Today's new hardware announcement refreshed the Mac mini and iMac lines, and at long last, the Mac Pro was also given some love. In the 14 months since the last Mac Pro refresh there have been some significant hardware changes within the microprocessor world and within Apple's own line. The result meant that the Mac Pro, while still a beast, wasn't as cutting-edge as it has been in the past. Let's look at the update and see if that story has changed.
Processor and Chipset
The big news with this Mac Pro update is the Quad-Core Intel Xeon "Nehalem" processor. Intel's "Nehalem" is the latest breakthrough in Intel's 45nm space. The Mac Pro may actually be the first commercially available computer that uses the Nehalem-based Intel Xeon. The base configuration is a Quad-Core 2.66 Ghz Intel Xeon, but you can configure a Mac Pro with two Quad-Core 2.93 Ghz Xeons, effectively meaning 8 cores. As far as I know, the 16-core option for the latest Xeon won't be available until later this year. To put it another way, this is bleeding edge.
Looking at Apple's benchmarks (obviously, the independent tests that are sure to come will probably give a more accurate overall picture), the 8-Core 2.93 Nehalem-based Xeon processor offers some significant speed increases over last generation's 8-Core Xeon 3.2 Ghz.
Aside from pure processor speed, the new chipsets include an integrated memory controller, Intel's QuickPath, Turbo Boost and Hyper-Threading technologies. The Hyper-Threading implementation is especially interesting because it means you can run two threads on each core, effectively meaning your Mac can recognize 16 virtual cores on an 8-core system. This is a virtualization nut's dream.
On the memory front, a single Quad-Core Mac Pro can take up to 8 GB of RAM. If you do the 8-core option, that capacity expands to 32 GB.
Graphics and Displays
Last October, Apple committed itself to using DisplayPort technology for its products and displays. The unfortunate side-effect of that decision meant that users wanting a Mac Pro to go with that sexy new 24" Cinema Display were out of luck, because those displays require a Mini DisplayPort, something the previous generation Mac Pros just didn't support. No more. The new Mac Pro features both Mini DisplayPort and a dual-link DVI port, so you can hook up both a 30" Cinema Display and that new 24" LED beauty.
Apple is touting the new Mac Pro as having "the fastest Mac graphics ever". Indeed, the stock NVIDIA GeForce GT 120 (note, NVIDIA changed the naming convention of its graphics chipsets recently, but the GT 120 is based on the 9500GT chipset) with 512 MB of GDDR3 RAM is a pretty decent start, especially for video professionals. You can customize the Mac Pro to include the ATI Radeon HD 4870 with 512MB of GDDR5 memory, which is one of the latest and greatest cards available from ATI.
You can put in up to four GT 120 cards in the Mac Pro, meaning you can drive as many as 8 displays off the Mac Pro. That's the video setup of my dreams.