The Apple Mac Pro 12-core is an incredibly powerful desktop PC, and with all that assembled power comes a massive price tag.

Little has changed to Apple’s flagship desktop PC in the last seven years.

At least, that’s what you might think, were you to look at the current Apple Mac Pro line-up - then compare it with the Apple Power Mac G5 of 2003.

A towering beast just over half a metre tall, the Power Mac G5 introduced Apple’s all-aluminium construction with perforated front and back panels. But outward appearances are particularly deceptive here. Yesteryear’s Mac bears almost no resemblance once you look inside - especially if you peer into this top-spec version with its two six-core Intel Xeon processors.

Read the PC Advisor review of the twin dual-core Apple Mac G5 of 2006

Starting price for the current Apple Mac Pro is now £1999, as supplied with one quad-core 2.8GHz Intel Xeon processor.

This Apple Mac Pro tested here is fitted with two workstation-class 2.93GHz Intel Xeon hex-cored chips, Intel codename: Westmere. So that’s 12 physical processor cores, each ‘hyperthreaded’ to create 24 virtual cores for the right software to exploit.

These processors are supported with 12GB of DDR3 ECC RAM; and for storage there’s a 512GB solid-state drive plus 2TB hard disk. Graphics are courtesy of an ATI Radeon HD 5870 card.

Optionally, Apple lets you fit two 5770 cards in the Mac Pro, as well as a hardware RAID card, and dual- or quad-core 4Gb fibre-channel PCI Express cards.

One performance trick that Apple has sadly missed is the SATA bus. While it’s now easy to find SSD storage built for SATA 6Gb/s operation, Apple – like HP with its comparable Z800 workstation line – is sticking with the slower 3Gb/s version of SATA.

On the Bench

We tried Cinebench 11.5 on this machine, using its CPU-based rendering engine to create an image of a pretty Christmas tree bauble.

It scored 1.13 points here, putting it just ahead of Intel Xeon 2.92GHz X5670 and Intel Core i7 960 3.2GHz processors, that each score 1.10 points.

In that same test, mind, the Intel Xeon X5670 is fractionally behind the Intel Core i7-960 running at 2.80GHz, which hits 1.13.

Engage all processor cores on this chip, and we see a significant stepup in performance, with Cinebench 11.5 now recording 15.10 points. That’s a multi-processor speed-up of 13.63x – not quite the 24x theoretical perfect scaling of 24 virtual cores, but above the 12x possibility of 12 physical cores.

Bench on

We tried a few of our regular Windows and Mac processes to see how this powerhouse performed.

Xbench is no workstation benchmark, but the Mac freeware app, by way of reference, on our workhorse 2.4GHz MacBook Pro (Early 2008) scores around 120 points in stock configuration; rising to 160 with 6GB RAM and a Crucial C300 SSD.

An original Power Mac G5, meanwhile, is humbled with around 85 points here.

The 12-core Apple Mac Pro pulled ahead more than just a little, scoring 350 points in Xbench.

Game on

This Apple Mac Pro is obviously overkill as a gaming machine, but we tried our regular Windows game tests, for comparison with the PCA Top 5 PC Charts.

In our ‘low’ Crysis test (High detail, 1024x768), it averaged 64 frames per second. In the ‘high’ test (Very High, 1680x1050) it scored 44fps. Those figures are in line with expectaton for the rendering power of an ATI 5870, which proved itself the principle limiting factor in this graphics test.

Our expectations were not very high for the WorldBench 6 real-world speed test. Few of its individual apps are optimised for multi-core workstations.

Nevertheless, tested in Windows 7 and with the SSD set as boot drive, the Apple Mac Pro actually scored 167 points. That makes it the fastest computer to ever grace our labs, and all without the need for the risky overclocking that Windows hot-rodding enthusiasts apply.

Needless to say for an Apple Mac, build quality is second to none, and the Mac Pro remained practically noiseless even during stress testing.

NEXT PAGE: the Digital Arts review of the Apple Mac Pro Mid-2010 'Twelve Core' >>

If you work with video, animation or motion graphics, there are lots of reasons to invest in the Apple Mac Pro 12-core. You can get twice the processing power of the 27in Apple iMac, as two of the three Pro models have two multicore processors. You can install up to 32GB of RAM – though above 16GB you probably won't see much benefit in your apps. You can also install up to four hard drives and put in a Raid card to 'stripe', or distribute, your files across multiple drives for maximum throughput.

The Apple Mac Pro 12-core has PCI Express slots allowing you to add, say, USB 3.0 and eSATA boards to access fast storage systems (unlike with most PCs of this calibre, you don't get these as standard). You can also add video capture, monitoring and acceleration boards such as AJA's Kona or Blackmagic Design's DeckLink – or two graphics cards for high-end 3D.

The most powerful Apple Mac Pro available

To explore the potential of the Apple Mac Pro 12-core, we got our hands on the most powerful model Apple could provide us. Our test machine has two six-core 2.93GHz Intel Xeon processors, 12GB of RAM, an ATI Radeon HD 5870 graphics card and two drives: a 512GB solid-state drive that the system and apps live on, and a 2TB media hard drive. The price tag is more Volkswagen Golf than computer – but if you need the power, it's more than worth it.

Apple Mac Pro 12-core

The new daughterboard, which carries the processors and RAM, may allow the processors to be upgraded in future (Photo by Paul Monckton)

Running the 3D rendering benchmark in Cinebench 11.5, which utilises the main processors alone, the Mac Pro achieved a score of 15.07. This is more than twice that of the top-of-the-line iMac, and 53 per cent better than the fastest single-chip PC we've ever seen (which had a Core i7 chip massively overclocked to 4.2GHz).

In Photoshop we saw as much of a performance boost over an iMac we tested as you'd expect from the difference in their installed memory (the iMac had 8GB). As both models had a solid-state drive and a hard drive, neither had a built-in advantage.

Launching from the solid-state drive, applications start up faster than you've ever seen from a hard drive. The combination of the two processors, lots of RAM and fast storage meant that the Mac Pro steamed through our After Effects test, applying effects and 3D motion graphics faster than any workstation we've seen.

One new innovation we liked is that in order to fit the two processors inside the casing, Apple has put them on a removable daughterboard that also carries the RAM. This raises the possibility of upgrading them in future – which hasn't been possible in Mac Pros before – though replacing the board after removing it required so much force we thought we'd break it.

Digital Arts Verdict

If you work with video, animation or motion graphics and need a workstation this powerful – and, more importantly, can afford it – the Apple Mac Pro 12-core is a winner.

Neil Bennett, Digital Arts

Next page: Our expert review >>

See also:

Apple Mac reviews

Desktop PC reviews

Group test: what's the best desktop PC?

Apple Mac Pro 12-core: Specs

  • 2 x 2.93GHz Intel Xeon X5670
  • Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard
  • 12GB 1333MHz DDR3 ECC RAM (up to max 32GB on four slots)
  • four drive bays: 512GB SATA SSD, 2TB Hitachi SATA 3Gb/s HDD
  • ATI Radeon HD 5870 with 1GB memory (2 x Mini DisplayPort, 1 x dual-link DVI)
  • 2 x FireWire 800
  • 5 x USB 2.0
  • 18x SuperDrive DVD±RW DL
  • 2 x gigabit ethernet
  • 802.11a/b/g/n
  • Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR
  • Toslink optical audio in and out
  • 1 x PCI Express 2.0 x16 slot, 1 x PCI Express 2.0 x4 slot
  • 206 x 475 x 511mm
  • 2 x 2.93GHz Intel Xeon X5670
  • Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard
  • 12GB 1333MHz DDR3 ECC RAM (up to max 32GB on four slots)
  • four drive bays: 512GB SATA SSD, 2TB Hitachi SATA 3Gb/s HDD
  • ATI Radeon HD 5870 with 1GB memory (2 x Mini DisplayPort, 1 x dual-link DVI)
  • 2 x FireWire 800
  • 5 x USB 2.0
  • 18x SuperDrive DVD±RW DL
  • 2 x gigabit ethernet
  • 802.11a/b/g/n
  • Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR
  • Toslink optical audio in and out
  • 1 x PCI Express 2.0 x16 slot, 1 x PCI Express 2.0 x4 slot
  • 206 x 475 x 511mm

OUR VERDICT

There’s no doubt that this Apple Mac Pro represents a colossally powerful workstation, as you’d hope for the price, featuring some of the fastest components that money can buy. It’s also tremendously well assembled and built to last, with comprehensive future upgrade potential.

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