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NewsPoster Dec 24, 2013 08:16 PM
DIY PC site tries, fails to match new Mac Pro
For many consumers, a quad-core i7 "Haswell" computer with SSD storage -- whether it is a Mac or PC -- is by far the fastest computer they've ever used, and meets everyday needs handily. Some, however -- creative professionals, scientists and others -- need all the power they can get and then some. The <a href=" debuts0Bto0Bstrong0Bdemand0Bshipping0Bslips0C/story01.htm" rel='nofollow'>rapid sellout</a> of the new Mac Pro -- surprising even Apple -- may revolve around the fact that its new design is a tough combination to beat, even for <a href="" rel='nofollow'>DIY PC builders</a>.<br />
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<div align='center'><img src='' style='max-width: 100%;' alt='' border='0' pagespeed_url_hash="1069410084"/></div><br />
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A website dedicated to the build-your-own-PC audience, Futurelooks, recently tried -- and <a href="" rel='nofollow'>failed miserably</a> -- to match a top-end, $9,600 tricked-out new Mac Pro spec-for-spec using PC parts, missing the mark by around $2,000 and giving up entirely on the notion of producing a machine with the same connectivity, aesthetic design (a mini-tower case was used instead) or quiet operation. The team has slightly more success trying to build a PC equivalent of the base-model, $3,000 Mac Pro, ignoring the spec-for-spec requirement -- this time, they missed the mark <a href="" rel='nofollow'>by $1,100</a> (actually a worse cost overrun than the high-end model, by percentage), but did manage to upgrade the components somewhat, with better video cards and 25 percent more RAM -- and more internal expansion options, though still in a bland and noisy tower case.<br />
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The original experiment, done on December 19, was to create a PC DIY project that matched the top-end new Mac Pro spec-for-spec (or as close as possible). "After perusing the shopping cart, we came up with a configuration that tops out at $9,599 which includes 64GBs of ECC DDR3 memory, a 1TB PCIe SSD, two AMD D700 (W9000) GPUs, and a 12-core Intel Xeon 2.7GHz processor," wrote website editor Stephen Fung, with of course OS X as the default operating system. To his surprise, serious compromises had to be made immediately -- no current PC motherboard at this level of performance offered integrated Thunderbolt access (though it could be added through a PCIe card), nor could ECC RAM be used, taking away some of the key advantages of the new Mac Pro.<br />
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The site also discovered that because of the lack of ECC DDR3 compatibility, the unit they were building was limited to 32GB of RAM -- and that components such as the 12-core 2.7GHz Xeon processor (at $2,750) were extremely expensive for DIY builders. Further, buying dual AMD W9000 GPUs with 6GB of DDR5 VRAM (the most compatible alternative to the custom-made FirePro D700 with similar specs) added $6,800 to the cost <em>by themselves</em> ($3,400 each). The cards further featured enormous heatsinks and fans, and the system itself required $100 more in fans to cool it than with Apple's design. The team were mystified as to how the D700s could go without heatsinks, but noted that the Apple video cards might be difficult to be upgraded due to proprietary connectors -- a potential long-term downside compared to the PC build.<br />
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<div align='center'><img src='' style='max-width: 100%;' alt='' border='0' pagespeed_url_hash="2567229789"/></div><br />
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Another stumbling block was the lack of motherboard support for the PCIe SSDs like the ones Apple uses, which it says are more than double the speed of traditional SATA3 SSDs. The cost of two 512GB units to match the 1TB included in the top-end Mac Pro adds another $900, exacerbating the already over-budget cost of the core components.<br />
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To be fair, the site noted that if the DIY builder didn't actually <em>require</em> the same workstation performance level as the Mac Pro, he or she could "get by" with using a six-core Intel Core i7 processor and a more gaming-oriented card like the Nvidia GTX 780Ti at a much-reduced cost. It might be possible to spend closer to $4,000 and get a PC that can beat the pants off an iMac, particularly for gaming -- but it would not compare to the Mac Pro, even ignoring the efficiencies and other advantages of OS X.<br />
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As mentioned, using the best quality components available (and still having to compromise on graphics, RAM limits and storage speed), the DIY PC "equivalent" to the top-end Mac Pro cost (including Windows 8 Pro) $11,631 -- more than 20 percent more than the Mac -- not including the time and skill required to assemble the machine, and the testing and debugging that would also be required. "I'm not afraid to admit that compared to the asking price of $9,599 US, the new Mac Pro seems like one heckuva deal for these components," Fung wrote at the time.<br />
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"[With the Mac Pro], everything is tested to work properly together (versus some of our unknown incompatibilities with this potential PC build), and [the Mac Pro is] a highly proprietary design that is small enough to fit into a carry on bag, with twice the amount of registered memory (32GB vs 64GB ECC). You simply can't build a smaller form factor PC that matches the Mac Pro today."<br />
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<div align='center'><img src='' style='max-width: 100%;' alt='The PC "equivalent" of a top-end Mac Pro' border='0' pagespeed_url_hash="1114252005"/><br/><span class='minor2'>The PC "equivalent" of a top-end Mac Pro</span></div><br />
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"Apple has done a great job with this machine," he added. "If your needs are specialized enough that the combinations of hardware provided by Apple fit, and you're already using OS X, then it's hard to say no to what [Apple is] offering. It is a very compelling offer for professionals using Macs who do require the precision and power of full blown workstation components."<br />
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For their own low-end PC-alike to the entry-level Mac Pro, the final cost (including Windows 8 Pro) was $4,094.64, but featured 16GB of RAM rather than Apple's 12GB, and with AMD FirePro W7000s (overclocked, however, which could prove unstable or worse) with more VRAM (4GB vs Apple's 2GB). Another $100 would add triple-antenna 802.11ac cards that the site claims offer better performance than the dual-antenna ones in the Mac Pro. The resulting PC unit, amusingly, lacks Thunderbolt entirely -- but allows for the option of future USB speed upgrades (USB 3.1 or 4, whatever they end up calling it), though nobody knows when exactly those will happen, and the new cards would represent yet another additional cost.<br />
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"I think the Apple Mac Pro, whether you like the look of it or not, whether you like Apple or OS X or not," wrote Fung, "is an extremely highly-modded and optimized PC that has very high end professional hardware, [and] that fits in a space that is no bigger than some of the larger drink sizes at 7-11 in the US." He went on to concede that the new Mac Pro "still offers an extremely compelling pricing offer, both at the low end and at the top end, that no longer carries the traditional 'Apple Tax' and in fact, is quite a good value when you compare part for part [or] spec for spec, with a PC DIY build counterpart ... with a careful selection of components that give them an advantage in pricing, the new Mac Pro stands out to be one of the least expensive ever. Well played Apple."<br />
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<div align='center'><img src='' style='max-width: 100%;' alt='The PC "equivalent" of the entry-level Mac Pro' border='0' pagespeed_url_hash="920916450"/><br/><span class='minor2'>The PC "equivalent" of the entry-level Mac Pro</span></div><br />
iphonerulez Dec 24, 2013 09:50 PM
But... but... but Apple doesn't innovate. Besides I'm sure it can be proved that nobody needs a configured computer exactly like the Mac Pro because it fits into such a tiny niche as to be ignored by the rest of the PC industry. To sum it up, if the rest of the industry can't match the specs then it is simply not necessary to do so. The new Mac Pro will probably be called the most single purpose workstation ever built and therefore doesn't matter to anyone outside of that sphere of intended use. The rest of the computer industry will simply downplay Apple's innovative Mac Pro design as not being considered important.
Stuke Dec 24, 2013 10:17 PM
Whatever. If you like Apple and the new Mac Pro, buy it, use it, enjoy it.
Charles Martin Dec 24, 2013 10:22 PM
Admittedly it's something of a Final Cut only machine at the moment (in terms of taking full advantage of it), but what's amazing about this machine is its ability to grow into something so much more, which I predict will happen very quickly.
Jubeikiwagami Dec 24, 2013 11:52 PM
Good. Now you haters can STFU!
prl99 Dec 25, 2013 12:29 AM
Actually, it's much more than simply a FCP machine. It's already twice as fast as the previous generation Mac Pro, ready for scientists and other power users to exploit. It doesn't come with the burden of a monitor (like the iMac) and has the ability to run circles around any other standard issue desktop computer. I'm still waiting to see how fast it can run the supercomputer500 tests. There's a lot of government, corporate, and higher educational users most people never hear about who will get this Cray in a breadbox and show its power.
Charles Martin Dec 25, 2013 01:42 AM
Good points, prl99!
Foe Hammer Dec 25, 2013 02:08 AM
Now we need to see some benchmarks of Windows running on it to really tick them off.*

*My apologies in advance to the actual Mac Pro that must temporarily endure the ordeal.
prl99 Dec 25, 2013 09:22 AM
@Foe, using Boot Camp should be straightforward but I wonder if Apple will include graphics drivers for the Apple-only FirePro D-series GPUs (articles yesterday say AMD officially announced these chips but they haven't listed them on their website as of last night). If not, I'm not sure how Windows will even use them. Apple seems to be using the second GPU for dedicated computing and I'm sure that's within OSX, something Windows users would need to configure on their own. Yes, I'm sure Windows would fly but I've also read about Windows gaming DIY builds using higher end AMD FirePro cards so some Windows user might be able to show benchmarks faster than the Mac Pro but I doubt any OTS Windows PC could match the Mac Pro.
jpellino Dec 25, 2013 10:30 AM
Here's my surprised face. This is an extreme case version of what we see all the time with feature-matching macs. Yes, you can buy a $300 HP. It's a well-built unit but get it to the specs of a MacBook Pro and you're within $50 of a mac. In our family, we've gone through three $300 PC notebooks over the life of my $900 MacBook.
climacs Dec 26, 2013 11:16 AM
what jpellino said. I have a 2001 G4 which I still use daily and I can cut standard def video on it with ease. I even use it to assist in renders with certain video and 3D programs.

I have a 2008 MBP I use daily to cut HD video. I have a Mac Pro (Nehalem) which is 4 yrs old and still does a great job for me doing video and photography. There's a guy on FB who is a professional video editor, still rocking a 2006 Mac Pro.

It's too soon for me to get this new Mac Pro, won't even think about it until Adobe re-writes their code for AE to properly take advantage of the GPU and multicores. 4K video is still a very expensive, bleeding-edge game for most video pros. The new Mac Pro can handle multiple streams of 4K video, this beast will futureproof you for years to come. You won't have to buy a new computer every two to three years like you do with a Windows PC.
mac_in_tosh Dec 26, 2013 11:36 AM
jpellino - I read you comment and have a question. I've always used Macs at home and plan to continue doing so, but it does seem, when comparing e.g. a MacBook Pro with a PC machine, that the specs can be similar for much less cost on the PC side. In these days, the components in the Mac are generic i.e. same processor, same memory, same hard drives etc. I'm not trying to start any PC vs. Mac flame here, but really, what exactly about the Mac makes it worth the significantly higher price? After buying my MBPro in 2011, I saw ads for PC machines with the same i5 processor, more RAM, a larger hard drive and a larger screen for several hundred dollars less. So in what sense do you mean they don't match the specs of the Mac? Are you talking about just software?
pottymouth Dec 26, 2013 01:15 PM
"...what exactly about the Mac makes it worth the significantly higher price?"

The operating system. Assuming comparable hardware, I would happily pay 200–300% more for a machine that runs OS X over one that runs Windows.
Steve Wilkinson Dec 26, 2013 03:35 PM
The problems here are a couple of things (and note, I'm a HUGE Mac fan!):

First, I think this article is correct, that matching 'apples to apples' (pardon the pun) specs, it's a great deal. The problem, as the article correctly notes, is that for far less you could build a box that would be quite fast enough for a huge segment of even the pro market, let alone the prosumer market.

So, second, that leaves two markets... the 'true' pros who need the very fastest, and the prosumers who want OSX and a machine from Apple (and would never build a Hackintosh). It's perfect for those prosumers, and given the specs, is nicely priced (though maybe a bit steep for them?) But, the problem I see is what those 'true' pros need to give up, even compared to the previous gen Mac Pros. Will THEY do so? Will they switch to non-CUDA apps, or will those apps update to OpenCL? Will they buy all new TB or USB based input equipment? etc. Might they just spend the extra money and get 2x the CPU power, card slots, and GPU upgradability... and just suffer through Windows?
Arne_Saknussemm Dec 26, 2013 09:23 PM
Define iNatic:

" I would happily pay 200–300% more for a machine that runs OS X over one that runs Windows."
Spheric Harlot Dec 27, 2013 04:27 AM
Quote, Originally Posted by Arne_Saknussemm (Post 4262435)
Define iNatic:

" I would happily pay 200–300% more for a machine that runs OS X over one that runs Windows."
You mean "Windows over OS X", obviously. At least pretend like you come here for the articles before posting shit that makes you look reeeeelly reeeellly stoooopid.
Steve Wilkinson Dec 30, 2013 03:29 AM
@ Spheric Harlot - It seemed quite clear to me. While the new Mac Pro isn't as bad of a deal as most critics thought (in fact, it's a rather good deal, components considered), Arne_Saknassemm would gladly pay 2x to 3x more to run OSX. I would too. I've got to be honest, as much as I like Apple's quality, if it weren't for OSX, I'd certainly be building a cheaper box.
Spheric Harlot Dec 30, 2013 12:59 PM
No, Arne is a troll who trots out decades-old tripe that he thinks characterizes Mac Users, despite current evidence (in this very thread) that you'd have to be a total moron NOT to buy a Mac if you were looking at this market segment.
Steve Wilkinson Jan 9, 2014 02:14 AM
@ Spheric Harlot - Sorry, I somehow missed the 'Define iNatic' part.
BLAZE_MkIV Jan 9, 2014 08:30 AM
Here's my speculation, none of the graphics cards manufacturers wanted to make lightning bolt compatible cards so Apple was looking at custom boards to do it. It also means a custom motherboard and socket to route the video back off the graphics card. That's 90% of the work right there. Only instead of trying to introduce an new standard for it they released it. You may see the video card connector get submitted to a standards body.
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