Forget the $52,000 Mac Pro - the sweet spot is half that

With a fully loaded price exceeding $50,000, the new Mac Pro has polarized tech pundits. But the sweet spot configuration is $25k, not $50k. Is that too much as well? Not compared to past high-end Macs.
Written by Robin Harris, Contributor on

The Pro moniker should be a clue that this device is for people whose Mac makes money. Except that Apple is also using it for the iPhone as well. Who makes money on an iPhone? (Really, comment below. I'd love to know.)

Here's what $24k buys you

If you bill by the hour as a pro video editor, then how much machine do you need? Here's my take on a Mac Pro well configured for pro video editor, who isn't totally immersed in CGI pixel painting:

3.2GHz 16‑core Intel Xeon W processor, Turbo Boost up to 4.4GHz
192GB (6x32GB) of DDR4 ECC memory
Radeon Pro Vega II Duo with 2x32GB of HBM2 memory
4TB SSD storage
Stainless steel frame with feet
Magic Mouse 2
Magic Keyboard with Numeric Keypad - US English
Pro Display XDR with stand $5,998.00 (Of course you get the stand! It's really nice.)
For a grand total of $23 ,597. 

Config choices

Here's why I chose the major components, and, some ways to save a lot of money kitting it out for heavy lifting.

- The 16-core Xeon appears to be the sweet spot of the line, economically and technically. As you add cores to the 8-core base config, Apple charges $250/core for the first 8. But to jump to 24 cores from 16, Apple charges $750/core. But that's not all: the clock speed drops from 3.2GHz to 2.7GHz, so you get 50 percent more cores, running 15 percent slower. The 24 and 28 core units will shine running big batch jobs over night. But for interactive work they are overkill.
- 192GB of fast DRAM is likely to be the sweet spot for memory. That's 12GB/core, where most Macs today run 4GB or less. But if you have lots of plug-ins, for instance, you might want more. With the Mac Pro I suggest going with 192GB and if you need more,  double that. At much lower cost than Apple charges.
- 4TB SSD storage. If you plan to max out the PCIe slots, you may want more of Apple's costly SSD storage. But you can get more - and faster - storage at a lower cost, as noted below.
- Radeon Pro Vega II Duo. I assume that you need excellent video performance. You can save $5200 by going with the base Radeon Pro 580X, but with the rest of the system's strong specs, why skimp on graphics? If you're doing effects heavy video, then spending another $5200 for a second Pro Vega II. That said, if you are a musician, the base graphics will be fine.

How to economize

But you don't have to spend that much. Remember, you can add 3rd party components. And you can add other options, such as the $2k Afterburner card, if you later decide you need it.

So instead of spending $3,000 for 6 32GB ECC DIMMs, you can go to Kingston, the world's largest independent memory vendor, and get 6 of their ECC DIMMS for $1,038. Call it a $2k saving, or $21,635.

Next, save another $1,000, by going with a 1TB SSD, or $20,635, for your system and applications. Instead, buy a Sonnet M.2 4x4 PCIe card for $399, and 4 ADATA 1TB M.2 SSDs for $500. That gives you a total of 5TB of very fast internal storage - the Sonnet is faster than the internal Apple SSD - for $900.

Another attractive storage option is the internal Promise Pegasus R4i 32TB RAID MPX module, for $2300. This includes 4 8TB hard drives, giving you 24TB of RAID 5 capacity. I've had an external Promise Pegasus Thunderbolt RAID for 7 years and have been very happy with it. The R4i MPX won't be as fast as the Sonnet, about 600MB/sec read speeds, but hey, get both! Almost 30TB of internal storage should handle your next 4k music video.

And if you need cheap capacity, there's also the Promise J2i, that offers 2 3.5" SATA drive slots for up to 16TB for about $650. 

The Storage Bits take

For comparison, look at an earlier high-end pro machine. The Apple Macintosh IIfx cost $8970 for the base model in 1990, $17,652 in today's dollars. Of course, you'd want to outfit that with the stunning Apple Macintosh 21" Color Display, with incredible 1152x870 resolution, at the then price of $4599, or $8685 in today's dollars, for a grand total of $26337. Feeling better about the new Mac Pro price?

The new Mac Pro may not be cheap, but it is not out of line with earlier pro grade kit. And it is, by all accounts, a stunning machine.

Comments welcome. Best wishes for a happy new year!

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