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3/11/2008
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Apple Buyer's Guide: From MacBook Air To XServe

We compared the Mac Pro, MacBook, MacBook Pro, MacBook Air, the iMac, the Mac Mini, and XServe, to help you choose the Apple computer that's right for you.

This story originally appeared March 22, 2008.

Maybe that most recent e-mail virus was the last straw. Maybe you've been longing for a computer that "just works" and that you actually look forward to using. Maybe Microsoft Vista finally just sent you right around the bend. Perhaps it was that "Mac guy" on the commercials. Or maybe you are the "Mac guy."




The Mac Pro is as fast and powerful as it looks.
(click for image gallery)

For whatever reason, you've decided to buy a new computer from Apple and want a little help sorting out the different models. Well, you're in luck, because perhaps more than at any other time, Apple's product lineup is clear, logical, and targeted at distinct types of users and uses. The entire product line is one of the strongest Apple's ever had. Without hyperbole, it may be the best overall line of computers anyone has had, ever -- there's not a bad Apple among the bunch, and some are truly superb.

Plus, if you're a PC guy or gal contemplating making the switch to the Mac world, the good news is that, if you have to, you can still use Windows on just about any new Mac. Parallel's Desktop for Mac, VMWare's Fusion virtualizer products, and Apple's own included Boot Camp dual-boot enabler all allow Windows to run at native or near-native speed on your Mac. So, these days, your choice doesn't have to be either-or, it can be both.

From design to function, from form to performance, you pretty much can't go wrong with anything Apple is currently selling. We've tested them all in our labs over the past months, and they're just that good. Read on and we'll help you choose the right one.

1
Mac Pro

Pro is the label for this powerful beast, and a Pro it is, in capacity, capability, and price. If you are serious about your work, whether it is graphics, programming, video, number-crunching, or just about anything else, the Mac Pro will chew it up and spit it out.

The aluminum industrial design that has been a part of the last several versions of the Pro is both sleek and efficient. Under the hood, the Mac Pro proves it's not just all show, with what is still one of the most accessible, best-designed desktop chassis ever built. Four full-size expansion slots give the capability to add to your monster -- two are PCI-Express 2.0 (one of these is double wide to handle wide high-performance graphics cards), and two are the slower PCI Express variety. Four easily accessible 3.5-inch drive bays hold high-speed SATA or SAS drives up to 4 TB. Quad-core Intel Xeon processors (up to 3.2 GHz) do the heavy lifting, and a 12-MB L2 cache per processor, a 6-MB cache shared between each pair of cores, and dual 64-bit, 1,600-MHz frontside buses make sure the powerful CPUs rarely sit idle. Up to 32 GB of 800-MHz DDR2 dual in-line memory modules provide about as much RAM as most folks will ever need.

A huge array of ports provide virtually every connectivity option under the sun: the back of the Mac Pro holds both optical and analog audio in and out jacks, FireWire 400 and FireWire 800 ports, three USB 2.0 ports, and two gigabit Ethernet ports. Easy-access front ports -- another FireWire 400 and FireWire 800, two more USB 2.0, and a headphone jack -- make it convenient to attach peripherals such as video cameras.

Graphics options include one or more ATI Radeon HD 2600 XT or Nvidia GeForce 8800 GT cards, but the Nvidia Quadro FX 5600 will provide world-class capability (at pro prices, adding $2,850 to the cost). The bottom line is that you can trick up the Mac Pro to do anything you want it to do, so long as you have the cash. A base model costs a reasonable $2,799, given the capabilities, and you can customize the Pro all the way up to five figures with options.

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