MacPro OctoCore Can Be Duplicated While Saving $4,078

The Mac Pro OctoCore Is 75% More Expensive Than Its Equivalent Components

I was a Mac evangelist for many years. Throughout the full decade of 1986 to 1996 I was personally responsible for the sale of several hundred Macs while acting as impromptu consultant to associates and friends. Then, Windows 95 came out and it was "shrug" why fight it any more? I defected to the Wintel side and never looked back.

When Apple adopted Intel CPUs my attention was once again piqued. I have absolutely no qualms in stating categorically that Apple has a superior OS all-round. OS X Tiger will happily dine on any Vista you can feed it and will just pick its teeth with my beloved XP Pro. As soon as OS X Leopard comes in, the fat lady will have sung the entire Ring Cycle and anyone who would like to dispute in Microsoft's favor can go check in directly at Lindsay Lohan's rehab center.

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Therefore, we can defuse the flamewars that I'm a Windows shill. I recognize outstanding superiority when I see it, and OS X's various permutations are what Windows Seven might aspire to be, but will likely fall well short.

The logical question at this point would be, why don't you put your money where your mouth is and go back to Mother Apple? There is one tiny disconcerting problem that I have which has so far kept me from being Steve Jobs' only fat, middle-aged, male groupie: the price.

Macs have always been outlandishly priced. I remember arranging the sale of many Mac IIci models with their blazing 68030 25MHz CPUs, a huge 80 MB HD and 4 MB RAM for $9,000 at the time when that much money would buy you a brand new Volkswagen Fox, plus a Honda Rebel motorcycle, and still leave you enough money to take the family to a nice dinner.

Since I'm in the pre-shopping phase to retire my trusty AMD dual core and go with a system that Photoshop will finally find itself comfortable on, I decided to open the doors wide open to Macs as well. I'm after maximum performance so why not consider the Mac Pro Dual Quad Core? It's Intel Inside, so at least I know that I could always dual boot to the familiar milieu of XP Pro whenever I wanted!

I decided to do the pricing comparison based on components that were either currently in stock or have their prices already fixed. The Mac OctoPro uses the Intel Xeon X5365 Clovertown 3GHz, 8MB L2 cache, TDP 150W which will not generally available as an OEM/retail part to the public for three more weeks as of the time of writing. However, there are various online retailers who are taking orders with fixed pricing on this CPU, thus we can assume that I certainly wouldn't be paying any more, and if I really wanted to wait three extra weeks, likely a bit less!

So the first thing I did was march on over to www.apple.com and go to configure the Mac OctoPro exactly as I want it:

Mac Pro

  • Part Number: Z0D8
  • Two 3.0GHz Quad-Core Intel Xeon
  • 16GB (8 x 2GB) RAM
  • Two 750GB 7200-rpm Serial ATA 3Gb/s
  • ATI Radeon X1900 XT 512MB (2 x dual-link DVI)
  • One 16x SuperDrive
  • Apple Keyboard and Mighty Mouse - U.S. English
  • Accessory kit
  • Mac OS X - U.S. English

The total came to a rather hair raising $9,543. Nearly ten grand was a little bit more than I had budgeted for (I'd say!), so it was time to let my mouse go for a little ride across the wilderness of the online retailer price lists. I was going to duplicate, as closely as feasible, this exact Mac OctoPro configuration with off the shelf pieces to see where the prices line up.

Put your poison pens away and shelve the vitriol. I am well aware that I couldn't exactly match the specs of the Mac Pro, as it uses a proprietary motherboard, and various other bits and bobs. This is not a precise to the nth degree comparison where we're going to argue about FSB speeds and FireWire throughput all day ad nauseum. I am well aware that this is comparing Apples and Oranges. I am simply configuring off the shelf components to approximate as closely as reasonably feasible the MacPro specs. So let's go on with the configuration of the Orange:

The first thing is to deal with the currently unobtainium Intel Xeon X5365 Clovertown. The announced bin pricing for this CPU is $1,179, however there are various online retailers that will take your money today and ship the CPU in three weeks. The online retailer jncs.com is one of the vendors that is pre-selling it at the firm price of $1,285, so that's the price we'll use. Yes, I could wait three weeks and do the comparison with in stock sub $1,200 X5365s, but my Attention Deficit Disorder wouldn't allow me. Oooh. Look over there! A kitten!

I'll bite the bullet and go with Intel's much hyped V8 setup which uses the S5000XVNSAS motherboard. It has some really impressive specs:

Chipset: Intel 5000X; 1,333MHz FSB; Max memory: 32GB ECC FB-DIMMs; Ports: 4 SAS/SATA, 2 SATA, 2 Gigabit Ethernet, 4 USB; Slots: 1 PCI-E x16, 2 PCI-E x4, 1 PCI-X 100/133, 1 PCI-X 100.

However, it's also quite pricy, and the best price I found was $571 at costcentral.com. Could I have saved myself some serious money by opting for the Asus DSBV-D Dual Socket 771 Intel 5000V SSI CEB 1.1 Motherboard from newegg.com at $350? Definitely. But let's go with the pricier and more capable mobo so that no one can accuse me of lowballing the Orange configuration to skew the comparison.

It's RAM time, so hold on to your wallets. The Xeons are 771 socket server CPUs so there is no way to get away from using buffered RAM. I know, I'm not crazy about ECC RAM either, but if you want to run an X5365 whether in your Apple or Orange, you're going to have to put up with it. So let's go with Kingston 2GB 240-Pin ECC Registered DDR2 667 (PC2 5300) Server Memory from newegg.com at $133.

Now let's add on the video card. The Asus EAX1900XT/HTVDP/256M Radeon X1900XT 256MB 256-bit GDDR3 PCI Express x16 Video Card is $270 at newegg.com. Back to newegg.com we go for Seagate Barracuda 7200.10 ST3750640AS 750GB 7200 RPM SATA 3.0Gb/s OEM Hard Drive at $210.

Two X5365s sucking up 150W each, plus the video and two big HDs is going to require some serious Power Supply capacity. For some reason known only to a man who has several hundred identical turtlenecks and trousers hanging in his closet, Apple seems to not want to divulge the rating of its PSUs, but I was able to dig up that the Mac Pro PSU Part Number 661-4001 is rated at 900W. There are lots of powerful PSUs on the market, but I do have to admit that I have a soft spot for Enermax as the 420W I'm currently running is sweeeeeeeeet, so let's go with the Enermax Galaxy EGX1000EWL ATX12V/ EPS12V/ BTX 1000W Power Supply which gives us an extra 100W to play with and comes from our good friends at newegg.com for $330.

You might have noticed that I rely on newegg.com a lot. It's not because I'm lazy, but due to experience. I've rarely found their prices to be more than about 1% or so above the absolute cheapest competition, and newegg.com has a great street reputation, a generous RMA allowance, and is overall a really reliable online vendor. Just go on any tech forum and ask around to see where the gurus buy and most will say newegg.com. End of commercial. Mr. New Egg, send me a check!

Let's not get crazy and price out mice, etc. Let's just allow $100 for a basic garden variety case with a 16X drive, cheapo keyboard and mouse, and let the purchaser upgrade to a Cooler Master CSX 830 CX-830DSPD-01 Blue Aluminum ATX Full Tower for $1,000 just because it has that "cool skull graphic on the front."

Since we're buying all these goodies, we can take advantage of the Microsoft Windows XP Professional With SP2B 1 OEM Pack E85-04741 at the cut rate price of $140 again from newegg.com. If you have to ask why not Vista, that may be because I refuse to load Gestapoware onto my PC.

Pricing time!

Hal Orange OctoCore

  • Part Number: HAL9000-8
  • Two 3.0GHz Quad-Core Intel Xeon: 2 x $1,285 = $2,570
  • S5000XVNSAS Motherboard: $571
  • 16GB (8 x 2GB) RAM: 8 x $133 = $1,064
  • Two 750GB 7200-rpm Serial ATA 3Gb/s: 2 x $210 = $420
  • ATI Radeon X1900 XT 512MB (2 x dual-link DVI): $270
  • One 16x Drive, Keyboard, Mouse, PSU, Case: $430
  • Windows XP Pro: $140

Total price? A jaw-dropping $5,465. A savings of $4,078.

Don't get me wrong, the Mac does have some nifty features, a nice looking case, and will let you run OS X, but is that worth $4,078? How many ways can you say fugeddaboutit?

Charging a premium of very close to 75% because of the name on the box is sheer unadulterated highway robbery. Let the Mac Evangelists scream and yell and turn blue about how they have the far superior system. I'll be working on the Hal Orange OctoCore, buy a new Samsung PPM63M6H 63 inch Plasma Television, and still have enough money left over for 79 bags of popcorn.

AHA you say, but the price difference is only that high on the rarefied top end models? Check out my next Hub where I compare a quad core Mac Pro to an off the shelf component build. If you thought 75% was outrageous, how about 153%?

 

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Comments 20 comments

DAVE 9 years ago

What a stupid article. Drop the Apple-purchased RAM and HD [which add $5297 to the cost], and replace it with the 3rd party RAM/HD, and suddenly the difference is less than $500.  And MacOS X can use those 8 CPU's WAY better than WinXP...


Hal Licino profile image

Hal Licino 9 years ago from Toronto Author

You're just helping me prove my point that Apple engages in outrageous over-pricing. That's the whole point of the article if you'd bothered to read it. Besides, how many Mac Pro users buy their computers stripped? You can't order one from Apple minus RAM and HD anyway. Why should anyone care how the OS accesses the multiple cores unless they're mad enough to run 8 active programs at a time, all in the background? There is no difference in the multicore implementation of Photoshop on either OS.  Dave, a big fat DUH to ya! :)


Nathan 9 years ago

You made one mistake. Apple uses FB-DIMM ram, which is different from the SDRAM (I believe) that you listed. Compare using off the shelf FB ram and the price difference is likely to be much smaller.


Bob 9 years ago

I think Dave's comment was in line. Apple doesn't so much overprice the basic hardware as they do the accessories (bigger hard-drive, more RAM). I've just been in the market for a new Mac Pro and was looking around, and Apple charges about twice the going rate for RAM and better than twice the rate for HDs. This has been known for ages, I've been advising poeple for almost 20 years not the get their RAM or HDs from Apple, just the CPU. If you get RAM from Apple, you get at most a 3 year warranty, if you get it from a 3rd party you can usually get a lifetime warranty.

None of this is to say that I don't like Apple. I love their hardware, and I think their OS is the most usable out there, but I dislike how closed the platform is, and what a stranglehold they have over hardware repairs, and drivers. Now that they're on intel it should be straight forward to swap a graphics card but you're still stuck with a very limited selection.


Hal Licino profile image

Hal Licino 9 years ago from Toronto Author

Hi, Nathan. Please read the paragraph that starts "It's RAM time, so hold on to your wallets." That is definitely FB-DIMM.

Hi, Bob. I know of no way to get only a CPU from Apple without RAM or HD. Are you advising to buy one with a basic configuration, throw out what's there and start fresh?


Bob 9 years ago

That's exactly what I'm saying, at least with a Mac Pro, buy the minimum configuration as far as RAM and hard drive go. As for RAM, the MP can take up to 16GB (8 slots). And you don't have to throw out the Hard Drive as there're 4 Hard Drive slots, and both the optical drive bays have SATA ports as well as PATA. If you really wanted to max out everything, I'd just pull the RAM and HardDrive and throw them in the box the MacPro came in, as you'll need them (at least the RAM) if you take it in to get it serviced.


Hal Licino profile image

Hal Licino 9 years ago from Toronto Author

Bob, as an old time Mac guy I'm very familiar with the "put the configuration back together for the serviceman" deal. It's absolutely ridiculous, but it seems it's the only way to keep your warranty together. Fortunately Apple's added some RAM slots in the last decade as I still have a shoebox full of 1MB RAM SIMMs pulled out of old Macs when upgrading to 4MB stix! I'm sure someday the Smithsonian will want to display them! :)

The problem is that the numbers still don't add up. Let's take my next Hub's sampling and strip them both down to their underwear:

Mac Pro

Part Number: Z0D8

Two 2.66GHz Dual-Core Intel Xeon

1GB (2 x 512MB)

250GB 7200-rpm Serial ATA

ATI Radeon X1900 XT 512MB (2 x dual-link DVI)

One 16x SuperDrive

Apple Keyboard and Mighty Mouse - U.S. English

Accessory kit

Mac OS X - U.S. English

$2,748

Now let's go through the parts bin:

Hal Orange QuadCore

Part Number: HAL9000-4

One 2.4GHz Quad-Core Intel: $289

Asus P5K-VM Motherboard: $117

1GB (2 x 512MB) RAM: $45

One 250GB 7200-rpm Serial ATA: $63

ATI Radeon X1900 XT 512MB (2 x dual-link DVI): $270

One 16x Drive, Keyboard, Mouse, PSU, Case: $229

Windows XP Pro: $140

$1,036

That's the biggest percentage spread yet! See the caveats in the next Hub, but how can anyone possibly strip these systems down further? The bottom line is that Apple way, way, WAY overprices their hardware, they always have since the John Sculley days, and will likely continue to do so until consumers force them to get in line!


Bruno 9 years ago

Hal, you're not consistent here (in your last comment), where you should have stuck with the octocore config you used in your article. If you did it would have proven Bob's case! Useless to say that I agree with Bob and did just exactly what he suggested: buy a stripped Mac Pro from Apple (with absolute minimal RAM/HD and get these from 3rd party vendors. I now have a Mac Pro with a 3GHz octocore, 5GB RAM (1GB original + 4GB 3rd party) and 2,750 GB HD (2x1T + 1x500G + the original 2G) for just 5000 US$! I'm sure you can't do that much better with your Orange!


Hal Licino profile image

Hal Licino 9 years ago from Toronto Author

I'm not so sure, Bruno. Let your fingers do the walking through NewEgg, and you should shave at least a good grand off of an equivalent!


Benjamin 8 years ago

No, buy the stock configuration and buy the RAM and larger capacity drives from ANY other store at the regular retail costs. Or, instead of ordering that configuration from Apple fins a reseller that does a cheaper configuration with non-Apple components.

Order from Apple is not the be all and end all.


Hal Licino profile image

Hal Licino 8 years ago from Toronto Author

However, keep in mind that does void the Apple warranty.


Nathan 7 years ago

So, I decided to do this for myself and you're full of crap. For my comparison, I decided to compare PC parts to a stock Mac Pro. This is spec for spec. No cheating out here.

Mac Pro:

2x 2.8 GHz Intel ““Harpertown” Xeon processors

2x1GB 800MHz FB-DIMM

320GB SATA drive

ATI Radeon HD 2600 XT

16x SuperDrive

Apple Keyboard+Mouse

Mac OS X 1.5 Leopard

Total Cost: $2,799

Now, onto the PC (everything from Newegg):

SUPERMICRO MBD-X7DWA-N Dual LGA 771 Intel 5400 Extended ATX Server Motherboard

2x Intel Xeon E5440 Harpertown 2.83GHz LGA 771 80W Quad-Core Processor

Crucial 2GB (2 x 1GB) 240-Pin DDR2 FB-DIMM DDR2 800

Western Digital Caviar SE16 WD3200KSRTL 320GB 7200 RPM SATA

POWERCOLOR HD2600XT 256MB GDDR4 Radeon HD 2600XT 256MB

LG 22X DVD±R DVD Burner with LightScribe Black SATA

APPLE Ultra-Thin Keyboard - Wired USB (I like Apple’s aluminum keyboard. Our Windows Network Admin will tell you the exact same thing.)

Logitech RX1000 Mouse

Microsoft Windows Vista Ultimate SP1 64-bit for System Builders

StarTech 2 Port FireWire 800 + 1 Port FireWire 400 (Remember, the Mac Pro has Firewire 800. Every Mac and PC price comparison I see forgets this.)

SUPERMICRO SC733I-450B Black Pedestal Mid-Tower & Workstation chassis

Total Cost: $2,676.89

Ok, so the Mac is $123 dollars more. And I would gladly pay that. The ONLY thing I see that the PC has over the Mac is the DVD drive speed. On the other hand, the PC above has only two PCI Express x16 slots (both of which are filled) where as the Mac Pro has four. Second, it seems I forgot to factor in Bluetooth in the PC price because the Mac Pro has that built in too. Third, I would take Leopard over Vista or XP any day. Fourth, the Mac Pro has the easiest access to the RAM and HDDs of anything I’ve seen in my life.

Also, opening the Mac Pro to upgrade the RAM and HDD and anything in the PCI slots does not void the warranty (given you don’t break anything by being a moron and trying to shove a IDE drive into the SATA slot or something). Only PC manufactures pull that “open the case and it’s void” game.

Now, I'll admit, I might be missing something here. But then again, I did this exact same type of price comparing a year ago and found the same thing, which lead to me buying my first Mac. I haven't looked back at Windows since.


Hal Licino profile image

Hal Licino 7 years ago from Toronto Author

First of all this Hub is nearly 2 years old and reflects the pricing back then. Secondly, looking at your build, you can shave at least a grand off of it by substituting other components that will work just about as well. Besides, all of this is ancient history as the i7 has superceded the Harpertowns.


Torley 7 years ago

Hal, that's a cute cat you've got there. =^_^=

I get excited at seeing better Hackintosh possibilities — while not "the best of both worlds", such interest points to the excellence of Mac OS X at a price point that more people can afford. Including netbooks.


Hal Licino profile image

Hal Licino 7 years ago from Toronto Author

Hi, Torley! What can I say, I just love my kittykat! :)

Hackintoshes haven't really made as much headway as I had expected. After raising all sorts of hell in the media, Psystar seems to have essentially faded away into insignificance. The Apple OS is set up in such a very particular way that although it is effectively possible to run it on generic hardware, by the time you take into consideration all the hassle, it's really not worth it.


Sushi 7 years ago

Wow. you di a good job smacking people down. Make me sad I bought this sorry mac.


Hal Licino profile image

Hal Licino 7 years ago from Toronto Author

I'm not trying to smack people down, but since this Hub was written I have purchased a Core i7 920 with VelociRaptor and 12GB RAM. This sucka FLIES! And it's still cheaper than a much slower MacPro version, by more than 50%!


A Guy 7 years ago

Just wanted to point out that adding third-party hard drives or RAM to the Apple configuration specifically does NOT void the warranty. (I still agree on the price-gouging for options, however. And good luck if you want to "just" get an upgraded video card...)


Hal Licino profile image

Hal Licino 7 years ago from Toronto Author

"Adding third-party hard drives or RAM to the Apple configuration specifically does NOT void the warranty": That is one of the great time-honored Apple urban myths. I dare you, double dare you, triple dare you to take your new Mac which has mysteriously fried to your friendly local dealer with extra RAM and HDs and have them do anything other than laugh at you. Apple leaves the determination to the dealers and most dealers will tell you that you have just kissed your warranty goodbye.


Hal Licino profile image

Hal Licino 7 years ago from Toronto Author

We need to import some of that to the Northern Hemisphere, along with those great meat pies sold next to the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary! :)

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