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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  • Nardman - Friday, October 15, 2010 - link

    ^^This argument becomes valid the moment a Mac Pro can pull a doughnut.

    Cotak, handling is a tangible, quantifiable characteristic...

    Apple products have sold for years based on the intangible 'worth' of them. What, exactly, makes the Mac Pro better than any other machine? That would be nothing...aside from a price tag, and marketing. Sorry, but that case is not worth $400(+)
    Reply
  • mattgmann - Thursday, October 07, 2010 - link

    I really can't understand the premium for these workstation class systems (apple or dell). There is basically a 100% mark up or more on parts. I'm sure a large business may be able to afford to just chuck money at systems, but any small business/independent designer is freaking retarded to buy a system like this. With a little shopping and a few hours of construction you can have a FAR superior system for half the price. Aside from being able to get free performance by overclocking your CPU, you can build a storage system that is quick and redundant (i.e. raid 5). Save your money for the adobe raping you'll receive every time they release a new CSX. Reply
  • BrooksT - Thursday, October 07, 2010 - link

    Read up on fixed costs, variable costs, and overhead.

    Short version: these workstations sell in much lower volume than mass market machines. Yet some of the fixed costs -- R&D, design, certifications, etc -- are exactly the same, or higher. They have to spread higher costs among fewer machines, resulting in higher gross margins per machine.

    Think of an extreme: if Apple (or Dell, or anyone) were going to produce just one workstation of a certain type -- only one unit made with a particular case, power supply, documentation, marketing effort, warranty service, spare parts inventory, customer support, UL certification, etc -- how much would it cost at retail, compared to the raw parts cost? A lot, right?
    Reply
  • mattgmann - Thursday, October 07, 2010 - link



    How long does it take an "engineer" to compile a parts list, and a minimum wage factory worker to slap together off the shelf components that are the equivalent of adult legos. Overhead cost is greatly exaggerated in these machines and they inflate the cost solely because the customers are "professionals".

    'documentation, marketing effort, customer support etc'. These are all things that apply to every system they make and the costs are no different. I think these are more apologistic excuses rather than actual reasons.

    how much would it cost at retail, compared to the raw parts cost? A lot, right?

    -not really. If you think Dell and Apple are paying retail for the parts in those systems, you're crazy. They're making retail markup to start with, and then many times that amount for putting the system together.

    Is this wrong? no. of course not. But these types of systems are where they make large profit margins, and there is a lot of money to be saved by doing it yourself, or even paying an individual to do it for you.
    Reply
  • Swissalex - Thursday, October 07, 2010 - link

    You are missing out on a big point, the certification for the professional application like AutoCAD and so on.

    The Dell Precision line comes with a complete support for many of these professional applications. And if this is your primary work tool you are not interested in troubleshooting and tweaking your system. Productivity and stability is more important.

    I am not Apple expert; on the Dell website they make it very clear that they support those applications. I have not found the same for Apple. Do they offer the same level of support for software?
    Reply
  • Swissalex - Thursday, October 07, 2010 - link

    Also what is the support level on the Mac? Dell comes with a 3 year NBD service by default. There is no information on the price comparison about this one. Reply
  • Penti - Thursday, October 07, 2010 - link

    The Mac Pros more tend to be used by the post-processing guys in Film (And TV) when it comes to high-end. Tools like Apples quicktime, and FCP becomes really important there. Together with very important third party tools. It works as well as in the Windows world, but they also has some tools that don't really exist on Windows. Where the alternative would be specialized hardware and a separate workstation that's built with custom hardware and software from a vendor in that business. Obviously Apple do and would help a vendor who's having a problem with their software, but they won't issue fixes like reverting stuff just for some app to work, but neither would Microsoft. It's up the the software vendor to support it. Like always. It's not that Dell can start doing development on the workstation graphics cards drivers.

    As for warranty the standard is 1 year limited even with the Mac Pro.

    BrooksT, if you like a more competitive price look at Apple 2P workstation.
    Reply
  • MGSsancho - Friday, October 08, 2010 - link

    Right tools for the right job. even if you use Avid you can use either system. but in practice when shops use Fiber Channel interconnects, dual 30" screens, mixing boards and professional video (SDI) and audio (XLR) interconnects, things are not so PC vs Mac. While im sure that these $30k+ workstations don't care too much for the OS they use, these things are more like appliances. In other industries as well, maybe all your software tools, scripts, plug-ins and stuff can not be easily ported. Companies spend good money setting up these workstations and they don't care what OS they use, they have the tools they like and want results. Penti you pretty much nailed it all on the head. except with Microsoft they will write patches to get things working for you as well as the Unixes, granted those with the top level up support contracts.

    Real difference is the support contracts. Apple doe not yet have business support plans. no four hour support for mission critical stuff for people who want to pay for it. In the end, we must hope that businesses will get the best tools for their jobs.
    Reply
  • rafaperez3d - Friday, October 08, 2010 - link

    It's a shame where the video and tv market is going because this company. To get the job done we need two things: reliability and performance. After a lot (a loooot) of marketing, Apple put in people heads that they got those two things, far ahead from any PC. We know that is not true (Anand proved a few pages back), and the market is supporting those silly people. Please, don't tell me about high reliability on Macs. I crash Foundrys Nuke at least 12 times a day, Final Cut every single hour, Blackmagic cards give me sync and black frames time to time, Cinema 4D crashes a lot too, coworkers restarts their machines time to time... OS X is not bad, but is not perfect too. Reply
  • Penti - Saturday, October 09, 2010 - link

    I guess you would prefer having Windows workstations, Linux workstations, OS X workstations and specialized workstations instead? In a mixture. OS X and Mac pro is a good target for the guys who ran their apps on Unix/Irix/Linux. It's good, not perfect. On Linux for example you don't have access to anything like quicktime, the film people won't start running ffmpeg, plenty in the business seems to prefer having less workstations and workstations that can do more. But for it to be working perfect? I wouldn't expect that anywhere. But you should note that I didn't make any claim for reliability, it's the same hardware as in the PC workstations, not any higher quality and not some perfect software solutions. Not from Apple neither from the third parties. Which is actually what I implied as in the support not being perfect. They do tend to support that market but not perfectly and neither does any one else. I see Apple as an OEM mainly. Reply

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