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Cost and Value of 2013 Mac Pro

I’ve fleshed out the start of my review of the Apple 2013 Mac Pro.

As I looked into pricing (Apple shows only the base configuration), it looks to me that the “sweet spot” 6-core model is going to run close to $5000 with the 1TB PCIe flash option, and that’s before adequate memory (16GB is hugely inadequate for my needs, I’ll be getting my memory at OWC). The 512GB PCIe flash should have a more palatable price, but with only one slot the choice has to be made up-front (or replace it later at additional cost).

Clearly the 2013 Mac Pro is going to be a very expensive machine whose total system cost is likely to be in the $7K to $11K range for a fully configured machine with storage, display, AppleCare, backup drives, etc. Factoring in the higher cost of Thunderbolt peripherals (no internal expansion), the costs add up quickly.

The current-model 6-core remains very attractive (and proven), and while I intend to test the new Mac Pro, the pricing makes me flinch (I hope to borrow more than one model for testing). I ask a critical question for myself and others: will the new model provide a worthwhile boost to my photographic workflow—faster yes, but will it actually speed my work in a serious way? In short, the value proposition remains unclear until I can actually test the 2013 Mac Pro against my existing 12-core 3.33 GHz workstation.

John M writes:

The value of the older machines is even better when one considers the upgrade path for the older models. For example, a used Mac Pro (2009) 2.66GHz 4-Core can be purchased for ~ $900 at OWC; By upgrading the firmware (not sure if OWC will do this, but there are websites that show how), the 4,1 Mac essentially becomes a 5,1 Mac which means the hardware upgrade to 6-core is now possible. For the DIY upgraders, a 6-core W3680 6-core 3.33GHz processor is ~ $600 and 32 GB of memory from OWC is ~ $400. As you often point out, there is no need to upgrade the video card for photography, so one can have the functional equivalent of a new Mac Pro 6-core for ~ $1,900! In my case I found one on eBay with the 3.46 GHz W3690 6-core & 32 GB memory and got it on a late Sunday night auction for $1525. I can add a boot volume, scratch volume and a small data volume using OWC Mercury Accelsior_E2 cards and still come out about the same cost as a new “bare” 6-core 2010 version.

The soon to be released 2013 Mac Pro is an interesting machine from the visual design point of view (especially for those who don’t have the $$ to buy one J). It seems to continue the trend that Apple has in creating laptop-like desktops. After all the iMacs, as nice as they are for many home users, are essentially laptops with a big screen. The new Mac Pro is probably a good hardware engineering case study as it really does reduce the high-end desktop computer down to its minimum form. It is of course made possible by the fact that Intel and others are creating lower power consuming chips which therefore produce less heat. And one may remember that the debate over whether a computer should be user modifiable or tamper proof goes all the way back to the days of the first Apple computer. My guess is that the target audiences for the new 2013 Mac Pro are (1) Industrial Design schools – as a case study not as a computer tool, and (2) large design firms who will have everyone connected to servers and therefore a small form factor on-the-desk-top computer actually is a benefit. Clearly, small businesses and the individual professional are better served by the old machines or iMacs.

MPG: The existing 4-core mode is a deal that remains a very capable machine.

OWC does not update firmware updates or offer 6-core CPU conversion on top of updated firmware, but does offer other CPU upgrades. It’s a question of being able to stand behind the work; and those hacks are probably OK, but best left to individual tinkerers.

The new Mac Pro is a very capable machine, but one could ponder the question: if the 2010 Westmere Mac Pro were given a refresh with the same CPUs and with USB3 and Thunderbolt, how many people would opt for the new model?

Also worth noting is that the new model is a single-chip CPU; no dual CPU option, e.g., for really high-end use one might want a 16-core or 24-core Mac Pro (32 or 48 virtual cores). That Apple has not done so leaves a slim hope for another beefier model.

Stephen K writes:

I, too, have waited an additional 18 months (since announcement) for this MacPro upgrade, and now am seriously considering switching my desktop machine to a Windows box.

My primary two apps--Lightroom and Photoshop--are essentially the same regardless of platform. I can buy a high-end windows box with a desktop form factor (rather than elegant trash can) from Falcon Northwest of Mainshift Gear (or others) with a custom configuration and high-end components. I'm really wanting native USB3 and a faster processor. I don't need a super high-end graphics card, and I certainly don't need two of them.

All the other machines in my household are Macs, so I don't bring up this potential switch lightly. However, I'm most certainly giving it serious consideration. I'm currently running what was originally a 2009 MacPro--with its guts replaced via an OWC processor upgrade--now a 3.3 GHz Quad-core including several SSDs and 24 GB of 1066 MHz memory. It's been my workhorse for many years; however, there are obviously faster boxes out there and I would like to take advantage of one sometime soon.

Lloyd, would you be willing to consult on an "MPG Windows Desktop" or is that too far from your comfort zone? What should one do?

MPG: Yes, I consult on building Windows PC systems. And when there is a need for a dedicated workstation running specific applications alternate choices are viable for some, and mandatory for some on a cost basis.

While I cannot necessarily speak to specific graphics cards and other parts, the principles remain the same and I can speak to memory, RAID, CPU, backup strategy and so on just as well as with Macs.

Paul writes:

I saw your comments that you consult on windows computers. You may recall that you helped me configure an HP Z820 worksation at the end of last year.

The performance is great, at a cost similar to the cost of the new Mac Pro. Thanks for your help!

However, I would caution your readers considering a Windows machine about the abysmal quality control and service from HP. For about $8,000 I received a machine with multiple problems. After a number of on-site service calls from incompetent pseudo-technicians, ending in totally destroying the machine when trying to replace the mother board, after much time-consuming complaining I was able to get them to ship an entirely new computer, which has worked OK. But I want to pass on that experience to your readers.

MPG: That was a very nice PC 'config', and though one anecdote is risky to generalize from, if it happens to 'you' it feels pretty crummy. I can say I’ve had no problems with any Mac Pro I’ve ever owned.

Austin L writes:

You recommend the current 6-core but what about 12-core? Local Fry’s electronics is doing great deals on 12-core machines.

Currently use a MBP 17”. All of our hd editing is done on Retinas and we will get a new Mac Pro when they come out.

However, I’m thinking about buying a current tower because we have a lot of money invested in external FW800 storage. My concern is having machines around that can read those hard drives.

MPG: the 12-core 2.4 GHz is a fine machine for many purposes including sound and video processing, file server and other server purposes. As a fast Photoshop or Lightroom and all-around system, the relatively slow clock speed is substantially less responsive for interactive work than a machine running at 2.8 or 3.2 or 3.33 GHz.

As for Firewire 800, Apple sells a $29 Thunderbolt to Firewire adapter.

Michael K writes:

I've been reading your comments on upgrades to older MacPros with interest. I have a mid 2009 Dual 2.66 Ghz, X5550 Xeons, and entertaining the idea of upgrading to a single 6-core Xeon X5690 (for now). On Oct. 27th reader John M. mentioned that a firmware upgrade to the model 4,1 can bring it up to a model 5,1 and the 6-core CPU.

Your 2011 upgrade pdate doesn't address the firmware issue so I'm wondering if you or your contacts have experience with this type of upgrade and if in your mind it's worth pursuing?

MPG: I have no experience with the hack of flashing 2009 Mac Pro firmware to 2010 status. This is not supported by Apple of course. This is a DIY / tinkerer thing that cannot be supported by a vendor, but is up to end users to be comfortable with and do on their own. Nor can I speak to the problems or lack thereof in making this conversion, and there are risks in CPU swapping (damage or improper thermal paste and so on)—best to be skilled in that area too. Here is a Mac Pro google search for firmware updating (not a recommendation of any kind).

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