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What is the overall gaming performance of the original Mac Pro? How well does it run Windows games?
Please note that all systems mentioned in this Q&A have been discontinued. The original Mac Pro models were replaced on January 8, 2008 by the "Early 2008" Mac Pro models.
Not surprisingly, given that 3D games are highly dependent on the performance of the video card, the overall gaming performance of the Mac Pro has a great deal to do with the video card installed whether the system is running games under MacOS X or Windows.
The stock configuration of the Mac Pro Quad 2.66 came with a pre-installed NVIDIA GeForce 7300 GT. It can be upgraded to an ATI Radeon X1900 XT for an additional US$350 direct from Apple or an Apple Authorized Reseller. A quick review of the specifications for the entry-level NVIDIA GeForce 7300 GT and ATI Radeon X1900 XT from the NVIDIA and ATI websites, respectively, shows that the ATI card offers a 256-bit memory interface (compared to 128-bit), as well as additional memory bandwidth, a higher fill rate, and more vertices/second.
The Nvidia GeForce 7300 GT card that Apple includes in the “standard” Mac Pro configuration is competent enough, but the best cost benefit for gamers appears to be the ATI Radeon X1900 XT. . . Apple’s own benchmarks running Doom 3 and Quake 4 produce frame rates more than twice as high with the ATI Radeon X1900 card than with the GeForce 7300.
In a review that should be read in its entirety, the always excellent MacInTouch puts a stock Mac Pro configured with the standard NVIDIA GeForce 7300 GT through its paces running a "Universal Binary" of Doom 3 and Halo under "Rosetta". The author noted that both games experienced "horizontal tearing", and under Doom 3 it was "very distracting and made play feel jerky, even when the reported frame rate was very high".
MacInTouch concluded that the Mac Pro with the default NVIDIA GeForce 7300 GT is:
Adequate for casual gaming, but anyone serious about their gaming should immediately pony up for one of Apple's display card upgrades. At least with the GeForce's new Intel Mac drivers, Mac games finally get graphics of the same quality enjoyed by PCs several years ago.
BareFeats, a fantastic reference for Mac gaming benchmarks, configured a Mac Pro upgraded with 3.0 GHz processors and an ATI Radeon X1900 XT, and tested the system running MacOS X versions of Quake 4, Doom 3, Halo, and Unreal Tournament 2004.
The results should be read in their entirety, but every test shows that the ATI card delivers at least twice the number of frames per second than the entry-level NVIDIA card. BareFeats concludes that the "Mac Pro with a Radeon X1900 XT is a Mac gamer's dream come true. We finally can run with the 'big dogs' of the PC world".
For a Mac Pro configured with two 3 GHz Quad Core Xeon X5365 processors -- available starting April 4, 2007 -- BareFeats tested the system running MacOS X versions of Quake 4, Doom 3, Halo, Unreal Tournament 2004, World of Warcraft, and Prey. These results also should be read in their entirety, but the website noted that "an 8-core Mac Pro is no faster than a 4-core Mac Pro when it comes to 3D Gaming."
Running Windows games directly in Windows XP also is possible on the Mac Pro via Boot Camp (integrated into the operating system starting with MacOS X 10.5 "Leopard"). The well-respected AnandTech installed Windows XP on the same configuration of the Mac Pro as BareFeats -- 3.0 GHz processors and an ATI Radeon X1900 XT -- and tested the system running Quake 4, Half Life 2, F.E.A.R, Rise of Legends, and Oblivion.
The full benchmarks should be read for the complete perspective of the author, but although the Mac Pro turns in respectable numbers -- 151.4 FPS in Quake 4 and 99.4 FPS in Oblivion, for example -- it consistently falls short of a Windows system equipped with a less expensive 2.66 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo (E6700) processor or Intel Core 2 Duo Extreme (X6800) processor.
AnandTech explains that:
As you can expect, with most games being great memory bandwidth/latency benchmarks at more CPU bound resolutions, the Mac Pro ends up being significantly slower than the Core 2 testbeds. The 12% performance advantage the X6800 holds here will shrink as the resolution increases, but the point here is to look at what sort of FB-DIMM penalty we'll be paying.
The author also notes that there is a consistent "drop in performance when going from two to four cores" and that the "FB-DIMMs hold back performance".
Ultimately, if you are interested in the Mac Pro as a gaming box running MacOS X, upgrading the stock graphics card to the ATI Radeon X1900 XT is money well spent. Just for playing games in Windows, building your own PC gaming box might be a better option, but equipped with a better than stock graphics card, the Mac Pro provides a reasonably competitive Windows gaming setup in addition to support for MacOS X.