Apple Gets Nehalem Early, H.264 and VMWare Performance Boosts

The release of the new Mac Pro on Tuesday marked the first use of Intel's Nehalem processor in Apple's products. As in the past, Intel has allowed Apple to get early access to their newest processors ahead of the competition. These Nehalem Xeon processors used in the high end Mac Pros have not even been officially announced by Intel yet.

Apple details the technical improvements of these new Nehalem processors on their product pages for the Mac Pro. While the descriptions and benchmarks are primarily marketing materials, they do offer simple explanations of some of the new technologies found in Nehalem. Some highlights include:

- Single die 64-bit architecture with fast access to cache data
- Integrated memory controller with significantly more memory bandwidth
- Turbo Boost: "If youre using an application that doesnt need every core, Turbo Boost shuts off the idle cores while simultaneously increasing the speed of the active ones, up to 3.33GHz on a 2.93GHz Mac Pro."

While Apple's tests show large improvements in memory bandwidth and floating point performance, many customers are awaiting 3rd party benchmarks to make a final purchasing decision. Notably, however, specific tasks or applications could see significantly higher performance boosts with Nehalem than might otherwise be expected.

An x264 developer has reported that Nehalem SSE changes are extremely beneficial to x264 performance and "have led to an enormous overall performance increase[s]" over Penryn processors. As this processor support trickles out, it should speed up the time to encode H.264 video substantially.

Meanwhile, VMWare customers may also see significant improvements in running VMWare Fusion on the new Nehalem Mac Pros. According to a forum post by VMWare's Ben Gertzfield, VMWare 2.02 already supports a new feature called "Extended Page Tables" which should result in "a pretty significant performance boost on the new Nehalem CPUs when running Fusion virtual machines."

This is a huge benefit to virtualization software: without EPT, a big chunk of the heavy lifting that a virtual machine has to do is emulating the "map virtual memory address X to physical memory address Y" work that a traditional MMU does.

The first of the Nehalem Mac Pros are expected to ship early next week.

Related Roundup: Mac Pro
Buyer's Guide: Mac Pro (Buy Now)

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