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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  • Zokudu - Wednesday, October 06, 2010 - link

    A Mac Pro has been tempting me for years. It seems like such a wonderful machine. Anand would you say getting a Mac Pro over saw a build it your own of the same caliber is worth it? I can understand if your deeply ingrained into the Apple system but for an outsider does it hold a lot of value? Reply
  • brausekopf - Thursday, October 07, 2010 - link

    Just buy a 999$ Mac Book or maybe a used one and check it out for yourself!

    I am just using a Mac Book Pro as a development system targeting the iPhone. And after having used many Windows versions and many Unix flavors I would not put Mac OS on the top of my list. But it is usable.
    Reply
  • xype - Thursday, October 07, 2010 - link

    Weird, after using OS X, I wouldn't even put Windows or Linux on my list. :P Reply
  • rqle - Thursday, October 07, 2010 - link

    friend recommended i try osx. my day job is all unix, and osx annoy the shit out of me. Reply
  • Flunk - Friday, October 08, 2010 - link

    If you're used to Unix, Linux is probably the best bet for a desktop OS. Reply
  • B3an - Thursday, October 07, 2010 - link

    No idea why anyone who is capable of building there own system would buy an over priced Mac. Theres nothing special or magical about them regardless of Apple advertising. They just use PC components. Learn to "Think Different" ... or rather think for yourself.
    You can not only get faster hardware, but also higher quality hardware for the same sort of price as a Mac Pro. Not to mention a graphics card that's actually good and a fully capable and more advanced OS.
    Reply
  • marioyohanes - Monday, October 11, 2010 - link

    Because I want everything to become simple so I can focus more on my job rather than busy fixing this and that from my computer. Simple thing should remain simple, while complex thing should be simpler than ever.

    at least that's my opinion...
    Reply
  • zero2dash - Monday, October 11, 2010 - link

    "Because I want everything to become simple so I can focus more on my job rather than busy fixing this and that from my computer. Simple thing should remain simple, while complex thing should be simpler than ever."

    Sounds like you should spend more than 10 minutes putting one together with shoddy parts or bother stress testing your overclock - then you might not have to fix anything either.

    The only computers I have to "fix" these days are prebuilts with the garbage psus that usually crap out in the 2-3 year window. Gateway, Dell, HP etc. doesn't matter, they all use crap psus. If they actually used something decent like a cheaper Antec or Seasonic, they'd run practically forever.
    Reply
  • TD912 - Monday, January 03, 2011 - link

    That's kind of what he means. You need to spend the time to build and test and tweak everything instead of having something that is ready to use out of the box. Reply
  • cotak - Friday, October 15, 2010 - link

    That's because you never opened one up right? Never owned one and used it day to day?

    If Dell, or any of the built it yourself case vendors do cases like the Mac Pro they'll charge you more then apples does for the same hardware.

    It's like saying why buy a BMW 323 over say an accord. the BMW's a basic car, doesn't have a lot of features, doesn't have a lot of power. And no it's not for everyone. But by god it rotates on corners vs feeling like the front's going to fly off. That's why my brother basically drove one for 10 minutes and decided to buy it.

    That's what apple brings to the laptop, the desktop and the smart phone.

    If you never had the money to buy one or work where they give you one, you'll never know.
    Reply

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