panics with WoW and ET:QW. Besides, who uses a $3000 GPU for gaming -- besides me?

5. You don't need 8 cores for extreme gaming. The dual core 2009 iMac 3.06 with the GeForce 130GT beats the GeForce 120 GT and Radeon HD 3870 equipped 8-core Mac Pro 2.93. Also, just before posting this, we restested the Radeon HD 4870 in a 4-core Mac Pro 2.93. It came within one or two FPS of the 8-core in each game.

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copyright 2009 Rob Art Morgan
"BARE facts on Macintosh speed FEATS"