Tag Archives: mac pro

Mac Pro fortune cookies

TUAW has an article up today wondering if Thunderbolt might mean the end of the line for the Mac Pro in its current form:

The arrival of the Thunderbolt interface, Meta Media says, will allow Apple to return to its beloved sealed-box model of computer production with no user-serviceable parts inside, just like the original Macintosh. No expansion cards, no hard disk upgrades, just Thunderbolt (aka Light Peak) interfaces to connect … well, to connect anything you like really.

The comments to that article are full of opinions, as expected. As someone who uses a Mac Pro every day, I’ve thought about this off and on for the last year or so. Thunderbolt definitely changes the game, providing two 10Gbps channels on one cable.

The big differentiators for the Mac Pro today over the other models in Apple’s lineup are CPU, RAM capacity, display capabilities, and internal storage. CPU and RAM are both significant, but the lower end machines are making this up quickly – witness the impressive performance of the new Sandy Bridge-based Macbook Pros. A next-gen iMac could be quite impressive on these fronts if Apple chose to push the envelope.

As for internal storage, the MP has four internal drive bays for SATA drives; I have all four filled in mine. However, a Thunderbolt port with two 10Gbps channels for external drives would certainly suffice, even compared to a potential future MP with 6Gbps SATA…and for the folks who really need the I/O performance – folks editing HD video, say – Thunderbolt RAID systems could be a step up over what they can do now with 2/4 Gbps fiber adapters.

Multiple displays make up another area where the MP shines – it’s the only Mac where you can have more than two displays (not counting network- or USB-connected displays of dubious performance). I use three (with two video adapters), and I know folks with more. While I could get by with two large 27-30 inch displays myself, there are others who would not be so understanding. As I understand it, Thunderbolt supports one Display Port display at the end of the chain. Seems to me a future MP replacement would ideally need to support at least 4 2560×1600 displays to be accepted by the real power users, so Thunderbolt isn’t helping too much here…unless they built in more ports.

In any case, it appears to me that Thunderbolt definitely enables Apple to make some real changes to the MP line if they want to, specifically with respect to storage and other peripherals that have traditionally used PCI Express. They could either redesign and slim down the existing MP by getting rid of most of the internal drive bays and the space used by the PCIe slots, or potentially even drop the MP completely in favor of a “super-iMac”.

Time will tell.

Lightroom and Mac Pro performance – part 2

Back in February, I wrote about the performance I was seeing with my Mac Pro, and compared it to several other machines. My intent was to compare performance between various different machines and configurations…but it had the unexpected side effect of giving me a baseline with which to measure new versions of Adobe Photoshop Lightroom.

This data proved to be quite useful when Lightroom 2.0 was released, and I could test the 32-bit build against the 64-bit build. What I found was surprising.

Just like last time, the basic test was generating 1:1 previews for 211 raw images (compressed NEF format from a Nikon D200), about 1.75GB of files.

First, Lightroom 2.0 32-bit:

Mac Pro, 2 x 2.8 GHz Xeon, 8 cores, 12GB RAM, OS X 10.5.5
CPU utilization between 350-500% throughout
Total time 4:57, average 1.41 sec/image

And Lightroom 2.0 64-bit:

Mac Pro, 2 x 2.8 GHz Xeon, 8 cores, 12GB RAM, OS X 10.5.5
CPU utilization between 500-550% throughout
Total time 7:06, average 2.02 sec/image

So the 32-bit version on OS X 10.5.5 was actually a bit faster than my previous tests of Lightroom 1.3.1 on 10.5.2, which could be due to either the Lightroom 2.0 upgrade, or 10.5.5 changes.

But the 64-bit version of Lightroom 2.0 totally blew chunks, as you can see. Pretty disappointing, and totally reproducible for me, so I opened a ticket with Adobe. They got back to me saying they could reproduce the problem, and also had a bunch of mumbo-jumbo about how there is more overhead in accessing memory in 64-bit mode (which I’m not sure I believe, but I’m not up to speed enough on the Leopard 64-bit implementation to know for sure).

Well, Lightroom 2.1 was recently released, and here is the data:

Lightroom 2.1 32-bit:

Mac Pro, 2 x 2.8 GHz Xeon, 8 cores, 12GB RAM, OS X 10.5.5
CPU utilization between 350-500% throughout
Total time 4:55, average 1.40 sec/image

Lightroom 2.1 64-bit:

Mac Pro, 2 x 2.8 GHz Xeon, 8 cores, 12GB RAM, OS X 10.5.5
CPU utilization about 400% throughout
Total time 4:05, average 1.16 sec/image

Wow – obviously a big change; the 64-bit version now totally rocks. There was something in the 2.1 release notes about enabling SSE extensions in 64-bit mode – sounds like that might have been the bug!

I didn’t record the memory usage numbers, unfortunately…but I remember watching during the runs, and the 64-bit version seemed to be using about twice the memory that the 32-bit version did.

Mac Pro performance

I’ve been torturing myself with the idea of buying a Mac Pro for a while…I mean, come on – 8 cores, for $2799? So last week, I finally broke down and pulled the trigger. But of course it didn’t stop there – I added another 10GB for a total of 12GB of RAM, and added a couple of disk drives as well.

It certainly “feels” fast – but I wanted to actually make some measurements, to see if it was just my imagination. I could run benchmarks, but that didn’t sound like much fun. So instead, I ran a process in Adobe Lightroom 1.3.1 to create 1:1 previews for 211 raw images (compressed NEF format from a Nikon D200), which is roughly 1.75 GB of files.

Here’s what I did. And yes, I’m apparently geeky enough that this sounded like fun. :-)

On the Mac Pro and the Macbook Pro, I generated these 1:1 previews in an existing Lightroom catalog with about 12,000 images in it. On all other systems, I generated the previews in a brand new catalog with nothing in it other than these 211 photos.

All of the virtual machines mentioned below are using VMWare Fusion, running on the Mac Pro.

Here are the configurations I ran, and the results:

Mac Pro, 2 x 2.8 GHz Xeon, 8 cores, 12GB RAM, OS X 10.5.2
CPU utilization between 350-400% throughout
Total time 5:36, average 1.59 sec/image

Macbook Pro, 2.2 GHz Core 2 Duo, 2 cores, 4GB RAM, OS X 10.5.2
CPU utilization between 150-200%
Total time 13:35, average 3.86 sec/image

Dell XPS 420, 2.8 GHz Pentium D, 2 cores*, 3GB RAM, Windows XP SP2
CPU utilization about 50%
Total time 27:00, average 7.68 sec/image

Virtual machine, 2 processors, 3GB RAM, Windows XP SP2
CPU utilization between 150-200%
Total time 8:58, average 2.55 sec/image

Virtual machine, 1 processor, 3GB RAM, Windows XP SP2
CPU utilization about 100%
Total time 15:12, average 4.32 sec/image

Virtual machine, 2 processors, 3GB RAM, Windows Vista
CPU utilization between 150-200%
Total time 8:29, average 2.41 sec/image

* – not sure why this process on the Pentium D only seemed to be using a single processing core, that’s what happened when it ran.

Clearly the Mac Pro is pretty darn fast, and Lightroom interestingly appears to use up to 4 processing cores. The VM data was interesting to see, as well; I can run Windows XP in a VM dramatically faster than running it on my (admittedly old) Dell XPS 400. I wish I had a Core 2 Duo windows machine handy that I could try this on – would be interesting to compare that data with the virtualized Xeon processors on the Mac Pro.

UPDATE 10/30/2008: Additional data from Lightroom 2.0 and 2.1, on OS X 10.5.5, comparing 32-bit and 64-bit performance.