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What are the differences between the "Early 2009/Nehalem" Mac Pro models?
Please note that all models mentioned in this Q&A have been discontinued. The "Early 2009" Mac Pro line was replaced by the "Mid-2010" Mac Pro line on July 27, 2010.
Externally, the "Early 2009/Nehalem" Mac Pro models are the same and share connectivity as well -- with dual video ports (one Mini DisplayPort and one dual-link DVI port), 5 USB 2.0 ports, 4 Firewire "800" ports, dual Gigabit Ethernet ports, and optical digital audio Toslink in/out and analog stereo in/out. Bluetooth 2.1+EDR is standard but AirPort (802.11a/b/g/n) is an optional upgrade.
The "Early 2009/Nehalem" Mac Pro models are powered by a 45-nm Xeon "Nehalem Quad Core" processor or processors, which have a dedicated 256k level 2 cache for each core and 8 MB of "fully shared" level 3 cache for each processor. The 64-bit "Nehalem" architecture boasts numerous improvements compared to earlier systems and supports "Hyper-Threading" -- which "allows two threads to run simultaneously on each core" and "Turbo Boost" -- which "automatically boosts the processor speed based on workload" (so if an application is only using one core it will automatically increase the speed of the core in use and turn off the unused cores).
Additionally, and perhaps most remarkably, "Nehalem" introduces a new "QuickPath Interconnect" (QPI) system described as a "bidrectional, point-to-point connection" that provides "quick access to the disk, I/O, and other Mac Pro subsystems".
By default, the low-end Mac Pro "Quad Core" 2.66 (2009/Nehalem) has a single 2.66 GHz Quad Core Xeon processor. Originally it could be equipped with a single 2.93 GHz Quad Core Xeon processor for US$500 more. On December 4, 2009, Apple began offering it with a single 3.33 GHz Quad Core Xeon processor for US$1200 more and lowered the price of the 2.93 GHz processor upgrade to US$400.
The high-end Mac Pro "Eight Core" 2.26 (2009/Nehalem) was configured by default with two 2.26 GHz Quad Core Xeon processors. Via custom configuration, it also could be equipped with dual 2.66 GHz Quad Core Xeon processors or dual 2.93 GHz Quad Core Xeon processors for an additional US$1400 or US$2600, respectively.
Photo Credit: Apple, Inc.
Internal expansion includes four drive bays that support Serial ATA 3Gb/s drives (one occupied by a 640 GB hard drive by default), have two 5.25" optical drive bays (one occupied by an 18X DL "SuperDrive" by default), and have four PCI Express 2.0 expansion slots (two x16 slots and two x4 slots with one x16 slot occupied by a 512 MB NVIDIA GeForce GT 120 graphics card).
Both models have the processor(s) and memory mounted on a "slide out" tray for easy upgrading, however, and this is a critical difference, the "Quad Core" model (MB871LL/A) only has four RAM slots and supports 16 GB of memory whereas the "Eight Core" model (MB535LL/A) has eight RAM slots and supports an official maximum of 32 GB of memory.
All differences between the standard models are summarized below for your convenience:
|"Nehalem" Mac Pro||"Quad Core" 2.66||"Eight Core" 2.26|
|Default Processors:||2.66 GHz Quad Core (3500)||2.26 GHz Quad Core (5500) x2|
|Standard Memory:||3 GB||6 GB|
|Maximum Memory:||16 GB†||32 GB|
|Video Card:||NVIDIA GeForce GT 120*||NVIDIA GeForce GT 120*|
|Video Memory:||512 MB||512 MB|
|Hard Drive:||640 GB||640 GB|
|Optical Drive:||18X DL "SuperDrive"||18X DL "SuperDrive"|
* By custom configuration, both models also are available with as many as four NVIDIA GeForce GT 120 graphics cards (for US$150/each after the first one) or an ATI Radeon HD 4870, also with 512 MB of GDDR3 memory, for an additional US$200.
† The low-end Mac Pro "Quad Core" 2.66 (2009/Nehalem) -- as originally shipped -- officially supported a maximum of 8 GB of RAM but third-parties discovered that the system could actually support 16 GB of RAM using four 4 GB memory modules. On December 4, 2009, Apple "officially" began supporting 16 GB of RAM as well.
Please refer to EveryMac.com's Ultimate Mac Comparison feature to dynamically compare any Mac Pro model to any other G3 or later Mac.