Back in October, HardMac reported that Apple was busy testing Intel’s new “Gulftown” Xeon chip ahead of its inclusion in a refresh of the Mac Pro, which is slated for release early next year. The 32nm Gulftown chip is an evolution of the 45nm architecture found in the currently-shipping 2009 Mac Pro model.
Gulftown will be sold under the Core i9 brand name for consumer machines, while its server counterpart will be labeled the Xeon 5600 series. HardMac’s sources suggested Apple would have short-term exclusive use of the chip, much as it did for each of the last two “Xeon” revisions of the Mac Pro line.
Now, according to AppleInsider, Polish website PCLab last week published performance test results on Gulftown, showing that the new chips operated at nearly twice the speed of the previous generation chips during parallel tasks. In addition, they consumed only 50 percent as much power doing so. Sadly, the performance results are no longer available. PCLab explains:
We have been contacted by the reps of Intel Corporation. We agreed to remove the article. We will bring it back once Gulftown hits the stores, somewhere in 2010 :-)
Earlier this year I bought a 2009 Mac Pro. And – as sheer luck would have it – my purchase was delayed by one week… the very same week, as it happens, that Apple refreshed the Mac Pro line. I scoured the online store, meticulously comparing specs and searching the web for in-depth reviews of the new machine from the sort of geeks who spend their days doing nothing but benchmark testing. In short, I learned that while the Mac Pro prices went up, clock speeds came down – but I was reassured by those “in the know” that it didn’t matter the cores were (marginally) slower than before. I was still getting a more powerful machine than I’d ever need. I don’t mind admitting, though, for what I paid, I wanted my Mac Pro to be light years ahead of everything else, and I wanted it to stay that way for a long time! That’s not too much to ask, is it?
Still, Gulftown will squeeze-in an extra four physical cores above the eight I currently enjoy, and provide an extra four megabytes of L3 cache over the eight offered by my suddenly lowly-by-comparison machine. And don’t forget that 50 percent power-saving…
I’m only partially joking. Setting aside my shameful greed for ever-more-powerful hardware, the fact remains that my many-cored 2009 Mac Pro is woefully under-utilized. I do a fair bit of audio and video editing, but none of the software I use takes full advantage of multiple-processor cores. In addition, none of it is optimized for the 64-bit architecture of my machine or its Snow Leopard operating system. Final Cut doesn’t even try to be 64-bit compatible. Adobe CS4 Master Collection (in itself almost the price of a Mac Pro!) stubbornly remains a 32-bit suite.
So the bottom line is that my gloriously powerful and impressive Mac Pro is still sporting its (virtual) training wheels because, frankly, developers are dragging their heels updating their software.
That doesn’t stop me wanting the new Mac Pro, of course. Like I said, I’m greedy. But I’m also learning. And even if Apple releases this behemoth early in 2010, I don’t think I’ll be too frustrated. News of breathtakingly-more-powerful machines is tantalizing, to be sure, but until software developers really get behind this new hardware, whatever advantages these powerful new chips and architectures promise remains almost entirely academic.