Want a high-performance workstation? Step away from the Mac Pro

The other day I was engaging in a spot of Apple bashing with some fellow IT professionals and our thoughts turned to the subject of full sized performance workstations, namely the Mac Pro. We agreed that they are generally stupid, they use old technology and overcharge massively for the privilege. I decided to prove this by doing a rather unscientific but simple exercise.

As part of this exercise I have built two Mac Pro systems, a mid-range model and a high end model. I am then going to build a PC equivalent of the Mac model on specification in order to determine the price difference, and a PC equivalent on price to see the Spec difference. Finally I am going to do a comparison of the results and why it proves my point that Macs are stupid and as the BOFH would put it, for the coloured crayon people.

System 1: Mac Pro – Mid Range

My mid range model contains two 2.4GHz Quad-Core Xeons, 12Gb of memory, a RAID card since there is no onboard RAID (This means you cannot use SSD Hard Drives also). 8TB of Storage over 4 hard disks, an ATI Radeon 5870, an optical drive and the keyboard and mouse. This will be connected to two 27 inch monitors. The total cost of everything listed is £6632.02 including VAT. I have left off support agreements since these are hard to compare.

System 1: Spec Comparison

Obviously with the comparison some of the components are proprietary and no direct replacement can be made, and for other items, not enough detail is provided. In this case I have opted for higher quality components.

  • Case: Full Size Professional Case (£142.78)
  • PSU: Corsair AX1200 (£218.54)
  • Processor: 2 x Intel Xeon E5620 2.4GHz Quad (£600.00)
  • Motherboard: SuperMicro X8DAH+-F (£428.95)
  • Memory: 6 x 2GB DDR3 1333MHz (£189.58)
  • Hard Drive: 4 x 2TB 7200RPM 64MB Enterprise (£812.16)
  • Optical Drive: Pioneer (£16.88)
  • Graphics: Asus AMD 6950 2GB (£222.83) – The 5870 is discontinued, this is the closest match for performance.
  • Monitors: 2 x 27 inch Hazro IPS (£898.25)
  • Keyboard: Logitech (£56.99)
  • Mouse: Logitech (£61.50)
  • Significant Accessories: DP to Dual-Link DVI Adaptor (£72.92)
  • Miscellaneous Items: Fans, Cables etc (~£100.00)
  • Total Cost – Delivered: £3854.93

This represents a saving of £2777.09 or 42% over the Mac Pro.

System 1: Price Comparison
Using the same caveat as the previous comparison, this system aims to match the Mac Pro on Price. The known price of components is £6568.94 leaving £63.08 for miscellaneous components.

  • Case: Full Size Professional Case (£142.78) – Much more room for expansion
  • PSU: Enermax 1500 watt (£292.98) – Platinum rated top-end PSU
  • Motherboard: Intel DBS2600COE Skt.2011 (£470.23) – Current Generation
  • Processor: 2 x Intel Xeon E5-2630 2.3GHz Six-Core (£913.20) – Current Generation
  • Memory: 16 x 8GB DDR3 1333MHz (£1196.54) – 128GB – More than 10 time the memory
  • Hard Drive: 4 x 2TB SAS 6GB/s (£1007.86) – Faster than the Mac Drives
  • Hard Drive: 360GB OCZ Solid State (£310.03) – Additional High Speed Storage
  • Optical Drive: 2 x Blu-Ray Writer (£136.54) – Blu-Ray capable
  • Graphics: EVGA 2GB NVidia GTX680 (467.62) – Most powerful desktop card currently available
  • Monitors: 2 x 30 inch Hazro IPS (£1479.12): Larger monitors with higher resolution
  • Keyboard: Logitech (£56.99)
  • Mouse: Logitech (£61.50)

This system would be able to outperform the Mac Pro in virtually every way.

System 2: Mac Pro – High End
The high end model contains two 2.9GHz Six-Core Xeons, 48GB of Memory, Raid Card, four 2TB hard disks, two ATI 5770 graphics cards, two optical drives, keyboard, mouse and a full compliment of six 27 inch monitors. The total cost of this setup is £14224.02 including VAT

System 2: Spec Comparison

  • Case: Full Size Professional Case (£142.78)
  • PSU: Enermax 1500 watt (£292.98)
  • Motherboard: SuperMicro X8DAH+-F (£428.95)
  • Processor: 2 x Intel Xeon X5660 2.8GHz Six-Core (£1877.16) – X5670 was unavailable
  • Memory: 6 x 8GB DDR3 1333MHz (£448.70)
  • Hard Drive: 4 x 2TB 7200RPM 64MB Enterprise (£812.16)
  • Optical Drive: 2 x Pioneer (£33.77)
  • Graphics: 2 x XFX AMD 6770 (155.21) – The 5770 is discontinued. 6770 is closest match on performance
  • Monitors: 6 x 27 inch Hazro IPS (£2694.74)
  • Keyboard: Logitech (£56.99)
  • Mouse: Logitech (£61.50)
  • Miscellaneous Items: Fans, Cables etc (~£100.00)
  • Total Cost – Delivered: £7072.04

This represents a saving of £7151.04 or 50% over the equivalent Mac

System 2: Price Comparison
Using the same caveat as the previous comparison, this system aims to match the Mac Pro on Price. The known price of components is £14101.46 leaving £122.56 for miscellaneous components.

  • Case: Full Size Professional Case (£142.78) – Much more room for expansion
  • PSU: Enermax 1500 watt (£292.98) – Platinum rated top-end PSU
  • Motherboard: Intel DBS2600COE Skt.2011 (£470.23) – Current Generation
  • Processor: 2 x Intel Xeon E5-2687W 3.1GHz Eight-Core (£2799.72) – Current Generation
  • Memory: 8 x 8GB DDR3 1333MHz (£598.27)
  • Memory: 8 x 16GB DDR3 1333MHz (£2211.49) – Total 192GB
  • Hard Drive: 6 x 2TB SAS 6GB/s (£1511.78) – Faster than the Mac Drives
  • Hard Drive: 240GB OCZ PCIe SSD (£379.49) – Additional High Speed Storage
  • Optical Drive: 2 x Blu-Ray Writer (£136.54) – Blu-Ray capable
  • Graphics: 2 x EVGA 2GB NVidia GTX680 (£935.23) – Most powerful desktop card currently available
  • Monitors: 6 x 30 inch Hazro IPS (£4437.36): Larger monitors with higher resolution
  • Keyboard: Logitech (£56.99)
  • Mouse: Logitech (£61.50)

Once again, this system would outperform the Mac Pro in virtually every test.

Conclusion
A little bit of research on the internet reveals mainly rumours, but all of those rumours point to the fact that the Mac Pro may be on the way out. Looking at the Apple shopping basket, it still refers to the graphics cards as being ATI, rather than AMD which was made the official name some time ago. Further, all of the technology within the system is one or two generations out of date and it is coming on for two years since the product line was last updated.

Even if Apple do decide to release an updated model with the latest components and similar pricing, there is still no getting away from the fact that it is overpriced, and when you look at the software offerings that can utilise the power available, you find that there is very little Apple software available save for perhaps Final Cut Pro, a product Apple seem to have butchered in the latest version to satisfy the casual user despite the protests of professionals. Realistically most applications that would need this kind of power are going to run on Linux or Windows Server, so the question comes back to why do you need a Mac?

The thing is, the discussion I had about Apple led us to another conclusion. Apple may be getting ready to abandon the desktop over the coming years. Looking at their massive expansion into the portable device market with the iPad and iPhone, and the ever increasing power of the MacBook, coupled with the introduction of the Mac App Store would suggest that Apple are looking to focus more on the consumer than the high end market, perhaps because nobody is willing to pay upwards of £6000 for a desktop computer?

As always, comments and feedback are welcome.

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