Today, Apple launched their new Mac Pro (aka the trashbin, bazooka tube, water boiler, etc.). And while it's impressive how Apple's "highly modded PC" is able to meet thermal and power requirements in such a tiny size, all of this normally comes at a price, which is traditionally known as the "Apple Tax". We set out to find out just how much of a "tax" there is this time around by pitting their highest spec'd machine against what we could build with industry standard, off the shelf parts, available today. Here's what we came up with.
Our Challenge - Apple's Top Spec Mac Pro at $9600
After perusing the shopping cart, we came up with a configuration that tops out at $9,599 which includes 64GBs of ECC DDR3 memory, a 1TB PCIe SSD, two AMD D700 (W9000) GPUs, and a twelve core Intel Xeon 2.7GHz processor. OS X is of course the default operating system.
While there is nothing really remarkable about this list of parts, it's the way that they are integrated that provides both pros and cons. On the pro side, you have all this workstation grade hardware in a cylinder that is less than 10 inches tall and under 7 inches wide, with the power supply inside. This makes it very easy to take it on site or pack with you. So if you are in need of more power, it doesn't come with the traditional drawbacks of a large tower like the original Mac Pros.
But on the list of cons is the fact that you pretty much have to purchase the system configured the way you plan to use it for its lifetime. This is because of the proprietary nature of the primary components which even include the GPUs and possibly the CPU (which looks like it is soldered in or "decapped" like the previous gen). The only things that might see upgrades in the future would possibly be the memory. The SSD is unknown because it is also internalized, although it is a PCIe part with performance to match, using a four channel interface. Additional storage options are all taken care of externally via Thunderbolt, which may add significant upgrade costs as the enclosures and cables are both expensive and limited in selection.
In terms of maintenance, the Mac Pro does seem to take advantage of positive air pressure, which pushes more air into the cylinder than it can expel, making dust less of an issue. And only time will tell if this thermal solution will be adequate for long term use. But we suspect that only real issue would come from two workstation GPUs fully loaded.
For our challenge, we're going to try to match the new Mac Pro's parts spec, while trying to make it as small as we can with off the shelf components. Let's see how close we can get (and how much we can save) by creating an equivalent Windows version.
Enclosure and Power Supply - Silverstone FT03 mATX and Strider Series Power Supply
At CES 2011, Silverstone unveiled the original "Trash Bin" or "Garbage Can" case called the FT03 which houses up to an mATX board and even dual graphics cards, at roughly twice the size of the Mac Pro. There's even space for a slot load optical drive. Because it uses a stack flow design, it has a somewhat similar thermal design as the new Mac Pro. They have since released a smaller mITX version, but in order to put hardware that is similar to the Mac Pro, we'd need the extra space. And since everyone is calling the Mac Pro a trash bin, we thought this would be a good fit.
The Silverstone FTo3 retails for around $159.99 US and comes in both a brushed aluminum silver, titanium and black. But we'd probably go with the titanium because the Mac Pro only looks black in the photos, but is actually more of a polished titanium in real life. If you want to go even smaller, the Silverstone SG10 is also a great choice at around $119.99 US. It's shorter because it's basically the same configuration on its side, but equally as configurable inside.
Since we have to put a power supply in here, we recommend going with one of Silverstone's own Strider Series power supplies because they are nice and short and are compatible with the excellent PP05 short cable kit The SST-85F-GS 850W 80 PLUS gold modular is available for around $159.99 US. So you're looking at around $360 for case and power supply.
Now that we've got something to put the parts in, let's see what we an put inside.