Apple Announces New 12 core Macs….for $5000

Coming in August, starting at $5000….ouch!

The good news – Apple today announced new 12 core Macs that are up to 1 1/2 times faster than the current speedy Nehalem 8 core Macs.

The bad news – “Coming August” and starting at $5000*

So after the jump for the full info and breakdown.

Here’s what we know so far:


* Ok, STARTING AT $4999 not really $5000, but YOWZA. On further thought, this is actually progress – the current top of the line Macs start at $5899 for the fastest 2.93GHz 8 core model. Some of you might want to start grumbling about price gouging, but I don’t think it is Apple’s fault on this one – Intel charges a hefty premium for their top of the line chips, and the fastest are the rarest – chip yields for whatever is the latest/fastest are always low until they get it figured out better. Lower chip yields means they HAVE to charge more if only 1 out of every 3 or 5 or 10 or whatever it is works. And with 6 cores per die (these Macs are 2 chips w/6 processors each), that means whatever the manufacturing failure rate is per core, multiply that times six for these. THAT’S a big chunk of why they cost more – if you have to throw out most of them, you’ve got to charge more for those that work.

EDIT – I previously said this was a shift up in price, but is only a shift in the “starting at” price promoted, not the actual cost of the top of the line box as detailed above.

They are also clearly altering the price of the 4 and 8 core models, but we don’t have exact details yet – 4 core models start at 2.8 GHz and $2499, 8 core models start at 2.4 GHz and $3500. For the Quad Core, that is a processor bump at the same price point (with GPU bump as well, RAM & HD unknown), and for the 8 core, that is a slight increase in speed and price – from 2.26 to 2.4 GHz and $3299 to $3499. Considering the 2.66 GHz model was an extra $1400 instead of $200, this is a good deal relative to the current model.


-“Coming August” – keep in mind this does NOT necessarily mean they will be plentifully available come August 1st – it might, but it could also mean a few trickle out on the 31st, and they could be backordered for a while. I’ve been waiting MONTHS for this announcement – six core chips were announced at the beginning of the year and HP and Dell announced systems using these chips as early as March, according to some quick online research I did.

Apple in recent years has gotten a lot better about making machines consistently available after announcement – used to be they’d say available in 1-2 months, I’d order the day they were announced, and not receive for 3-4 months. But they’ve made huge progress in this regard. My best guess is that Apple waited this long so that there would be decent availability on these chips to support demand. Hopefully they have waited long enough, I don’t have enough information to say one way or the other. But it does seem like this machine would be more likely to be harder to come by than others in recent years, based purely on a gut level perception of the market right now. Then again, in this economy, maybe they’ll have plenty for demand. Keep in mind that Macs are only about 1/4 of Apple’s income these days, and the top end towers only a tiny percentage of that – very low single digits I’d guess. All of this is to say, don’t count on getting one on any certain date – these will account for less than 2% at best of Apple’s profit this year I’d wager, so it isn’t their top priority.


-can configure Mac Pro towers with 4/6/8/12 processors – meaning single processor quad core, single processor 6 core, dual processor quad core (2×4=8), or dual 6 core (2×6=12) processors

-6 core at up to 3.33GHz, 8 core at up to 2.4GHz, or 12 core at up to 2.93GHz

-Turbo Boost – if it is a single threaded app (can’t use multiple processors, or as Apple puts it “an application that doesn’t need every core”) then it can run a limited # of processors at a higher speed – from 2.93 to 3.33GHz on a 12 core, and from 3.33 to 3.6GHz on a 6 core.

-Looking at a chart on this page, it would appear Apple is using Intel Xeon 5670 processors for the 12 core units – 2.93 GHz (as mentioned elsewhere in the Apple literature here), which have 12MB of Cache, draw 95 watts, and the list price from Intel is $1440 apiece in quantities of 1000 – so at that price (I’m sure Apple gets a better price for their higher quantities), that’d be $2880 just for the processors alone – which justifies that $5000 price a bit more.

-single processor, 6 core units can be as fast as 3.33GHz, and Turbo Boost up to 3.6GHz

-Hyper-Threading still works, so be ready for 24 bars on your Activity Monitor. Want.


I found a quiet little link on the specs page with this pop-up chart:

…so it looks like 6 and 12 core machines may be BTO (Build To Order) only, since they are “optional upgrades”? A 2.66GHz 12 core option is probably going to be the best bang for the buck, and I’d bet around $4100-$4300 based on what I know of Apple/Intel pricing. We’ll find out in the coming days or weeks.


-ATI Radeon HD 5770 or 5870 – neither currently available from the Apple Store

-both have 1GB of GDDR5 memory, both occupy two PCI slots, both have 2 Mini DisplayPorts and a Dual Link DVI connector, and it appears that YES they are all hot – so 3 displays can be supported from a single card. Not 100% clear on whether that can be a 30″ (or the new 27″) & two 24s, though

-the 5870 has a 256 bit memory interface, 153.6GB/s memory bandwidth, and 2.72 teraflops of processing power (single precision), and requires TWO auxiliary power cables. The 5770 has half all those #s – 128 bit interface, 76.8 GB/s bandwidth, 1.35 teraflops, and 1 auxiliary power cord

-NO PRICE GIVEN AT THIS TIME for the price bump to the 5870 – the 5770 is standard.

-Ok, so is it ATI all the way? So what about NVIDIA accelerated Mercury Playback Engine in Adobe’s CS5? Right now, the only certified cards are all NVIDIA. Worse still, the technology is based on NVIDIA ONLY tech, NOT ATI. And Apple isn’t mentioning any NVIDIA cards AT ALL for these machines – so third party sales, here we go. Even then, you’d have to buy SOME ATI card from Apple. Ugh – hopefully there will be NVIDIA options – I can’t see it any other viable way without it being a huge snub to Adobe. Hmm….


-still the same basic box (and it is a good one!) with 4 drive bays, for up to 8TB of from-Apple storage

-what’s new is the option for SSDs (solid state drives) of up to 512GB capacity. Be ready for these to be horrifically expensive – a quick online search from an el cheapo vendor found a 500GB SSD for $1650. Based on that, I’d expect Apple to charge around $1999 a pop for a 512GB model. (Apple makes just a wee bit of margin on their RAM and hard drives)

-they are FAST – up to 230 MB/sec transfer rate, instead of something like 110 MB/sec on modern 7200 rpm SATA drives – and you can stripe into a RAID, just like any other drive on a Mac

-seek times are incredibly fast as well – no moving parts, so no read/write head to wait for to shuttle around. If you’re doing realtime playback of frame sequences, this is a Big Deal. 2K DPX playback in realtime, anyone?

-can still SATA or SAS RAID, too

-STILL NO BLU-RAY BURNER MENTIONED – let me put this in proper WebRage™® typography- ARE YOU KIDDING US APPLE? It is one thing to snub Adobe’s CS4/CS5 capabilities and say licensing is “a bag of hurt” and say “the future is downloads.” It is another to try and foist that future on us by NOT OFFERING something other vendors have offered for YEARS. Oh, and FCP 7 lets you burn directly from a timeline to a Blu-ray drive…IF YOU HAVE ONE. This is getting insulting at this point. So…third party sales, here we go.

Also, not at that level of vitriol, I’m a bit bummed to notice the lack of USB 3.0 – the MUCH faster bus that was standardized this year. So clearly, Apple isn’t going to offer it this year on desktop based systems (not on the new iMacs either). Drat. Understandable as it is a brand new spec, but drat nonetheless.

Magic Trackpad

-new to me – hadn’t seen this before

-a big, glass trackpad to do more gesture control – pretty cool, and $69. Vexingly, I can’t find specs for how big it is other than 80% bigger than MacBook Pro’s

Magic Trackpad

and what we really care about,


-in theory up to 1.5x faster than the Nehalem 8 core boxes, which were no slouch themselves

-in practice? In Apple’s own tests (keep in mind made to look as good as possible), comparing 2.93GHz boxes (8 vs 12 core) both w/6GB of RAM, here’s the results:

FCP ProRes to H.264 encode: 1.3x faster
(making 640×480 iPhone sized – not what I do every day – they don’t say what size they started with, probably not 1080p)

ProRes render (no frame size given): 1.4x faster
betcha this was SD not HD if I had to guess, love to be wrong though

HDV to H.264 (gotta be 720p or 1080i): 1.2x faster

HDV render (gotta be 720p or 1080i): 1.2x faster

Adobe CS5 (with a whopping 24GB of RAM): 1.4x faster
-this one makes more sense that it is nearly 1.5x faster – with each core having 2GB of RAM, it is pretty much a freestanding entity. I wonder if they were using SSDs? With 12 parallel operations running, I could see that being a notable factor. Reading/writing from the same drive for 12 parallel processes takes its toll!

Notice for the ones we know something about, the larger frame sizes seem to be slower for the tasks shown. If I had to guess, the bigger the frame size, the smaller the difference. There are DEFINITELY other factors, but this is my sneaking suspicion.

Speaking of which, comparing 3x300GB 15K rpm SAS drives to 3x1TB 7200rpm SATA drives, you can really see the benefit of lower seek times (in addition to faster spindle speeds):

streams of 10 bit uncompressed 1080i60 video: 4 streams for SAS RAID, 1 for SATA RAID

streams of 1080i60 ProResHQ: 11 SAS, 6 SATA (RAID both)

streams of 720p24 ProResHQ: 25 vs 16 (SAS RAID vs SATA RAID)

For Apple’s page on all this, with the caveats they are willing to share, go here


announcement page



storage and RAID

box design

Magic Trackpad (anyone can use)

application performance


tech specs – limited – doesn’t mention 6 core processor specs – but does say 1 x16 slot, two x4 slots, 300W combined max power draw. Does also say two FW800 on front, two on back – so no FW400 ports, and multichannel audio support through the Mini DisplayPort – yay.


Well, a 12 core is definitely my own next box – I skipped Nehalem because I already had an 8 core, and the performance boost was solid but not OMG amazing over my 8 core 3.0 GHz box that I’m writing this on (which lacks Hyper-Threading, though). The price is steep for a “starting at” price point, but good in light of the comparison to the current $5899 starting price for an 8 core 2.93GHz Nehalem.. If I were putting together a render farm, I’d be chugging the cost per deliverable per hour based on the 12 core verrrrry carefully – does it cost justify? 8 core boxes start at $3500, 12 core at $5000 – you are pretty much paying about the same amount per core with these systems – do you get the same performance per dollar? Dunno.

BUT….if like most folks, you are NOT putting together a render farm, the math gets easier. What are you doing with your Mac? Can it REALLY take advantage of all 12 cores at the same time for the stuff you do? And for video folks, how much other stuff are you putting in/on/around that box? If you are just putting together a simple edit station with no video I/O, and therefore not a lot of extra cash into it, then maybe weigh the cost/benefit of the faster machine.

If you were, for instance, getting a very basic system – it looks like Apple is going to increase the base 8 core system to 2.4 GHz for $3500, then add FCS 3 and a 24″ monitor – that’s about $5300 before tax and shipping and whatnot. Jumping to 12 core would increase your price by $1500, a 28% jump up in price. Would you be getting 28% more performance for what you’re going to do? Mmmmmmaybe….and that is if the machine were USING that speed at all times.

BUT…if you’re like me, and trying to figure out if you can put a Red Rocket, a Kona 3, a RAID card of some sort in there, and going to be attaching ten grand worth of extra doodads in/on/around the machine, look at the total cost, and total increase in performance. If buying a brand new system all pimped out – the Mac, extra RAM, a RAID, a couple of displays, a Kona3 or possibly Red Rocket card – you’re looking at $10-$15K at least. Then, a 10% increase in cost for a 20-50% increase in processing power? A no brainer.

Presuming my budget will handle it, come August, I’m looking into getting me one of these.

I’ll be doing some hands on testing ASAP.

Not just because it is the latest/greatest, but because for me, it is time – kinda like iPhones – every other rev has enough extra oomph to make it worth considering the upgrade.



There’s been a lot of gnashing of teeth on the web about how “weak” this update is. I’ve been mulling over it, and here’s how I’d split hairs after doing some digging and reading:

Blu-ray – yeah, Steve has a stick up his butt. No excuse to at least offer it as a BTO option. FAIL.

port multiplying eSATA on motherboard – too complex for typical consumer/prosumer to use. SEMI-JUSTIFIABLE FAIL

USB 3.0 – Apple isn’t a tech leader anymore. We have to get used to that. FAIL? Is there a mobo that’d support 12 cores and this?

FW1600/3200 – oops, the first consumer hardware won’t be ready until later this year. PASS – NOT THEIR FAULT

PCI 3.0 – the spec delayed until 2011. PASS – NOT THEIR FAULT.

Westmere 4 months after everyone else – maybe they were waiting for good availability, but it hurts their halo effect of making the fastest computers around. Apple wasn’t willing to pony up this time to be first out of the gate. Then again, since Apple pretty much NEVER changes the price after they ship a unit until they replace it, this might have been their only play. SUCKY NO MATTER HOW YOU PLAY IT – either the box would’ve cost even more if Apple were first out of the gate, or we wait 4 months later. Lose/lose. Try again.

Other rumors are saying back to school buying season forced dumping USB 3 and FW1600/3200. Dunno.


UPDATE – I got so wound up about this, I’m thinking about not buying a 12 core, even though I haven’t upgraded since my original 8 core 3.0 GHz Mac Pro (non-Nehalem). And I wrote a longer article about Did Apple Actually Lame Out On The New Mac Pros? Read for yourself and decide – all of the issues listed directly above – technical reasons why not, analysis, etc. What COULD Apple have viably offered us at this time? Definitely better PCIe lane limits, but the rest is pretty constrained by Intel and the available technology.

Mike Curtis

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