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Rumor Has It: 6-Core i9 Mac Pro Due in 2010, But It Hardly Matters

Back in October, HardMac reported that Apple (s aapl) was busy testing Intel’s (s intc) 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.

17 Responses to “Rumor Has It: 6-Core i9 Mac Pro Due in 2010, But It Hardly Matters”

  1. Lazy Developers, I am sick of hearing this. Adobe CS and Final Cut are have been in development for decades. The projects didn’t get funding from the spend the time to make for many core machines till recently since their was not a many-core CPUs in the field that makes it useful, and they are large projects to port especially since they are not just change to 64 bit, they are also moving from carbon (c++ api) to cocoa (objective-c api) with different front end components as they were both written in carbon but it’s 64 bit support was canceled.

    Also your CPU may not be the way to properly parallelise the program, CS4 did have some many core work to use the GPU to accelerate it, which as much as you talk about die shrink of the new processor, the GPUs of the last generation still have roughly 50 to 100 times the computing capacity of the CPUs that are about to be released. It has been a while since I checked the trends but at least a few years ago GPUs were increasing in computer speed faster than CPUs but architecturally that should still be occurring. Because GPUs tend to use more of the area on higher processor counts, while CPUs need to take large areas of the chip for more complex logic of the cores, out of step operations and larger cache so the chips are not just wasting time and power.

  2. First: the 2009 Mac Pro refresh _did_ introduce faster processors. Clock speeds came down, but performance per clock cycle went up by more than enough to compensate; a 2.26 GHz quad Nehalem is faster than a 2.66 GHz quad Core 2, just like a 2.4 GHz Core 2 Duo is faster than a 3.0 GHz Pentium 4. That’s different from what you imply in the article, which is that they’re slower but that doesn’t matter. They’re not slower.

    Second: the speed difference of a new processor isn’t academic just because the existing hardware is under-utilized. It will be nice that as software gets better at using the hardware features, it’ll speed up on existing hardware—but new hardware will also plow through the inefficiencies of old software faster. The fact that there is idle capacity in your new machine also doesn’t mean that faster hardware won’t make a difference: if seven cores are spinning their wheels and one is loaded, a faster processor would help as long as the performance-per-clock-cycle went up alongside the number of cores.

    All of this is to say that even though your basic point—last year’s Mac Pro isn’t going to be rendered useless or even ‘slow’ by next year’s—is a good point, I think you’re a little _too_ dismissive.

    Okay, now I’m going to go back to using my 2006 Mac Pro that still feels like a speed demon. :-)

  3. I dont care, im going from a 1.6ghz G5 (at home) to whatever apple throws at me in this next rev. However I do use a 2.66ghz dual core dual pro at work so im not totally deprived!

  4. If VLC and Handbrake are any indication your wait for 64 bit software which make better use of multiple cores is coming soon. Apple is slowly moving all their Carbon based applications to Cocoa and Adobe will eventually follow suit so about the time your hardware is outdated lo and behold new life from software and instead of having to pay full price you get in for a mere upgrade. Be happy with what you have. If you need to unload the Mac Pro ship it my way. For Free of course.

  5. Mark Stubbs

    its not an extra 4 cores physical cores, its an extra 2 physical cores and 4 extra processing threads, thats what an i7/i9 is a quad core (i9 being a 6 core) with Intels HyperThreading (HT) which gives you 8 (12 in i9) processing threads not 8 (12 in i9) physical cores

    • brian Williams

      ummm MacPros are dual cpu pcs so yes its 12 physical cores and 24 with HT

      Which btw is insane and if it happens and is less than £3000 i will have to get one its something that will last me a helluva long time. Coupled with nvidia hopefully sorting out their mac Quadro drivers or Apple going back to ATI it would me one serious working machine.

      i might need a 40″ monitor just to get enough res to run istat in my bar :S