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

$3499 + $249 for 3 year warranty


$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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  • 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(+)
  • mattgmann - Thursday, October 7, 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.
  • BrooksT - Thursday, October 7, 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?
  • mattgmann - Thursday, October 7, 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.
  • Swissalex - Thursday, October 7, 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?
  • Swissalex - Thursday, October 7, 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.
  • Penti - Thursday, October 7, 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.
  • MGSsancho - Friday, October 8, 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.
  • rafaperez3d - Friday, October 8, 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.
  • Penti - Saturday, October 9, 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.

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