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I'm trying to evaluate a purchase but am having trouble finding apples-to-apples performance comparisons for these two machines. A year and and many details separate them. Are there any common benchmarks that consider disk and graphics performance? Which is preferable for software development (dual-head, but otherwise light on the GPU)?

Mac Pro (2006) [Detailed specs]

  • Two dual-core Xeon processors at 2.66GHz (1.33GHz bus)
  • 3GB RAM
  • NVIDIA GeForce 7300 GT with 256 MB RAM

iMac (2007) [Detailed specs]

  • Core 2 Duo (obviously dual-core) at 2.4GHz (800MHz bus)
  • 3GB RAM
  • ATI Radeon 2600 with 256 MB RAM

Both machines have their original hard drives (SATA).

Thanks in advance for your input.

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3 Answers 3

up vote 2 down vote accepted

Your question is somewhat difficult to answer, because not all is based upon “raw” performance.

I’d say that it would be better if you consider the following differences:

RAM

  • MP(MacPro): Very easy to add and the limit is probably higher than what you can/Want to afford for the task you want to perform. Adding 8-12GB is probably “cheap”.
  • iM(iMac): Probably more limited, tho not harder to change as far as I can remember, but if you need 12 GB you can’t achieve that with that (or any AFAICR) iMac.

HARD DRIVES

  • MP: Although “external” drives are “ok”, having four internal SATA bays is godsend. Very easy to add/remove drives and to create a simple RAID1 if you wanna have a mirror “just in case”.
  • iM: close to impossible (unless you have the right tools, time, patience and dedication) to change the internal drive, which is a “slower” 2.5 drive if I am not mistaken. Some “hacks” exist to replace the superdrive with another drive, but I don’t know if that Model fits.

Video

  • MP: Tho I don’t know if the NVIDA is better than that particular ATI (tho I believe it is), the expandability of the MP is superior to the zero expandability of the iMac. You could add more cards to your MacPro for more than two displays if that’s what you want. But you have to get your own displays…
  • iM: Zero. You can’t change or add another video card. You’re stuck with a very nice 24 inch display and an integrated iSight. The MacPro, will need displays (and webcams). The CONS here is that if you don’t like Glossy Displays… you’re out of luck :)

RAM Speed, Bus Speed, etc

All these things don’t really change your day to day workflow, yes, some Front Side Buses are faster than others, but in the end, the difference is probably not a decision factor. (given similar specs of course).

Connectivity

  • Both machines have enough USB/FW ports I believe, tho the Mac Pro surely has some more, you will need more ports in the iMac if you use external drives (not that you have much choice there).

So which one do I chose?

The answer is, there’s no answer. You have to evaluate your priorities. I wouldn’t change my Mac Pro (early 2008) for a new iMac, because I already have two 27’’ screens, already have 4 drives in there (with some RAID going on) + an SSD for the OS and I have replaced the stock video card (NVIDIA) with an ATI (because my nVidia Failed and the ATI costed the same as the out of warranty nVIdia). My Mac Pro is going to turn 3 years soon and it works fantastically.

The iMac on the other hand, is a beautiful looking machine that if you use paired with a lot of BlueTooth stuff, makes your desk look very pristine. Sadly, I need storage, redundancy and multi-core for some of the things I do for a living, so the 8 cores of my Mac Pro are needed in my case.

I notice that the MultiCore is godsend sometimes, you see processes hanging there at 100% and the rest of the CPUs and cores take care. But of course, a normal World of Warcraft user wouldn’t even use 5% of all that.

I suggest you visit Anandtech’s Mac section if you want some benchmarks and reviews. It’s usually filled with good impressions and comments and sometimes comparisons. I don’t know if you’ll find an exact comparison between those two models, but you might come up with something similar.

My Personal Opinion

Get the Mac Pro if you’re going to develop and already have screens (or the budget to buy them), because in the future, when you want your time machine, your drive cloned, more space, etc., the Mac Pro is going to be much more helpful than stacking fragile external Firewire/USB drives.

UPDATE ON VIDEO

According to the experts (tegeril), the “ATI 2600 Pro is a substantially superior card to the Nvidia 7300GT”. You’ll have to find some benchmarking for that and of course evaluate if you’re going to need the extra power or the expandability is better.

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+1 for the Mac Pro suggestion. –  Philip Regan Nov 24 '10 at 15:40
    
Thank you for this! I'm familiar with hardware, and Anandtech, but I didn't see anything 1:1. I'd prefer to use the iMac with an SSD and call it a day, but its hard drive is almost inaccessible. –  Justin Nov 24 '10 at 15:58
1  
The ATI 2600 Pro is a substantially superior card to the Nvidia 7300GT. –  Tegeril Nov 24 '10 at 16:18
    
@Justin it is possible, I have a friend with a somewhat 2009 iMac and he managed to do it, but it was a tedious process (his HD failed). –  Martín Marconcini Nov 24 '10 at 16:23

There's a Mac-specific set of benchmarks called Xbench. If you have access to both machines, you can run it on them and see how they stack up.

If not, there's an online database at db.xbench.com, and there are probably other places around you can find Xbench scores.

Here's a couple that are pretty close to yours, though running different versions of Mac OS (not sure how much that matters):

In this particular matchup, it's pretty even. The Xeon wins on threading (not surprising), while the iMac wins on hard disk (surprising, to me) -- though as Martin noted, it's easy to add more or better disks to a MacPro.

The decision probably comes down to form-factor, as much as anything else. Obviously people have been developing software on machines far slower than either of these for decades.

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Obviously people have been developing software on machines far slower than either of these for decades. -- Perhaps, but not running the Android emulator and Eclipse. That's a very handy link, though, thank you. I didn't know about the Xbench database. –  Justin Nov 24 '10 at 17:05

Also don't for get to check out Geekbench results. I find their results very valuable in determining overall system performance. FYI EveryMac.com has the average Geekbench results posted for almost every mac that can run the benchmark.

EveryMac's Geekbench Results

Apple iMac "Core 2 Duo" 2.4 24-Inch (Al) Geekbench result

Apple Mac Pro "Quad Core" 2.66 (Original) Geekbench result

In this case for raw performance the Mac Pro wins this contest hands down, go with the Mac Pro. I actually have the same Mac Pro, and it runs very well and was a very productive upgrade from a MacBook

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