Tag Archives: Apple


Why a Mac Pro?

I was involved in a lengthy/argumentative discussion about Apple’s Mac Pro and its “validity” as a workstation machine. One of the main arguing points was the price, and that for the price, you were over-paying for Apple’s design which was “silly” for something like a workstation which is just supposed to be as fast as possible.

So, being an engineer and a developer who has grown up in the “data” world, I decided to build a system to match Apple’s and do a quantifiable comparison. Now, I understand Apple gets much better pricing than I do, as do all the other OEMs, but I wanted to build something so that I could closely match Apple’s systems – I can’t find HP or other high performance workstations that come close to the specs from Apple without spending significant $$$. If you find something that closely matches, feel free to hit me up.

So, on we go then. Here’s my build to match the $2999 price point from Apple. I predominantly use Newegg for hardware, and didn’t stray too far from them in general.


Apple appears to have chosen Ivy Bridge Xeon E5s, specifically the E5-1620V2. This isn’t available from Newegg, but PC Connection has one listed for an estimated street price of $332.02.


Apple will be using DDR3 ECC memory clocked at 1866 MHz. This is also not available from Newegg even though sources dating from 2011 say modules from Samsung have been around a bit. For now, I’ll use 1600 MHz modules from Crucial in the 3 x 4 GB configuration Apple states which run $162.99.


This is one of Apple’s secret sauce things. The E5-1620V2 runs in Socket 2011. Newegg lists no Socket 2011 server-grade motherboards with Thunderbolt, which is typically what goes into a workstation for Xeon-grade hardware. Asus does have a few motherboards with Thunderbolt, but none with Thunderbolt 2, and none that will house a Socket 2011 Xeon. So, I decided to side with the processor, and picked out decent looking and affordable Supermicro motherboard for $319.99.

PCIe Flash-based storage

Another one of Apple’s secret sauce options, PCIe flash storage is mostly in the realm of high-end server hardware, although OC-Z has been bringing a number of more affordable units to market. Newegg thankfully stocks these, so I picked a model that closely approximated Apple’s specs (1.5 GB/s reads & 1.2 GB/s writes). Newegg sells it for $639.99 but is out of stock at the time of my research. The same drive from Amazon is $589.99 so we’ll go with that. It’s important to note that these RevoDrives aren’t easily made into boot drives either, which means we could need another SSD just to boot from.

Graphics Cards

A third secret sauce; the FirePro D300 is an unannounced model from AMD. So I picked out something that kinda approximates it for $449.99, or just shy of $900 for 2 of them. Note there’s a cheaper version that’s Dual DVI, but we live in the future, right? DisplayPort all the way!

Power Supply

Apple pointed out how much more efficient the new Mac Pro is over the outgoing model. So naturally, I wanted an efficient power supply. I went for an 80 PLUS Gold power supply from Seasonic, who ironically is likely to also supply Apple’s components, for $129.99. I could have spent more on beefier internals / more wattage, but this seemed a good compromise between price vs beef.


Apple’s case and thermal design is nothing short of beautiful. Since we’re arguing for price vs performance though, I went with a reasonable case that everyone loves and should give us enough room for $99.

Operating System

Some would argue Linux/BSD if you’re doing HPC work, which in this case this would be free. However, much of Apple’s target audience is Video / Animation / Design (ignoring the sizeable iOS and OS X dev communities), and they will need an OS that runs Adobe programs. So, the only alternative to OS X is Windows 8.1 Professional, which for an OEM copy runs $139.99. Yes, I could have picked Windows 7. It’s actually more expensive though because Microsoft is really trying to get people to like Windows 8.

Final Price: $2,673.99

So yeah, I can hear it now. It goes something like – Ha! We saved, like, a little less than 300 bucks (including shipping and tax). Suck it Apple Fanboys!

The problem is, in this configuration, I can’t even be sure the system will boot because of the RevoDrive, and adding a semi-decent SSD boot drive (which you now will have to micro-manage Windows not installing everything to it) and you’ve sucked up most of the $300. Additional caveats include:

  • No 4k monitor Support
  • No Thunderbolt
  • No USB 3.0 and only 2 USB2 Ports
  • Probably doesn’t have enough fans for cooling out of the box

Once you add the appropriate amount of fans for cooling, it’s probably louder than the Mac Pro. And significantly uglier. And has no lightup back panel. And has no option for warranty support (something workstation purchasers generally go for because workstations are critical pieces of equipment).

In closing, I think the Mac Pro is probably Apple’s best attempt yet at closing the price gap with standard Wintel machines. And it does it looking, sounding, and performing better while at it.