An Incredible Mac Pro Demo: Takes Breath Away

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.