The Most Upgradeable Mac

The Mac Pro's styling hasn't changed in years. We got minor improvements inside but externally there haven't been any major changes since the Power Mac G5 days:

Can you spot the difference? Going from left to right we have the Westmere Mac Pro (2010), Power Mac G5 and Nehalem Mac Pro (2009). I left the Core 2 Duo Mac Pro out of the shot because it looks identical to the Nehalem/Westmere models.

You could argue that the design works and thus doesn’t need to be updated and I’d tend to agree with you. The Mac Pro chassis is still very well compartmentalized and as a result allows for easy upgrades.

Internally the Westmere model is identical to its predecessor. Apple has made revisions to the motherboard so this isn't just a chip upgrade for the Nehalem Mac Pro, but other than that the systems look the same.

You still have the same slide out CPU/memory tray and the four removable SATA drive sleds from the Nehalem and Core 2 models. One thing I asked for in the Nehalem Mac Pro review was support for 2.5" drives, which Apple somewhat delivered with Westmere.

If you order an Apple SSD, either as an upgrade kit or with your Westmere Mac Pro you'll get a 2.5" adapter for the 3.5" drive sled. While I would've preferred something in-box for all users (since I still recommend going your own route for SSDs vs. buying them from Apple), this is at least a step in the right direction.

The only change I’d recommend is implementing a simpler PCIe retention system. The lower retention bracket works quite well, it’s the thumbscrews that hold the top of the cards in place that are bothersome. Thumbscrews are obviously preferable to regular screws, but I’d rather have something that just snaps or slides into place. Given that I’ve done a lot of Mac Pro video card swapping over the past few days I’m probably more sensitive to this than most people, but there’s no harm in seeking perfection.

Moving back outside, on the front we still have two USB 2.0 and two FireWire 800 ports. Like the previous Mac Pro there are no FireWire 400 ports and Apple has yet to embrace USB 3.0. The latter is a shame given the expected shelf life of a high end computer.

Around back the port layout is unchanged. That's three USB 2.0 ports, two FireWire 800, optical audio out and in, line in, speaker out, and two GigE ports. Apple continues to only offer a line in and not a mic-in on its "Pro" models. If you want to use a microphone with the Mac Pro you'll either need an amp or a USB mic, as the line-in port is not amplified and won't work.

Estimating the Apple Tax CPU Options & What About Sandy Bridge?
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  • mattgmann - Thursday, October 7, 2010 - link

    I understand including a nice case, as the mac case is quality. But you're right, $250 is a bit steep. There are plenty of less expensive cases that are just as nice, and some real budget cases that would be serviceable.
  • hellotyler - Thursday, October 7, 2010 - link

    If I had the money, I'd buy one of these in a second. Apple rules. In today's world though, budget is important and PC beats out Apple heartily on the mid-powered PC market. I own both Mac and Pc (side by side, my two babies) and I love them both dearly. If I had to choose a brand new super powered computer though, I'd have to go with the Mac because of the OS.
  • noiseunit - Thursday, October 7, 2010 - link

    Maybe I'm missing something here but a quick search on newegg showed a $700 difference in the price of the graphics cards, maybe thats why the dell is so expensive?
  • Stokestack - Tuesday, October 12, 2010 - link

    The Mac IS a PC. If you mean a Windows system, then say that.
  • ViperV990 - Thursday, October 7, 2010 - link

    Didn't see it mentioned in the article, so I'm assuming no, but I want to double-check: Does the Mac Pro support 3x1 Eyefinity setup?

    Also, it's a shame that they're not offering the Eyefinity 5 or 6 models as an option.
  • Porksmuggler - Thursday, October 7, 2010 - link

    Really appreciate the honest comparison to the custom built, but the Dell T5500 isn't exactly comparable. It's easy to say "other than the graphics card" but seriously:

    Apple's ATI Radeon HD 5770 1GB - $249 from Apple or $125 from Newegg

    Dell's ATI FirePro V8700 1GB - $860 from Newegg
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Thursday, October 7, 2010 - link

    It's a tough comparison to make if you really want to dive into it. The FirePro price premium is due largely to the driver work and it's tough to tell what equivalent driver work (if any) Apple has done in OS X. Either way, it does change things quite a bit and I've updated the text to reflect that there is an Apple tax that's just hidden by the GPU cost differential.

    Thanks for the comment :)

    Take care,
  • Porksmuggler - Thursday, October 7, 2010 - link

    Thanks for the update, it truly is a tough comparison.

    I think an even greater concern with both the Dell and Apple tax is that both are using what might be considered as "commodity components"; Apple certainly would be using Foxconn, and I do not know of Dell's core supplier. The point being, these components do not have the same reputation of quality and performance as those used in the custom built.

    The extent of the tax goes even further...
  • Sunburn74 - Thursday, October 7, 2010 - link

    Not sure how you managed to reach the $324 number you published in the edit in the article. The cheapest fireprov8700 I can find costs 600 flat (ebay buy it now). The difference is at least $500 once you deduct the street costs of the packaged gpu.
  • jecs - Thursday, October 7, 2010 - link

    To me the "why a Mac Pro" is I have been afraid to build myself a solid dual socket PC workstation class machine for Pro 3D modeling, rendering and compositing with Maya and Final Cut Pro. But now I am very used to some pro Apple and none Apple software and happy. So in my case my current 2.8 octacore has been very, very reliable. For graphic design I agree it gets more difficult every time to justify a dual socket machine like a Mac Pro. Why 8-12 core for illustrator or even Photoshop?, Get the fastest quadcore PC for this. But also is a matter of personal preference.

    The Mac Pro is not the fastest machine out there but not either the most expensive or exotic hardware as there are usually faster PC hardware and more specific software options and features. But, if you like me are using specific multithreaded Pro software with decent performance and like OSX, then the Mac Pro is very solid. No Mac Pro has died on me yet, they are easy to upgrade for the most common features, work very well out of the box, is reliable, offers dual socket options and no Apple tax on comparable Dell or similar workstations.

    On the other hand, even I use the Mac Pro all day long I builded a SFF quad core PC and this is the machine I am going to upgrade this year. The PC is "my back up" machine but the one that goes outside with me when I need performance, and also one very useful rendering machine.

    By the way Anand, very good article! I enjoyed very much reading through the lines, not defensive at all, not too long and I learned on some features and coments. At least to my experience as a Mac Pro user from the beginning and even from the days of the G5s.

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