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December 19th 2013 1:00 pm

Are the cost of the new Mac Pros justified?

Today is the day when Apple begins selling the Mac Pro (shipping by Dec. 30th though) and the starting prices are $2,999 and $3,999. You can easily ramp these up close to $10,000 before you even include a monitor. These are obviously not intended for the average consumer, but I was still curious to see how much of a premium they were commanding. I'm going to work with the lowest spec model to see what I could find. For reference the lowest spec has the following:

Xeon E5 3.7GHz quad-core with 10MB L3 cache
12GB (3 x 4GB) DDR3 1866MHz memory
Dual AMD FIrePro D300 GPU with 2GB of DDR5 VRAM 1280 Stream processing units
256GB PCIe storage

Before I go further I'd just like to point out there is a good chance some of this is completely proprietary to the Mac Pro. This is not an uncommon thing for OEMs.

Looking at NewEgg I was able to find the following products that most closely resembled the parts of the Mac Pro.

CPU: NewEgg doesn't carry anything close to this speed output and Intel site doesn't list a 3.7GHz E5 which means this is likely custom. The closest I found was the E5-1620 which is 10MB L3 cache and a 3.6GHz quad-core. MSRP: $294

Memory: this is the cheapest and prices range from $40-60 per chip. I'll go with $50 for the middle ground, so $150 (three modules at 4GB a piece).

Video card: AMD does not list anything called a FirePro D300, so I had to do my best. The closest they have are the V900 and the V7900. I'll take the average of the two (MSRP: $749 and $799) which is $774. Since there are two of these that would be $1548.

Hard drive: this one is tough because prices vary a lot with SSDs (especially with OCZ being bought). There were four cards that offered PCI-E and 240GB (no cards offered 256GB PCI-E), so again I took the average which is $604.

So our total comes to....$2596. That leaves $403 before we hit the $2999 price point and that isn't factoring in the case, motherboard, or power supply. For the record I did look for a motherboard but unsurprisingly, no one makes a motherboard with six thunderbolt ports.

I think it's pretty safe to say the Mac Pro cost is justified, especially when you factor in the unique design. That said it's still a pretty penny for a PC and 256GB isn't a whole lot of space. And lets not forget with no PCI or PCI-e card slots you're going to need Thunderbolt or USB adapters to use any extra cards you may need.

Still, if one just fell into my lap I wouldn't go returning it. So who decided to gift themselves a new Mac Pro for the holidays?

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22 replies

All that power and it can't even run Battlefield 4!

(Cause BF4 isn't available for Mac. Haaaaaaaaaah.)
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Apple provides software so the machine will boot into Windows and you can game away. You just install the windows drivers, which apple provides, and after than you have a fully functional Windows PC.

You can even boot the PC on top of OSX in a window and drag files between the 2. You could even just stick Windows on a USB 3 stick and boot from that.
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No boot camp? :P
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Wow, interesting analysis. Definitely debunks the whole "Apple is overpriced" thing that people tend to believe for some reason.
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One thing to note is that Apple isn't explicit on some details of the parts, so it's possible the SSD or video card is much cheaper. Also remember these are prices I'd be paying, Apple may be getting some parts at cost or below cost.
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I have no doubt the BOM is at least somewhat cheaper for Apple. Have you compared it to other workstation machines in its class on the market right now?
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I didn't only because I don't know what models would compare. I know Dell and HP make workstations but they're mostly build-to-order. A quick look though I found this:

Dell Precision T3600 with similar specs comes in around $2100. HP doesn't have a workstation that allows me to get close to the Dell or Apple, but the best I could find was one around $1500.
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That's generally good, although you need to choose ECC memory (if you haven't already). Either way, it's pretty clear that Apple isn't marking things up as much as some might think.
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I believe apple is justified on their price especially if you get the base model with the d700 upgrade. For $4k you get two d700s which are the same as the firepro 9000. Those fire pros go for 3-3.5k a piece. No reading comments on Engadget one person said the R290 which is far less then the d300 in price and far better performance would make this Mac Pro unjustified at least for the base. That same person also said the Xeon processors are inferior to the current i7s for the type of work the pro is geared for. Idk if there is validity and I should check it out. I haven't done my research on that card or higher end cards that the R290 has. Part for part the Mac Pro is a great deal. Cannot wait for benchmarks agains de other workstations too. A discussion we should have is are the parts in the pro the right ones for the job and are there better and cheaper solutions apple should have used. I'm not sold on the form factor for the pro because people will need to expand through USB/thunderbolt for hdds or ssds making it IMO moot for the pro to be so small for the demo they are going for. I also agree with some other people that apple should redesign their keyboard and mouse for the pro even though the current one is the best keyboard I've ever used, there's always room for improvement. Keeping with apples beautiful aesthetics should change the color to black brushed aluminum or an exotic material such as carbon fiber.
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I think, if you have three grand to spend and you feel you need what this has to offer... Make it happen. I, for one, don't.
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I'd prefer the new powermac's space saving design, which is the same reason that i like the mac mini. The big, boxy desktop always seemed akward to place and to find room for.
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No moving parts, apart from fan, and a very efficient heat removal system means this thing could last a long time. While saving space.

Heat is what killed a lot of G5's back in the day. Running hot all the time just shortens a chips life.
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Looks like a paint can to me. But still cool. The vertical cooling is not new, These have something similar. www.maingear.com­/custom­/desktops­/f131­/index.php
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I think the word was in your post "These are obviously not intended for the average consumer" so at point the monetary part almost doesn't come into play. If the performance is a prerequisite for an area a person works in the rest is a mute point, be it Apple/PC. If money is a concern I think the swing goes to a Win PC and usually some home brewed variation that might be faster @ a lower cost or a lower cost/lower powered machine.

Basically a win/win situation (no pun intended) and if the Mac fits the bill so be it...I just can't see the design of what is for all intents an incredible machine that looks like a trash can at price area of 3k-10k +
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It DOES look like a trash can. I went into a restaurant bathroom recently and upon seeing the trash can I thought,. "The Mac PRO!" I doubt Apple will release a "Snow" version of the Pro, as the resemblance would be uncanny (pun intended).
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You forget that the new Mac Pro has NO HARD DRIVE BAYS and NO OPTICAL BAYS. Any standard PC case comes with at least four HDD bays and two optical bays. If you factor in the cost of adding a thunderbolt 4-bay RAID and two thunderbolt optical drives, well, that pretty much ruins this whole "price equivalency" argument of yours!

In other words, what good is all this real-time 4k video handling when the internal storage tops out at a measly 1TB? Yeah it's really fast SSD I get it. But 1TB? My current Mac Pro from 2009 has 12TB and yes, I use allll of that. If I am to replace my current machine with one of these new-fangled things, I'll also have to buy an expensive 4-bay RAID enclosure and hope that my cat doesn't trip over the crappy Thunderbolt cable :
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I wasn't making an argument really, just having fun playing with some numbers. I do touch on the issue of expandability a bit at the bottom by noting that there are PCI or PCI-e slots which can affect issues like video capture cards or RAID cards.

I wonder if Apple maxed these out to 1TB on purpose after some kind of feedback or study. I would imagine that most people buying these machines are already in positions where the data is not stored internally but on an outside device.
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Perhaps I am the outlying case or the exception, but (see my new reply to jeffkoe's post below) I am a current Mac Pro owner and I use each and every internal storage bay on that tower.

Steve Jobs once made a great analogy: big desktop machines are like trucks, whereas portables are like cars. Some people will always need the extra hauling capacity of a truck, so trucks will always exist. However most people would prefer a car because it's easier to park, and faster.

To me this new Mac Pro looks like a fantastic machine, but it's not a truck. It's a Corvette.

What would happen if Chevy tried to replace the Sierra pick-up truck with a Corvette, under the same product name? I can see the ads now:

Salesman: "We've removed the cargo bed from the pick-up truck and look how much smaller and faster it is now!"

Dude: "But what how am I supposed to haul stuff around now?"

Salesman: "Oh you're just an outlier. Who needs to haul stuff around anymore? What you really want is pure speed and compactness!"

Dude: "Well, no I-"


Dude: "Oh damn that's sexy. You were right! I'm going to get all the chicks now."


I'm not trying to denigrate or criticize the new Mac Pro, because yeah, it's innovative and awesome. However it's not a truck. Why does Apple think it can replace the truck they sold last year? What about people who need or want a truck?

What Apple is saying to people like me is:

"Put all those internal hard drives into an external enclosure and buy a new Mac Pro."

That means I have to buy two external optical enclosures and one external 4-bay RAID to get the same number of drives I currently have. How is that going to be a quieter, more efficient solution than my current Mac Pro?

What many of us simply don't understand is this: why couldn't Apple manage to offer a big tower-style Mac Pro and update its components at least every six months like every other computer manufacturer does, so that you can always buy one that's got the latest components? Why couldn't they offer a $2000 option with non-Xeon processors for those of us who mainly wanted it for the extra storage bays and the ability to use PC graphics cards, not because we're running a rendering farm?

They could still sell this new Mac Pro and call it something else, like Mac Ultra Pro.

Maybe I just need to wait three years more years until the base Mac Pro comes with an 8TB of SSD instead of 1TB (Moore's Law) and my entire backup RAID will fit on a single Thunderbolt thumb-drive (hah no cables). :D When you consider how quickly SSDs will suddenly have thousands of TBs in the coming years, the design of this computer makes a lot more sense. My 2009 Mac Pro is still more than sufficient for my needs and by the time it's not I think the new Mac Pro's limited storage won't be an issue any longer.
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You're not alone. I'm seeing a few bloggers who rely on MacPros talking about moving over to MacBook Pros now. It's certainly an odd choice here with what they're doing on the inside (spec wise). I don't think you can take much away from what they were able to do in terms of combining raw power in such a small box, but like you said it comes at a huge cost.
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Just wondering why do you think the Thunderbolt cable/connection is crappy? Is it slow? Does it drop transfer of files or videos? I liked Firewire specifically because I could transfer videos or other large files and it would not drop them before the transfer was complete, which USB did
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Thunderbolt is not crappy per se, but it's crappy when it's the only way to connect additional storage to a workstation, because it relies on a cable.

Cables and the connectors and housings they plug into are inherently unreliable. This is not limited to Thunderbolt of course -- every single external FireWire drive I have ever owned has eventually failed due to one of two factors: (1) the cable connector going bad (solder or weak glue are usually the only thing physically holding the connector in place when you plug something into it) or (2) the crappy Chinese power supply fails, usually in mid-write.

In 2008 I nearly lost everything to an external drive failure, so I started pricing out what it would cost to have two 6TB external RAIDs for my MacBook Pro (or similar) and the cost was so staggering I immediately went out and bought a Mac Pro tower. It only cost $800 more than a Drobo with the same storage capacity, yet it has a 1500W industrial power supply, twin optical bays, has the strongest, burliest ports I've ever seen, and came with 3 years of AppleCare.

Now I have 12TB of internal drives, a BD-R burner, and a CD/DVD burner inside. I have one external 12TB RAID for my backup drive. All my main drives are INSIDE my 2009 Mac Pro, and let me tell you that I will NEVER, EVER go back to having to rely on external drives for my main drives. EVER!
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OK. I can understand your aversion to external drives after that experience!
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