An Incredible Mac Pro Demo: Takes Breath Away

| Analysis

Some benchmarks have numbers and tables. Some have bar graphs. They're all very nice, but I just revisited a demo that I used to do at Apple, and the results on a Mac Pro will take your breath away. Buckle up, because you may not have seen this amazing visual demo ever before.

Back in the 2000-2005 time, I was involved with lots of professional conferences with Apple. In some cases, Apple ran the both, like SuperComputing and FOSE. In the case of smaller shows, like the American Astronomical Society (AAS), I would manage the booth along with another sales exec or system engineer. A typical booth would have several different kinds of Macs, big displays, and scientific or engineering software to demo.

One of the things that I noticed in those big shows, held in convention centers, with thousands of attendees, was that it was vital to catch the eye of the passerby. If the Mac was running a static display, even if it was the coolest scientific app ever, the passerby's eyes would quickly move on. So I devised a very visual demo that was sure to catch the passerby's eye and lure them into the both. Then we could move on to other things.

It always worked. And here's the secret I used.

I would download a lot of movie trailers from Apple. In those days, they were standard definition. But movie trailers are unique in that they have fast moving action, quickly changing scenes, explosions, pretty women, and so on. I would load up six or seven of these trailers in QuickTime, lay them out on a 23-inch display in a grid, and set them all running in an endless loop.

Once a passerby saw this, he (typically) would go into a trance and start wandering towards my station at the booth. The thing was, you couldn't do that with a PC. Well, I tried it once and the best I could do with Windows was two videos. If I started a third, they'd all start stuttering.

One measure of the Mac is how many trailers it can play at once without any one of them stuttering. When I was using a dual processor 800 MHz Mac Pro G4, the best I could do was about seven or maybe eight simultaneous trailers. It's been awhile since I did that demo, so I decided to revisit with a Mac Pro, Nehalem (March 2009), quad core, with 3GB of RAM, standard video card (NVIDIA GT120) and two displays attached.

Here's the video, taken with an iPhone 3GS. Note that the audio comes only from the frontmost copy of QuickTime. (The Bourne Supremacy)

If you'd rather not count, there are 21 standard definition videos running at the same time. Why not high-def? I wanted to retain a baseline to compare against what the Mac Pro G4 was doing in 2003. Note that none of the trailers are stuttering.

Also, take a look at the main screen where I have the Activity Monitor app running. None of the eight virtual cores* appears to be working very hard. I'll propose that if I had many more screens attached, I could have run 50 or more of these QuickTime trailers.

Of course, this isn't a quantitative benchmark. What it does do, however, is visually express the power of the new Mac Pro. The next time you have a friend over who's thinking about switching to a Mac, show him/her this demo. After her/his eyes finish glazing over, you can accompany your stunned friend to the local Apple retail store.


* Each real core in the quad core Nehalem CPU is able to simulate two virtual cores. That's why the activity monitor shows eight performance bars.

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Just imagine Snow Leopard and the Quicktime X minimal interface. With all the windows Exposed. Drool.


that is very impressive. Especially the way none of the cores is running very hard.

An idea:
You could open lots more if you were willing to have them overlap. Show the top 25-50% of each and then tile them. You could get 50 going and see all of them doing something.

Les Posen

Interesting demo, John.

I’ve been doing the same with Keynote for a while now, using a 3 x 3 grid and bringing in QT movies one at a time until they all play, each with sound. Try doing that with Powerpoint! Can’t wait until Snow Leopard, Quicktime X, and no doubt a Keynote update to take advantage of all 10.6 can offer.

Walt French

I wonder if the Snow Leopard Activity Monitor will show tasks that have been routed to the Graphics Processing Units?

Don’t some of them have * hundreds? * of threads available?


I almost didn’t read the article. I clicked over to and really wanted to know what the heck FOSE stood for. I still don’t know. It annoys me when someone uses an acronym without defining it first.

OK, that’s me, I’m just that way. Can you tell me what it means?

Now about the demo - Very cool. I wonder how many you can show in a MacBook Pro? This might be a fun thing to do at a Best Buy on a rainy Saturday afternoon…


FOSE = Federal Office Systems Exposition


For Our Salivating Eyes?

Anyway, that’s very impressive stuff, John. The most amazing thing was definitely how easy the load appeared to be on the processors. Kind of makes me curious how well my MBP might hold up…

I think it would also be interesting to see a similar demo to this, with twice as many videos and interacting between Spaces & Expose.

John Martellaro

ctopher, Rudy:  As I recall, a few years ago, the FOSE expo decided that “Federal Office…” didn’t properly reflect what their expo was all about.  The scope had broadened.  But the FOSE moniker was too valuable to give up. So they decided that FOSE wouldn’t be spelled out ... and hence no reference to the old acronym on the Website.



Or, 3 HD trailers + 1 SD trailer, all told. Reassuring to know I could do other tasks while watching a movie, at least on the Mac Pro if not my laptop…


I’d posit that, on the current Mac Pro towers, the CPUs and graphics are no longer the bottleneck… the storage is.
What sort of hard drives are you running these movies from?  Are they standalone SATA drives or RAID?  And what are the bitrates for the movies?

Neil Anderson

It will look even cooler with Snow Leopard’s QuickTime X.


Wow! Back in the day when I was doing heavy duty computing using the Cray and big Control Data systems, I thought We were at the limit of compute power. Now, Apple has exceeded most high powered processors except maybe IBM’s Big Blue. I do know there are several institutions that have hooked up a dozen or so Macs (I think G4 or G5) in a network so that they all work as one massive system. Note, the various systems are in different geographical locations. I predict that not in the too distant future, one will be able to download weather satellite data, run it with a weather predictor program and be able to plan the week ahead using tehe predicted weather patterns! All using a single Mac Pro running a 3.5 GHz chip and having terabyte of RAM with 4 TB HD!


At the price I would not expect less.


So now I understand why neither you nor the FOSE website spelled out the acronym. Oh and this is a very cool demo but I don’t think *I* could do other tasks while watching a movie. I don’t multitask well… (Maybe I need a processor upgrade? smile


Yea, I had a dual processor G5 that could run several videos at once on two 30” monitors.

It could also run two 3D games at once.

Big waste of money, Apple switched to Intel, can’t update the OS anymore and 3D game developers left in droves.

Unless you have use for all those processors, like rendering or something, most people only need a dual core.

In fact many people are getting by just fine with a iPhone and ditching their computers.

Gaming? PS3, cheaper, faster and dedicated.

Plus being locked inside with a $15,000 machine?

Get a life, use that money to get out and have a vacation, meet people and have fun. Travel, it’s a great high.

Stupid machines.


OPMG5, I have a 2008 8 core Mac Pro, great machine for video capture/edit/encoding, (although the BT is consistently flakey), it’s a great machine, but it cost a lot of dough even with HE discount that took almost ?400 pound off of retail.

However I can’t take issue with anything you said.

When I’m not needing to crunch files, (or wanting play Fallout 3, Left 4 Dead or whatever in Boot Camp) I can do pretty much everything else with my 1.6 Atom based netbook, and a lot of that can be handled by iPhone anyway.

If I was looking to buy a Mac Pro this year at the current UK pricing, I simply wouldn’t. I would have just let my previous rig soldier on, too old and slow for recent games, but it did the same job in all other aspects, it just took longer.


The earlier Crays and Control data systems cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to several million dollars. I bought my refurbished quad Mac pro for ~$1800. However, If you want to increase speed significantly and operate in a true multitasking environment that Snow Leopard will offer, you must have a late 2008 Mac Pro with a PCI Express 2.0 slot and an advanced graphics card. My early quad does not have that capability. So, I must upgrade to meet my clients requirements([speed + power]^3 !!). Fortunately,  PowerMax takes trade ins so while I am out some significant bucks. But, my clients know this and my rates will go up, but not significantly.


The reason that the CPU isn’t used much is because *if I remember correctly* the video card does most of the video processing.

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