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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  • jasperjones - Thursday, October 7, 2010 - link

    OS X hasn't supported NUMA for the longest time. imo it's of some importance on a dual-socket system with 8 or 12 cores. So, question: has Apple finally got around to make it work with the Mac Pro '10? If not, I assume that similarly-configured Dell and HP systems which run Linux or Windows will perform better in some scenarios.
  • metaungulate - Thursday, October 7, 2010 - link

    The KVR1333D3K3/3GR is Unbuffered. This won't work.
  • Ben90 - Thursday, October 7, 2010 - link

    Xeons support ECC not require it.
  • Stuka87 - Thursday, October 7, 2010 - link

    Buffered and ECC are different, and should not be confused with each other. Older Xeon's did use FBDIMM's, but current Xeons use standard DDR in either Non-ECC, ECC, or Buffered ECC unless the chipset used specifically calls for one or the other.
  • metaungulate - Thursday, October 7, 2010 - link

    Thank you for the clarification. However, these are the current prices on

    Intel Xeon E5620 Westmere 2.4GHz 12MB L3 Cache LGA 1366 80W Quad-Core Server Processor BX80614E5620: $384.99 x 2
    Kingston ValueRAM 3GB (3 x 1GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1333 (PC3 10666) Triple Channel Kit Desktop Memory Model KVR1333D3K3/3GR: $60.99 x 2
    SAPPHIRE 100283-3L Radeon HD 5770 1GB 128-bit GDDR5 PCI Express 2.0 x16 HDCP Ready CrossFireX Support Video Card: $139.99
    Western Digital Caviar Black WD1001FALS 1TB 7200 RPM 32MB Cache SATA 3.0Gb/s 3.5" Internal Hard Drive -Bare Drive: $79.99
    LG Black 24X DVD+R 8X DVD+RW 16X DVD+R DL 24X DVD-R 6X DVD-RW 12X DVD-RAM 16X DVD-ROM 48X CD-R 32X CD-RW 48X CD-ROM SATA DVD Burner - Bulk LightScribe Support - OEM: $20.99
    Corsair Obsidian Series 700D CC700D Black Aluminum / Steel ATX Full Tower Computer Case: $249.99
    Antec TruePower New TP-750 750W Continuous Power ATX12V V2.3 / EPS12V V2.91 SLI Certified CrossFire Ready 80 PLUS BRONZE Certified Active PFC: $109.99
    ASUS Z8NA-D6C Dual LGA 1366 Intel 5500 ATX Dual Intel Xeon 5500 and 5600 Series Server/Workstation Motherboard: $259.99

    On what planet is this: $1612.91?

    The actual cost is: $1,752.90.
  • Anand Lal Shimpi - Thursday, October 7, 2010 - link

    That's the issue with non-realtime pricing, it changes. I've updated to the latest numbers :)
  • kevin2i - Sunday, October 31, 2010 - link

    The article is still wrong -- pricing does not include an OS.

    1752 Parts
    199 Windows 7 Professional

    Didn't see wifi/bluetooth, firewire, mouse, keyboard either.
    iLife suite? - The user may or may not find it useful. Although I have Final Cut, I typically use iMovie for simple tasks.
    Home box: No real warranty, no resale value -

    The apple tax is looking more like a refund compared to a home built system.
  • zorxd - Thursday, October 7, 2010 - link

    The Apple tax is clearly there. Only, there is also a Dell tax this time.
    Also, the Apple tax would look even worse if you compared the single socket system, since you could get a Core i7 (or maybe even i5) instead of the Xeon for the same (or better) performance with a much cheaper motherboard and CPU.
  • metaungulate - Thursday, October 7, 2010 - link

    Yeah, don't get me wrong, I still think that the build is the way to go at $1752.90. Just pointing out that if Anandtech wants to be such a trusted technical resource it would help if the writers knew how to use a calculator. :)
  • Nadav2010MP - Friday, October 8, 2010 - link

    But, for those like me who have a 2009 mac pro, all I had to do was spend 300 dollars for the two main parts to make my 09 a 2010.. The backplane board 661-5706 was only 250.00 from an on-line site.. and the processor board only cost me 46.00 - so, for 300.00, using the w3580, my 8GB 1066 mhz memory and 5770 - I was able to remove the original 09 parts and replace them with 2010 parts.. The heatsink from the 09 is the EXACTLY same as the 2010... rather the other way.. the 2010 uses the same 09 parts, some are marked with different part numbers to distinguish them, but for the most part.. all fans, case components work on the 2010 backplane board, as this board is the same exact board as in the 09 except Apple flashed it with the firmware to support westmere and 1333 mhz memory.

    Dual is a totally different story... it wouldn't be cost effective to move from a single to a dual because you lack the heatsinks(those two alone would be near 400 dollars), while the dual processor board would only be 76 dollars(, you still need the dual processors and THOSE ALONE would cost more than the machine or come close to the cost of a new 2010 already.

    The upgrade from 09 single to 2010 single can be done for 300.00 and thats it.. you are done. But the dual would cost far more.

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