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August 08, 2006

Calling all Computer Geeks

I'm looking at the specs for the new Mac Pros, and I need a little help understanding the details. Primarily:

a) Are the dual-core 2.66 GHz Intel Xeon processors on the new Mac Pro as fast/powerful as (or faster/more powerful than), say, a Core 2 Duo processor of equivalent speed?

b) Does having two dual-core processors in the Mac Pro make it speedier/more powerful in gaming situations?

c) The Mac can run more than one video card, but can they be run in SLI Mode, or is it simply one card per monitor?

Basically I'm wondering, theoretically, if I'm planning to do an upgrade in the reasonably near future with the intent of having a Windows box, if I should pay the price premium for the Mac Pro, or stick with a dedicated Windows box (remember that I have a Mac already -- I'm typing on it now).

Your thoughts are appreciated.

Posted by john at August 8, 2006 01:12 PM

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Comments

monolithfoo | August 8, 2006 01:17 PM

A) yes
B) probably not, depends on the game?
C) I'm not sure.
4) It's a great computer, but I'm in lust mode.
5) I probably won't buy one. I use linux and build my own.

PeterP | August 8, 2006 01:39 PM

I'd wait until some of the review sites get their hands on the new Macs. The Xeon in theory is a faster processor, but in the real world, who knows?

As to SLI, I'm fairly certain the motherboard has to support it internally. No clue on that one, but I wouldn't bet on it.

I'm trying to talk myself out of buying a Macbook Pro. But its just so darned shiny!

Byron | August 8, 2006 01:44 PM

a) Yes, the "Woodcrest" series of Xeons are effectively equivalent to the Core Duo 2 Extreme with, I believe, a larger L2 cache and multiprocessor capability. Oh, and 64-bit but you don't care about that for gaming.

b) Depends on the game, more so as games begin to take advantage of standard equipment multi-core devices.

c) Unclear at this time, I imagine it'll be cleared up roughly the hour Mac Pros start arriving on doorsteps. Worst comes to worst, just get the Quadra :-) Also, you'll be running Windows to play games so it may not matter if OS X can take advantage of it (though if it works at all I imagine the Nvidia drivers will supply support on OS X since they tend to use the same core codebase across platforms).

Interestingly, the Mac Pro appears to be inline or cheaper (you can verify this yourself) than similar setups from other vendors so if you're in the market its looking like a pretty good deal.


Mike Scott | August 8, 2006 01:50 PM

a) The Xeon 2.66GHz dual core CPU is a Core 2 Duo -- Intel need to sort out their branding.
b) Depends on whether the game is multi-threaded or not.
c) If you boot it in Windows using Boot Camp, it's a Windows box, and it ought to support SLI if the graphics cards support it. I'm not sure that OS X supports SLI at all, although I dare say Leopard will.

Kevin Q | August 8, 2006 02:04 PM

Along the lines of what Byron said, dealnews took a look at comparative pricing, and found that the Mac Pro is about $1100 cheaper than a comparable Dell:
http://blog.dealnews.com/?p=45

If you are looking for a computer this powerful, then this is a relative bargain. But if you are just looking for a new gaming computer, this might be overkill.

K

Simon Bisson | August 8, 2006 02:17 PM

A) Yes. It's a Core 2 chip - these are Woodcrest Xeons not Dempsey. It's the same architecture.

B) It'll depend on whether the game is multi-threaded or not. If it is (and is compiled with multicore support) then it'll run pretty fast.

C) SLI might work if there are more than one 8x PCIe connector. In some cases support requires an appropriate motherboard. The same is true for Crossfire if you're going ATI rather than Nvidia.

With regards to the Windows side of things, I need to book a call with the Parallels folks in the next week for an article I'm working on, however the mail they just sent me with the roadmap for the next few releases could make it a very attractive option indeed...

Gabriel Malor | August 8, 2006 02:17 PM

Kevin, when looking for gaming platforms, I thought overkill was the whole idea!

Seriously, though on question C, I'm with the above commenters, don't depend on it until some more people get their hands on the machine and give it a thorough shakedown.

JonathanMoeller | August 8, 2006 02:28 PM

a.) Yes. People get all hung up on processor speed, but FSB speed plays an equally important part (you can have a great processor and a great graphics card, but if your FSB sucks, you'll have problems), and the Mac Pro has a comparatively decent FSB.

b.) Depends on the game. If it's been optimized for multi-threaded performance, then yes. (You're more likely, as of right now, to find such games for PC).

c.) Response Cloudy. Try Again Later. The stats are unclear, and it's still too new for decisive commentary on the Internet. It's possible OS 10.4 doesn't have that capability (I am unsure at the moment), but 10.5 probably will. Parallels virtualization or Boot Camp may provide an alternative.

I'd suggest waiting a few months before buying anything. All the Mac fanatics will snap one up, but it's probably best to wait until reviews start turning up on Arstechnica and other places before buying.

Smurf | August 8, 2006 02:52 PM

1) Yes, by .66 ghz. The Core 2 is garbage, in my opinion.

2) No. While it would appear that such a setup would give you more power, you'd lose out as they would somewhat stutter during default transference protocol. I've had Lara Croft killed by such transference stuttering.

3) The Mac is programmed to draw certain things from certain cards, and will not default properly when streamlined into a multi-card system.

Smurf | August 8, 2006 02:54 PM

Just kidding. I have no idea what the f>k any of you are talking about.

Haplo Peart | August 8, 2006 03:16 PM

As for SLI (or Crossfire) you need three things generally to support these Technologies...

1. A motherboard with 2 8x or better (16x) PCIe Card connectors
2. A motherboard with a Chipset that supports SLI/Crossfire (Usually this means that the Northbridge chip is made with either Nvidia or ATI, the Macs I believe are using an Intel Motherboard and Chipset, so unless they have licensed the Tech it might not work)
3. An OS/Driver set for the OS that supports SLI, I'm not sure this exists for OS X YET?

Robert | August 8, 2006 03:32 PM

1. Like many have said before, it's faaaaast.
2. Yes and no, depending on the game - but if you do more than one thing at once, it'll make life better. Having a Quad-Core system just sound good, anyway!
3. Yes/No. The machine has 3 8x slots, and one 16x, so if the OS supports it, SLI is an option. Under OS X, not yet, but xp/vista? yep.

Advantage is that competing on specs, you're not paying a premium, as it's a very nicely priced critter. Plus, you can boot to OS X for when you want to make an DVD faster, or if the recent whispers of windows gaming support options withing OS X come true, never touch the redmond beast again...

DJN | August 8, 2006 03:37 PM

Others have already commented on your questions, and answered them well enough.

I just wanted to point out that while you can run Windows on the new macs with little trouble, Apple still doesn't provide windows drivers for certain hardware (iSight for example), or the drivers Apple does provide are teh suck (Bluetooth drivers Bluescreening).

In my estimation, if you're looking for a machine for gaming, avoid the Macs.

The Macs are fine machines, no question, But you practically need Windows for gaming, and Apple naturally doesn't seem that inclined to do Windows well.

If you want someone to build you machine, I'd be happy to do it for free if you bought the hardware. My Friends and family rate is generally a 12er of beer - but I owe you for "Agent" so you get a discount! ;-)

DJN

Jeff Hentosz | August 8, 2006 03:44 PM

Ups to Smurf. I'm sitting here laughing through my tears that I've been a Mac user since 1986, but haven't paid due attention to the hardware developments over the last year or so and this is all beat poetry to me now. (Not to mention I'm still using my good ole "classified as munitions" Sawtooth G4, albeit with Tiger in the tank). Luddite, I know.

Josh | August 8, 2006 04:03 PM

1. The Xeons are faster than the equivelent core duos BUT you probably won't see that in everyday use. They do have more L2 Cache, and not being completely familiar with how much knowledge you have on the subject of cache I'll give a brief explination: Essentially the code that gets executed gets stored in 3 seperate places (well, more than that if you count the different types of cache in the processor, but I'll keep it simple). It starts on the hard drive, naturally enough (or optical drive or where ever) and gets transfered to the much faster RAM for more immediate use when needed. Grabbing from RAM is still slower than grabbing from the processor cache, so if a certain block of code gets executed a lot (say OS or driver code, but also high priority application code that gets called a lot) it makes sense to stick it in even faster memory, hence the L2 cache (L1 cache is stuff immediately up for execution). The more L2 Cache the more can be stored, though we are talking in the mere single digit MB here. Having more is always good though, and Xeons have more than Core Duos.

The Xeon also has a better floating point calculation unit, so complex math is done faster. For your photoshop stuff this will be benificial. The 64-bit nature (vs. 32-bit core duo) isn't a big deal right now as most of the apps are still 32-bit. 2 or 3 years down the road it will be (I say that having run an AMD 64-bit processor for the past year, and while I don't regret doing so, by the time it will be largely benificial to me I will have upgraded again anyway).

Long and the short of it is that the dual Xeons are powerhouses, but I don't know if you will use it a whole lot. Sure, photoshop will love those 4 cores, and maybe some music programs (not up to speed on how mutli-threaded they are), but really it will be like buying a big ass Dodge ram and using it to haul lumber once a month; useful when you do but under utilized the other 29 days of the month. If you went this route, definitely go for the lower end processor speed. They are still very capable chips, and it isn't worth the money for casual use to go with anything better.

2. Not at all. A lot of commentors have said "Depends on if the game is multithreaded". What that really means is "Depends on if it is one of five ore six games, 4 of which were made by Id". The PC game developers are going to be really slow about this because for games it is a HUGE pain in the ass. The console guys are going to have to adapt for this upcoming generation, but they are being given tools for that to help out. The PC manufacturers don't have these tools so they are in the position of spending a whole lot of time writing multi-threaded code to cater to a fairly small subset of the population. 2,3 years from now the tools will be there to make it easier, and thus possibly cost effective, but right now they aren't. That means for the time being games are only going to care about one of those 4 cores.

3. I'd have to see the motherboard. The fact that it is shipping with an Nvidia card by default but upgrades to an ATI card makes me think it isn't likely since pretty the motherboard and video card need to be made by either one or the other; no mix and match. I can't imagine Apple swapping the motherboard depending on configuration as that is a major engineering delay. I also strongly suspect that the motherboard is a straight intel chipset motherboard, rather than either an ATI or Nvidia chipset motherboard, since it would be cheaper for apple when negotiating price with intel. So long and the short; possible, but signs point to no. I'd do a bit more research on the subject just to make sure.



The powermacs or whatever they are called post switch are powerful, but the power is design for productivity rather than gaming. You will be able to game on them, but a box built for gaming is going to behave better.

monolithfoo | August 8, 2006 05:00 PM

I heard Leo say that they are going to review the new Mac Pro.
http://www.twit.tv/MB

eB | August 8, 2006 06:02 PM

FWIW: Photoshop happily uses both processors in a dual chip.

Andrew | August 8, 2006 06:07 PM

The place to go for good Tech news is Ars Technica.

Yes, the Core 2 Xeon is slighly faster than the Core 2 Duo.

2 Dual Cores will probably not help as much for gaming situations right now, but they'll be a tremendous help in Multitasking (no more having one program gone wild slow down your system) and future-proofing.

I don't think SLI works.

Sean | August 8, 2006 08:48 PM

I'm with DJN:

Want a gaming system?

Buy a PC. Better yet, buy parts and assemble.

You know, Abit AN-8 SLI, Athlon X2 4400+, 2Gb 2-2-2-5 RAM, 2 nVidia Geforce 7900GTs...for less than $2000!

But as everyone's already said, yes, no, and god knows at this point. Mac hasn't come out with any of the "we're jumping on the gaming bandwagon" which is what SLI/Crossfire is mainly used for...so we'll see, I guess.

mensley | August 8, 2006 11:51 PM

I'm guessing that your intent is to run both Windows and Mac on the same box, and have two monitors hooked up, one for each OS? And, while doing so, have each run at a decently fast enough for gaming?

Or am I way off here?

David Moles | August 9, 2006 03:55 AM

I would buy one just 'cause they're shiny, but for practical advice, I second the Ars Technica recommendation. They just updated their Buyer's Guide a few weeks ago: http://arstechnica.com/guides.ars

And while it's all DIY, you could probably find a shop to build you one with more or less the components they suggest.

Kell Brown | August 9, 2006 12:31 PM

Correctons to the above.

The Core 2 Duo is not the Xeon. It doesn't have support for multi-processors where as the Xeon does so you can't have a Core 2 Duo quad but you can have an Dual Core Xeon quad or Oct and so on until you find yourself repeating the old pret commercial.

Each graphics card in the mac can support up two 20 or two 23 inch monitors or one 30" monitor. You need dual cards if you want two 30" monitors or some combinations of 30" and 23",20" monitors. As far as I know, SLI isn't supported yet in Mac OS X but it is in XP so if the cards are SLI then when you boot into Windows you should have it. Give them a call and ask. Their sales guys are usually pretty knowledgable. Given the announced upspec of the monitors (brighter and better contrast) and drop in price (up to $500 US) they are reving new monitors with built in iSights and IR remote receivers you might want to wait.

Because of the lateness of WWDC I don't imagine their will be a Paris show this year and so look for announcements for everything from iPods to Core 2 Duo (Conroe, not the Woodcrest Xeons) iMacs (Currently Core Duo) and monitors in seperate annoucements in September.

Dave Munger | August 9, 2006 12:47 PM

The scuttlebut from the various mac rumor boards is that this isn't really a gaming computer. Gaming is all about the video card, and the standard card is subpar. Of course, you could always upgrade the card, but you could also always buy a dell for $899 that comes with a better card. You wouldn't get the quad Xeons, but those aren't really necessary for gaming.

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