Configuring Mac Pro storage for price and performance

Configuring Mac Pro storage for price and performance

Summary: The Mac Pro is a powerful computer with excellent I/O capability. Here's how to make the most of it - for the least money.

TOPICS: Storage, Apple, Hardware

Many Mac Pro buyers will be buying on the corporate credit card so money is not a concern. But if you are a small business cost could be important. The key advantage of the Mac Pro's Thunderbolt expandability is that you can invest in costly options - 4k displays, big storage arrays, PCIe enclosures - that you'll be able to use with the next gen Mac Pro.

Graphics RAM
The Mac Pro is flexible but there are a couple of decisions to make before you buy. First is how much graphics RAM – VRAM – you need, which depends on the graphics cards you select. In my experience more VRAM is always gets the longest useful life out of a system as graphics requirements keep rising.

Second, you need to decide how much internal SSD capacity you need. No vendors have reverse-engineered Apple's PCIe SSD interface and given the small size of the Mac Pro market it may be a while before they do, if ever.

For most users the 256 GB SSD for booting and productivity apps will be sufficient. Apple charges top dollar for its SSDs and you can take the hundreds of dollars saved and apply them to a larger storage array.

The Apple SSD is fast – one benchmark clocked it near 1 GB per second – but you need to compare the cost of added internal capacity versus the cost of a high-performance storage array. For the $800 additional cost (+tax) of the 1TB SSD you can upgrade a Promise array from 4 drives to 6 - 50% more bandwidth - and get over 3TB more capacity. For pro users that's a better long-term choice.

Main memory
You can get DRAM from Apple or 3rd parties. An Apple warranty applies to DRAM you buy with the system, which may be handy if there's a problem. But hard errors are rare and I've never had a DIMM failure.

Apple charges $1300 to add 64GB of DRAM to the quad-core unit, but Data Memory Systems - to name but one - offers the upgrade for $780. They also offer advance replacements, a lifetime warranty, free shipping and possibly no sales tax.

One caveat: 16GB DIMMs must be registered DIMMs - R-DIMMs - and cannot be mixed with unregistered DIMMs. If you want more than 32GB, you have to go to 64GB all at once.

External storage
Another way to save money on storage is to buy non-Apple branded storage elsewhere. Apple does not warranty non-Apple products - even when you buy them from Apple - so there's no reason to buy from Apple.

For example, the Promise Thunderbolt 2 arrays come in 4, 6 and 8 drive versions for $1499, $2299 and $4599 respectively from Apple. The 32TB, 8 drive version can be had for $4225 online, with no tax. Look around and get the 1st gen Promise Thunderbolt array - I've been pleased with the 4 drive model I bought 2 years ago - and you'll still have plenty of performance for 2k video at an even greater savings.

But other vendors, such as LaCie, WD, Drobo and G-Tech, also offer arrays. For maximum price/performance use RAID0 - which has no redundancy so backup! - on a "dumb" array like the LaCie 5big Thunderbolt. If that makes you nervous then go for RAID5 or, better yet, RAID6.

The lowest cost storage is on USB 3.0 disks, so use those to backup your system drive as well as critical files. They're fast and cheap, so don't skimp.

The Storage Bits take
These tips you can save 10%-20% on a new Mac Pro system. And give you a system where much of the value is preserved when you upgrade in three years.

If you do attach significant Thunderbolt storage and want to move it out of your office, look into the new fiber optic cables. These eliminate ground loops, a leading cause of intermittent problems in distributed systems, as well as offering much longer runs than copper.

It is the connectivity of the new Mac Pro that distinguishes it from most workstation PCs. Take good advantage of that and you'll maximize your returns and protect your investment for years to come.

Comments welcome, as always. Pros: how do you configure storage on high-end systems?

Topics: Storage, Apple, Hardware

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  • Sorry I will pass on Mac Pro

    I cannot see such a product like the Mac Pro being a very flexible piece of hardware. Its a design marvel for its ability to cram as much into a cylinder as I have seen. But its also a repairable nightmare which anyone who depends on such a high performance Mac would certainly want something much more friendly in the repair department. I guess it depends on how important design over function is, but for me if I had to have such a powerful PC. I would not even consider the Mac Pro.
    • For repairs.

      What about getting the Apple extended warranty and letting them worry about it for 3 years which probably covers most of the high productivity life of the machine.

      Nice article, BTW.
    • agree

      Apple takes you to the cleaners for a system that's more fancy than functional.
      For a lot less you can have the same features from other vendors.
      LlNUX Geek
      • Really?

        Like Genius bars where you can get an ailing Mac fixed or replaced overnight? Like a half dozen reliable 20Gb/s full duplex I/O channels?

        HP's Z-series is a nice workstation, but I haven't seen another PC that compares in total system capability to the Mac Pro. School me.

        R Harris
        • HP Z-series vs Mac Pro

          Both systems offer extreme performance, but from what I have read, the HP Z820 is more capable than the Mac Pro. Here is were HP is better,

          Warranty: The Mac Pro includes a 1YR with optional 3YR. HP includes 3YR with onsite service plus optional 5YR / 4HR response, something Apple don't offer.

          Processors: The Mac Pro has single socket while the Z820 is a dual socket workstations. The Mac Pro has a maximum of 12 cores and the HP is capable of 24 cores.

          RAM: Apple up to 64GB and HP 512GB. Both are 1866MHZ DDR3 with ECC.

          Video: Apple goes up to dual AMD FirePro D700 GPUs with 6GB of GDDR5 VRAM (384-bit-wide memory bus / 264GB/s of bandwidth / 3.5 teraflops per card) while HP goes up to the NVIDIA Quadro K6000 12GB (384-bit-wide memory bus / 288 GB/s of bandwidth / 5.2 teraflops) .

          Expansion: Apple has no internal storage expansion while the HP Z820 is capable of 6 2.5" SSD drives.

          Here is where Apple does better,

          Internal Storage Performance: Apple PCIe vs HP SATA

          External Expansion: Apple include 6 Thunderbolt ports vs an optional single port Thunderbolt-2 PCIe I/O Card for the Z820.

          Price: Apple cost less, but it's obvious when you consider the Z820 capabilities.

          Again, both are very capable machines, but the HP Z820 is at another level. And that's for a machine that was released mid-2012. Let's see what HP brings to their next gen systems.
          • Here's another Apple advantage.

            Runs both OS X and Windows.
          • Apple disadvantage

            What you point out as an advantage, IMO is a disadvantage, since I cannot run OS X in a more capable machine as the HP z820.
          • It is one thing to say...

            For a whole lot of money you can have a whole lot more PC going through another vendor, which is true. It is quite another to say you can have a whole lot more computer for less, which is false.
      • Not really. But if it makes you feel better

        to tell yourself that, feel free.
    • Look at ifixit..

      They said it's very repairable. They gave it a reparability rating of 8 out of 10.

    Please put the trash away
  • TO bad apple can't do storage pools like windows 8 can

    JBOD and pools, done and done
    • But thankfully OS X has stability and speed

      Of which Windows is incapable. Done and done.