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Hands on: Apple's Mac Pro is the fastest Mac ever

Michael deAgonia | March 6, 2014
One thing is certain: You won't mistake Apple's powerful new Mac Pro for any other desktop computer. And it has the computing chops to match its high-style look.

The entry-level machine starts with 12GB of 1866HMz DDR3 ECC memory, but $400 more will get you 32GB of RAM — and for $1,200 you can bump the total RAM to 64GB.

The Mac Pro comes in a box that's almost as stylish as the computer. (Image: Michael deAgonia)

High-power graphics

The Mac Pro also comes with two AMD FirePro D300 GPUs, each with 2GB of GDDR5 VRAM and 1280 stream processors on a 256-bit-wide memory bus that features 160GBps of memory bandwidth. The GPUs can take advantage of technologies built into OS X — and third-party apps that take advantage of these technologies — to quickly process data in concert with the CPU through an x16 PCI Express gen 3 connection. (One of the main design decisions Apple engineers focused on when building the Mac Pro was to make sure that bottlenecks weren't an issue; the GPUs would be bottlenecked without that high-speed PCI connection.)

The entry-level card boasts performance that tops out at 2 teraflops. There are, of course, options for better graphics cards. An extra $400 gets you dual AMD FirePro D500 series cards, which feature 3GB of GDDR5 VRAM and 1526 stream processors per card on a 384-bit memory bus with 240GBps memory bandwidth. And for $1,000, you can get dual AMD FirePro D700 cards, each with 6GB of GDDR VRAM, 2048 stream processors, 384-bit memory bus and 264GBps of memory bandwidth. The upgrades max out their performance at 2.2 teraflops and 3.5 teraflops, respectively.

All Mac Pros come with four USB 3.0 connections, six Thunderbolt 2 connections (on three independent controllers, with support for up to six connected devices per port, or 36 devices total); dual gigabit Ethernet; and HDMI 1.4 UltraHD for video and multichannel audio out. The connections are located on the back of the cylinder, and are illuminated by thin white LED tracks when the Mac Pro senses motion via the built-in accelerometer.

The diminuitive Mac Pro is just under 10 in. high and 6.6 in. wide. (Image Michael deAgonia)

Every Mac Pro supports up to three 4K displays and six Thunderbolt-capable displays. (If you're thinking of using it with a 4K monitor, do your research first: Some of these bleeding-edge displays might not work well.) Also included: 802.11ac for wireless networking and Bluetooth 4.0. You'll also find optical/digital audio out/analog audio out via the minijack connection. But there's no SDXDC card slot, even though that's found on every other Mac that Apple sells.

Storage for the Mac Pro starts at 256GB, which may not seem like much, but it's at least PCIe flash-based, meaning it's fast. BlackMagic Disk Speed Tests recorded 978.6 MBps write speeds and 963.1 MBps read speeds on the Mac Pro. That's nearly a terabyte of read/write speeds per second! Fast as it is, 256GB may not be enough storage for many users; Apple offers a 512GB upgrade option for $400 and up to 1TB of storage for $800. As you can see, upgrades can add up quickly.

 

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