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Hard drive is new Mac Pro's weakest link

The Baltimore Sun

With an extra 4 gigabytes of memory and two 500-gigabyte Seagate Barracuda hard drives installed in my new Mac Pro, I fired up the benchmark programs to see if the upgrades boosted performance.

First I ran GeekBench. I saw very little difference in the scores but for one of the memory tests, "Stdlib Write." It appears having 4 sticks of memory installed does aid performance.

Then I ran XBench, which includes a hard disk test. To my surprise, the new drive bested the Apple-supplied drive by about 33 percent.

I'm pretty sure this is not a fluke, either. When Macworld magazine posted its initial tests of the same stock 2.8 GHz Mac Pro that I have, the hard drive was the weakest link:

"The eight-core 2.8 GHz system lagged in some of our tests," wrote James Galbraith, "results we attribute to its somewhat sluggish Seagate hard drive."

The Macworld folks went further, swapping out a Western Digital drive from the previous generation 2.66 Ghz Mac Pro. The swap slowed multitasking performance on the older machine by 14 percent while speeding up performance on the newer Mac Pro by 31 percent.

Just for kicks I ran XBench on my Mac at work, a dual 2.5 GHz G5 Power Mac from mid-2004. The G5 scored 69.72 on the disk test, just a hair under the score for my 500 GB drives.

All of which raises the rather uncomfortable question: Why did Apple put a subpar drive in such a premium machine?

It can't be the expense. The 500 GB Seagates I purchased from Other World Computing cost only $150 apiece. For the tiny nibble it would have taken from its huge profit margin on the Mac Pro - what are we talking about here, $20 $30? - Apple could have included a better-performing 320 GB drive.

And while I'm ranting: Why does Apple charge so much for additional memory? Veteran Mac users have long known this, but does anyone know why they do it?

Had I ordered just an extra 2 GB of RAM from Apple, it would have cost an extra $500. The 4 GB kit I ordered from OWC cost just $200. That's twice as much memory for less than half the cost. (For the morbidly curious, ordering a Mac Pro fully loaded with 32 GB of RAM costs an extra $9,100; a 32 GB kit from OWC will set you back just $2,900.)

Don't get me wrong. I love my Mac Pro. It's wicked fast and whisper-quiet, an awesome piece of hardware. But if you're going to sell a premium machine, sell a premium machine.

Read Dave Zeiler's Apple blog at www.baltimoresun.com/business/appleaday

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