The Mac Pro range will appeal to professional users in fields such as audio and video editing who need more power than is available from the consumer-oriented iMac. The tower design is also very easy to open and upgrade.
Excellent performance; internal expansion slots; upgradeable drive bays
Cheaper iMacs would probably suit most business users better; doesn't include monitor
2.8GHz quad-core Xeon processor, 3GB DDR3 RAM (user upgradeable to 16GB), 1TB SATA hard disk (7,200rpm) with four drive bays supporting total of 8TB, five USB 2.0 ports, ATI Radeon HD 5770 graphics card with 1GB DDR5 VRAM, four FireWire 800 ports, optical digital audio input/output, analogue stereo input/output, two Mini Display ports (provides support for three monitors), one PCI Express x16 slot, two PCI Express x4 slots, 18x dual-layer DVD SuperDrive, pre-installed Mac OS X 10.6.
There was a time when creative and professional people in fields such as publishing and design were Apple's core audience. In fact, they kept Apple alive in the dark years before Steve Jobs's messianic return to Apple in the late 1990s.
In recent years, though, Apple has increasingly focused on consumer gadgets such as the iPad and iPhone. That has left the Mac Pro range of workstations languishing in the shadows, even more so now that many professional Mac users are finding that the widescreen display of the all-in-one iMac is ideal for many graphics and design applications.
However, the Mac Pro still has a number of advantages for professional users, and Apple has just updated the entire range with faster processors in the quad- and eight-core models, as well as introducing new high-end models with six and even 12 cores.
We tested the 'entry-level' model, which costs £1,999 with a quad-core Nehalem Xeon processor running at 2.8GHz. This comes equipped with 3TB of DDR3 memory, a 1TB SATA hard disk running at 7,200rpm, and ATI Radeon HD 5770 graphics card with 1GB GDDR5 VRAM.
There's also an option to upgrade the processor to the newer six-core Westmere version of the Xeon running at 3.33GHz, although that will push the price up by almost £1,000 to £2,959.
An alternative upgrade option would be the eight-core model, which provides two quad-core Westmere Xeons running at 2.4GHz and 6GB RAM for £2,799.00.
Finally, there's the new top-of-the-range model, a 12-core workstation with twin six-core Westmere Xeons running at 2.66GHz, 6GB RAM and 1TB hard disk, priced at a rather eye-watering £3,999.01 (wonder what that last penny is for?).
One of the advantages of the Mac Pro is that it provides far more scope for expansion than the 'closed box' designs of models such as the iMac and Mac Mini. All Mac Pro models include five USB 2.0 ports, and no less than four FireWire 800 ports.
FireWire may be fading away in the mainstream consumer PC market, but is still widely used in high-performance hard disks designed for audio and video recording.
There are optical inputs and outputs for digital audio, as well as analogue stereo input and output, 802.11n wireless networking, Bluetooth 2.1 and twin Gigabit Ethernet interfaces.
In addition to the DVI interface on the graphics card, the Mac Pro also has two Mini DisplayPort interfaces, allowing you to connect up to three monitors to the system. You've also got the option of installing a second graphics card and using Apple's optional dual-DVI adaptors to drive as many as six separate monitors.