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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  • khimera2000 - Sunday, October 10, 2010 - link

    Dont forget that the reason why mac is more linux/unix friendly is becaus they bucherd the open source comunity to put out a OS that can compete rather then starting from the ground up :D check it out its out there ;)
  • BrooksT - Thursday, October 7, 2010 - link

    They use the same documentation for the Mac Pros as they do for Macbooks? Ouch. That must suck to be a service tech on a Mac Pro.

    What you're missing is that it's not the cost of making the 10,000th unit that matters. Making the *first* one is very very expensive. Sure, the gross margins are quite high -- probably 50%, compared to Apple's average of 38%.

    But for Dell, and Apple, and any other large manufacturer, there is a lot more to this than "putting the system together." That is the cheapest and easiest part of the whole process. But if assembly is the only the value you see them adding, by all means, you're better off buying parts and doing it yourself. Other people see value in a single point of contact, whole systems validated to work together, and even pretty design.
  • xype - Thursday, October 7, 2010 - link

    What parts of the Mac Pro internals look like random components compiled to a list by an "engineer"? Do they use an ASUS motherboard? Antec case? Artic cooling vents? Vanilla cabling? Have you actually ever looked inside a Mac Pro, much less upgraded any part of it?

    Sure, there's a big markup on those machines, but throwing either the Mac Pro or the Dell/HP workstations into the same lot as a randomly-assembled PC is making your argument look stupid. As for the money saved: people who tax-deduct their computers usually don't care. Coincidentally, they are the target audience for those machines.
  • rafaperez3d - Friday, October 8, 2010 - link

    What is the problem with those components? ASUS making motherboards? Arctic making coolers? They are very good at they do, and usually they do that longer than Apple....

    Anyway, if you look closely, Apple basically do the chassis... I think even motherboard is from Intel...
  • seanleeforever - Thursday, October 7, 2010 - link

    you know, what you have done is perfectly fine but is ONLY applicable to home-brow, small scale, no regulation applications such as what you have just described.

    please don't take it personal, but a large business has set of regulation and rules that you obviously don't even be bothered with.

    for example, you said those are off the shelf components, okay, find me a off the shelf components that shapes like Mac book pro sheet metal, or M/B that fit like what Apple have? how about heat sink? see what i did here? just because the system you put together use all the COTS parts, doesn't mean everyone use COTS parts. what you did is simply putting stuff together (or like you said, just a minimum wage factory worker to slap together off the shelf components). anything new will require you to design the parts and make sure them fit. this is not a simple task by any stretch of imagination.

    "'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."
    this statement is completely false in a large scale. let's assume you get hit by a car tomorrow and hospitalized. one of your machine has power problems and causing reboots. okay, do you keep a set of document for machine you built? like what CPU/Video card/HDD/RAM... if i ask you that what is your power consumption under certain load, do you have a document to show me? does your document good enough to help engineer diagnose the error? if a batch of video card is faulty, can you trace which system you build may or will be affected?

    let's move on the QA too, what is your quality assurance? is there a process in place to make sure all the unit you build will have the same quality?

    those just a few things a large business has to consider, you are not selling 200, you are selling 200k. YOU will not be able to answer all the tech calls and fix all machines. your customer will have all sort of questions cover all areas. this is a HUGE effort.
  • erple2 - Friday, October 8, 2010 - link

    You're only seeing a small part of the overall cost. The cost of a support staff to price out, then buy, then assemble, then burn-in a machine for a company is just staggering. And it's not for the cost of the support staff. You have to also factor in the cost of the people downstream that are "waiting" for the upgraded hardware, too.

    My personal time is more or less "worthless" to me - I can easily substitute a substantial amount of my own time to crawling through newegg or other sites to part out the best bang for the buck computer that I want to use at home. However, if I was making purchasing decisions for a company/business, I'd have to factor in the delay costs of crawling through various sites looking for the best deal, compared with the time that I'm wasting from other people to be using that product. Even if I only cost 50 bucks an hour, there may be 30 other people that are also costing 50 bucks per hour. That's 1500 dollars per hour of lost productivity, just in getting parts ready to burnin and test. How many hours does it take before it no longer makes financial sense to just buy a pre-made system?

    There is a very very good reason why medium and large companies that don't have regular "the server is down" events use pre-made machines sourced from a single vendor. Support costs are astronomical, once you actually factor in the TRUE cost of ownership over the life of the parts.

    I am about 90% sure that every single person who claims that the Mac Pro is an overpriced PC have never actually done anything remotely similar to a cost analysis on the actual costs of computer ownership. If your time is free, then it doesn't matter. But nobody that runs a business, or works in a business can say that.
  • pieterjan - Thursday, October 7, 2010 - link

    You're an idiot if you buy Precision workstations at list price. Give Dell a call, and ask for a discount. You'll also be able to configure these systems to your likings: more parts options. This is especially true if you say them, that if you're satisfied, more purchases from Dell will follow.
  • Sabresiberian - Thursday, October 7, 2010 - link

    I'm so impressed that you can call people names, and put people down who are medically and/or educationally diagnosed "retarded" at the same time. There's nothing wrong with being retarded, there is something wrong with being rude and unkind.

    Others have addressed the issue, but I'll add that it's not about how you "can't understand" the "premium", it's about you not finding out why business people are willing to pay the price - it's not just about bigger budgets and throwing money at solutions. You CAN understand if you'll make the effort to do so.

    Then, if you still really think you can provide the same product for less, you can get into business for yourself and make some money. :D
  • mattgmann - Thursday, October 7, 2010 - link

    I make lots of money building custom workstations for small businesses. It's a nice side job. They get systems to fit their exact needs and save a butt load of cash. I take care of all hardware warranties, and software support comes from the software manufacturer. Of about 200 systems I've built over the last few years that are floating around the city, I've made exactly 2 service calls, and spent less than an hour per system on the phone.

    The "premium" should be in a properly configured system, not in a phone number to a dell genius or apple savant to help you fix your system. Knowing how you use it is the end users job. All of this "premium" crap is overrated and a waste of money. I more than understand the decision process, and as a business owner I know that production is what matters. I'd rather spend that extra money on training for employees than waste it on meaningless support.

    Did I hurt your feelings with my words? Can't take a little sarcasm? Thanks for the heartfelt scolding; I'll try not to use anymore "offensive" words. Now go back to your desk in human resources and file some more sexual harassment complaints. This is an internet message board, not a world peace and hugs meeting.
  • AnnonymousCoward - Thursday, October 7, 2010 - link

    Is that $250 Obsidian case really necessary, or would an $80 work just as well? cuz that really brings up your custom price.

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