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Mac Pro, Xserve Round Out Macintosh High End

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Apple completed its transition to Intel-based computers today with the release of the new Mac Pro desktop and Xserve server machines, throwing significant weight at the top end of the Mac line and replacing the old Power Mac G5 and Xserve G5.


Goodbye Power, Hello Pro -- The Mac Pro shares the same aluminum enclosure as the Power Mac G5, but inside, it's no mere speed bump. The Mac Pro is powered by two 64-bit, dual-core Intel Xeon 5100 series processors running at up to 3 GHz, with 4 MB of shared L2 cache per processor. Replacing the PowerPC G5's AltiVec graphics processor is a 128-bit SSE3 vector engine that Apple claims is faster than its predecessor. Not surprisingly, Apple claims everything is faster on this machine, from performance per watt (3 times better than the Power Mac G5 Quad) to general usage (1.6 to 2.1 times faster).

The Mac Pro can accommodate up to 2 TB (terabytes) of hard drive storage in four internal Serial ATA hard drive bays, which are easily swappable in slide-in carriers (similar to the bays in the Xserve). Four PCI Express slots are available for further expansion, one of which is double-wide to accommodate today's high-end graphics cards. There are also two bays for optical drives: a 16x SuperDrive comes standard, and the other bay can be configured with a second SuperDrive. Although Apple is emphasizing how convenient it can be to burn two discs at once, we suspect that the real reason for dual optical drives is preparation for including an internal Blu-ray or HD-DVD burner in the future. (Roxio recently announced Blu-ray burning support in the next version of Toast, and DVD Studio Pro already supports encoding HD-DVD discs.)

The Mac Pro is available now in a single configuration for a base price of $2,500, which includes dual 2.66 GHz Dual-Core Intel Xeon processors, 1 GB of 667 MHz DDR2 memory, an Nvidia GeForce 7300 GT graphics card with 256 MB of memory, a 16x SuperDrive, and a 250 GB SATA hard drive. Other options are available as build-to-order options, such as 2 GHz or 3 GHz processors, more memory (up to 16 GB), a second SuperDrive, more hard drives, and beefier graphics cards from Nvidia or ATI. Surprisingly, the base configuration does not include Bluetooth or AirPort Extreme wireless hardware (or a modem, but that's been the case for several revisions of Apple's desktop Macs).


New Xserve Goes Intel -- Along with the new Mac Pro, Apple today announced an update to the Xserve that replaces the PowerPC G5 with a pair of dual-core Intel Xeon processors running at 2.66 or 3.0 GHz. Other basic specs include a 1.33 GHz frontside bus per processor, 4 MB of L2 cache per processor, 1 GB of RAM (expandable to 32 GB), a built-in ATI Radeon X1300 PCI Express graphics card, and two open eight-lane PCI Express slots. In terms of storage, the Xserve comes with a 24x Combo drive (an 8x double-layer SuperDrive is available as an option), and three drive bays with one 80 GB SATA drive installed. You can install up to 2.25 TB of storage via SATA (Serial ATA) or higher performance SAS (Serial Attached SCSI) drives. Standard ports include a pair of FireWire 800 ports, one FireWire 400 port, two USB 2.0 ports, and a DB-9 serial port. As always, an unlimited client copy of Mac OS X Server 10.4 - which is reportedly a universal binary as of today - comes with the Xserve. Pricing remains the same, with the base configuration coming in at $3,000. Apple claims the new Xserve will ship in October 2006.

All those specs are nice enough, but not unexpected in a new Intel-based Mac. What is new, and highly welcome, is that the Xserve now features an optional second power supply, finally providing the redundant, hot-swappable power supplies that network administrators have been wanting for so long. Also welcome, according to Chuck Goolsbee of the hosting company digital.forest, is the return of a video card, which was lacking in the Xserve G5, much to the consternation of support staff who needed to reboot and manage hosted Xserves in certain crash situations. Those folks would also prefer the USB and video ports to be on the front of the Xserve, since some management tasks require access to the power button and optical drive, and speaking from experience with our Xserve at digital.forest, it's a pain to walk back and forth around the racks to swap CDs or toggle power, and in an entire rack of Xserves, it's a little tricky to keep track of which is which in the stack.

On the downside, Chuck was unhappy about the fact that the new Xserve is about 2 inches (5 cm) deeper than the previous Xserve models, which were already deep at 28 inches (71 cm). The extra depth means that the new Xserve won't fit inside many existing server cabinets, something that's also true of Dell servers (there the rationale seems to be to sell Dell server cabinets; it's not clear why Apple felt the need to extend the depth of the Xserve. digital.forest has already had to remove the doors on some of their cabinets, thus negating much of the point of a cabinet.

 

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