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Apple Mac Pro shows solution to Intel's memory-cooling problem

by Bob Crabtree on 8 August 2006, 12:49

Tags: Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL)

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The news

Apple has now completed the migration of its family of desktop Mac PCs to Intel CPUs. The last link in the chain, the Mac Pro - a twin-core, dual-processor system aimed at professionals - went on sale in the UK late yesterday, soon after being unveiled at the Apple Worldwide Developers Conference in San Francisco.

Starting price through the Apple Store is £1,699. This includes delivery, VAT and a wired mouse and keyboard but no monitor. Price in the USA is $2,499.

At its heart, the Mac Pro has two 64-bit, dual-core Xeon Woodcrest CPUs. And, as you'd expect, DDR2 fully-buffered ECC RAM - up to 16gigs of it! These RAM sticks dole out memory in an intelligent way but have one significant downside - they get frighteningly hot.

We're not sure if it's only us that thinks this way, but the need for FB-DIMMs seems a bit perverse given that Intel's rippingly fast Core family of CPUs give off far less heat than the slower models that preceded them.

The heat being chucked off by the FB-DIMMs has to have been, we reckon, a major consideration for Apple when it came to designing the system case - a reworking of the critically-acclaimed enclosure used for the Mac Pro's forerunner, the Power Mac G5.

Apple, though, makes no mention that we can find about thermal issues to do with RAM, saying simply that "Eight DIMM slots on two riser cards let you easily install up to 16GB of 667MHz DDR2 FB-DIMMs".

But there's little doubt in our minds that some of the significant chassis changes are intended to address the heat-dissipation problem caused by FB-DIMMs and, given Apple's track record, are likely to do so without creating excessive noise - though we'll only know about for sure once we get hands on.

If we're right, though, then Apple will likely have set a design benchmark for other companies to match and demonstrated that Intel's recommendations for the cooling of FB-DIMMs can actually be implemented without using large numbers of stupidly noisy fans.

Apple Mac Pro - frontClick for larger image

We'll look in detail at the case over on page two but first let's talk about what else was or wasn't debuted at WWDC and run through the Mac Pro's main features.

What wasn't announced at WWDC was one item that the rumour-mill had been getting itself seriously worked up about of late, an Apple mobile phone. That product, dubbed the iPhone, will still be arriving - some say - but not for a month or so.

That may or may not be true but we are expecting an early introduction of Mac Book Pro laptops with Core 2 Duo CPUs and the addition, pretty soon, of Core 2 Duo to one-piece iMacs, too. When this happens, though, will depend on a number factors, including, presumably, the amount of previous-generation kit in the distribution channel.

The £1,699 base Mac Pro system is listed as ready for shipping by Apple in three to five days and offers:

* Mac OS X 10.4 'Tiger'

* Two 2.66GHz dual-core Intel Xeon CPUs
. Dual 3GHz CPUs adds £540; downgrading to dual 2GHz saves £200

* 1GB of fully-buffered 667MHz DDR2 ECC RAM. Add £200 for 2GB; £740 for 4GB; £1,680 for 8GB; and £3,840 for 16GB

* An NVIDIA GeForce 7300 GT PCIe dual-DVI graphics card with 256MB of GDDR2 SDRAM. Add £99 for two; £200 for three; and £310 for four, giving an eight-monitor capability! Substituting a 512MB ATI Radeon X1900 XT adds £240 to the base price and the figure is £1,120 if opting for a 512MB NVIDIA Quadro FX 4500 with integrated stereo 3D port supporting stereo goggles for 'stereo-in-a-window visualization applications'

* A single 250GB/7,200rpm SATA hard disk. Add £150 to upgrade to 500GB and a further £270 for each additional 500GB to a maximum of four. Each drive mounts in a caddy - four are supplied - for "direct-connect, cable-free" installation

* One 16x 'SuperDrive' DVD burner. This is said to write DVD±R up to 16x, double-layer DVD+R up to 8x, CD-R up to 32x and CD-RW up to 24x. A second burner adds £70

* Four PCI Express slots - one a "double-wide" 16-lane graphics slot", the others full-length and standard width

* Two independent Gigabit Ethernet ports - with support for jumbo frames

* Front and rear ports for FireWire 800, FireWire 400 and USB 2.0

* Analogue and optical digital audio in/out sockets

* A one-year on-site warranty

Customising the Mac Pro can add a couple of day to the delivery time, though some options can turn this into weeks. Other chargeable extras include a Bluetooth 2.0 card (£20), an 802.11g WiFi card (£30); a Fibre Channel PCIe card (£400) to connect to an Xsan or Xserve RAID; a selection of flat-panel monitors (20in, £529; 23in, £779; 30in, £1,549); and a three-year warranty (£199).