New Mac Pro: Good value at twice the price

New Mac Pro: Good value at twice the price

Summary: Fully configured out at almost $10,000, the new Mac Pro might seem terribly expensive. But it is far from the most expensive Mac ever and -- given the performance -- it's a bargain.

TOPICS: Storage, Apple, Hardware

Back in the 1980s it was possible — in fact easy — to spend many thousands of dollars on a PC. Most PCs and Macs started in the $2000 range and went up from there.

The Mac Pro is a high-end system — a desktop mainframe. To compare it to older high-end Macs I went through the archives of to find the top-of-the-line systems every two years from 1986 to 2012.

Adjust for inflation
I took the retail prices of the high-end systems and adjusted them using the US Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Price Index inflation calculator to translate them into 2013 dollars.

This graph plots the price – in terms of 2013 money – for high-end Mac systems from 1986 to 2012, showing both the purchase price as shipped and the inflation adjusted 2013 dollars. There's quite a spike in the late 80s.

Screen Shot 2013-12-19 at 10.06.28 PM


The Mac IIfx was the most expensive Mac ever produced, though its retail cost was about the same as the much less powerful Lisa seven years earlier (whose price in today's dollars would be $23,389). It had specialized co-processors and dual-ported RAM to wring every bit of performance out of the 40MHz 68030 and 68882 floating point unit.

Prices leveled out beginning in the late 90s, but list price isn't the whole story. For example, the 2006  quad-core Mac Pros were terribly under-configured in DRAM - 1GB - and disk. Even though the retail price looks OK, most users – including me – spent hundreds to a thousand dollars or more to bring the configuration up to a workable level.

Using the system's expandability as an excuse to cut content to meet an arbitrary price point made earlier Mac Pros barebones systems. In contrast even the entry level 2013 Pro is very usable out of the box, especially given the SSD and Maverick's memory compression.

The Storage Bits take
We're also talking about Apple's retail prices. You can cut the cost of more DRAM, for example, in half by going to third-party vendors. You can also trade off a larger SSD for high-bandwidth Thunderbolt storage - storage you'll be able to use when you trade up a Mac Pro in 3 years.

You can also be judicious in configuring. It appears that the six core configuration – for a base price of $3999 – is the sweet spot. Of course, until we see some benchmarks, we can't be sure.

The bottom line: while a fully loaded new Mac Pro may appear expensive it is far from the most expensive high-end Mac – and high-end PCs – in cost. And it is much more expandable - with better investment protection - than costly earlier machines.

Given the CPU performance plateau and the drop in bandwidth growth and storage latency improvements, these new Mac Pro's will likely hold their value for years to come. If you spend $4000 on one today you may be able to use it for five years and sell it for $2500 when you're done. There's more to total cost of ownership then purchase price.

That said, the vast majority of users will be better served by an iPad or a MacBook Air. The Mac Pro is for professionals for whom time is money - and you know who you are. 

Comments welcome, as always. What do you value in a personal computer?

Topics: Storage, Apple, Hardware

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  • To bad it runs Maverics

    All that power and so little good software choices, especially for IT professionals. Artists will be happy using photoshop I guess, but photoshop runs fine on any decent PC.
    Sean Foley
    • Waaa?

      For the professions that will use this machine there are tons of premium software. IT folks don't need a machine like this do they? Anyway there is virtualization isn't there.
    • Mavericks is a perfectly good OS

      I daresay Adobe CS runs better on OS X than on a Windows box. And A/V production runs like a dream in OS X, as the software tends to be written for OS X first.

      But even if one did (for whatever reason) prefer Windows, it is perfectly capable of running that too.
      • I don't really think so

        I run Photoshop CC on my W7 desktop; and I process much bigger files than the average digital photographer.
        • A Different Point

          Didn't really address the assertion regarding PhotoShop on both platforms.

          And better doesn't mean the lesser one is doing poorly.

          But before the usual suspects start trotting out their benchmarks, if there is a better os for PhotoShop when compared on matching hardware, this information is of value to one who only runs PhotoShop all day.

          The rest of us pick systems that do a variety of tasks utilizing applications we have already licensed or built.

          But, roteague—my autocorrect kept insisting on changing that to rote ague, the latter word being a 19th century term for a malady—I do not dispute your orthogonal point and congratulate you at how big your files are.
          • Heh

            "I do not dispute your orthogonal point and congratulate you at how big your files are."

            Reminds me of a movie, I don't remember which - an American in Paris, after trying to communicate to a French official in French, gets this reply:

            "'My pencil is big and yellow.' How nice for you."
          • The movie was Gotcha!

            One of Anthony Edwards early roles. My favorite line was from his mother: " And just think. A week in "Paree" and he'll come back sounding just like, um...Marcel Marceau."
        • Goody for you.

          So what? I've never even seen Capture One running on a Windows machine, and right now Phase One is giving away Macs, including the new Mac Pro, with the purchase of various digital backs. What does that tell you?

          Go watch the videos from the pro gear companies like Broncolor, Hasselblad, Profoto, etc. When they show working pros, they're invariably using Macs. Does that mean every pro uses a Mac? Of course not! But it's not a coincidence that the people who have real money on the line dealing with real-world challenges and deadlines all tend to use a particular platform.
          • And?

            "But it's not a coincidence that the people who have real money on the line dealing with real-world challenges and deadlines all tend to use a particular platform."

            That doesn't prove anything.
          • Of course it does.

            Does it satisfy a binary logic test? No. Does it indicate exactly what the O.P. is trying to claim? Of course it does.
          • Ha! Please please please. Double standards reign supreme.

            The cornerstone of most posters on ZDNet is clearly that of the double standard.

            Its not worthy of a PC hater poster to put any post up on ZDNet unless they hold out a certain fact situation that they will claim shows an indication that a Mac is the better choice, but in other circumstances similar fact situations in favor of a Windows PC can never be accepted as acceptable kind of proof of anything.

            In this case, where Mac Pros appear to be the most common tool of choice its held out that there is good reason for this, and it amounts to proof that this is certainly a situation where the Mac is supposed to be the better choice.

            Take a situation where PC's are clearly the most common tool of choice and you will NEVER, I repeat, NEVER get a single PC hating Mac user to EVER admit that just because in many situations the PC is the most common tool of choice that this amounts to proof that in those situations PC's are the better choice.

            And it dosnt end there. In any and every circumstance where a PC enthusiast might say, "here is proof that this is why a PC is the better choice" the Mac enthusiast will say, "that evidence proves nothing", then the next article Mac users will be claiming similar statistics or evidence supporting Macs in a different scenario is the kind of good evidence that shows Macs can be the better choice. Whats good for the goose is never good for the gander apparently.

            I personally am sick to death of the whole thing. I suspect there may very well be cases where a Mac is the better choice, I know there most certainly are instances where a PC is the better choice. Why oh why oh why Mac users can never find it in their hearts to agree with this only brings an astounding lack of credibility to whatever they are claiming at the time they are claiming it.

            Mac users really need to start getting used to the fact that there are plenty of times and there are plenty of people where a PC is by far the best choice. So a Mac may be better in some situations? Ya, I can accept that may well be the case. It dosnt seem at all impossible. And it dosnt hurt my feelings or impact on my self esteem. But these Mac heads who can never ever face the very same reality that PC's are sometimes the best choice really need to grow up.
          • It works the same when...

            Arguing with someone who owns a iPhone
          • " In any and every circumstance where a PC enthusiast might say…"

            Really? Every single one? Without exception? Are you feeling ridiculous yet?
          • Religion is religion...

            ...and Apple doesn't make any exceptions.
        • I really think so

          been working on the Adobe suite the last 5 years on OSX and WXP/W7; from my experience Adobe software runs better & faster on mac systems.
          • How so?

            "from my experience Adobe software runs better & faster on mac systems."

            Specifics please.
          • tod

            R u todbottom in new Ye skin ?
          • I use Adobe suite also

            I use multiple screens and there is no way OSX is better at it than Windows.
            Fullscreen mode is also rubbish in OSX and flaky with multiple screens.
            I'm sorry but it is just blissful ignorance that allows them to think Macs do it better.
      • ?

        Who the hell in their right mind other than a Mac fanatic would buy a Mac Pro to run Windows?

        Oh, and most of the high end software DOES NOT RUN on OS X and those that do don't have the same capabilities as their Windows counterparts. So when did AutoCad 2014 Mac Edition come out - significantly after the Windows version.

        If I were a betting man I would bet the vast majority of Mac Pro users have historically been small shops and/or individuals and the prices of the new Mac Pro are going to be a big hurdle for a lot of them, both financially and psychologically. I have an early 2009 Mac Pro with two quad core Xeon processors. I paid $3,200 for it. While Apple says on their configuration page you can purchase a new Mac Pro with two Xeons, I haven't seen how this is done. The only comparable option is to purchase an eight core Xeon. Since spinning hard drives are no longer available with the new Mac Pro, the only comparable choice is a 512 GB SSD (versus my 640 GB HD) and while my Mac came with 8 gigs of RAM, the only comparable option on the new Mac is 12 gigs. Total price for this system is $5,299.00 or a two grand bump over my current system.

        For large Photoshop and AutoCad files I use my HP Z820, which has 32 gigs of RAM. The graphics card on that machine, which is the real issue when dealing with large graphics files has 4 gigs of video RAM. And don't even get me talking about the price premium and choice of graphics cards for the legacy Macs - minimal and extremely expensive. With the new Mac Pros what you buy is ALL YOU WILL EVER GET - no potential for an upgrade - ever. Even if there were, the price premium would be astronomical since by abandoning the legacy format Apple now has limited any vendor who might want to develop add-ins for the Mac Pro to ONLY the new Mac Pro. So their potential market right now is - from a financial standpoint - nonexistent.

        There are SO MANY issues with the switch to the new Mac Pro format, I can see the end of the road in the not so distant future.

        I for one wouldn't consider buying a new Mac Pro to replace my existing system since it would require a complete redesign of my setup and significant added cost above and beyond the price of the machine.

        BTW, DannyO_ox98 GIS files are incredibly huge - we are talking gigs for a single MrSID file so we aren't just talking about Photoshop.
      • Not for a few decades...

        Adobe USED to start out with the Mac version of a product. They stopped doing that back in the latter days of the PowerPC Mac, and were looking awfully close to dropping the Mac all together, in those days before SJ came back. That was the crux of at least most of that bad blood between Adobe and Apple, that had SJ not allowing Flash on the iOS platform, and in general, badmouthing Adobe whenever the occasion would arise.

        These days, with potentially identical hardware and operating systems of similar capability, there's no advantage to either platform, at least not due to the platform itself. You may find advantage in other places... you'd spend considerably less building a workstation optimized for Photoshop rather than, say, AutoCAD, if you had the chance to actually spec every component of your PC.