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Thursday, October 15, 2009, 06:00 am PT (09:00 am ET)

Apple's next Mac Pro may sport six-core processors

A forthcoming update to the Mac Pro line could have short-term exclusivity of a new Intel Xeon six-core CPU early next year, according to a new rumor.

Citing an inside source, Hardmac has reported that Apple is testing the Gulftown Xeon chip in the new Mac Pro desktop. The chip is an improvement over the model currently being used in the 2009 model with more horsepower and lower power consumption.

The new 32 nanometer chips have 12MB of L3 cache, and 6 cores with 12 threads for each CPU. Apple usually doubles the processors in its high-end professional workstations, so it's possible the new Mac Pro system could have a total of 12 cores. The new hardware could be released sometime in the first quarter of 2010.

Gulftown is the codename of a yet-unreleased Intel chip. It will be sold under the Intel Core i9 name, while the server version is to be called the Xeon 5600 series. It will be the first dual-socket, six-core processor for Intel.

The report said that the new Mac Pro will have a modified motherboard with a 10Gbit/second Ethernet port. In addition, it is said to support 8GB and 16GB RAM modules, an increase from the 4GB offered today. That would mean the system could carry up to 128GB of RAM.

The new hardware is said to possibly arrive in early 2010, before the new chip enters mass production. If true, it is likely that the Mac maker would have short-term exclusive use of the new Xeon CPU.

"We currently do not know if all future Mac Pro models will be using this hexacore Xeon or if Apple will keep quad core XEon for the entry level model," the report said. "This could decrease significantly the price of the first Mac Pro, and maybe convince some Mac users desperately waiting for a Mac Pro mini to finally get one. It is also unclear if the enclosure will be modified or not."

If true, it wouldn't be the first time Apple had early access to a new Xeon chip. The last two revisions of the Mac Pro line had the first crack at their respective chips.

Earlier this year, Apple introduced a new Mac Pro with Nehalem Xeon processors. The 2.66GHz CPU offered 2.4 times increase of memory bandwidth with 40 percent lower memory latency over its predecessor. The current high-end 8-core Mac Pro offers two 2.26GHz Quad-Core Intel Xeon 5500 series processors with 8MB of shared L3 cache.