Archive for June, 2019

Jun 4 0 Why is the Mac Pro so expensive?

On June 3, 2019, Apple launched its long awaited successor to the "trashcan" Mac Pro introduced back in 2013. In what some has dubbed "its attempt to build the most powerful Mac ever", Apple went all out to create the ultimate workstation for scientists, 3D modelers, creative professionals, movie editors, composers, and many more.

The new Mac Pro: $6K! I'm going to need a mortgage on this damn thing.

Yet, many were shocked by the price point: $5,999 – without a monitor. To the average computer enthusiast, this just feels insanely expensive. What's that money actually going to? Here, I've attempted to recreate a part-for-part base model Mac Pro replacement with PcPartsPicker and a prebuilt enterprise-grade workstations from HPE.

Build-Your-Own from PcPartsPicker

CPU: Intel Xeon E5-1660 3 GHz, 8-Core

Here's about a third of the cost: the processor. Not much to say about this one, it's a highly clocked server-grade processor with lots of cache. Price: $1704

Extra CPU cooler: Noctua DH-D15, price: $90

Motherboard: Asus - Z10PE-D16

The Mac Pro theoretically supports up to 2 terabytes of memory. That's hard to get, so we had to settle for this Asus workstation motherboard that, while only supports a single terabyte of RAM, has two processor sockets (which the Mac Pro doesn't.) It also has 4 16x PCIe slots, (not 3, like the Pro), but only 2 8x slots (the Pro has 3, the last is a 4x card used by an Apple I/O card.) Price: $504

Memory: Kingston 4x8 GB

While the higher-core count CPU models support 2933 MHz RAM, the 8 core version used here only supports 2666MHz. This is the same configuration as the base Mac Pro, and it's obviously ECC. Price: $292

Storage: Samsung 970 Evo 2TB SSD

While the Mac Pro comes with a measly 256 gigabytes of memory – possibly due to some workloads using networked storage, making larger internal storage redundant – storage is relatively cheap, so I've sprung for slower – but almost 10x the capacity – Samsung 970 Evo M.2 storage. Price: $549

Video card: Asus Radeon RX 580 ROG STRIX TOP

While the clock speed of the Mac Pro's card isn't listed, I'm going to guess it's not slow. This is the fastest version of the 580 for PC, a card which traces its roots to the Radeon RX 480, released way back in 2016. Price: $410

Case: Phanteks Enthoo Primo

While I don't think this matches the looks of the Mac Pro, there's no case that can live up to that standard. This one seems fine, and has plenty of capacity. Price: $259

Power supply: EVGA SuperNOVA T2

Beating the Mac Pro's power supply by 200 W, this 1600 W behemoth is one of the best power supplies money can buy – but I'd venture that the one in the Pro is quieter. Price: $428

Accessories:

  • Intel 2x 10 Gbit/s: $316
  • Asus PCE-AC58 Wi-Fi: $86
  • 3x Noctua NF-P14 case fans: $60
  • Logitech CRAFT keyboard: $170
  • Logitech G903 mouse: $100

Total price (Jun 4, 2019): $4965
Apple Difference: + $1034

(Here's a link to the complete PcPartsPicker list: https://pcpartpicker.com/list/HsVCNQ.)

While there is a difference, it's important to note that even this won't beat Apple's offering (except for the storage capacity) – this, for example, only supports half the amount of memory, you have to factor in how much your time building this is worth as well as Apple's industrial design: noise levels, ease of use and the all-metal cabinet with gorgeous stainless steel handles. And you can forget about macOS.

HP Z8 G8 Workstation

Here's the configuration I ended up with:

  • CPU: Xeon Gold 6144, 8 cores, 3.5 GHz
  • Memory: 32GB (4x 8GB) of 2666MHz DDR4 ECC
  • Storage: 256GB NVMe M.2 Solid-State Drive
  • Graphics: NVIDIA Quadro P4000 8GB
  • Network: HP Z Dual-Port 10GbE Module
  • Wireless: Intel 8260 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac & Bluetooth 4.2 PCIe Card
  • HP keyboard & mouse

Total price (4 Jun, 2019): $7625
Apple Difference: - $1626

This Z8 has a Slim DVD Writer and the faster NVIDIA Quadro P4000 graphics card, as well as an extra USB-C and Thunderbolt, which is an add-on on the HP Z8 (so don't spend the money if you don't need it.)

This machine has, in many ways, better specs than the BYO version above; for example, the motherboard supports an enormous 3 terabytes of memory, and is a very close competitor to the Mac Pro if the operating system isn't part of the equation.

So What?

There's no way to make such a comparison fair, in my opinion, Apple has out-innovated everyone in the business in building the ultimate professional workstation that has no bounds on performance (or industrial design). However, something the Mac Pro doesn't have (yet) is dual CPUs, so competitors have double the theoretical processor performance. In addition, Apple has it's own MDX expansion design, which allows for better performance in a single package.

I hope this goes to show that if you think that the Mac Pro is too expensive, you're just not the target market – those that need this thing won't bat an eye at the cost, especially since I'm guessing many will configure it to 10 times its base price.

I'm looking forward to maxing out the Mac Pro configurator to see how bad it gets. As a software developer, I have no need for this machine: an iMac Pro – or even a regular 5K iMac – would serve my needs plenty for many years to come.

But for the ones which the fastest computers are chronically slow, this is it.