Mac Pro (late 2013) review
Compact and quiet, despite a huge helping of horsepower, the Mac Pro's revolutionary design is set to turn the workstation market on its head
When Apple puts its mind to a task, it's a safe bet that the end product will be something pretty impressive; but the new Mac Pro is beyond even that. After years of research and design work at Apple's labs, what has emerged is radically different to any serious PC you'll ever have seen – a high-end workstation packed with cutting-edge components, which looks more like a hi-tech bin than a desktop PC.
In keeping with much of Apple's aesthetic ethos, the Mac Pro is a minimalist affair. Its unusual cylindrical shape, finished in a dark, polished gunmetal grey is blemished by not a single mark – not even an Apple logo – until you reach the "rear" of the device, where all the Mac Pro's connections are housed on a single panel.
Even this panel has been meticulously designed, with all Thunderbolt, USB and Ethernet ports all stacked in two columns. Cleverly, the labels and lines surrounding each individual group are backlit, illuminating when the system fires up, or whenever movement is detected – if you happen to have your Mac Pro stowed under a desk, it's a nice touch that makes it easier to locate the port you're looking for.
The Mac Pro's party trick, however, is how easy it is to open up. Flip a single catch next to the port panel, and (assuming all cables have been disconnected) it's possible to pull the entire exterior sheath up and off, with a satisfying, Star Trek-esque whoosh. It reveals a suitably exotic interior, with four RAM sockets sitting in two spring-loaded banks on either side, and the system's two graphics cards between them, one of which plays host to the system's single PCI Express-based SSD.
The Mac Pro is certainly eye-catching, but what's really clever about the design of the Mac Pro is the way Apple has deconstructed the traditional desktop design. Instead of everything sprouting from a single, monolithic motherboard, Apple has opted for a modular approach, with each major component mounted on a separate board.
You might think that squeezing a clutch of powerful components into such a small chassis (it really is compact, rising a mere 251mm from the desk and measuring 167mm in diameter) would be a recipe for disaster. However, while shrinking everything down, Apple has also seen fit to redesign the traditional cooling system.
In a high-end workstation, it is usual for there to be a fair amount of heat to expel, which entails multiple fans to cool the power supply, to draw air into the box, cool the graphics cards and CPU, and further fans to pump the hot air back out of the box again, which often results in lots of noise.
In the Mac Pro, the main heat-generating parts – the CPU and graphics cards – are attached to a single, Toblerone-shaped heatsink that runs up the centre of the tubular chassis, with one component to each side. Apple calls this the "thermal core", and it requires only a single fan to keep things cool; it's mounted at the bottom of the heatsink. This sucks air in from outside, pushes it across the surface of the heatsink and vents it out of the hole you see on top of the Mac Pro.
It's an incredibly efficient system, and the result is, despite the cramped nature of the chassis, the Mac Pro barely ever registers more than a quiet hum. Even with all 24 logical cores of our test system at full utilisation, we had to put our ear right over the vent located at the top to hear it over the steady rush of the office air conditioning.
The hardware inside the Mac Pro is, inevitably, a touch less exotic than the exterior design. Nonetheless, the sheer amount of power it's possible to pack into it remains impressive. Our review unit came with a 12-core 2.7GHz Intel Xeon E5-2697 v2 CPU (complete with HyperThreading, Turbo Boost capability up to 3.5GHz, 30MB of L3 cache and a QPI of 8GT/sec). It also had 32GB of DDR3 RAM, a 512GB PCI Express SSD with a claimed throughput of 1GB/sec and a pair of AMD FirePro D700 GPUs.
|Price ex VAT||£5,616|
|Price inc VAT||£6,739|
|Features & Design||6|
|Value for Money||5|
|Warranty||1 yr return to base|
|Total hard disk capacity||512GB|
|CPU family||Intel Xeon|
|CPU nominal frequency||2.70GHz|
|HSF (heatsink-fan)||Apple thermal core|
|Conventional PCI slots free||0|
|Conventional PCI slots total||0|
|PCI-E x16 slots free||0|
|PCI-E x16 slots total||0|
|PCI-E x8 slots free||0|
|PCI-E x8 slots total||0|
|PCI-E x4 slots free||0|
|PCI-E x4 slots total||0|
|PCI-E x1 slots free||0|
|PCI-E x1 slots total||0|
|Internal SATA connectors||0|
|Internal SAS connectors||0|
|Internal PATA connectors||0|
|Internal floppy connectors||0|
|Wired adapter speed||1,000Mbits/sec|
|Memory type||DDR3 ECC|
|Memory sockets free||0|
|Memory sockets total||4|
|Graphics card||AMD FirePro D700|
|Multiple SLI/CrossFire cards?||yes|
|Graphics card RAM||6.00GB|
|VGA (D-SUB) outputs||0|
|Number of graphics cards||2|
|Hard disk||Apple SSD SM0512F|
|Dimensions||167 x 167 x 251mm (WDH)|
Free drive bays
|Free front panel 5.25in bays||0|
|PS/2 mouse port||no|
|3.5mm audio jacks||2|
Operating system and software
|OS family||Mac OS X|
Noise and power
|Idle power consumption||49W|
|Peak power consumption||420W|
|Overall Real World Benchmark score||1.31|