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Hands-on with the new 8-core Mac Pro

It's been a long time coming, my friends.

Friday I replaced my August 2001 Quicksilver G4 867 PowerMac with a new Mac Pro, the stock configuration with twin 2.8 gigahertz quad-core Intel Xeons.

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I have on order from Other World Computing an additional 4 gigabytes of memory and two 500 GB Seagate Barracuda hard drives to populate two more of the Mac Pro's four drive bays. (Tip for those new to the Mac: never buy memory or hard drives from Apple. The company has always drastically overcharged for those commodities. Better to buy such things from a Mac-oriented vendor like OWC, which – impressively -- had the faster memory modules designed for the new Mac Pros on its Web site the same day the machines were announced.)

I also plan to install a copy of Windows XP Professional on one of the spare drives to use with Bootcamp and Parallels. I don't plan to use Windows often, but sometimes it is a necessary evil.

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Now, on to my impressions of the Mac Pro thus far:

Its speed lives up to any Apple bragging. I haven't been able to test many apps yet, but everything happens almost instantly. My Geekbench score was 7837, with the Quicksilver scoring 504 on the same test. I will test again when I get the additional memory modules; supposedly the Mac Pro prefers at least four of its eight RAM slots filled. There's also speculation on some Mac Web sites that an update to Mac OS X (10.5.2), expected during Macworld next week, will bring further speed improvements to the Mac Pro. I will post benchmark results on the blog as I implement upgrades.

The Mac Pro is as shockingly quiet as it is blazingly fast. When I say quiet, I mean you wouldn't know it's running if you didn't see the power light glowing on the front. The most noise it makes is when it's accessing the hard drive, and even that's barely audible.

It's far quieter than the Quicksilver, and don't get me started on Dual G5 wind tunnel I use at The Sun. Even though it sits under my desk, the G5's multiple fans make an ever-changing distracting racket. I can feel it blowing heat on my legs. I wonder if there's any money in The Sun's computer hardware budget ...

So far I like the slim aluminum keyboard, but I had already gotten used to the "chiclet" style keys on my MacBook. I prefer it, though it may not please everyone.

The Mighty Mouse is another story. I found myself accidentally activating Exposé about every 15 seconds until I went into the System Preferences and turned off the side buttons. Trying to use the right side for right-clicking went poorly as well; one needs to be very precise in applying the pressure to get the mouse to right or left click. So I set both front buttons to left-click and set the scroll ball for right-clicks. I'll give it a few weeks but could end up going back to the cheap Kensington mouse still attached to the Quicksilver.

One piece of Apple software that has not received the kudos it deserves is the Migration Assistant. I had never had the opportunity to use it before, and expected most of my basic files to be moved over, but was astounded when it transferred my entire user profile in every detail. When I rebooted, my desktop appeared exactly as it had on the Quicksilver, right down to the scattered files and folders and my choice of desktop background art.

Setting up the Quicksilver in FireWire Target Disk mode, the entire process took less than two hours, and that was with about 40 gigabytes of data to transfer. I can't imagine how difficult this task would have been on a Windows PC.

One slight concern was that the Migration Assistant also transferred all the system hacks that I had running on the Quicksilver, which runs Tiger as its primary operating system. However, I had no meltdowns. FruitMenu appears to have disabled itself. MenuMeters works fine. (I can't tell you how cool it is to see the eight CPUs tracked in the menu bar.)

I have not experienced the most widely reported problem with the new Mac Pros, the failure to wake from sleep or freeze up while waking from sleep. I have done it at least a half dozen times in the past two days without incident.

After 48 hours, I'm very pleased with this machine. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going back into "play" mode.

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