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Apple's Nehalem-based Mac Pro 'fastest Mac ever'

Dan Turner | April 6, 2009
The release of Mac OS X 10.6 this summer should boost speeds even more

As a longtime Mac user, I can tell you that even with the "base" quad-core model, the sum total of the parts works, and works well. Boot times are on the order of "glance out the window" quick, and I've yet to see a spinning beach ball -- though I haven't had time to put this Mac Pro through months of production-line work and application installs -- the kind of general cruft build-up that can affect any computer.

I'm not a fan of a lot of the interface tweaks in Mac OS X 10.5, but overall, Apple has done a great job of further refining the OS so that it's a great companion to the powerful hardware. And if for some reason you want or need to run Windows, the Mac Pro, like all Intel-based Macs, can use Boot Camp or maturing consumer virtualization software such as Parallels Desktop or VMware Fusion.

The metal cheese-grater look remains

The Mac Pro hasn't had a significant exterior overhaul for a while -- the new model's "cheese grater" case looks almost indistinguishable from the Power Mac G5 that usually sits under my desk. A few changes to the available ports are the most obvious differences: On the front there are two USB ports versus one, two FireWire 800 versus one FireWire 400 and an extra slot for a second optical drive. Out back, there are three rather than two USB ports, two FireWire 800 -- mine has one FireWire 400 and one FireWire 800 -- and a second gigabit Ethernet port. That's about all that separates them visually.

The internal hardware is arrayed in a similar way, though there was little to complain about in the first place. The Power Macs had an incredibly minimalist interior design, with most components cleanly arrayed with plenty of space around for airflow and fingers. The Mac Pro keeps the easy-access Serial ATA hard drive trays, allowing quick, cable-free configuration of up to four drives. (Apple also offers a $700 RAID card that allows you to set up a more secure, faster internal storage array.) Making things even easier is a new slide-out tray for the RAM and processors.

Since the Mac Pro is the only user-expandable Mac, you'd expect the options here to be good. They are, with four PCI Express 2.0 slots, two of which are x16 (one populated by the video card by default) and two x4. There may be more expandable monsters out there, but the Mac Pro offers a good trade-off between design and versatility.

As for the included low-profile keyboard, which follows the design lead of Apple's laptops, and the Apple Mighty Mouse, neither would be my first choice. Not having some sort of adjustable tilt for the keyboard will require many people to muss up their design-conscious desk with a magazine or something else as a prop. And the mouse is just a mess: The shape doesn't feel ergonomic, and it's way too easy to hit the wrong button (and tricky to hit the right one). But many Mac users are no doubt fine with the keyboard and mouse; it's a highly personal decision.

 

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