One of the email queries most often received is, "What graphics card should I order with my Mac Pro?" The new "Early 2008" Mac Pros with "Penryn based Xeon" (Harpertown) processors offer three choices.
We think 99% of "Early 2008" Mac Pro buyers will be choosing between the Radeon HD 2600 XT and the GeForce 8800 GT. Even though we haven't tested either yet, we have some buying advice based on the data collected by Anandtech and the specs published by Apple, nVidia, and ATI.
Apple was kind enough to publish some of primitives. We got some of them from other sources.
Pixel Fill Rate:
Radeon HD 2600 XT = 11.8 billion/sec
GeForce 8800 GT = 33.6 billion/sec
Quadro FX 5600 = 19.2 billion/sec
Triangles Per Second
Radeon HD 2600 XT = 700 million
Geforce 8800 GT = 33.6 billion
Quadro FX 5600 = 28.0 billion
Radeon HD 2600 XT = 25.6 GB/sec
GeForce 8800 GT = 72.0 GB/sec
Quadro FX 5600 = 76.8 GB/sec
(SEE OUR "SHOOT 'EM UP" ARTICLE)
"BUT I'M NOT A GAMER."
Up until recently, with the exception of high-end 3D apps like Maya, the GPU was not stressed by professional applications. Even though Photoshop CS3 is a "graphics" application, it does not use the GPU to render effects.
However, that is going to change. Apple has already shown with Motion and Aperture that certain graphics functions can be handed off to the GPU. For example, when we render a RAM preview with Motion, we see as much as a 100% load on the GPU (according to Hardware Monitor) and we get different render times with different graphics cards. So GPU does matter in some cases and the trend with pro apps is to use the GPU more and more.
(SEE OUR "SHOOT 'EM UP" ARTICLE FOR MOTION AND IMAGINATOR RESULTS.)
COUGH UP THE $200 for the GeForce 8800 GT
The gains to be had by the GeForce 8800 GT is well worth the $200 premium you'll pay at the time of ordering your Mac Pro. Considering how much you pay for a new Mac Pro, the extra $200 for the optional GPU is trivial.
Note, however, if you order your Mac Pro with the GeForce 8800 GT (or Quadro FX 5600), it will take longer to ship. If you order it with the Radeon 2600 XT, it will take "3 to 5 days." (Since we plan to test both, we ordered our Mac Pro 3.2GHz with the stock Radeon and made a separate order for the GeForce 8800 GT kit -- MB137Z/A.)
ALERT TO OWNERS OF "OLD" MAC PROS! (CORRECTED)
Though the GeForce 8800 GT is available in kit form, it is *NOT* compatible with the older Mac Pro (August 2006, April 2007) as we first thought. Turns out the aftermarket GeForce 8800 GT kit is for the "2008" Mac Pro ONLY. The ROM only has an EFI64 driver in its ROM. It could be made compatible with the older Mac Pros by putting both a 32-bit and 64-bit EFI driver in the GeForce 8800 GT's ROM -- assuming there's room for both. Otherwise, a special legacy version will have to be created by Apple or a third party.
If you still want to order the GeForce 8800 GT kit, go to the Apple Store USA and search on "MB137Z/A" to find it. The price is $349. If you are very unhappy about it not working on your "old" Mac Pro, then sign our petition asking Apple to create a version that will. We also suggest you give feedback to the Mac Pro management at Apple.
By the way, the Radeon HD 2600 XT kit will work on the older Mac Pros as well as the new one (thanks to having both a 32-bit and 64-bit EFI driver in the ROM). Search on "MB198Z/A" when you visit Apple Store USA ($149).
FLASH: On January 19th, we tried the Radeon X1900 XT in the "2008" Mac Pro on a tip from a reader. It works just fine. The Radeon X1900 XT kit is still available. It works on all models of Mac Pro and goes for $399 (eek!). Search on "MA631Z/B" at the Apple Store USA. (One user reported that the Radeon X1900 XT did NOT work in his 2008 Mac Pro 2.8GHz. We didn't do anything special to get it to work in our 2008 Mac Pro 3.2GHz or our friend's 2.8GHz. However, we do recall running the firmware update on the card back in October 2007 when it was installed in our "Apr 2007" 8-core Mac Pro.)