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Apple’s Newest Mac Pro Costs Less than DIY PC Build… Thanks to AMD
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Apple Mac Pro 2013
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by Rob Williams on December 27, 2013 in Staff Editorials

Word’s out that Apple’s latest Mac Pro costs less than an equal-configured do-it-yourself PC, but as we’ve discovered, this is one of those cases where there’s more than meets the eye. Has Apple finally loosened up on its famed “Apple Tax”? Not so. Instead, the attractive pricing of the latest Mac Pro owes its thanks to none other than AMD.

The “Can I build a PC for less than the price of a Mac?” question is about as old as Apple itself, and it pops-up every single time the Cupertino firm releases a new desktop model. Not to break tradition, the question again came to the surface after last week’s launch of the updated Mac Pro; this time, the answer to that aged question was a bit different.

Futurelooks‘ Stephen Fung, who happens to be a wizard PC builder (he beat me twice over at Tiger Direct’s annual charity event at CES), took to Apple’s website and others to see if a do-it-yourself PC build would be possible for less money than an equal-spec’d Mac Pro. What he found was interesting: Not only was there no visible “Apple Tax”, the Mac Pro turned out to be cheaper.

About $2,000 cheaper, in fact. I didn’t catch the article right as it was published, but was instead tipped-off by our Mac-lovin’ Senior Editor Brett Thomas. Brett and I have had some fun Mac vs. PC debates in the past, so this was one of those times I had to investigate further.

Apple Mac Pro 2013 Intel E5-2697
Not Cheaper: Apple charging an upgrade price of $3,500 for a $2749.99 processor

After reading through Stephen’s well-thought-out article, something didn’t seem right. I took to Apple’s configurator which confused things further. The 12-core CPU involved in this build can be had for about $2,700 on Newegg, while Apple charges $3,500 for it as an upgrade. If this is the pricing scheme, how on earth did the Mac Pro end up costing less?

As it turns out, it’s because AMD has given Apple one hell of a deal on GPUs, and ignoring all of the other components, this one would result in the PC costing about $2,500 less, not $2,000 more.

The minimum-spec’d Mac Pro costs $2999.00, and when starting from that baseline, upgrading both pre-configured GPUs to the top-end offering costs $1,000, as seen in the shot below.

Apple Mac Pro 2013 AMD FirePro D700

AMD’s FirePro DX00 series is unique to the Mac Pro; it’s based on the company’s pre-existing current-gen workstation cards. The model differences, then, are likely due to super-small changes that had to be made to adhere to Apple’s requirements. The D700, for example, offers 87.5% of the total performance throughput (single precision) of the W9000.

Based on the fact that an upgrade from dual D300s to D700s costs $1,000, and also that these upgrade prices tend to be a bit higher than retail costs, I’ll go out on a limb and say that Apple’s charging a flat $750 for each GPU. That implies that when a baseline Mac Pro is upgraded, ~38% of its total cost owes its thanks to the GPUs.

  FirePro D700 FirePro W9000
Cores 2048 2048
Memory Bus 6GB 6GB
Memory Bus 384-bit 384-bit
Memory Bandwidth 264GB/s 264GB/s
Performance 3.5 Teraflops 4.0 Teraflops
Cost to User =<~$750 USD ~$3,200 USD
Specs: FirePro W9000; FirePro D700

So – AMD is allowing its $3,200 workstation card be sold on Apple’s latest Mac Pro for about $750. That is the number one reason the PC loses out in this particular battle.

AMD FirePro W9000
AMD’s FirePro W9000 – $3,200 to PC users, ~$750 to Mac Pro users

Let’s not overlook something even more important: Why is AMD allowing its top-end part to be sold on the cheap with Apple? If a PC user were to purchase the W9000 tomorrow, it’d cost them about 4x as much as someone who purchases a pre-built Mac Pro with D700. Why… why… why?

I’d guess that it’s because NVIDIA owns about 80% of the workstation GPU market (a figure I’ve had a hard time nailing-down but one that NVIDIA gave me a couple of weeks ago). It seems, then, that AMD had to bend a lot in order to make sure Apple didn’t take the green route this time around. It’s not as though AMD loses revenue because of this steep discount – if Mac Pro volume is good, its super-low pricing could yield more revenue than the equivalent cards on the PC side selling for 4x as much. Overall, it’s a smart move, and a great one for those purchasing a Mac Pro.

I’m not going to compile a part list that attempts to build a PC to match or almost match a Mac Pro, because the fact of the matter is, the Mac Pro is very unique and offers a couple of features that aren’t even possible on the PC at the moment (such as Thunderbolt 2 on a workstation motherboard). In effect, and pardon the pun, an “apples-to-apples” comparison is impossible.

About the originating pricing comparison, though, it’s become clear that if AMD began offering its W9000 workstation cards to PC users for the same price that Mac users are paying for the equivalent D700 models, then the PC would end up costing much less in this particular comparison.

Mac Pro 2013 Backside
Trash can or not, the 2013 Mac Pro features an amazing design

But, I need to be clear: None of this is to imply that the Mac Pro is instead the “expensive” platform. Again, Apple’s latest is unique… far more unique than I’ve ever seen a PC be. Its design was built from the ground up to be super-efficient – so efficient that upgrading and other component manipulation isn’t possible 1 2. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: It might look like a trash can, but the Mac Pro’s design is ingenious. It’s small, efficient, and convenient.

Above, I pointed out that it costs more to upgrade to a given CPU on the Mac Pro than it does to purchase the same CPU outright from an etailer, but that was to highlight nothing other than the fact that to call the Mac Pro less expensive than a DIY build is nonsensical. Apple has to make money, after all, and it’s doing so in the same way other builders do – by charging a premium on components. For that price, you buy into that company’s designs, and in this case, Apple certainly delivers.

By contrast, PC’s perks can’t be ignored. While the Mac Pro lacks in component flexibility1, the PC thrives on it. Sure, you’re going to wind up with a much larger build, but that’s a side-effect of it not being built from the ground up. You simply couldn’t purchase an off-the-shelf chassis that gives you anything close to what the Mac Pro gives you.

Plus, consider this: Should a Mac Pro die after its warranty period, it’s likely to be thrown into the trash can – ironic, but true. On the PC side, parts can be salvaged - and, not to mention, PCs would allow the user to correct hardware issues, rather than require a visit to a store to get the deed done.

As I’m sure is obvious, both the Mac Pro and the DIY PC offer unique benefits. In the end, it’s up to you to decide which suits you better. Tossing the idea of price comparisons out the window, both platforms are unique, offer their own sets of perks, and simply can’t be easily compared.

1 (Friday, December 27th update) Thanks to a teardown done by Other World Computing, we can see that the latest Mac Pro can be upgraded to some degree. For starters, the CPU socket is accessible, which means upgrading to a different LGA2011 Xeon processor should be possible. Likewise, Apple’s stuck to traditional DIMM slots here, so upgrading RAM shouldn’t be an issue either (assuming you can find appropriate ECC sticks). The GPUs sport a custom design, though, so in order for upgrades there, Apple would have to sell them itself.

2 (Tuesday, December 31st update) The lack of user-upgradability (and access in general) on this Mac Pro has proven to be quite untrue. In iFixit’s teardown, we get a fantastic glimpse at not only how easy it is to access the individual components, but replace them as well. As with the Other World Computing teardown mentioned above, iFixit confirms that the CPU and RAM could be user-replaceable (which would assume that Apple is not going to reject dissimilar hardware (eg: parts it doesn’t sell) in the EFI firmware). The GPU and SSD are replaceable as well, but due to their proprietary connectors, Apple would have to sell replacements / upgrades itself.


  • Scott Zupek

    what “builder” would actually want to spend 2800 bucks on 1 CPU, regardless of cores when you can get 10 8 core Bulldozer FX (or any other cheap equivalent) which would give you 80 cores, for the price of 12 as listed. The argument that “it’s cheaper than what you can buy it” doesn’t work with INTEL because INTEL is notorious for price hikes to consumers and monopoly like discounts to suppliers…especially Apple, who helps carry the latest and greatest.

    • http://techgage.com/ Rob Williams

      I can’t imagine that a single builder would choose that CPU, but the original article included it because the goal was to build a 1:1 configuration. Even on the high-end, I’d have a hard time avoiding the 10-core version of that same chip which costs $1,000 less. When you build your own PC, there are a multitude of ways to build something with far more power, but for less. In some extremes, you could even build two entirely different PCs should your workloads be able to be networked.

      But of course, -any- PC you build is not going to be as small as the Mac Pro, and for some people, the importance of that is weighed heavily.

  • sketchbag

    Other than the 6gb memory, one might as well just go with 2 r9 290xs. more compute units, more bandwidth, more virtually everything. and hell, water cool them and you’d be looking near the same 750 bucks as what apple is paying. you’d be losing 2gb per gpu of memory, which admittedly would affect some tasks, and as long as theyre water cooled you wouldnt be dealing with the sound of 4 hair dryers all the time :)

    • http://techgage.com/ Rob Williams

      That’s an option, although it has to be stressed that workstation cards are tuned for its target markets, just like Radeon is tuned for the gamer market. Some optimizations at the driver-level will vastly improve performance in certain workloads, and it’s these optimizations (and the effort that goes into them) that commands the premium pricing (well, a great support contract also has a little bit to do with it).

      If none of that matters though, and it’s just raw single or double-precision performance that’s needed, AMD’s desktop cards are an amazing value when compared to the workstation counterparts.

      • sketchbag

        I agree fully. But the raw fact is mm2 is the final answer (well that hasn’t been disabled). Hawaii shows itself a gen past. When a fire pro of this gen happens it’s going to have support beyond a hacking card. But flops and bandwidth are what matters in hardware

        • sketchbag

          Auto complete I hate. Beyond an Nvidia card.

  • Masta Playa

    the 1st pic shows a 3.7Ghz CPU and the Intel pic shows 2.7Ghz CPU. Cant compare those.

    • http://techgage.com/ Rob Williams

      You’re meant to look at the price of the 2.7GHz CPU in that Apple shot.

      “2.7GHz 12-core with 30MB of L3 cache [Add $3,500]“

  • Ben Parry

    for $3k you can build a faster pc. That and the market for a 3k pc is very small. average consumers only spend 600-$1500 for a pc. Enthusiast on the other hand will pay 3k+ but as an enthusiast I would not invest in this. But still its a very neat design and I am sure some will like it, they do have a lot of apple fans that like their stuff.

    • Alyssaa

      IT’S NOT A PC. IT’S A WORKSTATION. MASSIVE DIFFERENCE.

      • QwertyJuan

        Workstation and OSX don’t belong in the same sentence. :)

        • knute5

          Them’s fightin’ words. Render wars!

          • QwertyJuan

            LOL, I thought I’d get some feathers ruffled! :)

        • Alyssaa

          What? Utter rubbish. Most graphical, photography and videography work is done on OSX.

          • QwertyJuan

            Sorry was just trying to see if I could get you riled up… it worked!! :)

          • Ben Parry

            That use to be true, however there has been a growing trend in graphics companies and printing companies to phase out macs for cheaper pc’s with same graphics processing power. GPU’s for rendering power is all that is needed not any powerful machine that costs alot. As to workstation vs enthusiast machine there is little difference other than using a Quatro or Firopro

          • Laraine

            I’m glad I don’t work for one of these companies!

          • Trent

            I have noticed the opposite. I build my own PC’s, but a lot of the engineering consultant companies (EE and software) that I work with are using mac laptops and desktops. Like I said I enjoy building, but I sure would like to just swap it out for a new one if it stuff stops working rather than spend hours troubleshooting with spare parts.

          • Ben Parry

            perhaps your market is different. Oil and gas, industrial, Telecom do not use mac. Graphic and video I agree there has been a large market there, but today there is no reason to continue using mac as all software is available on Pc and more applications are supported on PC in business world. As to trouble shooting that is why most companies have IT support. Its faster to replace a part than a whole machine ;)

          • eadnams

            I work in Oil & Gas, and we are seeing more macs in offices, and WAY more apple products like ipads in offices and in the field.

          • Ben Parry

            We have seen an increase in ipads for sure but not mac desktops. Only reason we are using ipads is cheap and many class 1 div 2/div 1 cases which for other devices are not readily available because of non standard sizes. As to software in the industry there is a lot of apps for the pads, but not much in terms of industry application and same goes for server side. The “Mac servers” are nothing more than a file store or small business file server with very little for mid-large companies. M$ will always be the primary for business unless google over takes market which looking at trends it seems the be shifting that way. We will see in a few years how this all comes together. PC’s are not dead, analyst that say otherwise need to understand that since the i5/7 series processors there has been very little need for people to upgrade as even with current OS/applications these machines still have more than 70% processor unused in most cases. the 3-4 year replacement cycle is not the same. Trends show new 6 year cycle before any updates need to happen. so instead people are adding smart devices like phones and pads as new ways to access your data and web apps. just curious though these macs in offices what are they doing with them in oil and gas? Just email , web? what applications? just curious to see if there perhaps is new software that I may have missed that could push us that direction.

          • Ben Parry

            also for your read on business sector to give you a better picture: http://appleinsider.com/articles/12/04/04/nearly_half_of_us_corporations_issuing_macs_to_employees

          • eadnams

            Normal office productivity stuff.

            In my case, 3D, Video and design. But others, Keynote is starting to take over from powerpoint because it actually, you know, WORKS, and gives a far more polished presentation with less effort.

            iDevice management too. My Mac Pro workstation will be handling the macs/iDevices on the network as well– Our Network admin got a Mac Mini Server at home and fell in love with it, so he is excited for the Pro in the office.

            Easier to get a presentation around on an iPad, that has no issues with versions/codecs.

          • Ben Parry

            So based on the above in your case its special, as the other app that just tells me that the primary use for your company is web, email and keynote which if that is all you run a much cheaper PC would make more sense for those users. See below articles as to why I am questioning the use of MAC in workplace. Aside from the usual art perspective they don’t offer much for business applications.

          • eadnams

            Everything is web now, which is why platform doesn’t REALLY matter much to be honest. I believe different use cases require different tools. For office productivity, OSX seems to be providing less friction, gets out of the way for the user to be productive. Other use cases we need to use windows. Heck, I dual-boot for certain things.

        • chochazel

          >Workstation and OSX don’t belong in the same sentence. :)

          You just did.

      • Lonnie Duncan

        they are talking about cost to build, and its a PC because yes it it a PERSONAL COMPUTER.

        • darren

          smh… yes but what we’re saying is people spend 1500 for pc’s to surf the web; when you spend 3k on a pc then it’s cause you’re making use of that processing power and whatnot… are you following?

    • Me

      Sure you can build a faster gaming PC. You’re not in the market for a Mac Pro — you’re not a prosumer so it’s pointless to say you don’t want it.

      Are you doing massive video edits applying 19 different filters to your scenes? Are you rendering a 4K animations / special effects?

      A bus is expensive too and I’m sure your car is faster than it. I’m sure you’re not interested in a bus — do you go out telling others than your car is faster/cheaper/more fuel efficient and that the only fans of buses like buses?

      • Ben Parry

        What I am saying is that video editing with real-time rendering is not just mac’s anymore. PC’s using windows have just as much power and yes including rendering at 4k with effects. Most of that is not done by the CPU or OS and rendered based on the cards you use. That said what I am getting at is that a PC at cheaper costs with high end cards can still perform at the same level. In fact you can take a cheaper Intel 6-12 core processor and get the same results. The above article is slanted to make it seem that one can not get the same performance output from a PC for cheaper which is simply not true. That does not mean that its a bad machine just that the cost for performance is incorrect.

        • http://techgage.com/ Rob Williams

          “The above article is slanted to make it seem that one can not get the same performance output from a PC for cheaper which is simply not true.”

          That’s untrue. The article was written in direct response to an article which compared 1:1 builds, Mac Pro vs. PC. Since no one else who linked to the original article said -why- the PC came out behind, we did.

          No where in the article do I insinuate that a powerful PC couldn’t be built for cheaper, and to even suggest that would go against the bulk of our content. We review processors, motherboards, graphics cards and other sorts of PC components… we’re sure as heck not going to suggest that a DIY PC isn’t worth it.

          • Ben Parry

            Rob, you are right. 1:1 build using same parts would be more pricey. I was simply trying to say a DIY desktop/workstation could be made cheaper and faster through many other means. now depending on what its being used for also would determine what is required. see statement above.

          • http://techgage.com/ Rob Williams

            “1:1 build using same parts would be more pricey.”

            1:1 was the entire point of the original article, and then this follow-up ;-)

            I just took issue with this statement:

            “The above article is slanted to make it seem that one can not get the same performance output from a PC for cheaper which is simply not true.”

            Because that was not what was insinuated in the article at all. The original article had a 1:1 comparison, so we followed but revealed the reasons behind it. Talk about building a PC for cheaper is another subject entirely.

            No one can disagree that building a powerful PC for cheaper is an option, as facts are facts. But again, this article had nothing to do with that kind of thing.

        • Trent

          You won’t get the same results with a cheaper processor. Tom’s Hardware benched this at over 30k. Compare that to their workstation version of the i7 chip: over $1k, 14k benchmark. What cheaper CPU are you talking about that can also outperform this?

          • Ben Parry

            Sorry Trent I kind of broke up info on performance. If you read my other post I was saying that for workstation applications particularly for CAD, video edit and graphics rendering. I was trying to convey that CPU is not as important and graphics cards. With that said you can drop down to a 6 core and get similar results for less. Now if your application is CPU based with no GPU acceleration than yes the processor above would be fairly high up there. If we are talking DIY PC than you have many other options including Stable over clocking (not word stable). CPU’s play little in todays workstations. Most the apps I have seen in art, composition etc. are not mostly if not fully GPU accelerated.

      • granda

        mac’s are useless for video editing of the scale you a describing with an AMD gpu in them… CUDA cores are the way forward at this moment.

  • Jane Archer

    TOTAL GARBAGE. Neither AMD nor Nvidia make ‘workstation’ GPU parts. What both companies do is take their gaming chips, tweak the BIOS and drivers so artificial crippling of certain CAD typical functions within OpenGL and DirectX is switched off, down-clock the chips so crashes as a consequence of driving the chip too hard are reduced, and raise the ticket price ten-fold so corporate suckers will pay through the nose.

    Neither company has CAD specific hardware units on their chips. All functions are driven through the general shader pipeline. However, if you use CAD programs so poorly programmed, they still use “high level” 2D OpenGL functions, like ‘anti-aliased 2D lines”, the ‘workstation’ card may appear to be much faster. However, if you use a CAD program that correctly implements its own anti-aliased lines using two-triangles and a correct shader program, the workstation card will be notably SLOWER that the gaming card that uses the same chip.

    ALL so-called CAD calls are converted, by the driver, to completely ordinary triangle, texture and shader functions.

    Complicating things even more is that if one uses the GPU for ‘compute’ applications, some of the older high-end gaming boards from AMD and Nvidia have ‘fast’ double-precision throughput. Only with the current generation do AMD and Nvidia really cripple double-precision on their highest end gaming boards, and even then, those chips have thermal throttling issues, meaning that workstation variants with a higher DP to SP ratio will need to be clocked at much lower speeds.

    TLDR; Workstation cards are a complete con.

    • http://bhtooefr.org/ Eric Rucker

      Another reason to buy a workstation card is that the workstation cards are extensively tested with the high-end CAD programs.

      If you paid $65k for your CAD program (apparently you can actually get CATIA V6 configured that expensive, based on my Googling, and a lot of places use CATIA partially due to having major workflows designed around it), sure, you could use a $350 gaming GPU. The problem is that you won’t get support for CATIA.

      So, $3500 for the same GPU in the workstation version then becomes worth it so that you get support for your $65k CAD program.

    • Ken Luskin

      AMD and Nvidia killed off the other companies that made GPUs, and that is why they now share the “professional” market.

      The professional GPUs are more powerful than the high end retail ones, and carry extremely high profit margins.

      The extremely high profit margins, allows AMD to give Apple a very attractive WHOLESALE price, while still retaining decent margins.

      The $1,000 priced professional GPU at RETAIL, only cost about $250 to manufacture.

      When sold to Apple for $500, AMD avoids marketing, sales, and retail markup costs.

      WHILE still earning a 50% gross margin.

      Since the AMD in whole as a corporation has total gross margins of only 35%, the Apple MAC PRO GPU business is a very profitable addition.

  • tech

    Very Nice Discussion. I do think that this computer is a powerhouse that can be taken advantage of. The price might limit the market a bit. Here’s an overview video of it. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z4WK_KlSI1k&hd=1

  • Roger Cooper

    “Its design was built from the ground up to be super-efficient – so efficient that upgrading and other component manipulation isn’t possible.”
    In point of fact, it has already been reported by ifixit that the processor is in fact user upgradeable. The internal hard drive, while not the standard SATA that we might prefer, is the same type used in the late model retina macbooks and is also user upgradeable. RAM, also user upgradeable. This leaves the GPUs which appear to have a proprietary connector and are therefore not readily replaced by off the shelf components.
    This system may not be as mod-friendly as your average PC, but to say that upgrading and component manipulation arent possible is a bit of a stretch.

    • http://techgage.com/ Rob Williams

      iFixit actually linked back to this article in that teardown. I’m going to be looking through it a bit and update accordingly.

      • Roger Cooper

        Rob, I just this instant noticed that this article was written on the 27th. My apologies. Very well done.

        • http://techgage.com/ Rob Williams

          Cheers, and no problem at all. I appreciate the heads-up.

  • Daniel DeMerchant

    Here is one way to go at it:

    (2) EVGA GeForce GTX 780 $519.99 x 2
    (1) Corsair Carbide Series Case $79.99
    (1) Intel Xeon E5-2630 $649.99
    (1) SuperMicro X9SRE-F Mothboard $349.99
    (1) Crucial 12GB DDR3 1333 ECC Registered Memory $179.00
    (2) Samsung 840 Pro Series MX-7PD128BW in RAID 0 $119.99 x 2
    (1) 600W Corsair CX600M Power Supply $79.99
    (2) USB 3.0 Adapters (2 ports each) $23.00 x 2
    (1) Windows 8.1 Pro OEM $139.99. By the way, Win 8 is solid. You can also go Win Server.
    (1) DVD Burner $18.00

    Total $2822.91
    This gives you a 6 core, equal drive performance and better video performance (NVIDEA POWER!), not to mention REAL upgradeability. Switch to an i7 and things get even less expensive.

    Total with Ivy Bridge i7-4930K and Gigabyte Mobo: $2594.91

    Got plenty of cash left for a nice water cooler, forget the iTrashCan fan setup :)

  • karm42yn

    So would a FirePro D300 work on a standard PC mobo or does it require Apple one?

    • karm42yn

      Ok, just looked at the pics. Ignore the question.

  • brian botkiller

    Yay! A giant company made a deal with a semi-less giant company to use their muscle to keep a component cost down. Apple corners something and does all they can to keep it under their umbrella alone. I’m not interested no matter what.

  • Bill S

    I have to wonder if AMD is cutting apple a deal or are they just using chips that meet apples thermals via binning that while not defective enough to be binned as a 7950 they also aren’t clock stable as a R9 280X or W9000 but will work perfectly fine at the D700s 900Mhz or so clock speed

    • http://techgage.com/ Rob Williams

      I think at this point the GPUs can be produced easily enough so it isn’t a problem. It doesn’t cost AMD more to manufacture these workstation GPUs over desktop ones, and the R&D is already long paid for. AMD could charge whatever it wanted to be competitive in this.