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New Mac Pro Goes Eight-Core Before Macworld Expo

A week before Steve Jobs was set to take the stage at Macworld Expo, Apple cleared away any need to talk about professional-level Macs to concentrate on what we presume are more interesting announcements. When a new Mac Pro that Apple advertises as “the fastest Mac ever” (sure, the latest professional Mac is always the fastest Mac ever, but still…) doesn’t make the cut for the Macworld Expo keynote, even the more jaded among us start salivating.

The new Mac Pro features eight-core processing, thanks to a pair of Intel’s new 45-nanometer Quad-Core Xeon processors running at 2.8 GHz, 3.0 GHz, or 3.2 GHz. Actually, there is a build-to-order option with only a single 2.8 GHz Quad-Core Xeon processor, but that feels like a throwaway to keep the price of the lowest-end Mac Pro down, and I usually avoid such oddball configurations when the direction is clearly toward eight cores across the board.

Apple claims the new Mac Pros are up to twice as fast as the previous top-of-the-line 2.66 Quad-Core Mac Pro when using processor-intensive applications like Maya and Logic Pro. Additional performance comes from a whopping 12 MB of L2 cache per processor, a high-bandwidth hardware architecture, dual-independent 1600 MHz front size buses, and support for up to 32 GB (8 slots) of 800 MHz DDR2 ECC FB-DIMM memory.

In terms of storage expandability, the new Mac Pro features four internal hard drive bays with direct-attach, cable-free installation of SATA drives, giving it support for up to 4 TB of internal storage. A SuperDrive with double-layer support is also standard, with a second open optical drive bay available for another SuperDrive… or perhaps a Blu-ray drive in the future.

Graphics processing is also important for the professional crowd, and although I’m not deep in that world, the specs sound impressive. The standard video card is an ATI Radeon HD 2600 XT with 256 MB of video memory, but build-to-order options include the Nvidia 8800 GT with 512 MB of memory or Nvidia Quadro FX 5600 with 1.5 GB of memory. You’re not limited to just one of these cards (each of which can drive a pair of DVI monitors) – the Mac Pro provides a total of four PCI Express slots, making it possible for a Mac Pro to drive a total of eight 30-inch monitors running at 2560 by 1600. Who needs Spaces when you can address over 32 million pixels? Clearly, Apple is looking to move into the stadium display market.

On the communications front, the Mac Pro comes standard with a pair of gigabit Ethernet ports (with support for jumbo frames), Bluetooth 2.0+EDR, an optional 802.11n AirPort Extreme card, and an optional Apple USB Modem. Anyone who buys a modem for this machine deserves a wedgie.

Other specs include a pair of FireWire 800 ports (one in front, one in back), a pair of FireWire 400 ports (one in front, one in back), five USB 2.0 ports (two in front, three in back), front-panel headphone minijack and speaker port, optical digital audio input and output Toslink ports, and analog stereo line-level input and output minijacks.

Apple says the new Mac Pro is available immediately, with pricing starting at $2,799 for a model that includes a pair of 2.8 GHz Quad-Core Xeon processors, 2 GB of RAM, the ATI Radeon HD 2600 XT graphics card, a 320 GB SATA drive, and SuperDrive, along with all the other standard stuff. The only slight disappointment? The industrial design remains the same, and while there’s nothing wrong with the “cheese grater” case introduced nearly five years ago with the Power Mac G5, we’d sure like to see a hot new case design.

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