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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  • mattgmann - Thursday, October 07, 2010 - link

    I understand including a nice case, as the mac case is quality. But you're right, $250 is a bit steep. There are plenty of less expensive cases that are just as nice, and some real budget cases that would be serviceable. Reply
  • hellotyler - Thursday, October 07, 2010 - link

    If I had the money, I'd buy one of these in a second. Apple rules. In today's world though, budget is important and PC beats out Apple heartily on the mid-powered PC market. I own both Mac and Pc (side by side, my two babies) and I love them both dearly. If I had to choose a brand new super powered computer though, I'd have to go with the Mac because of the OS. Reply
  • noiseunit - Thursday, October 07, 2010 - link

    Maybe I'm missing something here but a quick search on newegg showed a $700 difference in the price of the graphics cards, maybe thats why the dell is so expensive? Reply
  • Stokestack - Tuesday, October 12, 2010 - link

    The Mac IS a PC. If you mean a Windows system, then say that. Reply
  • ViperV990 - Thursday, October 07, 2010 - link

    Didn't see it mentioned in the article, so I'm assuming no, but I want to double-check: Does the Mac Pro support 3x1 Eyefinity setup?

    Also, it's a shame that they're not offering the Eyefinity 5 or 6 models as an option.
    Reply
  • Porksmuggler - Thursday, October 07, 2010 - link

    Really appreciate the honest comparison to the custom built, but the Dell T5500 isn't exactly comparable. It's easy to say "other than the graphics card" but seriously:

    Apple's ATI Radeon HD 5770 1GB - $249 from Apple or $125 from Newegg

    Dell's ATI FirePro V8700 1GB - $860 from Newegg
    Reply
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Thursday, October 07, 2010 - link

    It's a tough comparison to make if you really want to dive into it. The FirePro price premium is due largely to the driver work and it's tough to tell what equivalent driver work (if any) Apple has done in OS X. Either way, it does change things quite a bit and I've updated the text to reflect that there is an Apple tax that's just hidden by the GPU cost differential.

    Thanks for the comment :)

    Take care,
    Anand
    Reply
  • Porksmuggler - Thursday, October 07, 2010 - link

    Thanks for the update, it truly is a tough comparison.

    I think an even greater concern with both the Dell and Apple tax is that both are using what might be considered as "commodity components"; Apple certainly would be using Foxconn, and I do not know of Dell's core supplier. The point being, these components do not have the same reputation of quality and performance as those used in the custom built.

    The extent of the tax goes even further...
    Reply
  • Sunburn74 - Thursday, October 07, 2010 - link

    Not sure how you managed to reach the $324 number you published in the edit in the article. The cheapest fireprov8700 I can find costs 600 flat (ebay buy it now). The difference is at least $500 once you deduct the street costs of the packaged gpu. Reply
  • jecs - Thursday, October 07, 2010 - link

    To me the "why a Mac Pro" is I have been afraid to build myself a solid dual socket PC workstation class machine for Pro 3D modeling, rendering and compositing with Maya and Final Cut Pro. But now I am very used to some pro Apple and none Apple software and happy. So in my case my current 2.8 octacore has been very, very reliable. For graphic design I agree it gets more difficult every time to justify a dual socket machine like a Mac Pro. Why 8-12 core for illustrator or even Photoshop?, Get the fastest quadcore PC for this. But also is a matter of personal preference.

    The Mac Pro is not the fastest machine out there but not either the most expensive or exotic hardware as there are usually faster PC hardware and more specific software options and features. But, if you like me are using specific multithreaded Pro software with decent performance and like OSX, then the Mac Pro is very solid. No Mac Pro has died on me yet, they are easy to upgrade for the most common features, work very well out of the box, is reliable, offers dual socket options and no Apple tax on comparable Dell or similar workstations.

    On the other hand, even I use the Mac Pro all day long I builded a SFF quad core PC and this is the machine I am going to upgrade this year. The PC is "my back up" machine but the one that goes outside with me when I need performance, and also one very useful rendering machine.

    By the way Anand, very good article! I enjoyed very much reading through the lines, not defensive at all, not too long and I learned on some features and coments. At least to my experience as a Mac Pro user from the beginning and even from the days of the G5s.
    Reply

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