In my line of work, I tend to get access to a lot of very fast hardware. Both our SSD and GPU testbeds use Intel’s new Core i7 processor. If you read my review of the i7 you may have left the review feeling slightly underwhelmed by the processor. Sure, it was fast, but it wasn’t that much faster than a speedy Core 2 Quad.

In the months since that review went live I’ve had the benefit of using the i7 a lot. And I might’ve grown a little attached. The processor itself isn’t overly expensive, it’s the motherboard that really puts it over the top; but if you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.

This is my Mac Pro:

It may look modern, but this is actually the same Mac Pro I reviewed back in 2006. In it are the same two 3.0GHz dual-core Woodcrest based Xeons that I upgraded it with for part 3 of my Mac Pro coverage. Woodcrest was the server version of Conroe, the heart of the original Core 2 Duo.

You’ll remember that I was quite happy with Conroe when it launched in 2006, so by extension I was quite happy with my Mac Pro. That was then, this is now.

Apple released a newer Mac Pro with quad-core Clovertown parts (65nm Kentsfield equivalent), then once more with Harpertown (45nm Penryn equivalent). While you could stick Clovertown into the first generation Mac Pros, you couldn’t upgrade them to Harpertown without hardware modifications to the system (don’t ask me what they are :)..).

I stayed away from the Harpertown upgrade simply because it was a lot of money for a moderate increase in performance. My desktop tests showed that Penryn generally yielded a 0 - 10% performance increase over Conroe and I wasn’t about to spend $3K for 10%. Steve didn’t need another Benz that badly.

I found myself waiting for Apple to do the right thing and release a Mac based on the Core i7. Surely Apple wouldn’t wait and make a Xeon version, after all why would you need two processors? A single Core i7 can work on eight threads at the same time - most users have a tough time stressing four. Then reality set in: Apple wouldn’t put a Core i7 in the Mac Pro because Dell can do the same in a system for under $900. In order to justify the price point of the Mac Pro, it must use Xeons.

The Nehalem Xeons can be pretty fun. At the high end there’s the Nehalem-EX, that’s 8 cores on a single die. Apple could put two of those on a motherboard and have a 16-core, 32-thread monster that would probably cost over $8,000.


The 8-core Nehalem EX

Getting back to reality, we have the Nehalem-EP processor: effectively a server-version of Core i7. The other major change between Nehalem-EP and Core i7 is that each Nehalem-EP processor has two QPI links instead of one. Nehalem-EP can thus be used in dual-socket motherboards.

Nehalem-EP even uses the same socket as Intel’s Core i7: LGA-1366, implying that Intel artificially restricts its desktop Core i7s to operate in single-socket mode only. Boo.

Of course Nehalem-EP is sold under the Xeon brand; the product names and specs are as follows:

CPU Max Sockets Clock Speed Cores / Threads QPI Speed L3 Cache Max Turbo (4C/3C/2C/1C) TDP Price
Intel Xeon W5580 2 3.20GHz 4 / 8 6.4 GT/s 8MB 1/1/1/2 130W $1600
Intel Xeon X5570 2 2.93GHz 4 / 8 6.4 GT/s 8MB 2/2/3/3 95W $1386
Intel Xeon X5560 2 2.80GHz 4 / 8 6.4 GT/s 8MB 2/2/3/3 95W $1172
Intel Xeon X5550 2 2.66GHz 4 / 8 6.4 GT/s 8MB 2/2/3/3 95W $958
Intel Xeon E5540 2 2.53GHz 4 / 8 5.86 GT/s 8MB 1/1/2/2 80W $744
Intel Xeon E5530 2 2.40GHz 4 / 8 5.86 GT/s 8MB 1/1/2/2 80W $530
Intel Xeon E5520 2 2.26GHz 4 / 8 5.86 GT/s 8MB 1/1/2/2 80W $373
Intel Xeon W3570 1 3.20GHz 4 / 8 6.4 GT/s 8MB 1/1/1/2 130W $999
Intel Xeon W3540 1 2.93GHz 4 / 8 4.8 GT/s 8MB 1/1/1/2 130W $562
Intel Xeon W3520 1 2.66GHz 4 / 8 4.8 GT/s 8MB 1/1/1/2 130W $284

 

While Nehalem was originally supposed to have a simultaneous desktop and server/workstation release, the Xeon parts got pushed back due to OEM validation delays from what I heard. Core i7 launched last November and it was now mid-March with no Nehalem based Macs.

I couldn’t wait any longer and I ended up building a Hackintosh based on Intel’s Core i7. Literally a day after I got it up and running, Apple announced the new Nehalem-EP based Mac Pro.

Two Models, Neither Perfect
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  • TonkaTuff - Tuesday, July 14, 2009 - link

    Hello Mr Anandtech,

    My name is Alfredo and I am from Denmarksland.
    I have recently started a computer company called Lemon computers.
    I wish to send you my top of the line LemonPro for review.

    LemonPro Specs.

    1xLemonPro superwhizzbanger professional motherboard (series 2)
    Supports up to superfast DDR3 1066mhz ram. Has 2! Yes you read it right the first time 2! PCIE slots for the true computing professional.

    1xLemonPro Core i7 920 cpu at 2.66ghz
    Custom built by intel for lemon computers, you maybe able to get this cpu in other computers but ours are very "special" i7 920 cpu's.

    3 Gig of Lemon DDR3 1066mhz ram
    Super high performance memory hand picked from corsairs finest value select batchs.

    1x Lemon 640gig 5400rpm High Performance Hard drive
    Theres not enough porn on the net to fill this puppy up. Ultimate storage for the true professional.

    1x Lemon/Nvidea 9500GT Graphics
    Experience awesome crysis in ultra high detail at blazingly fast frame rates of up to 3 (a minute). It just doesnt get better than this.

    1x LemonRay 18x Read 1x Write DVD player
    For the true computing professional

    Lemon computers, for the true computing professional, professional's need only apply. P.S. PROFESSIONAL!

    *LemonPro pc's are fitted with the trademark LemonDP display connection, Unfortunately there is only one Monitor on the planet that has this style of connection (where that far ahead of the competition its SCARY!) and is available through Lemon for RRP $1200 (20inch display). Or a special custom built adapter can be used, available through Lemon RRP $100.

    Hopefully you will supply my system with as good a review as those MacPro's. Also My system is 50 dollers cheaper than the Apple system, only $2449 RRP

    Yours Professionally, Alfredo

    Ok, I am not going to go down the biased track here, I am not a fanboi and never have been, I judge something on what it delivers at its given price.

    But Honestly if this bloke from Lemon computers gave you the above system with a vista o/s for review with a $2500 price tag we all know what the resulting article would have to say about it.

    Do I think your biased? No I don't. Do I think there are very large double standards at play? Absolutely.

    I mean honestly what apple is providing is the equivalent of an $1000 PC. FOR $2500. This is a hardware analysis site is it not?
    How can you possibly justify paying that sort of coin over and above an equivalent PC? Where is that extra $1500 worth of justification?
    Answer me that question and I will eat my words.


    Reply
  • gorbag - Tuesday, July 14, 2009 - link

    There's a difference between tossing a bunch of parts in a bag and calling it a $1000 'system', and the kind of components and design you get from Apple (or other prime tier vendors for that matter). So let's not compare what you buy from the showroom floor with what you can do with the back room sweepings OK? Reply
  • JimmiG - Tuesday, July 14, 2009 - link

    I wouldn't exactly define an i7 920 and an Asus or Gigabyte mobo "back room sweepings" though.

    You must be talking about the housing, because the actual components (you know, those boards and chips that make up the computer) are the same (minus the heat spreader).

    So yeah, for your own home built i7 system to match the Mac Pro in terms of "design", you might have to add a couple of hundred to your budget for a quality case and a quiet aftermarket CPU cooler, then spend 30 minutes doing some cable management after the built is finished. But a $1000 PC will *do* all the things the Mac Pro does, except look shiny and "professional" on the outside, which is not worth a $1000 - $1500 premium + no easy upgrade path, IMO.
    Reply
  • erple2 - Wednesday, July 15, 2009 - link

    The problem is that you can't actually buy a Core i7 computer from apple. You MUST buy the Xeon equivalent. Which drives the cost of the home built computer up significantly. That means that the Apple tax is no longer 1000+ dollars, and closer to about 750 dollars.

    The other problem is that you're probably also the person who will complain that Alienware computers are overpriced. Or Falcon Northwest. Of COURSE they cost more - they're for a particular niche of the population that wants to run a fast computer and wants someone else to put them together and support them. In my experience, the support you get from Falcon Northwest or Alienware IS worth the cost if you aren't the type that likes to crack open your case.

    The other problem is that the Apple hardware is also the only hardware that you can "easily" run OSX (after fighting trying to get OSX running with an i7 920, I can't say that it's easy at all).

    You are essentially arguing that all high end workstations are the same. This is, unfortunately, not entirely true - the integrated package does matter to a significant number of businesses that want to run hardware. The initial cost of hardware is insignificant relatively to the support costs. Maybe Apple is cheaper than a home built computer that you'll have to employ someone to support the home builts. maybe it's cheaper to buy a bunch of Apples, and have a "dumber" tech to administer them with Apple's help.
    Reply
  • Hxx - Tuesday, July 14, 2009 - link

    theres no difference service/quality between "prime tier vendors" and a DIY built except for the warraty, which is useless in most cases. As far as Apple goes, they target a niche market which is why they can afford to charge this much for a box. Nobody in their right mind would pay this kind of money just to have a fast computer for everyday use. Reply
  • BushLin - Tuesday, July 14, 2009 - link

    Yep, the difference is $1500 and no amount of shininess, (almost) proprietary connectors or badges saying "Designed in California" (Made in China) can add enough value to justify the cost of what is relatively cheap hardware. Still, if you've got the money to burn and love Apple regardless...

    I'd like to see if a $1000 Hackintosh would offer such a reduced experience, those who swear by Apple's OS shouldn't have to be so routinely taken from behind by a company they apparently love to the point of promoting the products for free (and ignore all the shortcomings).
    Reply
  • zsdersw - Tuesday, July 14, 2009 - link

    How dare you criticize Apple for not including SSDs! Apple is perfect. Apple is God!

    All must genuflect to Pope Steve Jobs and all must buy his Jesus Phone.

    Those who speak anything negative about Apple and/or those who do not recognize their supreme awesomeness will be excommunicated.
    Reply
  • michal1980 - Tuesday, July 14, 2009 - link

    WTF?

    how is it awesome, for the most part you have to use an adaptor, at a cost of 100 bucks.

    oh and if you need to run a high res, since apple is 'cute' (why a mini display port on a desktop? why?) you need 2 cables just to get it connected? LOL

    and if you need to use the adaptor you still have screws for dvi & vga.


    Finally, do people really hate the screw contections? personally I love them, since there is almost zero chance of them falling out
    Reply
  • MrPIppy - Tuesday, July 14, 2009 - link

    Two questions:

    1) You suggest that for someone wanting higher clocked processors in a Mac Pro, it's a better value to buy the base model, upgrade the processors, and eBay the old ones. But on the 8-core models, the stock CPUs don't have IHSs. Is there any market for these chips on eBay (besides other Nehalem Mac Pro owners who have fried their original processors ;-)?

    2) Can a single socket Mac Pro be upgraded to a dual socket just by replacing the CPU board?
    Starting from the base single-socket ($2500), you could get another W3520 off of eBay cheap ($~350) (possibly one already de-lidded), a dual-socket CPU board ($400), another heatsink ($?) and RAM ($~100), and it would come out far cheaper than Apple charges ($4700) for a Mac Pro with dual X5550s at 2.66 GHz. The total system TDP would be higher, but the already over-specced cooling system would just have to run a little louder.
    The hard part of this plan is convincing a reseller or Apple Store to sell you a 2-socket CPU board and a heatsink, with only a 1-socket CPU board to trade. But, even if some cash had to be discreetly slipped into pockets to make it happen, you still stand to save $1000, which could buy a nice SSD and 24" monitor.
    Reply
  • BoboGO - Tuesday, July 14, 2009 - link

    Two 2.26GHz Quad-Core Intel Xeon "Nehalem" processors
    12GB (6 x 2GB) DDR3 1333 (PC3 10600) memory
    1TB SATA 3.0Gb/s hard drives
    250GB SATA II MLC Internal Solid state disk (SSD)
    22X DVD/CD double-layer writer with LightScribe support
    8X Blu-Ray DVD Burner
    X-Fi Titanium Fatal1ty Champion Series 7.1 Channels PCI-Express Sound Card
    NVIDIA GeForce GTX 285 with 2GB GDDR3 memory
    Thermaltake Xaser VI Black Aluminum Computer Case
    Piano-black 22" 2ms HDMI Widescreen w/LED Backlight LCD Monitor - w/webcam & speakers
    Bonus! Virtual 7.1 Surround Sound Light Weight Circumaural USB Gaming Headset

    Ships: 3 days
    Total Cost: $3,429.92
    Reply

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