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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.

Thoughts on the design and speed

This is completely subjective, but I really love the styling of the Mac Pro, despite the R2D2 and trashcan jokes offered by friends. In fact, there wasn't a single soul who saw it in person who didn't immediately compare the Mac Pro to a trash bin.

It's heavier than it looks, but the anodized aluminum, polished to a shine, is impressive. Built around the aforementioned thermal core, the Mac Pro's components are arranged so that the heat they give off is pushed out the top via a single fan. You can feel the warm air nearly from the moment you turn it on.

Cable connections are made on the back side of the Mac Pro, and ports are illuminated by thin white LED tracks when the Mac Pro senses motion. (Image: Michael deAgonia)

In most cases, you can't hear the fan running. In fact, I only heard it once, and that was while running some old iLife software. The Mac Pro is one of the quietest computers I've ever used.

It's also the fastest, which brings me to this point: As fast as the Xeon processors are, the main draw of the Mac Pro is the dual GPU system. In concert with OpenCL and other supported APIs, applications can lean on the more powerful GPUs for general processing. The caveat? Applications need to be written to take advantage of those capabilities; it doesn't happen automatically. But software that's written to take advantage of the processing power of the GPUs yields amazing results.

Apple's Final Cut Pro X has been rewritten with GPU-processing in mind, and many of the video edits done with it happen in real-time. Many filters, actions like speeding up/slowing down video, titles, and video previews happen without waiting for a preview to render. This is a real time-saver for anyone who relies on this software.

There are already a few other apps that support GPU processing, including Motion, Compressor and Pixelmator. But at this point, that list of apps is limited.

Rendering some video

That's not to say that the Mac Pro isn't fast anyway. I ran the test I always do for reviews: Using iMovie '11, v9.0.9 — software that does not take full advantage of the hardware on any shipping Mac — I rendered my video project, resulting in a 55-minute h.264 m4v file with a 960-x-540-pixel resolution. The 2013 MacBook Pro rendered this movie in 62 minutes, 27 seconds; a 2013 iMac did it in almost 48 minutes. Even though iMove '11 only used a quarter-to-half of the processing power across half of the available cores at any given point, the Mac Pro still managed to produce the best score thus far, rendering the movie in 37 minutes and 28 seconds. (This was the only time I ever heard the Mac Pro fan; it sounded like someone whispering "shhhhh," not anything like the jet-engine whine of the old Mac Pro/Power Macs.)

 

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