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.

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  • Stas - Thursday, October 7, 2010 - link

    No need for 750W PSU in the custom build. 500W would do just fine.
    $250 for a case... only Fortress 2, otherwise, GTFO. $150 LianLi would do just fine (oh, look, brushed aluminum, too O.O lol).
    I say, you could build the custom for $1600 WITH the OS (especially if you shop around for MIR, coupons, etc.).
    Nonetheless, very useful article. As a PC builder, I will forward this to my customers :D
  • DaveGirard - Friday, October 8, 2010 - link

    If you actually put some newer GPUs in that machine and used them for rendering, you'd be cutting it too close at 500W.
  • beammeup - Thursday, October 7, 2010 - link

    So what Mac only workstation software is now out there that isnt available on a PC?

    Just wondering what the incentive is in a business environment to pay extra unless there are real tangible benefits to be had.

    Also there is more price difference than just the GFX. The Dell comes with a 3 year warranty including on site support where as the Mac only comes with 1 year (its an extra $249 to upgrade that to 3 years)
  • xype - Thursday, October 7, 2010 - link

    OS X? Apple Final Cut and Logic suites?
  • mattgmann - Thursday, October 7, 2010 - link

    nothing too special. Final Cut is the one everyone sites, but the fact is that premiere pro is just as, if not more capable. People just don't like (to learn) the interface.

    OSX is a cop-out excuse. It's just an operating system and doesn't increase productivity. In fact, it's horrific storage tools make file management a pain.
  • Stuka87 - Thursday, October 7, 2010 - link

    The MacPro (And MacBook Pro) is used heavily in audio work as well. Take a step into most recording studios and you will see a Mac being used to edit and mix the tracks.

    Final Cut is used heavily in the movie industry, as is Aperture (photos are taken of the set, colors are adjusted, and once approved, the video is adjusted to match the colors in the photo).
  • DaveGirard - Friday, October 8, 2010 - link

    No one uses Premiere in the professional world anymore. And it would just be a test of CUDA.
  • seanleeforever - Friday, October 8, 2010 - link

    final cut is pretty nice, but aperture is not a killer software.
  • jags - Friday, October 8, 2010 - link

    you really cannot argue with mac fanboys! they are pretty blind in their unwavering worship of apple. logic is NOT going to win here my friend.
  • jags - Thursday, October 7, 2010 - link

    Sorry this is a little out of context here and I apologize.
    This is a pretty good website and I come here frequently to check out new stuff. But is Anand a little obsessed with Apple or what? It seems Apple's the "only" thing he considers worth reviewing these days (for the most part). Come on, is everything else so low for you now? I know this is "anandtech" and you can write what you care about, but I am just asking.

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