Two Models, Neither Perfect

The one common trend I’ve noticed from companies that are building products people want to buy despite the current economic climate: prices haven’t dropped. Nikon raised prices last year and Apple introduced two new Mac Pros one at $2499 and one at $3299.

The $2499 model comes with a single quad-core Xeon running at 2.66GHz. This is the Xeon equivalent of the Core i7-920. You get 3GB of memory, a 640GB HDD, an 18x DVD-DL burner and a GeForce GT 120.

Another $800 will get you two quad-core Xeons running at a slower 2.26GHz. You get twice the memory and everything else stays the same.

I suspect that for most users the $2499 configuration is more than enough, but for this review I’m testing the $3299 system and will attempt to explain how the $2499 machine would perform.

There’s basically a $30 cost difference between 6GB of DDR3 memory and 3GB of DDR3. It’s silly for Apple to not offer the base configuration with 6GB. Anything less than 4GB in a workstation is ridiculous for a system being made and sold in 2009. If you’ve read our Nehalem articles you’ll know that each chip has three 64-bit wide memory controllers, thus you’ll want to install DIMMs in triplets. You can install four DIMMs, but accessing memory in the fourth module will be slower - something you’ll never notice if you’re wondering.


You'll find six DIMMs in the 8-core Mac Pro. Two LGA-1366 CPU sockets, 3 memory channels per CPU socket, 3 DIMMs per chip.

I won’t complain too much about the hard drive. A 640GB HDD is fine, not great and I’ll soon show you how much better one of these machines is with an SSD but no complaints there.

The video card could use some work. I’m not concerned about the GPU power; it’s the amount of memory that bothers me. If any of Apple’s users are likely to have a multi-monitor setup it is a Mac Pro owner, and 512MB isn’t enough to enable silky smooth Exposé across a 30” + 24” setup. And you can forget about smooth transitions on two 30” panels.

Even the upgraded video card, the Radeon HD 4870 only comes with 512MB of GDDR5 memory. Apple charges an extra $200 for that card, even though that’s how much the 4870 1GB cards cost at Newegg. I have no problems with Apple making money, but not even offering a single 1GB graphics card is silly; especially when more memory is actually useful.

If you want the best solution for multiple monitors in a Mac Pro, you’ll want to get two GeForce GT 120s it seems (although there is a 3rd party option).

Index The Downside to Innovation
POST A COMMENT

58 Comments

View All Comments

  • wackazong - Wednesday, September 9, 2009 - link

    Hello,

    this may be the right place to ask: What's the difference between the Xeon and the (much cheaper) i7 processors? Couldn't you put an i7 into a Mac Pro?
    Reply
  • sdevenshire - Saturday, August 29, 2009 - link

    Hi,

    I purchased a 2xQuad core mac in Jan 2008 and I would like to upgrade the cpu to the new Nehalem. Apple suggested it could be done but they don't do it. I contacted a number of Mac repair places and they said it can't be done. I realize that upgrading the cpu probably means upgrading the motherboard, but that's fine with me.

    Any suggestions on where I could get this done or where I might get instructions for doing it myself?

    TIA,
    Shane
    Reply
  • 529th - Thursday, July 30, 2009 - link

    If you’ve read our Nehalem articles you’ll know that each chip has three 64-bit wide memory controllers, thus you’ll want to install DIMMs in triplets. You can install four DIMMs, but accessing memory in the fourth module will be slower - something you’ll never notice if you’re wondering. ???

    This is hindering me from buying a 4 channel UD3R X58 board. My main goal of an i7 build is for editing AVCHD files through Premiere Pro CS4. Being that tri channel will get me 6g and PP CS4 likes more memory, will adding memory to the 4th module screw things up?
    Reply
  • newrigel - Tuesday, July 28, 2009 - link

    Man, take your hackysack and go buy some laundry soap to clean the crap out of your drawers! You guy's talk about a couple thousand dollars like it's buying a damn house or some huge purchase LOL!
    Macs are really cost efficient and yes... PC's are cheaper but who gives a damn! If you want to be cheap... be cheap! Hackintoshes (LOL) are just that... a POS and your getting what you pay for! You cheap asses probably hit your ol' ladies up for gas money to get to work hehe...
    MACS RULE!
    Reply
  • ditchmagnet - Monday, July 27, 2009 - link

    Just for fun I went to apples site and customized the mac pro, I just maxed out the hardware choices and then went to newegg and priced out an equivalent PC (Server board, with the same CPUs and everything except more RAM)
    Total for the apple including shipping and tax is over $20,000
    the newegg build is under $9,000
    I bet my 920 build at 4.5ghz is faster than the mac pro though, and all for under $1000
    Reply
  • moltentofu - Tuesday, July 21, 2009 - link

    wander over to the egg and buy a lian li. No flashy lights really, no idiot clear side panels. For some reason the hard drive access light and the power light are different colors on mine though.

    You can get a combo case with a seasonic 550W power supply with it. I put a phenom II x4 3.2Ghz 16 Gigs of RAM and a 1 Gig 4870 in there with aftermarket cooling all around (air not liquid) and it cost me 900 bucks - all from the egg.

    If you think you're going to find performance arbitrage basically anywhere in the market you couldn't be wrong-er. Just pick your price/performance point and stick to it.

    Thanks for the awesome reviews as usual Anand!
    Reply
  • moltentofu - Tuesday, July 21, 2009 - link

    With one big 'ol caveat to the arbitrage thing and that is: building your own system really does seem to be cheaper right now, and also I can't find component setups in the big name companies right now that make me quite happy.

    I miss when Dell Outlet used to be affordable. I'm afraid these Macs are just waaay out of range of my meagre salary.
    Reply
  • fmaste - Monday, July 20, 2009 - link

    Everybody talks about how expensive the Mac Pro is, but, has somebody compared with other brands? Look at this:

    I customize two Dell Precision Workstations with the same components as the base configurations Apple offers for the Mac Pro.
    The results!!

    Mac Pro Quad-Core: $2,499.00
    Dell Precision T5500: $3,427

    Mac Pro 8-Core: $3,299.00
    Dell Precision T7500: $3,427

    BOTH APPLE OFFERS ARE BETTER!!!!!
    Both with the same processors, same amounts of memory at the same speed.
    The only difference is instead of a NVIDIA GeForce GT 120 with 512MB you get a 256MB NVIDIA® Quadro® NVS 295. And that Dell options have hard drives with less capacity, 500GB vs 640GB. I also added the second Gigabit Ethernet card to both Dells. Dell has no bluetooth option and you may need to add a sound card to them.
    Remember, you get a more expensive PC with windows Vista and an ugly chasis.
    Reply
  • fmaste - Tuesday, July 21, 2009 - link

    And here is HP

    Mac Pro Quad-Core: $2,499.00
    Same specs configurable HP Z800 Workstation: $3,942.00

    Mac Pro 8-Core: $3,299.00
    Same specs configurable HP Z800 Workstation: $3,702.00
    Reply
  • excalibur3 - Friday, July 17, 2009 - link

    So when you hypothetically created your i7 hackintosh, what were it's specs? I'm thinking about doing this (as a thought experiment only of course) and I'm wondering what such a system would price out. How would I know what motherboard to use to be compatible? Reply

Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now