The Apple Mac Pro 12-core is an incredibly powerful desktop PC, and with all that assembled power comes a massive price tag.

Little has changed to Apple’s flagship desktop PC in the last seven years.

At least, that’s what you might think, were you to look at the current Apple Mac Pro line-up - then compare it with the Apple Power Mac G5 of 2003.

A towering beast just over half a metre tall, the Power Mac G5 introduced Apple’s all-aluminium construction with perforated front and back panels. But outward appearances are particularly deceptive here. Yesteryear’s Mac bears almost no resemblance once you look inside - especially if you peer into this top-spec version with its two six-core Intel Xeon processors.

Read the PC Advisor review of the twin dual-core Apple Mac G5 of 2006

Starting price for the current Apple Mac Pro is now £1999, as supplied with one quad-core 2.8GHz Intel Xeon processor.

This Apple Mac Pro tested here is fitted with two workstation-class 2.93GHz Intel Xeon hex-cored chips, Intel codename: Westmere. So that’s 12 physical processor cores, each ‘hyperthreaded’ to create 24 virtual cores for the right software to exploit.

These processors are supported with 12GB of DDR3 ECC RAM; and for storage there’s a 512GB solid-state drive plus 2TB hard disk. Graphics are courtesy of an ATI Radeon HD 5870 card.

Optionally, Apple lets you fit two 5770 cards in the Mac Pro, as well as a hardware RAID card, and dual- or quad-core 4Gb fibre-channel PCI Express cards.

One performance trick that Apple has sadly missed is the SATA bus. While it’s now easy to find SSD storage built for SATA 6Gb/s operation, Apple – like HP with its comparable Z800 workstation line – is sticking with the slower 3Gb/s version of SATA.

On the Bench

We tried Cinebench 11.5 on this machine, using its CPU-based rendering engine to create an image of a pretty Christmas tree bauble.

It scored 1.13 points here, putting it just ahead of Intel Xeon 2.92GHz X5670 and Intel Core i7 960 3.2GHz processors, that each score 1.10 points.

In that same test, mind, the Intel Xeon X5670 is fractionally behind the Intel Core i7-960 running at 2.80GHz, which hits 1.13.

Engage all processor cores on this chip, and we see a significant stepup in performance, with Cinebench 11.5 now recording 15.10 points. That’s a multi-processor speed-up of 13.63x – not quite the 24x theoretical perfect scaling of 24 virtual cores, but above the 12x possibility of 12 physical cores.

Bench on

We tried a few of our regular Windows and Mac processes to see how this powerhouse performed.

Xbench is no workstation benchmark, but the Mac freeware app, by way of reference, on our workhorse 2.4GHz MacBook Pro (Early 2008) scores around 120 points in stock configuration; rising to 160 with 6GB RAM and a Crucial C300 SSD.

An original Power Mac G5, meanwhile, is humbled with around 85 points here.

The 12-core Apple Mac Pro pulled ahead more than just a little, scoring 350 points in Xbench.

Game on

This Apple Mac Pro is obviously overkill as a gaming machine, but we tried our regular Windows game tests, for comparison with the PCA Top 5 PC Charts.

In our ‘low’ Crysis test (High detail, 1024x768), it averaged 64 frames per second. In the ‘high’ test (Very High, 1680x1050) it scored 44fps. Those figures are in line with expectaton for the rendering power of an ATI 5870, which proved itself the principle limiting factor in this graphics test.

Our expectations were not very high for the WorldBench 6 real-world speed test. Few of its individual apps are optimised for multi-core workstations.

Nevertheless, tested in Windows 7 and with the SSD set as boot drive, the Apple Mac Pro actually scored 167 points. That makes it the fastest computer to ever grace our labs, and all without the need for the risky overclocking that Windows hot-rodding enthusiasts apply.

Needless to say for an Apple Mac, build quality is second to none, and the Mac Pro remained practically noiseless even during stress testing.

NEXT PAGE: the Digital Arts review of the Apple Mac Pro Mid-2010 'Twelve Core' >>