Mac Pro is now the cheapest high-end workstation

Mac Pro is now the cheapest high-end workstation

Summary: Earlier this month I wrote "Build a Mac Pro equivalent workstation for 1/3 the cost" and the pricing didn't look good for the Mac.  Now that the new Mac Pro with updated specifications and a much lower price has come out, I figured it's time to do an updated comparison.


Earlier this month I wrote "Build a Mac Pro equivalent workstation for 1/3 the cost" and the pricing didn't look good for the Mac.  Now that the new Mac Pro with updated specifications and a much lower price has come out, I figured it's time to do an updated comparison.  But during my research I came to a stunning conclusion: it's the cheapest name brand dual-processor workstation on the market IF you know how to buy third party memory and storage.  It's not only cheaper than the slower $3817 Dell workstation I looked at earlier this month, but I can't even build a cheaper generic PC clone unless I switched to a lower-end CPU.  If you're in the market for a high-performance Apple workstation, keep reading to learn how to get the best deal.

The new Mac Pro uses Intel's latest 5400 series "Stoakley" platform with the "Seaburg" chipset.  For the CPU, it uses the 1600 MHz FSB version of the 5400 series CPUs which have clock speeds of 2.8, 3.0, and 3.2 GHz.  The graphics card has gone from AMD/ATI 1900XT to an NVIDIA 8800GT.  The memory was upgraded from Fully Buffered DDR2-667 to Fully Buffered DDR2-800.

As configured in the screen shot to the left, the stripped down system is $2999 with relatively few memory DIMMs and two minimum hard drives.  Since they're only going to reduce the price by $500 if you only buy one processor and the fact that it would cost you $900 to replace that chip, it's not worth buying one CPU from Apple.  The memory and hard drives were still too expensive so I left them on the default settings but you will most likely have to take them out and replace them.  The video card will also cost more to replace with a third party brand so it isn't worth skipping either.  It's also possible that a third party 8800GT might not work so I wouldn't even bother trying.

Now once you buy this system, you're going to need to buy some fully buffered DDR2-800 memory which is still very hard to find at this time.  I found some for $245 (vendor claims Mac Pro tested) which is way more money expensive than other generic memory but it's way better than the $1500 Apple is asking for.  A few other people in talkback posted this link for two 2GB DDR2-800 at $220.  The price will probably drop $40 in coming months as these get more common but I think the price isn't too bad at this point.  You will need to buy two of these for $440 if you want the system to run with the max four-channel memory but be sure to populate each DIMM in a separate channel to get the maximum benefit.  Note that CPU-Z for Windows will let you confirm how many channels you're running though I'm not sure about a Mac equivalent applet but I'll update if I find out.

The hard drives can be replaced with any 3.5" SATA hard drive and you can usually buy two 500 GB Seagate hard drives for $240 and put them in a RAID-1 configuration.  This does mean that you'll either need to leave your OS on the single 320 GB hard drive or you'll need to manually move the OS to the 500 GB RAID-1 volume which makes the OS boot faster.

Now you have a 2.8 GHz Mac Pro for less than $3800 with all the trimmings which makes it the cheapest high-end workstation on the market.  It's still possible to get a great PC 2.33 GHz dual-processor workstation for less than $2400 but the high-end belongs to Apple.  However, it's not really practical to build a lower-end Mac Pro since I've got it stripped down to the bone so Apple still has plenty of profit to make even if you don't buy their outrageous components.  The bottom line is that Mac users can get a much better deal on Mac Pros than at the beginning of this month.

Update 10:30AM If you're installing Boot Camp and Windows, do the installation after you set up the RAID-1 volume.  You will need these drivers from Intel's website for Windows XP, Vista, and Server.  If you don't want to spend $3700 and you can live with a perfectly good dual-processor 2.33 GHz workstation for $2370 which has the same 5400 series chipset.  Apple seems to have figured out the perfect strategy to keep a high margin yet keep you from building a cheaper clone with exact specifications.

Topics: Processors, Apple, Hardware

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  • Indeed but not at $3000

    You built a server not a wrkstation, and a stripped down server at that, without disk or memory, and without a decent workstation class garphic card.

    If you want to build a dual xeon with 1600 FSB today, and still keep the workstation components, taht will cost you beween $7000 and $10000. As of today you will have a $1000 advantage to Apple.

    The reason for that is I think that apple made the decision, supported by intel, to ship only 1600 MHz FSB, whereas this is still a niche configuration for Dell. The xeon E5462 has only be shipped to apple to date ( if thei quand core 2.8 GhZ 1600 FSB processor is indeed the E5462 ). You can also look at the price premium asked by apple and dell for 800MHz memory, and you can se that Dell outcharge apple by a factor 2 to 3. That is not a common feat, and clearly indicate that dell does not want to sell such configuration today.

    But how will things change in a near future ? as soon as intel start shipping 5462 to manufacturers, the prices will drop, and, as Apple will not change its pricing, they will get back in their usual place as an overpriced seller in the workstation market.

    By the way in your $3000 configuration, you can drop the 8800GT IMHA, as if you need 3D, it's far bellow required levels, and if you dont you just throw bucks away.
    • Can't say I see a lot in your post to complain about..DARN!

      However I would say that for the past few years I think Apple's Mac Pro Towers have
      remained competatively priced with the likes of Dell and others. So I'm not keen on
      the "overpriced seller in the workstation market" comment perhaps once but now?

      Still I must admit I don't pay much attention at all to the workstation market so
      perhaps what I've been reading is not on the mark.

      Pagan jim
      James Quinn
      • I can find a big- and easy - complaint

        Ou, in his usual Apple-related obfuscations, is only talking about hardware. As is
        s_souche. As anyone who's used both OS X and Windows can tell you, OS X works
        faster on lower-end hardware. When you combine equivalent, or near equivalent
        hardware, a Mac smokes Windows PCs. Even my old PowerBook running a PPC at
        1GHz consistently left 3GHz Pentiums behind, especially with Photoshop (of
        course) and Excel spreadsheets (the larger the more obvious difference).

        You don't need as powerful a video card because Apple has always designed their
        OS to work better with graphics. You don't need as much memory because OS X
        doesn't suffer from bloat and overhead issues like Windows. Same for the
        processor. While Ou implies the limited selection of add-on components is a
        drawback, it's exactly the opposite. You may not be able to buy every latest piece
        of hardware, but you don't need to. Components designed to work with Macs and
        OS X deliver better performance than pure horsepower.

        As far as some sort of Intel/Dell "conspiracy," it's laughable. Dell is on the way
        down. HP may overtake them soon,. You never hitch your wagon to a falling star.
        If they were going to work with a PC maker to blunt Apple, it would be HP. Besides,
        Apple was a key contributor to Intel beating back AMD's challenge. The Pentium
        processor was falling further behind AMD every revision. Apple's expertise with a
        true 64-bit desktop (that also worked on 32-bit processors) and cooperation paved
        the way for Intel developing the Core 2.

        PCs roll out newer, more powerful processors to try and match Macs. Apple lets
        them try, until the manufacturing demand meets their pricing structure, thanks to
        the demand of these same PC manufacturers. Then Apple upgrades and leaves PCs
        in the dust. Again.
        • You can make up whatever you want.

          OS X is not faster on low end hardware, in fact leopard's minimum requirements are very similar to Vistas.

          Apple's graphics solutions are low end, their drivers are just as bad as in the linux and windows world.

          In fact, most of your post is pure fantasy... granted, it's Job's fantasy... you're just guilty of believing his nonsense.
    • Video...

      What would you recommend ???

      "By the way in your $3000 configuration, you can drop the 8800GT IMHA, as if you need 3D"
      • need to check with apple

        for supported harwade and for options not available onmione, if they exist. Seems weird to me that except for the Quadro FW5600, which is ultra high end, with ultra high prices there is no professionnal class 3D graphic adapter.
        If you want to do video editing the ATI are all that you need no need to invest $200 extra to get a 8800GT.
        If you want to do 3D modelling, architecture or the like, 8800GT is really not a match, and given the money invested in the rest of the compouter is just giving you an unbvalanced box. To bad recent ATI 3D firegl cards seems not to be supported, because they offer equal performance with half th e price compared to nvidia.
        • 8800GT is a great gaming card, odd choice for a workstation... (NT)

          • is it even possible to buy a workstation video card in the macpro? (NT)

        • Thanks for the response.

      • Quadro / FireGL for Workstations (if PC based)

        8800GT is a gaming card, not a workstation card.
    • spot on!

      this post is a great summary. right now apple has a lock (somehow) on the 1600FSB parts.

      another comment in this thread mentioned that Apple towers "stay competitive". Not true at all. They dont stay competitive at all since they dont really price drop. Elsewhere on this thread it was mentioned that the time to buy a Mac is RIGHT when the new model change comes. THAT is also spot on.

      Today, this is a great deal. In 6 months, it will NOT be a good deal at all b/c these parts will be cheap as dirt commodities. In 9 months there is potential that what replaces this will become a great deal again, for that window of exclusivity period.

      Its amazing that Apple is able to pull that off with Intel. I suppose Mac users are willing to constantly refresh high end machines where Dell targets pure commodity. PC hobbiests, of course, get the short end of the stick as they WOULD be buying these 1600FSB parts, but are insignificant next to the OEMs.
  • To rehash my previous statement

    Apple's release time and failure to reduce the cost of their aging builds leads to some systems with rediculous prices. However, if you buy right after a new build, you are getting the deal of a life time.

    In other words, if Apple's product seems to high priced, wait a couple months and they will release something for the same price, but you will get more for your money.
    • You are correct sir....

      Only keep in mind that Apple has no real desire to jump into the Dell Arena. So I
      would not expect Apple to spend a whole lot of time fretting the "keeping up with the
      Jones" thing. ie rushing around dropping prices every time a component price goes
      down type thing.

      Pagan jim
      James Quinn
      • Intel is just as guilty of this

        I recently scoured the market for a QX6700 processor. Currently the price of this former flag ship has only dropped a couple dollars compared to some of the other processors around it.

        Infact the price of it is very close to the new QX9850.

        I fortunately found a used market version of this chip for $500, so I am now in the world of Quad Core.
      • Erm....

        Then what *do* they want to do. You can't seem to make up your mind if they're a hardware manufacturer or a software developer. They can't seem to do either well, but their hardware is certainly the better of the two. I can quite literally build a 'mac pro' equivalent for at 1200 dollars without trying too hard, and all the parts will have 1-3 year warranties, and most companies offer trade up programs.

        That begs the question, who are we allowed to compare them to? It seems frequently the only comparison you consider valid is clumping gateway and M$ into one ultra-defective megaconglomerate and pretending it's reality.

        Frankly, what we should be comparing against are hp corporate boxes, sun, falcon northwest, or boxx. It's the only legitimate comparison, even though apple uses primarily parts you can buy at your local Fry's, and any of those boxes blow the doors off a mac pro at a similar price, and come with 3-5 year end to end warranties and free overnight shipping both ways for repairs.

        To note, a Mac Pro is hardly 'high end,' the specs on the fully loaded mac pro are what the sun Ultra 40 M2 workstations start at, and the starting price is 1900 USD, using all ECC ram, sata drives, and slots for up to 4 sli Geforce 8800 ultras.

        I would love to run OS X on that box, as it's more than capable of doing so, but apple won't license it, and I'm not giving them another 3000 dollars so I can get 2000 USD worth of parts, and that's attributing a LARGE amount of money for the case.
        • sun Ultra 40 M2 is $4900 not $1900

          at least in a dual processor configuration, with quadro FW1500
        • While the starting price..

          of the Sun you mention is $1995, that doesn't buy you nearly the same horsepower.
          One dual core AMD, 1G RAM, 160G HD...

          Not much more than a Mac Mini at $800.
    • You are correct, but one thing is different this time.

      You are correct, but one thing is different this time. Apple is surprisingly competitive that they offer a better machine at a lower price point than Dell. In fact if I wanted to build an identical clone, I can't even do it cheaper. That is surprising to me.

      Apple can still maintain higher margins by sticking to the FSB1600 components so I think their market positioning is quite intelligent.
      • but...

        the one oyu said was so expensive in your earlier blog.... was cheaper than Dell and
        self bit stuff when it was released at the same price and config a year earlier. This
        machine will still be the same config and price at christmas more than likely.. and will
        not be the cheapest anymore.
        • It was much more expensive than building a clone back then

          The Mac Pro was always much more expensive than building a clone back then. Now I can't build a cheaper clone so something definitely changed.