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In-depth analysis on new Mac Pro finds it's a bargain

updated 10:18 pm EST, Tue December 31, 2013

HP, Lenovo unable to match Apple on price, performance

A lengthy analysis of the new Mac Pro by hardware enthusiast site Anandtech has found that Apple's latest desktop not only offers a design that is unmatched in the industry, but that its mix of custom features (like Thunderbolt 2 support on the motherboard and special dual FirePro graphics cards) and low price (for a workstation of this caliber) make it a compelling option for creative professionals, and cheaper than other manufacturers' options.



The site compared the entry-level 3.7Ghz quad-core Mac Pro with dual AMD FirePro D300 graphics cards to somewhat similar configurations of HP and Lenovo workstation offerings. As with the efforts of a previous attempt by a DIY PC building enthusiast site, the reviewers found that they could not fully match the specs for anything close to Apple's price. Even with a few compromises -- a single FirePro card instead of dual cards, no on-board Thunderbolt 2 support but more flexible internal expansion options -- the difference in price was over $1,000 difference in Apple's favor, compared against a customized HP Z420 ($4,490) and a Lenovo ThinkStation S30 ($4,373). And Apple's price of $3,248 included AppleCare.

The team were able to best Apple's price, like the DIY site before it, only by dropping many of the Mac Pro's key features, such as using a Xeon processor, PCIe SSDs (which is more than twice as fast as standard SATA SSD storage) and higher-accuracy ECC RAM (crucial in some pro apps). While the resulting system would be of more interest to gamers than anyone doing serious pro-levle creative work, a machine built using an Intel Core i7 with 12GB of RAM, two FirePro W7000 GPUs and a SATA SSD came to $2,730, a very fast consumer-level PC about $770 less than the entry-level but more powerful Mac Pro.

The review also includes benchmarks comparing the new Mac Pro to previous editions, and notes that at present the new machine's support for third-party 4K high-resolution displays is currently spotty, though this is likely to change in future software or firmware updates. The benchmarks found the new Mac Pro unsurprisingly faster than any previous model with anything thrown at it, though obviously with legacy benchmarks and applications its performance was only 25 percent faster than the next most previous Mac Pro model.



On benchmarks using the latest Final Cut Pro, which has been tweaked to take better advantage of the new Mac Pro, results were suitably impressive, ranging from 2x performance up to 8x the previous model (when using a stock video card in the 2009-design Mac Pro). In benchmarks against Retina MacBook Pros and beefed-up previous Mac Pro models, it becomes clear that for pro-level applications, it is the dual FirePro GPUs that make at least as big an impact as the improved CPU, and in pro applications far more.

Cinebench benchmarks comparing the new Mac Pro to current consumer Macs like the MBP and iMac show that the new machine is nothing special on single-thread applications, but that when apps are able to take full advantage of the Xeon multi-core processor, it wipes the floor with even the quad-core i7 chip, again reinforcing that the latter chip -- while very fast by consumer standards -- is not an acceptable "good enough" alternative when building a serious workstation. The Mac Pro's multi-thread Cinebench 11.5 scores were 2.5 to 3x faster in 3D rendering, and more accurate Cinebench 15 put the Mac Pro more firmly at 3x to nearly 6x performance in 3D rendering compared to quad-i7 and quad-i5 Retina MBP performance.

In addition, the new Mac Pro will continue to improve as more apps and later updates of OS X are fine-tuned to take full advantage of the processor, RAM, storage and graphic capabilities. Tests using current versions of Adobe tools like Lightroom and Photoshop were comparable to previous Mac Pro scores, but future optimized versions are likely to significantly improve performance in these and other pro applications. This also includes gaming -- at present, the Mac Pro is not really the best option for a gaming machine (and every fiber of its design reiterates this), but should developers choose to optimize builds for it, it would likely be competitive with some of the best GPUs available.



At the moment, the main reason to buy a new Mac Pro is for Final Cut Pro and 3D rendering, but the future potential of the machine -- not even considering its unusual high upgradeability factor -- adds to its present allure. Presuming Apple improves 4K monitor compatibility and pro-app developers upgrade their software to leverage it, the new Mac Pro is not just a remarkably-engineered and trend-setting desktop workstation, but a long-term investment that will continue to mature, evolve and influence far beyond its revolutionary appearance and approach.



By Electronista Staff
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Comments

  1. GW5555

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 08-06-12

    Why is that no one seems to bother mentioning the number of USB controllers. Historically, Apple has given each port it's own controller. This may not sound important, but it is. While it will be rare for anyone to need more than 127 USB devices, which each controller can handle, it is VERY likely that at least 1 device will be a slower USB protocol. The way USB works, if any device on a chain operates at the slower speed, ALL the devices operate at the slower speed. Multiple controllers allows you to plug in the keyboard, mouse, printer, etc without slowing down that USB 3 hard drive. Often, Windows systems use a single USB controller. This should be a point of comparison.

  1. Charles Martin

    MacNN Editor

    Joined: 08-04-01

    That's an excellent point, GW5555. I will check around, see if I can find out, but I'll bet my bottom dollar that the new Mac Pro has more than one controller :)

  1. Charles Martin

    MacNN Editor

    Joined: 08-04-01

    Found the information for you, GW. Here's the page that lists details on the 4-port USB controller used in the new Mac Pro: http://www.frescologic.com/products_show.php?ms=2

    As you can see, each port has its own controller. Nice.

  1. Ppietra

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 01-12-05

    @ GW5555
    I believe that will depend on the controller or how it is arranged. I have a USB port hub where I attach a keyboard, mouse and external hard drive and the hard drive doesn't operate at lower speed

  1. graxspoo

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 11-22-08

    I don't see why Apple needs you to buy two very expensive GPUs. They should allow a configuration that only has one.

  1. Inkling

    Dedicated MacNNer

    Joined: 07-25-06

    This is excellent news for creative pros who've been feeling neglected by Apple in recent years. Not only has the company brought out a really powerful machine with a compact footprint, but it's offering it at an excellent price.

    Alas, I wouldn't want to be the boss/owner at a design firm. I suspect virtually every employee is going to asking for upgrades to one of these.

  1. coffeetime

    Mac Enthusiast

    Joined: 11-15-06

    My boss will reject it for sure. But I do agree the tear down really shows how awesome this new Mac Pro is. This new Mac Pro marks the end of HDD internal hard drive and enter the new area of SSD solid state drive which is about 2x to 20x faster to startup your Mac or launching anything.

  1. Mike Wuerthele

    Managing Editor

    Joined: 07-19-12

    Originally Posted by coffeetimeView Post

    My boss will reject it for sure. But I do agree the tear down really shows how awesome this new Mac Pro is. This new Mac Pro marks the end of HDD internal hard drive and enter the new area of SSD solid state drive.



    Not quite yet, I think. I suspect it does for performance, but not for large volumes of data stored at (relatively) low cost. I think we'll all be dealing with rotating magnetic media for two more decades.

  1. jslove

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 07-15-07

    Looks like a typo to me. I make $2,730 only $269 less than $2,999, not $770 as in the article. Also, at that price, stuff had been left out, like a case and an OS; they estimated $350 for the missing stuff, which brings it to more than $2999, so the conclusion as presented is deceptive. Of course, for comparison purposes they point out that the cost of AppleCare should be added in to compare to competitive systems, but for DIY, warranty is per-component, if at all, so leaving out AppleCare is correct.

  1. prl99

    Dedicated MacNNer

    Joined: 03-24-09

    Originally Posted by graxspooView Post

    I don't see why Apple needs you to buy two very expensive GPUs. They should allow a configuration that only has one.



    The Mac Pro doesn't have two identical graphics cards. Once of them is mainly (or always?) used for OpenCL functionality giving the Mac Pro a major boost when running applications that can use this capability. If you only want one graphics card, then I suggest getting an iMac or MacBook Pro.

  1. graxspoo

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 11-22-08

    Yes, but if the apps you are interested in don't use OpenCL, then this is a big cost with little advantage. My point is, there are users who would like all the rest of the good things the Mac Pro has to offer, but do not have any use for the OpenCL co-processor, which, by some accounts may add several hundred dollars to the price of the device. Wouldn't it be nice to get a Mac Pro for $2000 or $2500? They'd sell a lot more of them.

  1. Spheric Harlot

    Clinically Insane

    Joined: 11-07-99

    How big is the market for software that won't be OpenCL-accelerated, but requires more horsepower than an iMac or a quad mini?

    Now that the new Mac Pro is out, I'm guessing close to zero.

  1. prl99

    Dedicated MacNNer

    Joined: 03-24-09

    Originally Posted by graxspooView Post

    Yes, but if the apps you are interested in don't use OpenCL, then this is a big cost with little advantage. My point is, there are users who would like all the rest of the good things the Mac Pro has to offer, but do not have any use for the OpenCL co-processor, which, by some accounts may add several hundred dollars to the price of the device. Wouldn't it be nice to get a Mac Pro for $2000 or $2500? They'd sell a lot more of them.



    Take a look at the latest barefeats.com article comparing a fully loaded iMac to the base model Mac Pro (Dec 31). While the CPU tests actually show the iMac being faster in many tests, the major difference appears in the GPU test running LuxMark to test GPU-only OpenCL capabilities. I ran this test on my early 2009 iMac and it scored a dismal 69. The latest fully loaded iMac scores 467 while the basic D300 tops the list at 2413 (D500 and D700 not tested yet). There are more applications than FCP that use OpenCL, like Handbrake. Reviewing the tests barefeats ran, you'll see there's no reason for you to buy any kind of Mac Pro (even one with only one GPU if they made one) because it sounds like the iMac would work just fine for you. It's when someone wants/needs the amazing power of advanced GPUs, that the Mac Pro stands out. After reading the barefeats tests, I'm almost ready to change my mind and get the basic Mac Pro to take advantage of its GPU capabilities. More applications will begin using OpenCL, which runs just fine on Mac hardware back to 2006, so I want to be ready for it. If you don't use these applications then just don't buy a Mac Pro.

  1. Charles Martin

    MacNN Editor

    Joined: 08-04-01

    prl99 makes the point I was going to, graxspoo. You're thinking backward on this: software pushes hardware. The fact that there is now a dual-GPU, OpenCL-optimized Mac Pro means creative pro apps will upgrade to take advantage of this. It's kind of like when the iMac first had USB -- there was very little for it but that changed big time a year later. Look for tons more interest in OpenCL, GPU offloading/processing, and dual-GPU use in creative pro type apps over the next year.

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