To Buy The New Mac Pro Or Build Your Own? The Answer Might Surprise You - Technology Portal

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1/01/2014

To Buy The New Mac Pro Or Build Your Own? The Answer Might Surprise You

To Buy The New Mac Pro Or Build Your Own? The Answer Might Surprise You
Apple’s Mac Pro is no longer the company’s star product, and for a time some fans wondered if it might be discontinued entirely. Instead, Apple surprised everyone by heavily revising the system for a new century. The older model’s big silver enclosure has been exchanged for a small, futuristic, glossy-black cylinder that is small enough to be easily moved, yet large enough to accommodate powerful hardware.
Putting powerful components in a small case usually bumps up the price, however, and the Mac Pro is no exception. The most basic quad-core version is $2,999 and stepping up to six cores adds another grand. That’s a lot of money, but is this new Mac reasonably priced when compared to a PC you can build yourself, or is the “Apple tax” in full effect? Let’s find out.

Examining The Base Model

macpro1   To Buy The New Mac Pro Or Build Your Own? The Answer Might Surprise You

The base model of the new Mac Pro is equipped with an Intel Xeon E5 quad-core processor boasting a maximum clock speed of 3.7 GHz which is paired with 12 gigabytes of 1866 MHz DDR3 RAM and 256 gigabytes of PCIe-based flash storage. Two AMD FirePro D300 graphics cards act as the cherry on top, providing two gigabytes of GDDR5 RAM each.
How much does it cost to put together a roughly similar build yourself? Let’s find out. To the Internet, Batman!
Add all of this together and you come to a price of… $3,680.
Wait – what? Isn’t putting your own system together supposed to be less expensive? With a typical consumer desktop that is usually true, but the Mac Pro is a different beast. Many of the components in it are not usually purchased by consumers and, as such, are available only at very high prices from just a handful of retailers. The processor, for example, is far more expensive than an equivalent Intel Core product, but serious workstations demand Xeon because they promise maximum reliability under intense workloads.
intelxeon   To Buy The New Mac Pro Or Build Your Own? The Answer Might Surprise You

There are a few inconsistences worth mentioning. The most important is the combination of video cards, which doesn’t match that of the Mac Pro because Apple uses customized hardware. The FirePro W7000 cards listed in the custom build use the same architecture and have similar specifications, but come with two additional gigabytes of memory each. That makes the theoretical performance of the custom build a bit higher than the base Mac Pro.
We also cannot, of course, precisely price the enclosure and power supply Apple uses. The new Pro is a mere 9.9 inches high, 6.6 inches wide and weighs eleven pounds. I’ve seen cans of oatmeal larger than the new Mac Pro, and it’s not possible to replicate its size with off-the-shelf parts. For some people this might no matter, but for others the small size of the Mac will be an important advantage.

What About The Upgraded Version?

macproinside   To Buy The New Mac Pro Or Build Your Own? The Answer Might Surprise You

The more expensive $3,999 configuration of the Mac Pro replaces the quad-core processor with a six-core Xeon E5-1650. RAM is bumped up to 16 gigabytes, and the FirePro cards are upgraded to the D500, which offer three gigabytes of GDDR5 RAM each. What does a theoretical custom build cost when the upgrade’s hardware used?
Add all of this together and you come to a price of $5,020. That’s quite astounding, as the $1,000 upgrade seems to net you components worth $1,500.
The qualifier, once again, is the video card. The performance of the upgraded Mac Pro’s pair of FirePro D500s probably would not quite match up to a pair of W8000s because the D500s offer less RAM and about 15% fewer stream processors per card. On the other hand, though, the D500 has a 384-bit memory interface while the W8000s have a slower 256-bit interface.

Where’s The Apple Tax?

appletax2   To Buy The New Mac Pro Or Build Your Own? The Answer Might Surprise You

There’s not much room for interpretation here. While the Mac Pro is no doubt expensive, it’s actually less expensive than a similar system would be if you put it together yourself. You might be able to beat Apple’s price if you ordered all your parts off eBay or settled for gently used components, but buying new hardware from established retailers is going to blow your budget.
And don’t forget what you lose by building your own computer. You’ll have limited support and while warranties will apply, you may have to remove and send back a component if it’s broken, putting your entire system out of commission. Apple’s retail locations and excellent customer support makes it less likely you’ll see significant downtime.
You can gain similar protection by purchasing from HP or Lenovo, but these pre-built PC workstations fare even worse in terms of value. Some can match or exceed the Mac Pro’s processor, while others can offer more storage, but none can match the combination of CPU, GPU and hard drive performance that the new Mac Pro provides at a similar price.

Conclusion

Despite complaints about its price, the Mac Pro looks like a pretty good deal. Yes, you can get carried away with the options, potentially resulting in a system that costs $10,000 or more, but that’s true of many high-end computers. The pre-configured versions will do nicely for many buyers.

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