It’s the fastest Mac you can buy and it's a desktop. These days, the Mac Pro is basically the un-Mac.

For years users have argued that Apple needs a standard Mac. A decent desktop that fills the $1000 - $2000 price range. Apple has refused to entertain the idea for what I can only assume are a number of reasons. At lower price points it’s difficult to justify the Apple tax, thus driving margins lower and ultimately impacting stock price. There’s also the issue of cannibalization. A standard Mac could potentially drive customers away from the iMac and into a Mac + cheap monitor configuration. From Apple’s perspective this probably harms the overall user experience (what if a customer buys an inferior display and uses it with a Mac?) and it only allows Apple to realize profit on a computer, not a computer + display.

This leaves us with the current product lineup. The Mac mini at the low end of the OS X scale, the iMac in the middle and the Mac Pro up top. If you want something high performance without an integrated display but more affordable than the Mac Pro then there’s always the Hackintosh route.

I spend all of this time talking about price because the Mac Pro isn’t cheap. Since its introduction in 2006 the Mac Pro lineup starts at $2499:

Historical Look at the Mac Pro
  Late 2006 Early 2008 Early 2009 Mid 2010
CPU 2 x Xeon 5150 (2.66GHz - 2C/2T) 2 x Xeon E5462 (2.8GHz - 4C/4T) 1 x Xeon W3520 (2.66GHz - 4C/8T) 1 x Xeon W3530 (2.8GHz - 4C/8T)
Memory 2 x 512MB DDR2-667 FB-DIMMs 2 x 1GB DDR2-800 3 x 1GB DDR3-1066 3 x 1GB DDR3-1066
Graphics GeForce 7300 GT Radeon HD 2600 XT GeForce GT 120 Radeon HD 5770 1GB
Hard Drive 250GB 320GB 640GB 1TB
Optical 6X DL SuperDrive 8X DL SuperDrive 18X DL SuperDrive 18x DL SuperDrive
Prices $2499 $2799 $2499 $2499

The specs have of course improved tremendously year over year. The Mac Pro was born after Apple decided to migrate to Intel based CPUs. It started with a dual-socket Conroe based Xeon, later saw an upgrade to Clovertown and then in 2009 moved to Nehalem. This summer Apple updated the hardware to Westmere, Intel’s current 32nm architecture.

While there were only two configurations for the Mac Pro (4 and 8 core), Westmere adds a third model: a 12-core Mac Pro priced at $4999. Of course there are build to order options in between all three of them.

Mid-2010 Mac Pro Lineup
  Quad-Core 8-Core 12-Core
CPU 1 x Xeon W3530 (2.8GHz - 4C/8T) 2 x Xeon E5620 (2.4GHz - 4C/8T) 2 x Xeon X5650 (2.66GHz - 6C/12T)
Memory 3 x 1GB DDR3-1066 6GB DDR3-1066 6GB DDR3-1333
Graphics Radeon HD 5770 1GB ATI Radeon HD 5770 1GB ATI Radeon HD 5770 1GB
Hard Drive 1TB 1TB 7200RPM SATA 1TB 7200RPM SATA
Optical 18x DL SuperDrive 18x DL SuperDrive 18x DL SuperDrive
Prices $2499 $3499 $4999

Estimating the “Apple Tax”

Despite the high cost of entry, historically the Apple tax has been nonexistent on the Mac Pro. I shopped around Dell and HP’s websites to see if I could find similarly configured systems to the new Mac Pro. For the most part Apple was priced identically if not cheaper than Dell and HP for both the single and dual-socket Mac Pros:

Estimating the Apple Tax on the 2010 Mac Pro
  Apple Mac Pro Dell Precision T5500 Custom Built
CPU 2 x Xeon E5620 (2.4GHz quad-core 12MB L3) 2 x Xeon E5620 (2.4GHz quad-core 12MB L3) 2 x Xeon E5620 (2.4GHz quad-core 12MB L3)
Memory 6GB DDR3-1066 6GB DDR3-1333 Kingston 6GB DDR3-1333
Graphics ATI Radeon HD 5770 1GB ATI FirePro V8700 1GB Sapphire Radeon HD 5770 1GB
Hard Drive 1TB 7200RPM SATA 1TB 7200RPM SATA WD Caviar Black 1TB 7200RPM SATA
Optical 18x DL SuperDrive 16X DVD +/- RW LG 24X DVD +/- RW
Notes $249 for 3-year warranty  3 year warranty standard Includes Corsair Obsidian 700D case at $249.99, Antec 750W PSU, ASUS Z8NA-D6C Motherboard at $259.99
Prices

$3499 + $249 for 3 year warranty

$3748

$3895 $1752.90 + OS

The Dell comes with a more expensive video card since there wasn’t an option for a Radeon HD 5770 class part. Other than that the two systems are similarly configured and there’s no real price premium for the Mac. You can obviously save a ton of money if you don’t need a dual-socket, eight-core beast but if you’re buying in this class of products Apple is price competitive. This isn’t anything new. I ran the same comparison in our first Mac Pro review and came out with similar results. There’s effectively no “Apple tax” on the Mac Pro.

Update: Dell doesn't offer a Radeon HD 5770, instead you get a much more expensive FirePro V8700 graphics card. If deduct the street price for the graphics card from each machine, the Mac Pro ends up being $324 more expensive than the Dell. The Apple tax is there, but masked by the cheaper GPU.

Update 2: There's one more key difference in the specs. The Dell comes with a 3 year warranty vs. Apple's  1  year warranty. To get 3 years from Apple you need to purchase the $249 Apple Care add-on. Also, as many have pointed out, Dell can offer significant discounts over the phone. Apple can offer large discounts as well if you are an educational or business customer.

Where you can save a ton of money building your own however. A quick look through Newegg gave us a similar configuration to the Apple and Dell systems for $1612.91 plus the cost of the OS. 

The Most Upgradeable Mac
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  • tipoo - Thursday, October 7, 2010 - link

    Sigh...For something aimed at content creation professionals, for something with up to 12 cores of epic performance...Apple sure likes to skimp on video memory. For instance, Mudbox will give you warnings and also slow to a crawl on the amount of video memory Apple provides, and your upgrade options are limited. 1GB is an improvement over last gen, but only squeaks by for high end graphics work. To make things worse, there are no build to order graphics options over 1GB.

    I guess people in that situation who don't need (or can't afford) a workstation class card will have to wait for a third party Mac graphics card with 2GB or more video memory.
    Reply
  • AnnonymousCoward - Thursday, October 7, 2010 - link

    Anand, I think you have a future in fashion show photography. Reply
  • chemist1 - Thursday, October 7, 2010 - link

    Anand writes, in addressing one possible way in which this Mac might soon be obsoleted, "With the arrival of Sandy Bridge imminent, you might ask - why buy a Mac Pro today? And I might answer, Sandy Bridge isn't imminent for everybody."

    But isn't there a way in which the new Mac Pro is already obsoleted: the lack of onboard SATA III (6Gb/s) support? Given the importance of I/O for overall system performance, given that SSD cards are already capable of saturating SATA II connections, given that SSD cards should continue to increase rapidly in performance, capacity, and affordability, wouldn't one want to hold off buying a Mac Pro until it offers SATA III support (or something comparable to SATA III)—particularly also given that these desktops should have relatively long lifetimes?

    Given Anand's sophistication about SSDs, I'm surprised no mention of this issue was made in the review—or am I missing something?
    Reply
  • Nadav2010MP - Friday, October 8, 2010 - link

    Sandy Bridge won't be out in XEON until if we are lucky... end of 2011- beginning 2012.. Sandy Bridge for consumer is on its way to being out now, but the server line of sandy bridge won't be until at least Q4 2011 to early Q1 2012. By then the mac pro might even be EOL, as it seems that Apple really is moving away from the pro-market and into an IPHONE/IPAD type of company. Reply
  • chemist1 - Friday, October 8, 2010 - link

    Nadav2010MP: Unless there's some necessary connection between Sandy Bridge and Sata III (and I don't believe that SATA III is explicitly part of the Sandy Bridge specifications, but please correct me if I'm wrong), I think you've misunderstood my question. I wasn't asking about Sandy Bridge. Rather, I was just using Sandy Bridge as an example to ask: why mention only Sandy Bridge in discussing future potential obsolescence, when there appears to be a significantly a bigger obsolescence issue--the lack of SATA III? Reply
  • inzane - Thursday, October 7, 2010 - link

    Any reason a similar configured PC running Windows 7 64bit was not included in the Photoshop CS4 test? Would like to see if there is a difference between Mac CS4 32bit vs Windows 7 CS4 64bit . Would the Win7 version benefit form the extra Ram, since a 32bit program only see 4 gigs? Reply
  • Nadav2010MP - Friday, October 8, 2010 - link

    Dear Anandtech,

    Thank you for posting a review of the 2010 Mac Pro.. By now you have guessed that the 2010 mac pro is nothing more than a 2009 just with a updated firmware using the same logic board and same fans, and case design.. The GPUS also bring a difference, but not by much as the new GPUS work in all the Mac Pros 2010- down to 2006 :) But, this isn't the reason for my post.. I am about to tell you how I upgraded to the 2010 without having to shell out 4000.00 for a 6-core.. FIRST and foremost a minute or two about the CPUS...

    The 2010 Mac Pro uses the following CPUS for its single-quad/6-core:

    w3530 - 2.8/1066
    w3565 - 3.2/1066
    w3680 - 3.33/1333 - WE CAN ALSO ADD THAT according to Intel, the w3680 can use the following memory: 800 mhz DDR3/1066 mhz DDR3, and 1333 mhz DDR3..

    However, here is where it gets interesting.. The following bloomfield processors allow for 1333 mhz memory:

    w3570
    w3580 - This is the processor I currently have with my 2010 set up. And yes, it supports 800/1066/1333 I will post a pic of my w3580 supporting 1333 mhz using a screen shot of a test 1GB 1333 chip under the new 2010 parts..

    Now for the great news: You don't have to spend 4000.00 to enjoy a 6-core 2010 mac pro... in fact, you don't have to spend much at all.. Here is what I did.. Given now that Foxconn makes all the components for Apple instead of Intel(2006,2007,2008 mac pro logic boards), the backplane logic board that the 09 and 10 use are IDENTICAL to each other.. where one doesn't support westmere and 1333 mhz memory, the other does.. but they are virtually IDENTICAL in every detail.

    Anyway, for 250.00(pricing varies by 50 at most) you can get the 2010 Backplane logic board and simply remove the 09's backplane. Also, you will need the processor board in order for the 2010 to work its magic, as both SMC's have to match for this to work. This board can be had for as little as: 46 DOLLARS!!!!!!!!!! and even 76 dollars(macpartsonline.com).. I have seen the processor board go for 249.00 and never higher than that.. There is also some good news:

    Since the 09 uses the same parts as the 10, the HEATSINK for the single-quads from the 09 is identical to the one used on the 2010 :) More money saved!

    So here were my specs for my original mac pro:

    Mac Pro 4,1 with 8GB ddr3 1066 memory, w3580 processor, radeon 5770(sold my 4870 HD as this is not fully compatible due to a high sensor reading - others told me its because I had the 1st revision of the card, while a 2nd one does exist which fixed this problem.. but nonetheless, I got rid of my 4870 HD for 235.00 and it paid for the 5770 :)

    Once I got the backplane and processor board, I immediately went to work creating my 2010 mac pro.. and it only cost me 300.00(250 - backplane 46 for processor board).. With this in mind, I used my existing processor, memory, hard drives, everything... here is the results: THIS IS FROM SYSTEM PROFILER:

    Model Name: Mac Pro
    Model Identifier: MacPro5,1
    Processor Name: Quad-Core Intel Xeon
    Processor Speed: 3,33 GHz
    Number Of Processors: 1
    Total Number Of Cores: 4
    L2 Cache (per core): 256 KB
    L3 Cache: 8 MB
    Memory: 6 GB
    Processor Interconnect Speed: 6.4 GT/s
    Boot ROM Version: MP51.007F.B00
    SMC Version (system): 1.39f11
    SMC Version (processor tray): 1.39f11

    How can you tell this is a 2010? Easy... SMC FIRMWARE: 1.39/F11(2009 was 1.39/F5). Bootrom is: MP51.007F.B00 where as the 09's was: MP41.0081.B08.

    I plan to upload actual LIVE screen shots of my system profiler and also to put away the fact that the w3580 DOES INDEED support 1333 mhz memory.. I need someone to how me how to upload pics of this.. I really want to get this info out to EVERYONE who has a single 09 quad-core and wishing to move up to westmere... Now, should I decide to get the w3680, I can now do so since I have the parts in my 09 case.. 300.00 is all it takes to get the 09 to a 2010 :)

    CONCLUSION:

    I know a lot of you will have questions to ask me regarding about how to go ahead with this upgrade.. as I mentioned, anyone with a single-quad core from 09 series can easily do this.. Its not rocket science - the 2010 mac pro is nothing more than the 2009 just with a updated logic board to support 1333 mhz memory/westmere B1 stepping processors.. And yes, ALL D0 Bloomfield w35xx series processors work in the processor board of the 2010.

    For the cost of 4000.00, I didn't feel the need to spend that much for a machine which is really a 2009 but with such updated firmware.. for this reason alone, for 300.00 I found the upgrade very enticing and I did it.
    Reply
  • MeStinkBAD - Friday, October 22, 2010 - link

    The following statement bothers me...

    "Update: Dell doesn't offer a Radeon HD 5770, instead you get a much more expensive FirePro V8700 graphics card. If deduct the street price for the graphics card from each machine, the Mac Pro ends up being $324 more expensive than the Dell. The Apple tax is there, but masked by the cheaper GPU."

    You are basing this comparison on the cost of a component that is limited to the dell. And you state that they don't offer a 5770. Well if you choose to add a 5770, the price would increase on the Dell, the price of the Pro. It goes both ways. Doesn't matter if the Dell offers a higher price card. You may not need it. Does the Dell include the option to ship w/o a GPU? If so, that could be a valid comparison since you can not get the MacPro w/o a GPU. Even you don't need one.

    The warrenty statement is also questionable. I have not had much experience w/ Dell's technical support. They used to basically tell you to send it away, they'd fix it, then return it. This costs nothing until the warrenty expired. Then they would charge you regardless of the problem, Apple on the other hand does indeed ask you to take it too the AppleStore.

    But they won't charge you anything to take a look at it, regardless of the Warrenty. And if it's a simple software problem, they'll fix it and you can walk out without paying anything. The warrenty only refers to more complicated problems (almost always hardware related). Then you will be charged if the warrenty has expired.

    I'm trying to be really fair here. Could someone correct me on this?
    Reply
  • mlcatl - Sunday, October 31, 2010 - link

    I can and have built many, many computers. But I don't keep spare parts around for a workstation like this (e.g. spare motherboard, etc.). Furthermore, I don't have the time to mess with it. I have deadlines and customers and I need my computer to work,

    With the Dell next business day warranty (which is extra), someone comes to your home or office and they have all the parts and they fix it without me having to drive somewhere. And they are professionals. No disrespect to the Apple Store Genius folks, they have gotten MUCH better in the last 4 years, but they still fall short of a enterprise maintenance solution.

    My experience with the Apple Store, even with the Apple Care and an appointment. Lots of waiting, hauling my MacPro through the mall, etc.

    I've had both Dells and Macs fail (motherboards, videocards, power supplies). Getting my macpro motherboard fixed (as it had intermittent failures) was a nightmare.

    I've now moved into a job where I'm going to be windows only at work, so I'm getting rid of my OS X stuff and switching to a windows platform. I'm going to have to buy my own computer and the roll your own solution is very tempting. (yes I know about boot camp, but my Mac Pro 1,1 2006 requires hacking to run windows 7 64 bit. (

    Ive loved my macpro and if I didn't need to run a lot of industrial strength stuff on windows, I would definitely be keeping it.
    Reply
  • MeStinkBAD - Monday, November 1, 2010 - link

    What the... you require a hacked version of Win7 to run on your 2006 MacPro? Are you serious? What did you do to it? Are you sure it's a MacPro? Not a hackintosh?

    Your experience is unlike any I've ever heard of... I mean if you we're having a motherboard failure they would have swapped the entire machine... and simply moved the hardware from the old machine to the new one. This is far more economical than actually replacing the motherboard, power supply, etc. Your previous machine would be sent back to Apple...
    Reply

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