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BARE FEATS - real world Mac speed tests

"BARE facts on Mac speed FEATS"
Rob-ART, Main Mad Scientist (aka Dr. Frankenstein)
Bet-TAY, Special Features Edtior (aka Frau Blucher)

Radeon HD 2600 XT
or GeForce 8800 GT?

Originally posted January 9th, 2008, by rob-ART morgan, mad scientist
Updated January 10th, 2008, with correction on compatibility with older Mac Pro
Updated January 10th, 2008, with more info on the Quadro's advantage
Updated January 14th with more on the power usage of the graphics cards
and info on PCIe slot usage."

One of the email queries most often received is, "What graphics card should I order with my Mac Pro?" The new "Early 2008" Mac Pros with "Penryn based Xeon" (Harpertown) processors offer three choices.

We think 99% of "Early 2008" Mac Pro buyers will be choosing between the Radeon HD 2600 XT and the GeForce 8800 GT. Even though we haven't tested either yet, we have some buying advice based on the data collected by Anandtech and the specs published by Apple, nVidia, and ATI.

Apple was kind enough to publish some of primitives. We got some of them from other sources.

Pixel Fill Rate:
Radeon HD 2600 XT = 11.8 billion/sec
GeForce 8800 GT = 33.6 billion/sec
Quadro FX 5600 = 19.2 billion/sec

Triangles Per Second
Radeon HD 2600 XT = 700 million
Geforce 8800 GT = 33.6 billion
Quadro FX 5600 = 28.0 billion

Memory Bandwidth
Radeon HD 2600 XT = 25.6 GB/sec
GeForce 8800 GT = 72.0 GB/sec
Quadro FX 5600 = 76.8 GB/sec


Up until recently, with the exception of high-end 3D apps like Maya, the GPU was not stressed by professional applications. Even though Photoshop CS3 is a "graphics" application, it does not use the GPU to render effects.

However, that is going to change. Apple has already shown with Motion and Aperture that certain graphics functions can be handed off to the GPU. For example, when we render a RAM preview with Motion, we see as much as a 100% load on the GPU (according to Hardware Monitor) and we get different render times with different graphics cards. So GPU does matter in some cases and the trend with pro apps is to use the GPU more and more.


COUGH UP THE $200 for the GeForce 8800 GT
The gains to be had by the GeForce 8800 GT is well worth the $200 premium you'll pay at the time of ordering your Mac Pro. Considering how much you pay for a new Mac Pro, the extra $200 for the optional GPU is trivial.

Note, however, if you order your Mac Pro with the GeForce 8800 GT (or Quadro FX 5600), it will take longer to ship. If you order it with the Radeon 2600 XT, it will take "3 to 5 days." (Since we plan to test both, we ordered our Mac Pro 3.2GHz with the stock Radeon and made a separate order for the GeForce 8800 GT kit -- MB137Z/A.)

Though the GeForce 8800 GT is available in kit form, it is *NOT* compatible with the older Mac Pro (August 2006, April 2007) as we first thought.
Turns out the aftermarket GeForce 8800 GT kit is for the "2008" Mac Pro ONLY. The ROM only has an EFI64 driver in its ROM. It could be made compatible with the older Mac Pros by putting both a 32-bit and 64-bit EFI driver in the GeForce 8800 GT's ROM -- assuming there's room for both. Otherwise, a special legacy version will have to be created by Apple or a third party.

If you still want to order the GeForce 8800 GT kit, go to the Apple Store USA and search on "MB137Z/A" to find it. The price is $349. If you are very unhappy about it not working on your "old" Mac Pro, then sign our petition asking Apple to create a version that will. We also suggest you give feedback to the Mac Pro management at Apple.

By the way, the Radeon HD 2600 XT kit will work on the older Mac Pros as well as the new one (thanks to having both a 32-bit and 64-bit EFI driver in the ROM). Search on "MB198Z/A" when you visit Apple Store USA ($149).

FLASH: On January 19th, we tried the Radeon X1900 XT in the "2008" Mac Pro on a tip from a reader. It works just fine. The Radeon X1900 XT kit is still available. It works on all models of Mac Pro and goes for $399 (eek!). Search on "MA631Z/B" at the Apple Store USA. (One user reported that the Radeon X1900 XT did NOT work in his 2008 Mac Pro 2.8GHz. We didn't do anything special to get it to work in our 2008 Mac Pro 3.2GHz or our friend's 2.8GHz. However, we do recall running the firmware update on the card back in October 2007 when it was installed in our "Apr 2007" 8-core Mac Pro.)

We think most of you should pass on the Quadro FX 5600 option. Though it costs 14 times as much as the GeForce 8800 GT, it is not 14 times faster.

However, the Quadro FX 5600 does feature more video memory (1.5GB vs 512MB). And, according to one Maya guru, the extra memory (and superior memory management code) of the Quadro workstation cards becomes useful for frame buffering in Maya. This is especially true for redraw of multiple views of the same complex 3D model.

This has been enhanced further by Quadro FX 5600's new integrated memory allocation which allows the card to dynamically allocate on-board RAM to whatever task is at hand rather than have specific hard wired allocations. So rather than say a maximum of 40% of total on-board RAM dedicated to the texture buffer the card can ramp up and down from 80% sharing with the immediate needs of the other buffers.

And it does have a stereo 3D port which I've seen used in one scientific visualization lab for demonstrations with software that generates an animation that requires special 3D glasses to view.

If you are a heavy Maya user or often view your screen with 3D glasses, the cost might be justified. Might. But I still say the cost is not justified for 99% of consumers.

ONE GeForce 8800 GT vs FOUR Radeon HD 2600 XTs? (Corrected)
Notice that Apple will only let you configure-to-order ONE of the GeForce 8800 GTs while they will let you configure-to-order up to FOUR of the Radeon HD 2600 XTs. Why?

We first thought it had to do a difference in power requirements. Our initial posting of max power usage (based on an outside source) was in error. Apple has published the maximum power usage of each "2008" Mac Pro card:
ATI Radeon 2600 XT = 50 watts
NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GT = 110 watts
NVIDIA Quadro FX 5600 = 175 watts

Though the difference is significant in power requirements, it's not enough to preclude installing two GeForce 8800 GTs in a "2008" Mac Pro 8-core. However, you must
1) order the second one as a kit (MB137Z/A),
2) place the two GeForce 800 GTs in slots one and two, and
3) since those two cars total 220 watts, if there's room to add an PCIe cards in slots 3 or 4, make sure they use only 80 additional watts (so as not to exceed the 300 watts limit for the PCIe bus).

For more info on the PCIe 2.0 bus of the "2008" Mac Pro, read Apple's documentation on "PCI Product-Specific Details."

Bare Feats' CPU crunch tests on the 3.2GHz Harpertown Mac Pro versus others.

Bare Feats tests the Radeon HD 2600 XT on the 3.2GHz Harpertown Mac Pro versus other GPUs on other Macs.

Bare Feats' memory speed and heat tests on the 3.2GHz Harpertown Mac Pro versus others. (Plus 800MHz vs 667MHz FB-DIMMs in the 2008 Mac Pro.)

Bare Feats' power usage and noise level testing on the 3.2GHz Harpertown Mac Pro vs the 3.0GHz Clovertown Mac Pro.

Apple has posted some 2008 Mac Pro benchmarks.

See Apple's technical briefing on Mac Pro memory expansion.

Apple Online Store

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NEED 667MHz or 800MHz memory for your new Mac Pro? Apple charges and arm and a leg. We suggested ordering it with minimal memory and getting 8GB or 16GB of matched modules from ....

Other World Computing

Trans International

MaxUpgrades makes max_flow, a kit to keep your Mac Pro memory running even cooler. They also sell memory for the Mac Pro.

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2008 Rob Art Morgan
"BARE facts on Macintosh speed FEATS"
Email , the webmaster