My nMP Review (vs my old 4,1 Mac Pro)

Discussion in 'Mac Pro' started by VirtualRain, Jan 4, 2014.

  1. VirtualRain, Jan 4, 2014
    Last edited: Apr 17, 2014

    VirtualRain macrumors 603


    Aug 1, 2008
    Vancouver, BC
    I received my nMP yesterday and wasted no time in getting it setup and running some benchmarks to ensure it’s performing as expected. At the same time, I also ran all the same benchmarks on my old 2009 4,1 Mac Pro.

    The nMP:
    3.5GHz 6-Core/D500s configuration with BTO upgrades to the RAM (32GB) and SSD (1TB).

    The oMP:
    2.93GHz 4-Core/GT120s with DIY 12GB RAM and 256GB M4 SSD on a PCIe Velocity Solo x2. It also has a RAID0 array of SSDs for my photo library running on a Highpoint 2720 PCIe RAID card (thread here).

    Why I selected my configuration:

    Of course, the most important use for this computer is for hanging out on MacRumors :D

    After that, RAW photo processing is the key reason I want a powerful Mac. I also do a lot of Camtasia product demos for work and some very occasional iMovie or FCP video projects. I haven't gamed on a computer since I left PCs behind... and I now prefer gaming on my PS3 with large screen and surround sound ever since I got a mouse controller for first person shooters.

    When the nMP configurations became clear after Apples fall product event, I was pretty settled on getting the entry level quad-core configuration with some added RAM and larger SSD. As most everyone knows, RAW photo editing (in Aperture, Lightroom, or Photoshop) needs a fast CPU, lots of RAM, and can even use the GPU for some adjustments/filters. A fast SSD that can act as your OS/Apps/Scratch/Library drive is also essential IMHO. Knowing this, and based on the fact that my 4,1 was still performing adequately, I considered the ideal configuration for the nMP for my needs to be the 4-Core/D300 with added RAM and maxed out SSD.

    However, the continued delay in shipping ultimately cost me. Serves me right for hanging around here! :) After listening to a lot of other folks on here (e.g. Cubemmal) talk about how the 6-core/D500 was quickly becoming the sweet-spot, I started having a closer look at my Aperture performance and found that Aperture could indeed leverage more than 4 cores... so my fate was sealed. When I went to order, I was therefore planning to get the 6-core with D300s but the pricing of the D500s was too good to pass up. For only a few-hundred more (with education pricing) it seemed like a no-brainer to just opt for the base 6-core/D500 and add my desired RAM and SSD capacity.

    Having said that, I think the base 4-core/D300 config would be a great workstation for photography with additional RAM and enough SSD to manage your end-to-end workflow. By buying the 6-core/D500 I purchased a bit more computer than I can probably utilize today, which goes against my philosophy of always buying the best computer for your current needs (vs. your potential future needs)… but the incremental cost of the D500s is really inconsequential over the next couple years.

    External storage:

    I’ve written essays and volumes here on the perceived and real issues related to external storage with the nMP and I think I can summarize my view succinctly by saying that there are external storage solutions for the nMP at pretty much any price and performance point you desire. I think a lot of the early complaints here were largely resistance to change rather than real financial or technical hurdles. Of course, there are some members here with unique storage requirements which are going to be expensive to adapt to the nMP if/when they go that route, but for most, there are plenty of options that can easily meet the need including USB3, TB (both with drives and without), and NAS solutions.

    In my case, I’m using all three interconnect technologies and the nMP only created one small change to my storage strategy from the way I was already operating. I already use a NAS for my media collection and on-site backups of my photos. I also have a Time Capsule (NAS) for Time Machine backups of my boot volume. I already use stand-alone external USB drives for off-site backups (that I updated once a month or two). And, I already have all my active project work and photo library on internal SSDs (which would remain unchanged with the nMP).

    The only thing that required any change, is what I would do with my archived photo libraries that sat on a 3TB internal in the oMP. That drive will now slot into an open bay on the NAS, but in order to provide speedier access (than GIGE) to some of those libraries, I’m going to put some of them on a new WD TB Velociraptor Duo. I got one of these on sale at Amazon a few weeks ago, and at that price, it seems like the ideal solution for me. It offers 2TB of storage at SSD like speeds for $400. Problem solved.

    Parting impressions of the oMP:

    With the oMP destined for Craigslist shortly, here are some thoughts on my ownership experience with it. It has been extremely capable and reliable without any component failures. It’s a tank. Built like one and sized like one... It’s the most prominent item in my home office and fortunately I rarely have to move it. It’s very quiet and the chassis internals are just beautiful if you’re coming from the DIY PC world. No amount of money or DIY craftsmanship can match the internals of the oMP tower. :) However, it hasn’t been without it’s quirks or issues...

    1. Bluetooth reception on the oMP is useless. I had to modify mine to add an external BT antenna so my Magic Mouse would work.

    2. Storage bottlenecks abound. I struggled throughout the last 5 years to get the full potential performance out of my storage. When I first got this oMP, I had 3 Intel 80GB SSDs in RAID0 that were bottlenecked by the chipset. Then when SATA3 became mainstream, there were no real solutions for the Mac Pro that were bootable and capable of over 1GB/s (e.g. 4x PCIe so as not to bottleneck two SSDs in RAID0)… I’m still not sure there is a decent solution to this problem. I ended up using a Velocity Solo x2 with single SSD for a boot volume and a RAID0 array of 3 SSDs on a Highpoint card for my photo libraries, but even that is bottlenecked by something in the top x4 slots (maxes out at 1GB/s) and now fails to mount after Sleep since updating to Mavericks. Total PITA!

    3. GPU upgrades turned me off. I never wanted to get into flashing cards or going without boot screens… I had enough of that kind of thing during my DIY PC days of the past. I also run dual LED Apple displays with DP interfaces and Nvidia never offered a card with more than one display port on it. That left a few poor and overpriced AMD choices and with a nMP on the horizon for over a year now, I just never got around to upgrading my GPUs.

    4. USB3 has been a kludge. I had a USB3 card that would sometimes work and sometimes not, and then when I filled my remaining slots with PCIe storage solutions trying to overcome the lack of SATA3, I had to scrap USB3 altogether. To this day, I believe you still need an internal power cable kludge if you want to use one of the cards with native driver support.

    Those that know me around here, have heard me say this before, but the upgradability of the oMP is way overrated. In my experience it’s been painful, expensive, and full of compromise. So, based on this, you can start to see why I was so excited about the nMP… the potential for working bluetooth reception, awesome SSD performance, reasonable GPUs that could drive multiple MDP displays, and integrated USB3! Yay!

    First impressions of the nMP:

    Dense, Dark, Silent, and Powerful. This is the Darth Vader of Macs. In fact, here’s Darth and his trusty Stormtrooper at the ready.


    I work with several Mac geeks, and everyone present on Friday for the unboxing at the office was wowed by the glossy finish, the density of it, and the way the cover comes off like unsheathing a fine blade. :cool:

    It’s also stupid fast as evidenced from the benchmarks below. But more subjectively… Flipping through RAW images in Aperture is much more responsive. There’s only a faint glimpse of the “Loading” indicator when you flip to a new RAW image vs. a 2-second delay with the oMP. Despite having several times more RAM than any other MAC I’ve ever owned, it boots wickedly fast. It boots as quickly as it takes me to open the lid on my rMBP and login.

    The 8GB sticks of RAM I got in my machine are an exact match for these Hynix ones sold by SuperBiiz… Unregistered, ECC, CL13 1866...


    The only quirks I’ve encountered so far, is that iStat Menus 4 cannot see the temperature of anything in the nMP (EDIT: try this instead) and my Transcend USB3 CF card reader seems to take several seconds to mount when plugged in (EDIT: Fixed).

    It really has an amazing finish on it that can only be appreciated in person under different lighting conditions.

    Some more photos:






    I ran a series of synthetic benchmarks to ensure my nMP was performing as expected. Most of these have already been posted elsewhere and you won’t see anything different here. However, I thought it would be interesting to compare the nMP to my oMP in all of these tests.

    In the following synthetic benchmarks, the oMP is in grey, the nMP in red. Since these are scores, higher is better, so more red is better! :) I’ve also put an improvement factor between old and new at the bottom of each table. As you can see, the nMP is generally anywhere from 2-30x better than the oMP.

    First up… Geekbench where the nMP is around twice as fast as the oMP...


    Next up… Quickbench where the SSD in the nMP really outperforms my M4 on a Velocity Solo X2 in sequential I/O…


    Finally… The GPUs where I used Heaven and LuxMark for OpenGL and OpenCL benchmarks respectively. However, the performance of the GT120s is anything but respectful. Apple and Nvidia should be ashamed. I should have upgraded a long time ago.


    Next, I turned my attention to applications that I actually use… All of these benchmarks are time-based so faster times are better (shorter bars on the graphs are better).

    For Aperture, I simply timed some common workflow tasks with a stop watch. The tests are better explained as follows:

    - Load Assets: This test measures the time it took for Aperture to display all 1455 RAW thumbnails on my CF card in the import window. Here the benefits of USB3 shine. The nMP finishes over 3 times faster than the oMP.

    - Aperture Import: This test measures the time it took for Aperture to import 295 RAW files from the CF card to the SSD and generate half-size previews. Again USB3 on the nMP plays a role, but also the SSD performance and processing speed in generating the previews. The nMP finishes this task nearly 4 times faster than the oMP

    - Apply Adjustments: Here I applied a common set of 7 different adjustments to an image, and then applied those in a batch to 108 similar images. As this seems to be a CPU related task, it’s not surprising that the nMP is over twice as fast as the oMP. It was using all 12 virtual cores for this operation.

    - Export Versions: For this test, I simply exported JPEG versions of the 109 adjusted images to 50% size and maximum quality to the SSD. Again, the nMP used all cores for this task and was done in about half the time of the oMP.

    I’ve attached a couple of extra screenshots from Activity Monitor at the bottom. The CPU history shows the export process first, then a pause, and then I redid the adjustments test so you can see the CPU utilization for both tests was fairly intense. Aperture eats up all available memory as you can see from the other attachment.

    In general, Aperture is much more fluid to work in now. As I mentioned above, it's a breeze to flip through images in the browser. The Loupe is much smoother to move around, and brushes are much more responsive (less laggy). This machine is a HUGE upgrade for Aperture work. I honestly never realized how resource intensive Aperture is!


    Then I tried a couple of benchmarks for FCP X and Photoshop CS6… these benchmarks were created by others and are readily available online. These clearly utilize the GPUs and RAM much better and you can see the results. The nMP with D500s spanks the oMP with GT120s by a huge margin.


    Lastly, I benchmarked Handbrake and Boot times.

    For Handbrake, I did a transcode of an MKV HD movie file to the iPad preset (something I do regularly before a trip). The nMP halved the time of the oMP in this task. Interestingly, as the fans ramped up on the oMP I could hear them clearly - perhaps they're getting old and need a good cleaning. On the other hand, I could not hear the nMP during the Handbrake session at all, although it was certainly pushing out some warm air.

    Boot time with the nMP is simply stunning. The nMP fully boots before I hear the chime on the oMP if I press the power button on both at the same time. :eek:



    As you can probably surmise by now, I couldn’t be happier with this nMP. As a computer engineer that has built countless systems over the years (including a few water-cooled PCs) I’m super impressed with what Apple has accomplished. To pack so much computing power in such a small package - that’s absolutely silent (even under load) - is truly remarkable. And the performance vs my oMP is fantastic plus it solves all the headaches I had with BT reception, SSD performance, and GPUs and multiple displays. More than my computer, I love my displays, and I simply can’t wait to get a nice 4K display attached to this thing. I really hope the next couple of months open the floodgates and even Apple gets in on this market, as I won’t be able to wait much longer than that, but I simply can’t justify $3K on a display at this point.

    My recommendation to anyone that’s got an aging Mac Pro… attach a rope to that thing and cast it overboard like the boat anchor it is and get one of these Darth Mac Pros (DMP). :D

    I look forward to any comments and discussion. Hopefully it's been helpful to someone.

    Ps... As I mentioned above these attached screen shots go with the Aperture test sessions above showing the CPU utilization during export and application of adjustments as well as memory utilization.

    Attached Files:

  2. FrankHahn macrumors 6502a

    May 17, 2011
    OP has done a very good piece of work and this review is very helpful.
  3. thekev macrumors 604


    Aug 5, 2010
    Minor correction for you, lightroom doesn't use opencl at all. Aperture might use it somewhere, but I can't find it. Apple has no explicit mention, and they typically mention that where available. It might be the other aspects that are producing those performance gains. I can find references to Aperture 3. Photoshop doesn't use it in raw processing. Capture One does, but I've never tested that on enough images to really tell if it makes a significant difference.
  4. VirtualRain thread starter macrumors 603


    Aug 1, 2008
    Vancouver, BC
    I don't think they use OpenCL either... did I say that? I do believe they use OpenGL for some functions. At least Aperture uses OpenGL for brushes, the Loupe, and maybe in a few other areas. I'm not so sure about Lightroom. Photoshop can definitely utilize GPU power for image manipulation and filters.
  5. analog guy macrumors 6502

    Mar 6, 2009
    thanks for taking the time to write this up, virtualrain. really appreciate it.

    as i sit here waiting for my nMP, you have helped me to realize how i'd like to perform my own comparisons. i suspect the performance increase will be even greater than you experienced (though i am running an ati 5870 which probably performs better than the gt120).

    interesting on the random reads/writes of the nMP vs your 4,1's SSD. that's the first such comparison i've seen and one area i'd hope the internal storage might shine a bit more. guess your SSD-on-velocity-x2 solution was performing quite well, or at least it wasn't bottle-necked and required performance in this area is less than both oMP and nMP bandwidth limits.

    thank you once again! hope you enjoy the hell out of that thing!
  6. ybz90 macrumors 6502a


    Jul 10, 2009
    Great pictures, excellent figures, and very thorough review. I am still waiting for my 12-core... BTO takes forever.
  7. VitoC macrumors newbie

    Dec 29, 2013
    Don't tell MattDSLR that. He might actually blow his brains out to know that somebody who actually OWNS a new Mac Pro actually LIKES it!!! Can't wait for my Hex-core D700 to ship next week!!! Thanks for the review! :cool:
  8. thekev macrumors 604


    Aug 5, 2010
    Photoshop can use them a little bit, although it's not always noticeable in actual use even on big files. It's more on filters than anything else, where a fast cpu still cuts through them pretty fast. The gpu often gets over-prioritized, which is why I mentioned it. I'll keep looking for some reference to explicit use of OpenGL. I suspect any benefit would be minimal past the D300s. I was trying to focus on the raw portion anyway, as I can't find any explicit use of gpu computation there.
  9. DenBeke macrumors regular

    Aug 11, 2011
  10. ytoyoda macrumors member

    Dec 14, 2013
    Thank you very much for your excellent review.
    This is first time I saw Flash drive exceeded 1.25 GByte/sec. Only 1T byte drive achieves this speed.
  11. dmax35 macrumors 6502

    Jun 21, 2012
  12. saschke macrumors 6502

    Feb 2, 2008
    Thank you so much VirtualRain. Excellent review. Looking forward to my 4c/d300/32GB/1TB design+development nMP order arriving in February.
  13. Alchemist macrumors regular


    Dec 22, 2004
    Thanks for a fantastic review. The most useful to me as a pro photographer I've seen yet. I don't suppose there is any chance you could download the LR demo and run some of the same sort of tests you did with Aperture comparing old and new?
  14. michaeljk macrumors member

    Dec 14, 2013
    Thank you so much for a first-rate review of your nMP. I too just set up my nMP, 6-core, except mine is currently the stock configuration. I was using Aperture tonight and had many of the same observations as you (although I didn't time them specifically or run any benchmarks). I still need to figure out a better external HD scenario. I ended up buying, for now, a LaCie 3 TB Thunderbolt 7200 HDD. Its definitely faster than my old OWC 2TB FW 800 HD, but using it to store and load RAW photos (about 25 MB per file) is the significant bottleneck in my workflow.

    One thing reviewers keep stating is that the nMP is silent. Mine is not, and I don't think there is any issue with my particular machine. It is so much more quiet than I'd expect, but it is not silent. It has a noticeable whir which kicks in when using multiple TB ports simultaneous (I've been copying over lots of stuff from one external HD to the other). Having said all of that, noise from this machine is not going to be a problem. My OWC External HD's fan and hum are probably more than two times louder than the nMP when running at the loudest I have heard so far.

    Applications load nearly instantaneously, including Aperture and Logic.

    My only regret is that I ended up getting the stock config. with the 256 internal SSD. I knew it would be a temporary compromise that I made when I found this machine in stock at my local Micro Center, and I snatched it up. In a year or two, I will upgrade to a 512 or 1TB. I want a larger internal SSD to store more of my music files on, to take advantage of its much faster read/write speeds.
  15. maflynn Moderator


    Staff Member

    May 3, 2009
    Nice review, it makes me want one (if I had the money) - some of the benchmarks are really jaw dropping fast.
  16. wheelhot macrumors 68020

    Nov 23, 2007
  17. motegi macrumors regular

    May 14, 2009
  18. Brandon263 macrumors 6502

    Sep 12, 2009
    Beaumont, CA
  19. slughead macrumors 68040


    Apr 28, 2004
    Congrats on the new machine, clearly an upgrade from your old one.
  20. Cubemmal, Jan 5, 2014
    Last edited: Jan 5, 2014

    Cubemmal macrumors 6502a

    Jun 13, 2013
    Great review, thanks!

    When did you order?

    heh heh ...

    Yes! Precisely what I've found with the oMP. Good riddance (except I'm keeping mine as a Windows gaming machine.)
  21. slughead macrumors 68040


    Apr 28, 2004
    For anyone wondering: His old machine is 4 years old, has fewer cores (4 vs 6), and basically no GPU acceleration.
  22. jbg232 macrumors 65816


    Oct 15, 2007
    Great review for photography people (like me) who are deciding what to upgrade to.

    A few questions/comments:

    1. Do you have anyone in the office you has a maxed our iMac to compare your results to?

    2. I'm a little confused on your setup for working with RAW images. Are the masters stored on a USB 3 array and the library is on the SSD or are they both on the SSD or both on the USB 3 array? I ask because one of the things I'm considering purchasing is a thunderbolt raid (either a 2 drive lacie or a 4 drive pegasus) and curious to put your benchmarks into perspective. I'm thinking (but cannot confirm as I haven't bought anything) that the "loading" popover when scrolling through RAW images would be reduced by a super fast thunderbolt raid setup but it may not matter past a certain point as the RAW images are only about 40MB each (thus the 700MB/sec (Pegasus) vs 400MB/sec (Lacie) vs 200MB/sec (USB 3 single drive non-raid) may not actually result in a meaningful difference in aperture. Your thoughts would be highly appreciated as reducing the "loading" lag and having manageable adjustment knobs is the entire reason I need to upgrade my current setup.

    3. As you obviously know, aperture is a total memory hog. In your attached images you show that aperture is actually asking for almost the total amount of RAM that you added to the system (32gb). Would you recommend 64GB knowing what you know now?
  23. FredT2 macrumors 6502a

    Mar 18, 2009
    Thank you very much! Finally the kind of review I've been waiting for. It gives me a lot more confidence, as I'm replacing an even slower Mac Pro. Still need someone to give Lightroom a workout.
  24. JavaTheHut macrumors 6502


    Aug 15, 2010
    A nMP Hex vs oMP Hex would be a great showdown!
  25. D3 Shooter, Jan 5, 2014
    Last edited: Jan 5, 2014

    D3 Shooter macrumors newbie

    Mar 24, 2009
    Good timing. :)

    You did a good write up on the comparison, and its good to hear your comments, as I am in the same situation with the same old MP as you (also a photographer).

    I am curious if you save your RAWs onto the internal storage of the nMP or the external in your comparison tests (or I missed something in reading). If on the external, would a TB - PCIe storage be faster than what you have?

    And I am curious of the RAM demand, I am using large files and think the 64GB route to order.

    On a side note, it would be interesting to see a comparison with Lightroom, nMP v the old MP. Aperture relies more on a GPU than LR. Thanks!

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