Apple stole a march on other computer manufacturers with its latest range of Mac Pro computers, being the first company to include Intel's Xeon 3500 and 5500 Quad Core processors.

Part of the ‘Nehalem' family of chips, the new processors offer a number of advances over the old Intel Quad Core family. All four cores are now on a single die, ensuring all 8MB of L3 cache is available to any and all processing cores. On top of this the memory controller is now on-chip, facilitating access to the main memory, which eliminates latency by up to 40 percent.

Nehalem also marked a return for Intel's Hyper-Threading technology, which creates two virtual cores on each physical core (and consequently runs two processes on each core). And with up to eight cores available across the two Quad-Core CPUs that's up to 16 processes running simultaneously.

The idea of using cores, rather than base speed, to measure performance is one that's increasingly taking hold. This could be a real game-changer, if anybody knew how to program for it. However, most applications aren't currently designed to take advantage of these separate cores; at least not until Snow Leopard comes along.

But even here the Mac Pro is no slouch. A custom, build-to-order option cranks the processor speed up to 2.93GHz, and the Nehalem processor features a technology called Turbo Boost. This technology spins down idle processing cores and increases the speed of the processors in use. Apple claims this enables a 2.93GHz Xeon to run at speeds as high as 3.33GHz.

There's no denying that the new Mac Pro is a beautiful piece of kit, both inside and out; so we decided to put two of the fastest Mac Pros we could buy to the test.