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Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Is the Mac Pro Overpriced Compared to a PC?

New Mac Pro chassis on a grey background
Apple

Apple’s Mac Pro will be made in the USA with a starting price of $6,000. You get a pretty sweet machine for that price, but how close could you get to the power of the Mac Pro if you tried to build a Windows version yourself?

You Could Build a PC With Similar Hardware for Less

No surprise: By our calculations, you can get the job done for much less, though it’ll still cost you. We weren’t able to make a carbon copy of the Mac Pro, but we did get some advantages that the base model Mac Pro doesn’t have. We also had to give up some features in the process.

For this article, we’re focusing on the base model since it’s the only one with a known price at this writing. We have no idea what the upper models will cost, so there’s nothing to compare it to, price-wise. If you want to see a nice example of a killer Windows machine that goes head-to-head with the best Mac Pro, check out this video by Linus Tech Tips.

Before we get into our base model, one last note. We did not build this machine ourselves. So this is not a build guide. It’s more of a thought experiment. Enough preamble—let’s dive in.

The CPU and Motherboard

An Asus motherboard for Xeon processors on a black background.
The Asus WS C422 Sage/10G motherboard.

Apple doesn’t specify which Xeon W CPU it’s using in the base model of the Mac Pro, but we do know it has eight cores, 16 threads, and a turbo boost of 4GHz. Looking at Intel’s ark listings, that is similar to the Xeon W-3223—although the cache is a little larger on the Mac Pro CPU. The W-3223 has an MSRP of $749 but is not available on major sites like Newegg or Amazon.

So we swapped it out with something close to its specs, the Xeon W-2145. That’s a Skylake part from late 2017. It has eight cores, 16 threads, but a higher boost at 4.5GHz. Nevertheless, it has the advantage of being available, though just barely, and as an OEM part. That means it comes without a cooler and the warranty is shorter. That’s not great for an actual purchase, but for a thought experiment, it’ll do.

Here is where we hit difficulty number two: Apple’s Mac Pro motherboard is a pretty sweet custom build with enough capacity for eight PCIe lanes, two Thunderbolt 3 ports in the back, and two 10G LAN ports.

To try and get close to all this we’re going with the Asus WS C422 Sage/10G. This is a single-CPU motherboard with seven full-size PCIe slots, two dual 10G LAN ports, and an M.2 slot.

Based on the best prices we can find we’ve spent $1,290 at B&H Photo on the CPU. We can find lower prices on Amazon, but they are through third-party sellers without Amazon fulfillment. That means if there are any issues you’re relying on the seller’s customer service policy, not Amazon’s. It’s better to go with a known quantity when buying online, in our opinion.

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