So Can We Build a Better Entry Level Apple Mac Pro via PC DIY (and Cheaper)? Stephen Fung December 22, 2013 Guides 81 Comments 256 Flares Twitter 0 Facebook 224 Google+ 28 Pin It Share 4 Reddit 0 Email -- 256 Flares × Prev1 of 9NextUse your ← → (arrow) keys to browse A few days ago, our hearts sank a little when we did a spec for spec virtual build of our windows version of the new Apple Mac Pro. When the dust settled, we were surprised by the significant different in price, in favour of the new Mac Pro. At $9600 US for Apple's flagship build with all the hardware options, it would cost us about $11,530 US to merely match it. But not without some compromises and uncertainty on a few of the parts selections. Of course there are ways to provide similar performance with alternate hardware. But for the same hardware, I'm afraid Apple did win this round. But that was at the top end of the spec. And where PC DIY can be uber competitive is often at the entry level, where the strength of the platform is easy upgrades, lots of component choices, and great value for the dollar. So we decided to do this exercise again, but we'll be targeting the entry level $2999 US Apple Mac Pro this time. Prev1 of 9NextUse your ← → (arrow) keys to browse EricG – Futurelooks I seem to recall asking some Intel and Intel partners about different form factors of motherboards and whether or not it could help decrease the PC footprint. Most the comments were something along the lines that it's too hard, no market, no interest, or too costly. Sometimes an idea isn't about the cost, it's about the momentum it can create or the traction it can give a brand. I'll still take the kick a$$ work station's power any day though. 🙂 waltc3 "But for the same hardware, I’m afraid Apple did win this round." You haven't proven that yet, unfortunately. That's just it: it is *not* the "same hardware." We went over the differences you didn't report in the last article--warranties, downclocks, system bus speeds and other differentials, custom bus connectivity, the distinct disadvantages to Thunderbolt, etc--indeed a host of variables in which the $10k Mac Pro actually amounted to a good deal *less* than the retail PC components you picked at $11k. Mac customers frequently delude themselves, however, and discount much that is fundamental to both the performance and cost of their Macs. You can certainly believe what you like--but if indeed as I suspect the $11k PC is much better warrantied, is amenable to customer upgrades and servicing, and is anywhere from 20%-40% *faster* (no downclocking there), Apple did not win anything at all--except in your imagination, unfortunately. Rather, it is a decisive loss for the Mac Pro (but this is not at all unusual for Mac configurations.) Take ECC support, for instance. Consumer motherboards don't generally support ECC because they don't need to. ECC is generally reserved for server motherboards (which you could have selected for your PC comparison if you had wanted) because the extra bit helps to error-check the ram--not necessary for consumer products because they generally do not use their ram like a busy business server will use it 24/7. Also, ECC ram is more expensive to upgrade than standard DDR3, and generally *slower* than standard DDR3 because it doesn't spend anytime checking with the parity bit. Interesting thing about ECC, though, is that you can still get errors with it, especially if and when the parity bit in a ECC DIMM goes bad--when that happens you're better off without ECC!...;) Point is, if you want an ECC motherboard for a PC, many are readily available. Here's a decent primer: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ECC_memory A quick look at Apple's web site reveals that apparently the only Mac Apple makes that ships with ECC (and of course an ECC memory controller) is the Mac Pro. All other Macs ship without it, just like consumer PCs--even the Mac mini with OS X Server installed--apparently (Apple's web site doesn't mention ECC for the mini server that I could see.) I think if you are going to use a $10k Mac Pro as a server that the ECC is fine and fitting. But if not, then you don't need it as it is both slower and more expensive. But as is usual for Apple, you don't get a choice in the matter. Really, every component in a $10k Mac Pro deserves at least as much scrutiny as I've given the ECC ram above, don't you think? As you can see I'm not impressed by the Mac Pro publicity--but you seem to be even before you or anyone else has even taken one of these things apart to see exactly what Apple's hiding there (Apple always hides things from its customers--you have to have a Mac in hand before you can ascertain what is hidden, misrepresented, or else just plain not *there*...;)) I honestly believe you are experienced enough to know this. You've compared oranges to apples both times (pardon the pun), instead of oranges to oranges, or apples to apples. Shopping for PC components generally offers an enormous positive difference over the computing products Apple chooses to offer, but you have to know something about hardware to appreciate the enormous advantage a consumer has when setting out to build a PC. chute75 wintard - macs never make errors so therefore no need for ECC Brandon You do realize that the Mac Pro ships with ECC RAM, right? You're furthering his point. AD The answer is no chas_m I like how you gloss over the FUGLY factor in the attempt to match Apple. Still, you've definitely made the point -- you would not only spend more, but you make the new Mac Pro look like even more of a work of art than it already is. There might be a market for anal-retentive people who need ALL THE EXPANSIONZ inside the case, but I think TB2 made that irrelevant. I absolutely love the idea of the Mac Pro ON the desk, operating near-silently, while the storage array is a short cable away, UNDER the desk in a single box. Sounds like a great idea, and the whole thing's a LOT more backward compatible than you guys suggest, since TB can be any kind of connector you want/need. theojo Are you trying to make love to your computer or get your work done? As long as you can get you work one who cares what it looks like. Daniel DeMerchant How does Thunderbolt 2 make expansion irrelevant when there is nothing to plug into it? Currently there is one brand of RAID array and a display. Having all of those cords running everywhere, and with the possibility of them being pulled out, must have some effect on your "work of art" setup. See a better build for the money in my post. Pros put their computers in racks mainly. You really are drinking Apple cool-aid on this one. If Apple came out with an expandable rack computer, you would be extolling the virtues of a rack setup like Apple invented it. brainburst TB2 is irrelevant. It is not even 1/4 as fast as a full PCIe 3 16x slot! So no it can't be anything you want it to be! chas_m Another point ... if as you say at the conclusion, you can cheap out and not match the specs (building something half-decent, but saving money up front) and "upgrade along the way" ... then surely you still spend more money in the end, you just spread it out over a longer time? Also, not commenting on Windows 8 ... if you're using a workstation class machine with Win8, you're getting exactly what you richly deserve ... kornival no cry man Carl Draper Well, you could save $100 Dollars, ditch Windows and use Linux instead, or alternately, for the adventurous, build a hackintosh... brainburst Absolutely WRONG. CPU upgrades for equivalent performance will be CHEAPER as time goes on. Ralph Williams How can you be using the same hardware when the graphics in the mac are 100% proprietary, and 100% not upgradable. In 2 years, I can upgrade the cards in a custom build to the latest technology, which will be twice as fast, for $1000. I would have to buy a brand new mac at another $3000. jeff At which point you could sell the old one for $2000 and economically be in the same spot with a newer machine still under warranty. jameskatt The whole point of standardizing on the hardware is that Apple forces the developers - including Adobe - to optimize their software for this hardware. This way, just as on the iPhone - everyone is on the same page, and the software ends up running better on the Apple platform than on other platforms. Joseph In 2 years someone might sell new GPU's in the same form-factor. brainburst Highly unlikely, almost impossible. The Graphics are integrated. Not upgradable. Joseph No, they are user-replacable, but currently no other cards are available in this form factor. Riviera 2 years later.... still waiting for those new form-factor GPUs to replace in that Mac Pro... tick, tock, tick... Joseph Yes, a shame... really a shame. And two years later Apple still sell the same machine for the same price. Good value then, not now. Joseph Google it. brainburst I don't have to google it. WE have two of them! They are replaceable in so far as they aren't soldered down, but they are not meant to be swapped by end users. I have the computers all you have is google speculation Leon I can build the same PC in Australia using local stores with stock for AUD$2763 or USD$2449 so I'm not sure where you went wrong there. Stephen Fung Listing the parts you used might reveal that. Some parts are just cheaper in some regions possibly. cellodad Interesting. I currently have a 2010 Mac Pro. It's not a single use machine. I use it professionally, (Education) in my doctoral program, (EdTech) creatively, (photography, video, audio production with my cellist son) and for routine daily tasks. I like being able to have Lightroom, Photoshop, FCP, and Logic all up and working at the same time as well as streaming Interlochen Public Radio, email, browser, and running Ubuntu and Server in virtual machines for projects. The biggest con I've read about the new Mac Pro is limited upgradeability. Quite honestly, the only internal upgrades I've done in the last three years are storage (8 TB of slow HDs onboard) and RAM. (32 GB) I think we may be seeing a paradigm shift to more modular solutions to storage made possible by higher speed transfer. I can see myself over the 5 or so years that the Mac Pro might be one of my primary machines, changing the SSD and I will immediately drop in RAM from OWC but I think it will probably cope with my needs over its reasonable lifetime just fine. brainburst You don't have a clue do you? In my facility we have upgraded many machines with better graphics cards interface cards etc. This won't be possible with the new mac Pro. It's fast for now. In two years it will be worthless. I have 2008 mac pros that I am only just contemplating getting rid of because I was able to upgrade them with nvidia gtx 680 cards. 5 years from now what cards ail there be available for the new macPros with their very proprietary slot configurations and horrible heatsink design? That's what everyone is missing here. Even if there is a better generation of Graphics cards available how many will be able to fit BOTH the form factor AND Thermal profile of the current MacPros cards? I have one on my desk right now. IT GETS HOT under full operation. Thunderbolt is useless for an upgrade path. It isn't as fast as a PCI 3.0 x 16 slot. It is crippled. The only people who should buy this machine are 3d graphics designers Daniel DeMerchant Here is one way to go at it: (2) EVGA GeForce GTX 780 $519.99 x 2 (1) Corsair Carbide Series Case $79.99 (1) Intel Xeon E5-2630 $649.99 (1) SuperMicro X9SRE-F Mothboard $349.99 (1) Crucial 12GB (3x4gb) DDR3 1333 ECC Registered Memory $179.00 (2) Samsung 840 Pro Series MX-7PD128BW in RAID 0 $119.99 (1) 600W Corsair CX600M Power Supply $79.99 (1) Windows 8.1 Pro OEM $139.99 Total $2758.91 This gives you a 6 core, equal drive performance and better video performance, not to mention REAL upgradeability. Switch to an i7 and things get even less expensive. Stephen Fung I have no doubt that this is true. In fact, I know it's true that you could use alternate components and create similar or greater performance for less. What I wanted to do was track down the cost of the "Apple Tax" in the latest Mac Pro, from the bottom, and from the top. And based on the response to this and the other article, it's a question worth answering. Daniel DeMerchant On the cores vs clock speed, it depends on what software you are running...! You have a cool website for sure that is at least interesting. Stephen Fung Right tool for the right job for sure. For most normal loads, higher clock speeds can be a more tangible benefit (for most apps more of the time). But if you've got highly threaded apps, then definitely, more cores win for those cases. At the entry level, one could assume that the use case scenario would be more general and would benefit from clock more than cores 🙂 jaimefortega This is so wrong, there's a $3.990 MAC Pro with better specs, that is more similar to the PC that you show here, the PC processor has 6 cores, the 2990 MAC Pro has 4 cores... the 3990 Mac Pro processor has 6 cores and a clockspeed of 2.7 GHz, and better Graphics Cards, but the cache is only 12 MB... and if i'm not wrong, I believe that the PC has better graphic cards. So, which one is cheaper??? PC Obviusly. Daniel DeMerchant Yep. Obviously. I like the Mac Pro though and this is the first time that you are not buying last years processor from Apple at this years prices. There may be more esoteric things about the Mac that people might like. I have a feeling that Apple is going to offer upgrade boards or parts for the Pro in the future. I just think that it's too easy to steal! They should have put a Kensington lock adapter on it or something like that... Stephen Fung The spirit of both articles was to match them and figure out, the impact of the "Apple Tax" component. And based on the enormous, server crippling response, it was something that interested a lot of people. And of course, we can build something specialized, less expensive, and upgradeable, if we aren't bound by the parts that we can use. Daniel DeMerchant It makes zero sense to tie the PC builders hands behind his back, by using retail pricing and comparing items that are even over-speced to the lower priced OEM items that Apple uses. The problem with your article is that it gets picked up by other press websites, overhyped, and used as a sales tool to sell more Mac Pros...making computer users, that are not PC builders think that they have the fastest machine around, when they don't. Your article creates and perpetuates myth. I would love to build the high end model to show what is possible for $10 grand. Daniel DeMerchant At least your article created some interesting discussion, and congratulations on all of the traffic. Stephen Fung As long as we get people talking PC DIY, the #PCMasterRace still wins 🙂 Stephen Fung PC DIY builders love a challenge. And because it is a piece that has a positive spin on what Apple has accomplished (which, you have to admit, is cool to some extent), it will light a fire under the PC DIY community. Which it already has. People are already trying to top it, build it better, and think about other ways to provide more value for money which is a cornerstone of PC DIY in general. Futurelooks is one of few sites that goes out and supports local events where we get a chance to interact with the public, the end users, the people who are not PC DIY enthusiasts to begin with, and who;s eyes glaze over at benchmarks. We know them really well and we know that this piece will not turn them in to "Mac Pro" buyers. They are smart enough to ask questions and figure out if "this is the right system" and "can I build, or get someone to build me one" to suit my needs better 🙂 Stephen Fung I actually agree that the step to the 6 core may/may not have been the perfect match. However, the only way to get that exact match was to get an OEM 1620v2 tray model CPU which isn't available to the public (normally). If I had my way, I'd spec the Core i7 4820K which really is the direct CPU swap to the Apple's 1620v2, but it's not a Xeon. Going to LGA1150 would have produced a less expensive platform overall as I mentioned. It would have made the PC cheaper and with a Xeon. Joseph ??? The six core Mac has 3,5 GHz clock-speed + turbo boost. The Mac has higher throughput. Obviously your just another clueless hobbyist. Daniel DeMerchant He's just a kid. You are comparing a $3999 computer to a $2800 PC. The PC actually has better video specs. Joseph What setup are you referring to? In the article above the PC costs: $3994.65 US while the Mac cost $2999.99 US. Daniel DeMerchant I'm referring to the PC build that the kid is referencing in an earlier discussion below. Daniel DeMerchant There used to be Apple commercials saying that PC might stand for "profusely corded"... So what the hell do you call the Mac Pro/Thunderbolt monstrosity? Joseph Do it all in small box, and skip pci-e license keys? Daniel DeMerchant Congratulations on the traffic. Now how about a no-holds barred PC build that is faster than the top Mac Pro next? Stephen Fung We want to build that for real. We're going to be talking to a bunch of companies next week at CES 2014. Check back for coverage 🙂 Daniel DeMerchant One more interesting note...the orders for Mac Pro are being pushed into late March now as there is a production shortage. By that time the PC landscape will change even more widening the value gap. Joseph ...how does that compare to the AMD and Intel roadmap. Is it important for you to find an absurd reason why this computer is a failure to get your erections going, if not, why are you commenting and what is your point? Daniel DeMerchant A computer is a tool not an aphrodisiac. Point is all of this power is not available until March, and at that time, there will be more products out for the PC by then. Joseph Mac Pro's ordered today ship in February, not March. But your concern about nVidia seems overstated. The last nVidia workstation card arrived last summer, the 5 000 - 6 000 USD K6000. I would not expect a new workstation card from nVidia until october 2014, and if their prices are still the same, it's not really an alternative as you are looking to pay around 10 000 for two of them. Hopefully though, both nVidia and ATI will offer GPU upgrades for the new Mac Pro in the future at a decent price level, but it will probably make more economic sense to just sell the current Mac Pro and buy a new one with new GPUs when the next generation is available. However, it will take time before the software houses will learn how to utilise this box, and with two D700 they will not become a bottleneck anytime soon... Daniel DeMerchant Current backlog is now March. The must be selling more Pros than anticipated. The roadmap for the next NVIDIA parts planned are three times faster and two times less power consuming than the current top NVIDIA part. Who cares about workstation parts, we don't know if the proprietary AMD parts in the Pro can even be called "workstation" grade, for whatever that is worth. Price aside I hope Apple has plans to offer NVIDIA based upgrade cards and I hope the power supply in the Pro can accommodate it. I actually like the Pro but the form factor is questionable. Joseph "The nvidia parts are already faster than the AMD parts. Who cares about workstation parts, we don't know if the proprietary AMD parts in the Pro can even be called "workstation" grade, for whatever that is worth." No, no gamer nVidia product matches the W9000 where it's important for pro's, and the D700 (a W9000 in a different form factor) is a workstation class device. Daniel DeMerchant Name a spec that is important over a consumer card? Joseph Double precision floating point. Daniel DeMerchant Double precision floating point capability is enabled on every modern high end Nvidia product, even the consumer products. Joseph BS. Read and research. Even the GTX780 has shitty double precision floating point performance even compared to the AMD gaming cards. D700 will smoke any nVidia card priced under 5000 USD so bad that you need to were a mask. Lol, smoke, rofl, etc, etc, etc... Daniel DeMerchant You can delude yourself and not look at benchmarks: http://www.videocardbenchmark.net/high_end_gpus.html Joseph "3D graphics tests Simple to complex DirectX 3D graphics and animations" Nice benchmark for workstation class usage. It's a DirectX bechnmark for games. Even a nVidia 5 000 USD K6000 with 12GB ram come in lover than GTX 780 in this test. What are you trying to prove? Atleast educate yourself before you go arrogant. Daniel DeMerchant Show me a published benchmark that shows that the D300 is faster than the GTX780ti for double precision float. You can't because it's not true. Or just the 780 for that matter. Joseph "Current backlog is now March." Go to Apple dot com and order one: February! Daniel DeMerchant Maybe, as long as I can bootcamp Windows 8 on it. Joseph "A computer is a tool not an aphrodisiac." Apple bashing seems like an aphrodisiac for quite a few... it was not computers I referred to... Daniel DeMerchant It's easy to bash Apple because everytime there is a deficit in an Apple product a cult member touts it as a strength, and then the cult member usually has limited technical depth. Don't get me started with iPhone vs other smartphones or rants about the Mac Mini "server" lol. Joseph Well, here it's quite the opposite. PC hobbyists who don't know what this machine is made for are touting their unqualified hate based on what they perceive as a nice computer for running Masturbation Simulator 2014 in their mothers basement. Joseph "Like they guy in an earlier discussion that thinks its a great idea to have the Pro on your desk and a RAID array, powered separately, hooked with a single TB cable under it." Ehem? You know that professionals usually connect Raids externally, and before Thunderbolt you needed to buy expensive fibre-gear to get the same results? No, maybe you didn't know that... Daniel DeMerchant Raid is usually put into a rack as a server. Something that is unthinkable with Mac Pro. Joseph Yes, and it's nice to be able to do that with the interface that comes with the new MacPro without any expansion. Mac Mini Server, is the cheapest and most affordable server solution available, I.E. for running EPR software and the likes, so I have a hard time understanding what you find funny about it. Wank on! Daniel DeMerchant They put server Xeon processors in the Pro desktop and i7's in the Mac Mini "Server" Where do they fit the redundant power supply and management ports? It's a desktop with a two hard-drive RAID which is why I am laughing at it. The only real "server" Apple made was the Xserve and that was laughed at due to the management software and had such bad sales numbers Jobs axed it. Apple does not understand real server environments. Joseph If you need a cheap server, the Mac Mini "Server" is a good one. If you need a real server, you run Linux. OpenSource Netatalk is fully AFP compliant. The Xserve and their fibre-raid solutions were great, maybe you thought they were funny, but a lot of art schools and media producers enjoyed them. brainburst The mac mini server is a low class PC running OSX Derek Wildstar yeah that was called XSERVE, Apple's server. Mac Pro is not necessarily meant to be a server, it doesn't even come with server as the OS. Joseph "Don't get me started with iPhone vs other smartphones..." Like that all other smartphones are modelled on the iPhone, or that google stopped development on Android and restarted it on a new basis after the iPhone presentation (even when the Google CEO was on the Apple board without telling them of the conflicts of interest arising)... Don't even start. You clearly have no clue at all. Daniel DeMerchant No clue? I am more familiar with phones than PCs. Everyone knows top Android models and even Nokia's smoke the 5s in every spec. When is Apple going to release a phone with a useable screen size? You are a fan boy. Joseph Every Android or Nokia phone that SELLS is modelled on the original iPhone. If it had not been for Apple, the Nokias and Android models you love would be totally different. The specs, raw graphic performance and real performance is top of the line on the iPhones, you can compare specs all day, but with completely different arcitectures it's impossible to get any qualified information out of it. Screen size? I rather not use an iPad as phone, phablets are not something I would consider, EVER, as I can afford and enjoy both having a tablet and a phone, not one combined device. Daniel DeMerchant 5 inch screen is a Phablet? Like IOS 7 did not lift ideas from Android like the notification center and even from Windows Phone with the multitasking screen. May have been the first but is long surpassed at this point. Joseph Windows Phone is a nice product. The Samsung Android devices started their lives as cheap trade-dress ripoffs, not only did they steal all their functionality from Apple, but they also ripped off it's trade-dress. It's embarrassing and illegal, but you don't seem to mind. It's not about lifting ideas, but notoriously copy a product and stylise it with the other company's trade dress. It's not something that can be defended in the western world, and is also why Samsung need to pay Apple a huge amount in damage compensations. It's not about anything else that trade dress in reality, Apple is not a patent troll, they don't ever sue companies over product essential standards. Screen size, Apple does not need to have bigger screens to have the superior product. It's a phone, and people like to hold their hand around it. Derek Wildstar notification center was first on jailbroken iPhones, android lifted it from the iPhone jailbroken community, and then apple eventually put it into their IOS as stock. brainburst modelled on the iPhone? just the case BFD!!! Me These guys hav NO idea what they are talking about. I just built a dual Xeon 24 core liquid cooled 64gb of ram, (No firepros because i dont need them) 64gb of ECC ram, dual 7990s also water cooled, and PCIE 512x2 SSD Drives... Came in under 2,500 cheaper than the comparable mac. Please dont write rubbish Derek Wildstar Curious , what brand and how fast are your "PCIE 512x2 SSD Drives" R/W speeds? Also, does your PCIE SSD allow EFI boot? or only legacy? I ask because in the article he uses the raidR which says they are the only EFI booting PCIe SSD, which boots VERY VERY fast.