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Mac Pro nails versatility - at a price

Shortly after Apple introduced its heavy-duty Mac Pro desktops, I speculated that this may be the machine that could finally tempt Windows power users to buy a Mac - including me.

The Mac Pro that Apple sent to review was more machine than I'd buy for myself. All Mac Pro desktops come with a pair of dual-core Intel Xeon processors, the type most often found in servers. This one had two top-of-the-line 3.0-GHz chips; I'd probably opt for the mid-range 2.66 GHz Xeons.

Altogether, the system - including Bluetooth wireless mouse and keyboard and a 16x DVD SuperDrive burner - cost more than $5,700. The system I'd probably buy is more than $3,900, which still is more than I could afford.

But here's where the value lies: Apple's Intel-based systems are the only PCs you can buy that run the Mac OS and Windows. If you need to run both, the Mac gives you two computers in one.

The capability to choose from the two operating systems comes via a program available from Apple's Web site called Boot Camp. It's beta software, which means it's unfinished and has bugs. Yes, indeed.

I was able to install Boot Camp and, in turn, Windows XP, but not without some pain. There's a known problem with the combination of Apple's 23-inch monitor and the ATI Radeon card that prevents Windows from displaying on the screen. Posters in Apple's support forums suggested using an older, CRT-style monitor when using XP. It wasn't pretty, but that worked.

I had a little more luck running Windows Vista Release Candidate 2 in a program called Parallels for Mac, which creates what's known as a "virtual machine" within the Mac OS - a simulated computer running within a physical computer, a process known as virtualization.

As you'd expect with a system that essentially has four processors and 4 GB of memory, this is one fast machine. I can safely say I've never used a computer as fast as this one.

The Mac Pro is also much quieter than the previous model. In stressing the unit, I seldom heard its fans.

Would I buy this machine? Absolutely. It's solidly made, fairly upgradable, incredibly powerful and extremely versatile. Can I afford this machine? Even given the value its capabilities generate, if it's out of a buyer's price range, it's no value at all. If I win the lottery, get a huge bonus from work or sell the movie rights for my first novel to Steven Spielberg, or if Apple cuts the price in half, I'd consider a Mac Pro.