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Mac Pro
Mac Pro
Developer Apple Inc.
Release date March 3, 2009 (current model)
August 7, 2006 (original release)
Introductory price USD $2,499[1]
GBP £1,940[2]
CPU Intel Xeon "Nehalem" (current model)
Intel Xeon "Woodcrest" (original release)

The Mac Pro is a workstation computer manufactured by Apple Inc. The machines are based on Xeon microprocessors, but are similar to the Power Mac G5 they replaced in terms of outward appearance and expansion capabilities. The Mac Pro, the fastest computer that Apple has to offer, is currently one of three desktop computers in the current Macintosh lineup, the other two being the iMac and Mac mini.

The 1st Mac Pro based on dual-dual-core Xeon Woodcrest processors was formally announced on August 7 at the 2006 Worldwide Developer's Conference (WWDC).[3] Along with the Mac Pro, a new Intel Xeon-based Xserve was also announced, completing Apple's transition from the PowerPC to x86 architecture. On April 4, 2007 an dual Quad-core Xeon Clovertown model was launched. On January 8, 2008, Apple unveiled the first 3.2 GHz, dual CPU quad-core Intel Xeon (Harpertown 45 nm)-based Mac Pro.[4] The current Mac Pro was unveiled on March 3, 2009, featuring the new Intel Xeon processors based on the Nehalem microarchitecture as well as a lower entry price.



An Intel-based replacement for the Power Mac G5 had long been expected prior to the release of the Mac Pro. The iMac, Mac Mini, MacBook and MacBook Pro had moved to an Intel-based architecture starting in January 2006, leaving the Power Mac G5 as the only machine in the Mac lineup still based on the PowerPC. Speculation about the G5's eventual replacement was common. Rumors initially expected the machine to differ physically from the existing G5 and considered a number of different possible internal configurations based on different chipsets, but the coincidence of Intel releasing a new Core 2-based Xeon workstation platform just prior to the 2006 Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) made it fairly obvious that the resulting machine would be based on it.[5] Even the naming was "obvious"; Apple had dropped the term "Power" from the other machines in their lineup, and started using "Pro" on their higher-end laptop offerings. As such, the name "Mac Pro" was widely used before the machine was announced.[5]

The Mac Pro is a high-end computer, similar to higher end Unix workstations from vendors such as Sun Microsystems.[6] Although the high-end technical market has not traditionally been an area of strength for Apple, the company has been positioning itself as a leader in non-linear digital editing for high-definition video, which demands storage and memory far in excess of a general desktop machine. Additionally, the codecs used in these applications are generally processor intensive and highly threadable, speeding up almost linearly with additional processor cores.[5] Apple's previous machine aimed at this market, the Power Mac G5, had up to two dual-core processors, but lacked the storage expansion capabilities of the newer design.[5] In order to serve this market, Apple sells a variety of standardized bundles combining a Mac Pro with fairly high-end components; for instance, all available setups can support the 30" Cinema Display.[1]

In general, the Mac Pro has been well received in the press.[7] The combination of high performance, reasonable expandability, very quiet operation and superb mechanical design makes it routinely appear as the comparison system against which other systems are measured. The Xeon platform is, however, Intel's "high end" system and not aimed at more general purpose use. Nevertheless, current-generation Xeons are priced competitively with their high-end desktop platforms, allowing Apple to sell a very powerful system at price points that are considered quite competitive, even by reviewers who do not normally review Apple systems.[8]

Original marketing materials for the Mac Pro generally referred to the middle-of-the-line model with 2 × dual-core 2.66 GHz processors.[1] Previously, Apple featured the base model with the words "starting at" or "from" when describing the pricing, but the online Apple Store listed the "Mac Pro at $2499", the price for the mid-range model. The base model could be configured at US$2299, much more comparable with the former base-model dual-core G5 at US$1999, although offering considerably more processing power. Post revision, the default configurations for the Mac Pro includes one quad-core Xeon 3500 at 2.66 GHz or two quad-core Xeon 5500s at 2.26 GHz each.[1]

The Mac Pro is the only machine in Apple's lineup with industry standard PCI express (PCIe) slots for graphics cards and other expansion cards.


The specifications below are from Apple's "tech specs" page[9] or developer notes,[10] except where noted.


The current Mac Pro uses either one or two Xeon 5500 "Gainestown" or Xeon 3500 "Bloomfield" (both based on the Intel Nehalem microarchitecture) 64-bit CPUs for a total of four or eight processor cores. Each CPU has an 8 MB on-chip L3 cache shared among its processor cores.[11] Because the most recent revision is based on the Nehalem microarchitecture, the old Front Side Bus technology has been replaced by the Intel QuickPath Interconnect interface. Both of these processors are capable of Intel's Turbo Boost technology (similar to Intel's SpeedStep technology), which dynamically boosts the clock rate of a core in intervals of 133 MHz if the CPU temperature is below average conditions.


The original Mac Pro's main memory used 667 MHz DDR2 ECC FB-DIMMs; the early 2008 model used 800 MHz ECC DDR2 FB-DIMMS, the current Mac Pro uses 1066 MHz DDR3 ECC DIMMs. In the original and 2008 models, these modules are installed in pairs, one each on two riser cards. The cards have 4 DIMM slots each, allowing a total of 32 GB of memory (8 x 4 GB) to be installed.[12] Notably, due to its FB-DIMM architecture, installing more RAM in the Mac Pro will improve its memory bandwidth, but may also increase its memory latency.[13] With a simple install of a single FB-DIMM the peak bandwidth is 8 GB/s, but this can increase to 16 GB/s by installing two FB-DIMMs, one on each of the two buses, which is the default configuration from Apple. While electrically the FB-DIMMs are standard, Apple requests that users use larger-than-normal heatsinks on the memory modules that they install. Problems have been reported by users who have used third party RAM that had normal sized FB-DIMM heatsinks.[14] (see notes below).

Hard drives

An example of a Mac Pro's hard drive tray.

The Mac Pro has room for four internal standard 3.5" hard drives, in sizes up to the current maximum available running at 7200-rpm or 15,000-rpm, each with its own SATA-300 port. With the addition of a SAS capable RAID card, SAS drives can be used with the SATA ports. The hard drives are mounted on individual trays (also known as 'sleds'), provided with the machine, by captive thumbscrews similar to the one used for the PCIe slots. There are no cables to be attached, the SATA and power connectors are firmly attached to the case, and the drive is connected to them simply by pushing it in. The case lock on the back of the machine locks the trays into position. The Mac Pro now offers an optional hardware RAID card.[15] Two optical drive bays are available, each with a SATA-300 port and an ATA-100 port. Many optical drives still use the older ATA ports, including those currently being shipped with the machines.

The Mac Pro has 1 P-ATA port (for up to two P-ATA devices) and a total of 6 SATA ports, 4 integrated in to the drive bays, and two internal SATA ports that are not connected to drive bays. These extra SATA ports can be put into service through the use of after-market extender cables, for use with internal Optical drives, or to provide eSATA ports with the use of an eSATA bulkhead connector.[16] However, these extra SATA ports are unsupported and disabled under Boot Camp.

Overall, a built to order Mac Pro can be configured with up to 8 TB of storage (four 2TB disks).

Expansion cards

For internal expansion the current Mac Pro has four PCI Express (PCIe) 2.0 expansion slots. The 2008 model had two PCI Express (PCIe) 2.0 expansion slots and two PCI Express 1.1 slots, providing them with up to 300 W of power in total. The first slot is double wide and intended to hold the main video card, arranged with an empty area the width of a normal card beside it in order to leave room for the large coolers modern cards often use. In most machines, one slot would be blocked by the cooler. Instead of the tiny screws typically used to fasten the cards to the case, in the Mac Pro a single "bar" holds the cards in place, which is itself held in place by two "captive" thumbscrews that can be loosened by hand without tools and will not fall out of the case.

The PCIe slots can be configured individually to give more bandwidth to devices that require it, with a total of 40 "lanes", or 13 GB/s total throughput. When running Mac OS X, the Mac Pro currently does not support SLI or ATI CrossFire,[17] limiting its ability to use the latest "high-end gaming" video card products; however, individuals have reported success with both CrossFire and SLI installations when running Windows XP, as SLI and CrossFire compatibility is largely a function of software.

The bandwidth allocation of the PCIe slots can be configured via the Expansion Slot Utility included with Mac OS X only on the August 2006 Mac Pro. The Mac Pro (Early 2008) has its slots hardwired as follows.

Slot 4 4x
Slot 3 4x
Slot 2 16x
Slot 1 (Double-Wide) 16x

External connectivity

The backs of a Power Mac G5 (left) and a Mac Pro (right) show the differences in arrangement. Note the dual fans on the Power Mac and the single fan on the Mac Pro as well as the new I/O port arrangement.

For external connectivity, the Mac Pro includes five USB 2.0 and four FireWire ports, two each of FireWire 400 and FireWire 800. Networking is supported with two built-in Gigabit Ethernet ports, while 802.11 a/b/g/draft-n Wi-Fi is supported via an optional AirPort Extreme card. Bluetooth is now standard.

Digital (TOSlink optical) audio and analog 1/8" stereo mini jacks for sound in and out are included, latter becoming available on both the front and back of the case.

Unlike other Mac products, the Mac Pro does not include an infrared receiver (required to use the Apple Remote). Beginning with Mac OS X Leopard, Front Row can be accessed on the Mac Pro (and other Macs) using the Command (⌘)-Escape keystroke.


A comparison of the internals of the Power Mac G5 (left) and the Mac Pro (right).

The exterior of the aluminum case is very similar to that of the Power Mac G5, with the exception of an additional optical drive bay, and a new arrangement of I/O ports on both the front and the back. The case can be opened by operating a single lever on the back, which unlocks one of the two sides of the machine, as well as the drive bays. All of the expansion slots for memory, PCIe cards and drives can be accessed with the one panel removed, and require no tools for installation.

The Xeon processors generate much less heat than the previous dual-core G5s, so the size of the internal cooling devices has been reduced significantly. This allowed the interior to be re-arranged, leaving more room at the top of the case and thereby allowing the drives to double in number. Less heat also means less air to move out of the case for cooling during normal operations; the Mac Pro is very quiet in normal operation, quieter than the already-quiet Power Mac G5,[18][19] and proved difficult to measure using common decibel meters.[20]


Component Intel Xeon (based on Core microarchitecture) Intel Xeon (based on Nehalem microarchitecture)
Model Mid 2006[21] Early 2008[22] Early 2009[23]
Release date August 7, 2006
April 4, 2007 Optional 3.0 GHz Quad-core Xeon "Clovertown"
January 8, 2008 March 3, 2009
December 4, 2009 Optional 3.33 GHz Quad-core Xeon "Bloomfield"
Model Numbers MA356*/A MA970*/A MB871*/A MB535*/A
Machine Model MacPro1,1
MacPro2,1 Optional 3.0 GHz Quad-core Xeon "Clovertown"
MacPro3,1 MacPro4,1
Chipset Intel 5000X Intel 5400 Intel X58
System bus Front-side bus QuickPath Interconnect
1333 MHz 1600 MHz 5.4 GT/s (8-core 2.26 GHz models only) or 6.4 GT/s
Expandable to four graphics cards
nVidia GeForce 7300 GT with 256 MB of GDDR3 SDRAM (single-link and dual-link DVI ports)
Optional ATI Radeon X1900 XT with 512 MB GDDR3 SDRAM (two dual-link DVI ports) or nVidia Quadro FX 4500 with 512 MB GDDR3 SDRAM (stereo 3D and two dual-link DVI ports)
ATI Radeon HD 2600 XT with 256 MB of GDDR3 SDRAM (two dual-link DVI ports)
Optional nVidia GeForce 8800 GT with 512 MB GDDR3 SDRAM (two dual-link DVI ports) or nVidia Quadro FX 5600 1.5 GB (stereo 3D, two dual-link DVI ports)
nVidia GeForce GT 120 with 512 MB of GDDR3 SDRAM (one mini-DisplayPort and one dual-link DVI port)
Optional ATI Radeon HD 4870 with 512 MB of GDDR5 SDRAM (one Mini DisplayPort and one dual-link DVI port)
Hard drive
7200-rpm unless specified
250 GB Serial ATA with 8 MB cache
Optional 500 GB with 8 MB cache or 750 GB with 16 MB cache
320 GB Serial ATA with 8 MB cache
Optional 500 GB, 750 GB, or 1 TB Serial ATA with 16 MB cache or 300 GB Serial Attached SCSI, 15,000-rpm with 16 MB cache
640 GB Serial ATA with 16 MB cache
Optional 1 TB or 2 TB Serial ATA drives with 32 MB cache
Processor Two 2.66 GHz (5150) Dual-core Intel Xeon "Woodcrest"
Optional 2.0 GHz (5130), 2.66 GHz or 3.0 GHz (5160) Dual-core or 3.0 GHz (X5365) Quad-core Intel Xeon "Clovertown"
Two 2.8 GHz (E5462) Quad-Core Intel Xeon "Harpertown"
Optional two 3.0 GHz (E5472) or 3.2 GHz (X5482) Quad-core processors or one 2.8 GHz (E5462) Quad-core processor
One 2.66 GHz (W3520) Quad-Core Intel Xeon "Bloomfield" or two 2.26 GHz (E5520) Quad-core Intel Xeon "Gainestown" with 8 MB of L3 cache
Optional 2.93 GHz (W3540) or 3.33 GHz (W3580) Intel Xeon Quad-core Intel Xeon "Bloomfield" processors or two 2.66 GHz (X5550) or 2.93 GHz (X5570) Quad-core Intel Xeon "Gainestown" processors
Memory 1 GB (two 512 MB) of 667 MHz DDR2 ECC fully buffered DIMM
Expandable to 16 GB (Apple), 32 GB (Actual)
2 GB (two 1 GB) of 800 MHz DDR2 ECC fully buffered DIMM
Expandable to 32 GB
3 GB (three 1 GB) or 6 GB (six 1 GB) of 1066 MHz DDR3 ECC DIMM
Expandable to 16 GB (Apple, as of December 5, 2009), on Quad-core models (although expandable to 32GB using 3rd party 4x8GB DIMMS), and 32 GB in 8-core models
AirPort Extreme Optional 802.11a/b/g and draft-n (n disabled by default) Optional 802.11a/b/g and draft-n (n-enabled)
Optical drive 16x SuperDrive with double-layer support (DVD±R DL/DVD±RW/CD-RW) 18x SuperDrive with double-layer support (DVD±R DL/DVD±RW/CD-RW)

Operating systems

The Mac Pro comes with the BIOS successor EFI 1.1 and handles booting differently from the conventional BIOS-based PC.[24]

Apple's Boot Camp provides BIOS backwards compatibility, allowing dual and triple boot configurations. These operating systems are installable on Intel x86 based Apple computers:[25]

  • Mac OS X 10.4.7 and later
  • Microsoft Windows XP and Vista 32-bit & 64-bit (hardware drivers are included in Boot Camp)
  • Other 80x86 operating systems such as Linux x86, Solaris, DOS, BeOS, and BSD

This is made possible by the presence of an x86 Intel architecture as provided by the CPU and the BIOS emulation Apple has provided on top of EFI.[25] Installing any additional operating system other than Windows is not supported by Apple, because the Boot Camp drivers are Windows only.[25] It is often possible to achieve full or nearly full compatibility with another OS by using 3rd-party drivers.[25]

There are a number of challenges that one must face when trying to establish a multi-booting configuration on a single hard drive that uses the new GPT partitioning standard that Mac OS takes advantage of at the same time as the MBR, which is commonly used by Windows and Linux (though Linux can use GPT). One must synchronize their GPT and MBR partition tables multiple times during the setup of such configurations. The key challenge is that a maximum of 4 partitions can be made on any such hard drive (including the EFI partition).[26][27] This is because logical and extended MBR partitions are not possible which means that more than 4 partitions cannot be referenced for the MBR component of the configuration. Thus, having more partitions would force MBR and GPT to have differing partitioning schemes. The Disk Utility command-line application in Mac OS X (in addition to numerous 3rd-party graphical packages) can nondestructively resize a single partitioned HFS+ formatted volume to a scheme usable for dual/triple boot configurations with BIOS/MBR.



  • Software (PPC Emulation) – PowerPC-Native Applications: As the Mac Pro uses a different hardware platform than earlier PPC Macintoshes, it is incapable of running PPC applications natively. It instead uses the Rosetta PPC emulator to seamlessly run PPC applications, though at some performance penalty. Due to the manner in which Apple chose to implement it, Rosetta is incapable of emulating some lower level PPC code, and does not support 64-bit (G5 specific) PPC features.[28]
  • Software (Classic Emulation) – Classic (Mac OS 9.x and earlier): Intel-based Macs do not support Mac OS X's Classic emulation environment, although third-party emulators such as SheepShaver may allow these applications to run.[29][30]


  • For 2006 and 2008 models, Apple recommends an Apple-specified heat sink on each memory DIMM for cooling, and the required on-chip thermal manager may shut down memory, or increase fan speed, if it starts to overheat.[14] Several third-party, self-installable memory upgrades that include Apple-specified heat sinks are available. In contrast, the 2009 Mac Pro with Nehalem processors uses unbuffered memory with no heatsinks.
  • The Mac Pro, as with other Macintosh platforms, requires Mac OS X compatible firmware. That is to say, a PCIe video card designed exclusively for other operating systems will not work properly under Mac OS X without appropriate drivers and/or firmware; however, they will work under the operating systems they were designed for, if installed via Boot Camp or other means. Some video cards and other hardware accessories not marketed for Macintoshes can nonetheless be tricked into compatibility through combination with software extracted from similar Macintosh hardware.[31] Also, AMD released the ATI Radeon HD 3870, which is compatible with both Mac Pros and PCs from other manufacturers.[32]


  1. ^ a b c d "Mac Pro". Apple Inc.. Retrieved 10 January 2010. 
  2. ^ "Mac Pro". Apple Inc.. Retrieved 10 January 2010. 
  3. ^ Keynote presentation at the Worldwide Developers Conference, August 7, 2006.
  4. ^ "Apple adds 8-core option to Mac Pro". MacNN. 
  5. ^ a b c d Bangeman, Eric (2006-07-16). "Peering inside the aluminum ball: Woodcrest, Conroe, and the "pro" Macs". Retrieved 2010-01-10. 
  6. ^ "The UNIX System — History and Timeline". 29 January 2003. Retrieved 16 January 2010. 
  7. ^ "Mac Pro review, 9 out of 10". Ars Technica. 
  8. ^ "Mac Pro vs. Dell Precision: A price comparison". Paul Thurrott's Internet Nexus. 
  9. ^ "Mac Pro tech specs". Apple, Inc.. 
  10. ^ "Mac Pro Developer Note". Apple, Inc.. 
  11. ^ Sizes of transistorized memory, such as RAM and cache, are binary values whereby 1 MB = 220 (1,048,576) bytes and 1 GB = 230 (1,073,741,824) bytes.
  12. ^ "Computer memory upgrades for Apple Mac Pro (4-core) Desktop/PC from".<!. Retrieved 2010-01-10. 
  13. ^ "Understanding FB-DIMMs". AnandTech. 
  14. ^ a b "Mac Pro Memory Issues". Ars Technica. 
  15. ^ Apple Computer, Inc.. "Apple Introduces New Mac Pro, Press Release March 3, 2009". Retrieved 2010-01-10. 
  16. ^ "NewerTech eSATA Extender Cable". 2008-01-08. Retrieved 2010-01-10. 
  17. ^ "Does the Mac Pro support standard PC video cards? Does it support SLI or Crossfire?". Retrieved 6 February 2010. 
  18. ^ "Mac Pro". Ars Technica. 
  19. ^ "PowerMac G5 review". Macworld. 
  20. ^ "Bare Feats' rob-ART Morgan says:". Bare Feats'. 
  21. ^ Mac Pro – Technical Specifications, Apple Inc.,, retrieved 2009-03-03 
  22. ^ Mac Pro (Early 2008) – Technical Specifications, Apple Inc.,, retrieved 2009-03-03 
  23. ^ Mac Pro (Early 2009) – Technical Specifications, Apple Inc.,, retrieved 2009-03-03 
  24. ^ "Overview". Retrieved 6 February 2010. 
  25. ^ a b c d "Triple Boot via BootCamp". Retrieved 2010-01-10. 
  26. ^ for info on EFI FAT driver. (requires registration)
  27. ^ "fdisk(1M)". Retrieved 29 January 2010. 
  28. ^ "Rosetta". Universal Binary Programming Guidelines, Second Edition. Apple. Retrieved 2007-07-04. 
  29. ^ Fried, Ina; John Borland (January 10, 2006). "Jobs: New Intel Macs are "screamers"". 
  30. ^ "Apple unveils Intel iMacs". AppleInsider. January 2006. Retrieved December 15, 2008. 
  31. ^ "Does the Mac Pro support standard PC video cards? Does it support SLI or Crossfire?". 25 March 2009. Retrieved 31 January 2010. 
  32. ^ "ATI Radeon™ HD 3870 Mac & PC Edition — Overview". AMD. 2009. Retrieved 31 January 2010. 

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