Maintain, optimize and troubleshoot your NLE
Professional cloud workflow platform
Simplified media management
< Blog Home

New Mac Pros, iMacs and Minis

Apple has hit us with three hardware refreshes in the same day.

Mac Mini

2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo
1GB memory2GB memory
120GB hard drive320GB hard drive
8x double-layer SuperDrive8x double-layer SuperDrive
NVIDIA GeForce 9400M graphicsNVIDIA GeForce 9400M graphics
$599, shipping within 24 hours$799, shipping within 24 hours

I'm really glad this little guy is still going strong. There were fears it would be discontinued but thankfully this has not proven to be the case.

Not the greatest specs in the world, but the GeForce 9400M is a welcome addition that should provide a decent performance boost to graphical apps.

Apple is claiming that it now uses 45% less power, making it even more viable for server-related tasks (my personal favorite use for Minis). It's worth noting that the case has not been redesigned to match the iMac, as was rumored.


20" display24" display24" display24" display
2.66GHz Intel Core 2 Duo2.66GHz Intel Core 2 Duo2.93GHz Intel Core 2 Duo3.06GHz Intel Core 2 Duo
2GB memory4GB memory4GB memory4GB memory
320GB hard drive640GB hard drive640GB hard drive1TB hard drive
8x double-layer SuperDrive8x double-layer SuperDrive8x double-layer SuperDrive8x double-layer SuperDrive
NVIDIA GeForce 9400M graphicsNVIDIA GeForce 9400M graphicsNVIDIA GeForce GT 120 with 256MB memoryNVIDIA GeForce GT 130 with 512MB memory
$1,199.00, shipping within 24 hours$1,499.00, shipping within 24 hours$1,799.00$2,199.00

Not much to say here - just a speed bump and NVIDIA graphics across the whole line. The 24" now starts at a lower pricepoint.

Mac Pro

One 2.66GHz Quad-Core Intel Xeon "Nehalem" processorTwo 2.26GHz Quad-Core Intel Xeon "Nehalem" processors
3GB (three 1GB) memory6GB (six 1GB) memory
640GB hard drive 640GB hard drive
18x double-layer SuperDrive18x double-layer SuperDrive
NVIDIA GeForce GT 120 with 512MBNVIDIA GeForce GT 120 with 512MB
$2,499.00, ships within 4 days$3,299.00, ships within 4 days

And here's a custom configured Mac Pro with pretty much everything you'd ever need:
Two 2.93GHz Quad-Core Intel Xeon
32GB memory (8x4GB)
Mac Pro RAID Card
4 x 1TB 7200-rpm Serial ATA 3Gb/s
ATI Radeon HD 4870 512MB graphics
Two 18x SuperDrives
2 x Apple Cinema HD Display (30" flat panel)
AirPort Extreme Wi-Fi Card with 802.11n
Quad-channel 4Gb Fibre Channel PCI Express card
Xsan 2
Mini DisplayPort to Dual-Link DVI Adapter (needed for 2x 30" displays
AppleCare protection plan for Mac Pro
$19,994.00, shipping in 6-8 weeks

Processor - You might think it's just a speed bump but the Nehalem series of CPUs has a completely redesigned architecture that removes a lot of traditional bottlenecks. This will significantly improve performance (particularly memory throughput) over previous Mac Pros.

The new architecture also allows two threads per core, meaning that 16 threads can be run simultaneously on the 8 core. I had wondered if Apple would market it as a 16 core machine but they chose not to, which is probably best as it could have been misleading.

Go for the 2.93 GHz processor if you can afford it.

Memory - Apple has been generous with the memory in the 8-core model. My usual advice would be to custom configure the machine with the minimum amount of memory possible and then buy it separately from cheaper sources. Note however that the custom configurator offers a minimum of 6 GB of memory, which will be enough for the majority of people.

Hard Drives - There are four bays, each offering a 640 GB or 1 TB SATA drive at 7200 RPM. I'd advise against ordering additional drives from Apple. Instead, shop around and you will get a much better deal. They are dead simple to install.

Apple has chosen not to offer solid-state disks as an option.

Graphics - Apple is offering two cards - the NVIDIA GeForce GT 120 512MB and the ATI Radeon HD 4860 512MB. The GeForce card is available in multiples up to 4. I would not advise purchasing multiple graphics cards in anticipation of Snow Leopard, as you'd be forking out a lot of money for something that has an unknown performance benefit. You don't know that it would improve performance enough to warrant the extra cost, and you don't even know if Final Cut Studio 3 will be able to use the extra cards. You can always buy extra cards later.

The Radeon is advised for Pro App use, however, as it has much better Core Image performance and a much greater range of working color depths. It is much faster than the GeForce and no comparable NVIDIA cards are yet offered as a BTO option for the Mac Pro. Both cards come with dual-link DVI and Mini DisplayPort connectors.

Note the absence of the NVIDIA Quadro FX.

Optical Drives - Not much to say really, except no Blu-ray.

Displays - The new graphics cards have support for the DisplayPort standard so the new 24" LED Display can now be used by Mac Pros, in addition to the traditional 30" Cinema Display. It looks like the 20" will not be replaced.

Note: you must have two GeForce cards in order to connect a second 24" display, or a Mini DisplayPort to Dual-Link DVI adapter if you are connecting two 30" displays.

My advice would be to go for the 30" because it is not glossy (there unfortunately isn't a matte option for the 24") and if you want to connect more than one, your choice of graphics card is not restricted.

Other minor aspects - There is no FireWire 400 - it's FW 800 only, like the MacBook Pro. You can use FW 400 devices with a converter cable. Bluetooth is now built-in.


It's a product refresh - you can't expect a whole host of new features. I think the Mac Pro refresh was a decent one (and long overdue) although I would prefer more display options from Apple. The 24" should have a matte option for those that prefer it, but what I dislike the most is that you are tied to the much slower GeForce if you want to add two of these.

Additionally, no-one really knows the future of the 30". Is it wise to buy one now when there could be a possible refresh in the near future? Or is it actually better to buy one now in case Apple gives us an inferior refreshed product in the future (it has happened before)? Or should we just buy from an alternative manufacturer? That is the question.

I'm really glad they chose to release these machines while Leopard was still around. It means that when I come to buy one in the near future, I can downgrade to Leopard if problems occur with Snow Leopard. It's not best to be an early adopter of an OS if you use it for professional work, nor is it best to downgrade to an earlier OS that does not support your computer.

The price hike for the Mac Pros was less welcome but this is mainly due to the increased cost of the CPUs from Intel, so it was not unexpected. Whenever Apple gives us something, they take away something else - but I do think in this instance Apple has given more than they have taken.

Update: Apple also gave the 15" MacBook Pro a speed bump.
Posted by Jon Chappell on Mar 3 2009 to Hardware, Apple, Analysis