The Mac Pro is Apple’s newest desktop offering, announced on August 7th, 2006. With its announcement, Apple completed the process of shifting all of their computers to the Intel chipset, a transition which began with the release of the MacBook Pro and iMac in January 2006. The computer is positioned as Apple’s top-of-the-line offering, appealing to developers, gamers, multimedia professionals, and other power users.

On the outside, the Mac Pro is almost identical to the Power Mac G5, which it replaces. Both feature the same perforated brushed metal look, with the cases the same size and shape. With the exception of an additional optical drive bay, the outer casing is indistinguishable from the earlier tower. Many Apple enthusiasts were surprised by this decision, as speculation has been running rampant for some time now as to the new casing, with sites like Think Secret claiming that a redesigned case would accompany the redesigned machine.

Why did Apple leave the case the same? At least since Steve Jobs' return to Apple, a move to a new chipset has almost always been accompanied by a radically redesigned casing, but not with the Mac Pro. There is no single reason for it, but two facts seem to point in the right direction:

  1. Ease of shipping.

    With only minor changes made to the outside of the case, and more significant ones on the inside (more on this later), Apple was able to start shipping the new model immediately after it was announced, an unusual move given Apple’s previous history.

  2. Recognizability.

    The Mac Pro isn’t the only computer that has failed to be overhauled since the Intel transition began — they all did. Only minor changes to the computers were made, with the largest changes in the form of redesigned cases for the laptops, and even these are minor compared to the degree to which Apple’s computers usually change after a redesign.

    Apple is not only making this transition in order to make more powerful, compatible computers. They are also trying to bring in new consumers while keeping old ones happy. And their current designs have repeatedly shown themselves to be successful with consumers. By keeping them the same, they can say to the Mac faithful, "Look, the inside is changed, but it’s still Apple. You can trust these computers."

The inside of the computer is radically different from the older model, boasting space for four SATA hard drives (allowing up to 2TB of storage), eight RAM slots (allowing up to 16GB of memory), 4 full-length PCI card slots to allow for more powerful cards, and (theoretically) a better cooling system.

The largest change, of course, is the shift from having two dual-core G5 chips to two dual-core Xeon (Woodcrest) chips. This is the first time in a while that Apple has offered the same chip configuration across all models of its most powerful system, with the only difference between configurations being the clock speed of the processors. With the most powerful configuration clocking at 3GHz, the Mac has finally reached the point where Steve Jobs had promised Macs would be years ago. The decision to use the Xeon chip, rather than the Core Duo chips in all other current Macs, was based on the fact that it is 64-bit and supports a multiple-processor configuration, which are all but expected in Apple’s pro desktop computers.

Expectedly, the computer does not feature the built-in webcams that Apple has recently been adding to its computers. Because the Mac Pro is intended for a more professional customer than other Macs, it is expected that most users will either not need the functionality of the cameras, or will have the knowledge and means to acquire webcams of their own. Additionally, other Apple computers with built-in cameras all have the benefit of the computer’s main display being integrated into the computer itself, allowing Apple to guarantee that the camera would be pointed at the user. This is simply not possible when the tower is separate from the display.

The computer features, in every model, five USB 2.0 ports, two FireWire 800 ports, two FireWire 400 ports, a headphone minijack port, an optical audio input port, Toslink output ports, analog line-level input and output minijack ports, and two Ethernet interfaces. The computer measures 20.1" x 8.1" x 18.7", and weighs 42.4 lb. It comes with Mac OS X 10.4 as well as the standard library of new-Apple software installed. The computer ships with a mouse and keyboard, with an option to replace them with wireless models. WiFi and Bluetooth support are optional, although adding both only increases the machine’s price by $79.

The standard configuration of the computer is offered at $2500 (not counting tax), although reconfiguring the computer can result in models varying in price from $2124 to $13,185 (not including extra software or displays). Apple claims that their standard configuration offers about $1000 in savings over an identically-configured machine from their competitors.

As mentioned earlier, the machine can ship immediately, although some configuration changes (such as opting for the Radeon X1900 graphics card or a wireless card) can delay shipping by as much as weeks. Even so, this puts the machine’s ship date on par with what was expected before the machine was announced.

I’m getting one.

Here are the possible configurations for the computer as of the time of this writeup, with the associated price changes. Those options without price changes marked are standard.

  • Processor
    • 2x Dual-core Xeon processors at 2GHz (-300)
    • 2x Dual-core Xeon processors at 2.66GHz
    • 2x Dual-core Xeon processors at 3GHz (+800)
  • Memory
    • 1GB, 2 512MB cards
    • 2GB, 4 512MB cards (+300)
    • 4GB, 4 1GB cards (+1100)
    • 8GB, 8 1GB cards (+2500)
    • 8GB, 4 2GB cards (+2700)
    • 16GB, 8 2GB cards (+5700)
  • Main hard drive
    • 160GB 7200rpm SATA (-75)
    • 250GB 7200rpm SATA
    • 500GB 7200rpm SATA (+200)
  • Other hard drives
    • No other hard drives
    • 1 extra 500GB 7200rpm SATA (+400)
    • 2 extra 500GB 7200rpm SATA (+800)
    • 3 extra 500GB 7200rpm SATA (+1200)
  • Graphics card
  • Main display
  • Secondary display
    • None
    • Apple Cinema Display, 20" (+699)
    • Apple Cinema HD Display, 23" (+999)
    • Apple Cinema HD Display, 30" (+1999)
  • Optical drive
  • Wireless
  • Fibre Channel card
  • Modem
    • None
    • Apple USB modem (+49)
  • Keyboard/mouse
    • Apple keyboard, Apple Mighty Mouse
    • Apple wireless keyboard, Apple wireless Mighty Mouse (+60)
  • Mac OS X Server software
    • None
    • Mac OS X Server, 10 client (+499)
    • Mac OS X Server, unlimited (+999)
  • AppleCare Protection Plan
    • None
    • Protection plan for Mac Pro (+249)

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