Editor's Blog: Mac Noise, New Mac Pro - "Are You Listening, Steve?" Asks Rik

Editor's Blog: Mac Noise, New Mac Pro - "Are You Listening, Steve?" Asks Rik

 

Last Monday, we reported on Intel's release of two new quad-core Xeon processors, the 1.83GHz L5320 and 1.60GHz L5310. Both feature eight megabytes of on-die Level 2 cache shared among the four processor cores, and both connect to the rest of the system over a zippy 1066MHz front side bus.

 

While these specs are impressive, what's really killer about these babies is that they each require only 50 watts of power, even at full load - that's a measly 12.5 watts per core. Also interesting is that, according to Intel's press release, they are "designed to be 'drop-in' compatible with the existing Dual-Core and Quad-Core Intel Xeon processor families." This means that Apple could simply replace the processors in the existing Mac Pro line with the new Xeon L5320 and L5310 without redesigning, retooling - or rethinking - the existing Mac Pro line.

 

I'm praying that they don't.

 

Let's call a spade a spade: The Mac Pro case is past its prime - it's time to retire it and move on to a whole new enclosure, one that takes full advantage of the fact that a mere 50 watts will now provide quad-core performance.

 

Yes, the new Xeons aren't as fast as the dual-core Xeons in the current Mac Pro line (which top out at 3GHz), and their frontside buses aren't as impressive (the current Mac Pros have 1.33GHz frontsiders), but that advantage won't last long: Intel is expected to release low-power 3GHz quads later this year that'll run on 1600MHz buses.

 

The biggest problem with the existing Mac Pro is one that it inherited from its predecessor, the Power Mac G5: When you give it even a moderately processor-intensive task, it quickly becomes one loud mofo. Case in point: I was trying to record a voice-over to some video the other day, but fan noise made a clean recording impossible. Sure, SoundSoap Pro helped, but it was still a pain to be forced to post-process every change in my voice-over - so much of a pain that I simply gave up and did my recording on an old iBook G4, then imported that clean audio into my giant aluminum cheese grater.

 

Not everyone is annoyed by fan noise - Marlee Matlin immediately springs to mind - but if you're doing serious audio work, it more than a mere annoyance; it's a deal killer. There's hope, however: the aforementioned 50 watt quad-cores. If they're placed in an enclosure that engineered with convective cooling as Design Goal Number One, their low power needs might allow for quiet - very quiet - operation. Sure, a fan might be needed - I don't pretend to be an engineer - but just one or two large, slow-moving fans might get the job done.

 

I'd also be perfectly happy if the Mac Pro came in a single (quad-core) Xeon configuration, not the dual-chip models available today, if that would help cut down the heat, and thus the fan noise. I'll take a quiet quad-core machine over a noisy octo-core jobbie any day of the week.

 

Oh, and while I'm redesigning Apple's Pro line for them, let me add one more item to my wish list (and I'd like to hear your suggestions, as well): an eSATA port or two. Now that fast, affordable eSATA RAID enclosures are available from LaCie, Other World Computing, WiebeTech, and others, it'd be nice to be able to plug them directly into my Mac Pro without having to install a PCI Express card to do so. And, come to think of it, not having to install a PCI Express card would further reduce power consumption - and noise.

 

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Snafu

Now that you mention these issues, my Mac Pro 2,66 + Radeon is fast cycling fan activity since a few days ago: say, a minute or two of low noise, and then a minute of half intensity fan activity. I have to determine who the culprit is yet: the Mac Pro or the ATI card.

I am googling some Mac Pro cleaning guides to see if it is a matter of dust difficulting ventilation or such, and check the insides of this beastie.

I am wondering about this Quad Core drop-ins thing: I do 3D, which benefits better from more cores than other tasks. I hope we see third party upgrade kits appearing soon.

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ERTW

Ummm, don't think you know what you're talking about because you don't. Just about everything in this world is cooled by convection. You put something that is cool near something that is hot in a vacuum and both items will cool/heat until there is equilibrium. That is convection cooling.

Cooling/heating by air. It's just proof that most people who use macs don't actually know very much about computers. Maybe other things like medicine and such, but not computers or anything computer related.

Go record some audio.

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Johnny

I have a 2.66 Mac Pro with x1900, 4 HDs and 4GB ram. Even with all this extra noisy gear inside, it is totally silent even under full load. I have used several Mac Pros and this has always been the case.

To me it seems some of you with loud machines have a defective product. Espcially the guy who reboots until it boots into 'quiet mode'. Dude, call Apple and get that thing replaced. That is not normal!

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Wick

I know I'm a little late to this converstaion but...

At work, I've use a Dual 2.66 GHz Dual-Core Mac Pro that starts up with fans at absolute max 3 times out of 4 every morning. This is after being shut down all night in a building that's always cold.

The only fix is to shut down, unplug, re-plug and start up again until I get lucky. Today it only took 3 trys to get it to boot quitely. The record is 8 times! Once it's up, it'll run nearly silent all day while doing fairly intensive HD video work with a couple of extra PCIe cards in it.

Also, once I get it booted into "quite mode", all I have to do is leave it running. I can restart it with no problems for weeks (literally), but if I shut it down just once, it's gonna be loud next time I boot.

Just thought I'd share.

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David desJardins

My Mac Pro is loud also. The most annoying thing is that the fans cycle on and off, on and off, every minute or two. I would rather have the fans just stay on, or stay off. The constant turning on and off drives me nuts. Any alternative to getting rid of it?

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Stephen Falk

Umm no Rik.
The G5's fan noise is not a deal killer.
Anybody doing and real audio work would not
have the CPU (or any other audio gear for that matter)
located in the same room where voice/musicians get
recorded.
While I agree the fan noise is pretty crazy at times,
it never prevents me from properly recording anything.

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CK Sandberg

If I remember correctly, MacPros do not have PCI-X cards - they only use PCIe (express). I believe those are completely incompatible standards.

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rmyslewski

"If I remember correctly, MacPros do not have PCI-X cards - they only use PCIe (express). I believe those are completely incompatible standards."

 

Argh! You're right, of course - simply a brain cramp on my part. I fixed it.

 

I also find it interesting that so many commenters have said that their Mac Pros are quiet as the proverbial mice - mine isn't. I'll leave this comment up for a day or so to see if anyone else comments about their (lack of) noise, and then delete the article if it turns out that my problem is simply a defective Mac Pro - which is, of course, entirely possible.

 

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Brian

Have you determined whether your Mac Pro's fan noise is an anomaly? I'll be in the market for a Mac Pro soon. If units actually vary in fan noise, I'll consider buying locally at increased cost just to be able to test-listen. I'm hoping to avoid this.

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Kendall

It would be nice if they did a case redesign if only for aesthetics but I think they really need to make another mini tower. These low power Xeon processors would be great in a mini tower like a new version of the cube with no fans but still small amounts of expandability. I loved the cube and most did but the cost killed the little guy. If they could make a more affordable mini tower cube I think it could really take off.

I can hope at least.

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SteveS

Rik,

I have to ask, have you ever used a Mac pro? Just because it looks like the G5 PowerMac on the outside doesn't mean it suffers from any of the same problems. It's completely different on the inside, fans and all.

I have to say that my Mac Pro (2.66 Ghz) is the quietest computer I've ever used. In addition to whatever work I normally do on the machine, I'm running Folding@Home (SMP client) 24x7. So, I am pushing this beast to it's capacity all the time. If the screen saver comes on, I have to actually shake the mouse to make sure the machine hasn't gone into a sleep mode because it is that quiet. By contrast, I also have a G4 "Wind Tunnel" Mirrored drive machine. That is loud. But my Mac pro is even quieter than my Macbook and Dell laptop.

To the point, if you want to make a point for case change, that's fair. However, "noise" is not an issue that you will get much support for.

Steve

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Chris

I had a quad (dual dual) Mac Pro (briefly) alongside my G5. The Mac Pro was dead silent. The G5 was _relatively_ noisy, but not like my Quicksilver Dual 1GHz G4, which sounds like a quiet vacuum cleaner. Windtunnel G4 is noisier still. Every PC I've ever heard sounds as loud as the Windtunnel or louder.

Are you sure your Mac Pro isn't defective? Mine was below my desk, and I could definitely record clean audio with it. (I'm assuming your CPU is not right next to your microphone.)

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Rob Kosinski

My brand new 3GHz Mac Pro is nearly SILENT (other than the disk drive clacking). If I put my ear RIGHT ON THE GRILL I can hear the hum of the fan. By comparison my Dual 1GHz Quicksilver sounds like a freight train.

??????

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Anonymous

My 3.0 Mac Pro is d*mn near silent as well, and if it were that important to me to have it absolutely quiet, I would have my CPU in another room. It's not that difficult and the only down side would be putting discs in or connecting hard drives, which isn't that big a deal anyway. I mean h*ll, you're supposed to get up from your computer desk every 30 min anyway.

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MacZiMiZer

What you want is a Mac Mini with mac pro power, which I can understand. But for someone like me whose doing a lot of heavy gaming and video/graphics work, I'll need the enclosure it has right now to hold harddrives, cd drives, when everything is working you want that space in there to keep air flowing, it isn't just the CPU that's giving off heat. I've also heard the mac pro is pretty quiet especially compared to the g5 towers. And technically, if they did just pop the new processors in, the fans probably wouldn't even go off.

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nayrk

I would love a case redesign. Espically a mini-tower :)

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