Build The Mac Pro You Wish Apple Had Released

Last week, Apple updated its Mac Pros with old processors from 2010, even older graphics cards and all the USB 2.0 ports you'll ever need. With a proper update unlikely until 2013, we thought we'd bridge the gap with "hackintoshes" — the faster, cheaper Mac desktops you can build yourself with standard PC hardware. By making your own "Hack Pro" you'll get the up-to-date machine Apple won't provide, and you'll also save a lot of money in the process.

The Mac Pro update everyone was hoping for would have included Intel's latest Ivy Bridge processors, which are smaller, more powerful and more efficient. With a desktop computer like the Mac Pro, power usage is still a fairly significant concern because a lack of efficiency can make for a pricier power bill. Additionally, with the immediately out-of-date Mac Pro starting at $2999, you're already overpaying for a machine that's slower than the one you can build yourself. In this post, we're going to look at three hackintoshes you can create yourself, how they stack up against a comparable Mac Pro, and how much you'll save in the process.

The Builds

Ivy Bridge hackintoshes are pretty new, and it wasn't until last week that Mac OS X even supported the new processors officially. The builds we're looking at in this section are based on the work of people in the hackintosh community who have already taken the plunge. Where applicable, we'll mention the sources we used so you can dig deeper and learn more before getting started.

Fast: The Entry-Level Desktops

First, let's start off with the entry-level machine. We're going to look at what Apple offers (priced for Australia), what a hackintosh can offer, and how they compare in price and performance. The prices for the individual components in the hackintosh are based on what you can readily purchase them for in Australia with a little online research. We've avoided quoting the absolute lowest price we found, since you'll potentially end up paying a little more for some if you decide to get most components from one supplier to cut down on postage. (In any event, the differences are so substantial on these builds that you could pay rather more for each component and still come out well ahead.)

Apple's entry-level Mac Pro; total price: $2999

  • 3.2GHz quad-core Intel Xeon processor
  • 6GB RAM (3x 2GB)
  • 1TB 7200RPM hard drive
  • SuperDrive
  • ATI Radeon HD 5770 with 1GB GDDR5
  • Mouse and keyboard

Our Entry-Level Hack Pro; Total Price: $1212 Here's an entry-level Hack Pro you can build for $1200 or so, which is less than half what Apple will charge you:

  • Cooler Master RC-692-KKN2 Case ($120)
  • Gigabyte GA-Z77-DS3H Motherboard ($120)
  • Intel Core i7 3770 3.4 GHz CPU ($320)
  • MSI NVIDIA GeForce GTX 560 Ti (448 Cores) PCI-E 16X Graphics Card ($250)
  • 8GB Corsair DDR3 1600 MHz RAM, 2x4GB ($55)
  • 1TB Western Digital Caviar Black 7200 RPM Hard Drive ($140)
  • Corsair Professional Series 650W Modular Power Supply ($120)
  • ASUS 24x DVD-RW Serial ATA Internal Drive ($25)
  • SYBA FireWire 400/800 Card ($30)
  • Mac OS X Lion Download ($31.99) or Thumb Drive ($75)

So, what's the difference?

The Hack Pro is some $1787 cheaper. Of course, you get a nice Bluetooth keyboard and mouse with the Mac Pro, but you can always throw in a USB Bluetooth adapter and whatever keyboard and mouse you want with all the money you'll be saving.

In terms of performance, the Mac Pro and Hack Pro are pretty evenly matched when it comes to the lesser-components (with the Hack Pro keeping a slight edge). This build even includes a FireWire 400/800 card so you have your standard Mac ports. Additionally, the motherboard supports USB 3.0 so you can have even faster data transfers than the current Mac Pro. The primary differences between Apple's entry-level Mac Pro and this build are between the CPU and graphics card. The NVIDIA GeForce GTX 560 Ti in our build offers significantly better performance, so if your needs are GPU-intensive you're in much better shape with the Hack Pro. When it comes to the CPU, Apple's Mac Pro offers a 3.2 GHz Quad-Core Intel Xeon processor to our 3.4 GHz Core i7. While the Xeon is a higher grade than the Core i7, the one Apple's using is kind of old and just not as fast. In fact CPU Benchmarks tested both and the Core i7 came in at 10,455 and the Xeon at 6,070 (higher numbers are better). While benchmarks aren't everything, that's a pretty large performance gap between Apple's latest offering and a machine you can build for half the price.

The bottom line: The Hack Pro is faster than the Mac Pro in every category and it costs less than half what you'd pay Apple.

Faster: The Mid-Range Workstations

Next we've got the mid-range machine. On Apple's side this means a $1,000+ price hike. For the Hack Pro it's a difference of only around $150.

Apple's Mid-Range Mac Pro; Price: $4068.99 Here's what you get for your money:

  • One 3.33 GHz 6-Core Intel Xeon processor
  • 8GB of RAM (4x2GB)
  • 2TB 7200 RPM Hard Drive
  • 18x SuperDrive
  • ATI Radeon HD 5870 with 1GB GDDR5
  • Mouse and Keyboard

Our Mid-Range Hack Pro; Price: $1352

Here's an mid-range Hack Pro you can build for $1352, or a little less than one-third of the cost of a similar Mac Pro:

  • Cooler Master RC-692-KKN2 Case ($120)
  • Gigabyte GA-Z77-UD5H Motherboard ($120)
  • Intel Core i7 3770 3.5 GHz CPU ($350)
  • MSI NVIDIA GeForce GTX 560 Ti (448 Cores) PCI-E 16X Graphics Card ($250)
  • 8GB Corsair DDR3 1600 MHz RAM, 2x4GB ($55)
  • 2TB Western Digital Caviar Black 7200 RPM Hard Drive ($200)
  • Corsair Professional Series 650W Modular Power Supply ($120)
  • ASUS 24x DVD-RW Serial ATA Internal Drive ($25)
  • SYBA FireWire 400/800 Card ($30)
  • Mac OS X Lion Download ($31.99) or Thumb Drive ($75)

So, what's the difference?

The Hack Pro is $2700 cheaper and bears the same advantages over the Mac Pro as our entry-level comparison with one exception: while there are compatible motherboards for the 6-core Ivy Bridge processors, they aren't as widely used just yet and require a few more difficult steps than we want to throw at you. As a result, we opted to stick with a slightly faster but nonetheless quad-core processor. This means that Apple's Mac Pro has two additional processor cores. There shouldn't be much of a real-world advantage here, but that's what you're sacrificing. If you're OK with having a much faster, much cheaper machine with two less cores, then the Hack Pro is the way to go.

Fastest: The High-End Powerhouses

If you want one of the fastest Hack or Mac Pros you can get, here are your options. We decided to go all out, so you'll want a fairly fat wallet in either case.

Apple's High-End Mac Pro; Price: $9318.99

Here's what you get for your (large) chunk of money:

  • Two 3.06 GHz 6-Core Intel Xeon (for 12 total cores)
  • 16GB of RAM (8x2GB)
  • 2TB 7200 RPM Hard Drive
  • 512GB Solid State Drive
  • 18x SuperDrive
  • ATI Radeon HD 5870 with 1GB GDDR5
  • Mouse and Keyboard

Our Mid-Range Hack Pro; Price: $US2317

Here's a high-end Hack Pro you can build for $2317, or slightly less than a quarter of the cost of the comparable Mac Pro:

  • Cooler Master RC-692-KKN2 Case ($120)
  • Gigabyte GA-Z77X-UD5H Motherboard ($270)
  • Intel Core i7 3770K 3.5 GHz CPU ($400)
  • MSI NVIDIA GeForce GTX 560 Ti (448 Cores) PCI-E 16X Graphics Card ($250)
  • 16GB Corsair DDR3 1600 MHz RAM, 2x4GB ($120)
  • 2TB Western Digital Caviar Black 7200 RPM Hard Drive ($200)
  • OCZ Vertex 4 512GB Solid State Drive ($750)
  • Corsair Professional Series 650W Modular Power Supply ($120)
  • ASUS 24x DVD-RW Serial ATA Internal Drive ($25)
  • SYBA FireWire 400/800 Card ($30)
  • Mac OS X Lion Download ($31.99) or Thumb Drive ($75)

So, what's the difference?

The obvious advantage the Mac Pro has over the Hack Pro is that it has three times the number of cores. That said, you'd be paying almost four times as much for just that. With a difference of $6000, you could add another nine 512GB SSDs to this Hack Pro build and still have money left over. (Technically you'd run out of SATA connections for the drives, so don't actually do this.)

So do the twelve cores matter? Only if you have applications that can actually take advantage of them. If not, you'll be wasting a lot of money and power. While this Mac Pro might be able to best its Hackintosh counterpart in some situations, we don't think that's worth the cost. We still say stick with the Hack Pro, unless you really need 12 cores.

At this point it's worth noting that the Hack Pro builds haven't changed much throughout the comparison. The graphics card was always faster, so it wasn't necessary to find a faster one. The CPU can hold its own against old Xeon processors so that wasn't much of an issue, either. When it came to the high-end build, we intended to offer a 240GB SSD instead of the 512GB option, but Apple only allows you to add 512GB SSDs to your Mac Pro. If you don't need a gigantic solid state drive, you can save yourself even more money by cutting the space in half.

It all comes down to this: when you start upgrading a Mac Pro, you spend a lot of money in the process. When you upgrade a Hack Pro, you don't. You also get a wider selection of what you can use in the machine. The entry-level model we put together is really fast, and barely over $1200. It's still fast enough to rival the high-end Mac Pro. Until Apple figures out how to handle its professional machines, hackintoshes are going to be the way to go for desktop builds — especially on the higher end of things.

Additional Hardware Resources

These Hack Pro builds were put together thanks to a great (but slightly outdated) build guide by tonymacx86. They were updated for Ivy Bridge by reading posts in the build section of the tonymacx86 forums (like this one and this one). Be sure to check out those resources if you want to learn more about these builds or swap out any of the parts we chose.

The Hackintosh Process

Buying a bunch of parts is the starting point, but you still have to actually build your hackintosh. Fortunately, we've got you covered in all aspects. Here are a few resources we've put together to take you through the entire process — even if you run into problems:

That should be everything you need to know. We hope you enjoy your new Hack Pro that you didn't have to wait for Apple to build for you!


Comments

    An economist would also factor in your hourly wage over the life of the machine for all the time you waste troubleshoot, fixing and playing with the thing to get it operating.

      Generally once you have it running, it runs like a real mac, nothing needed to keep it going. Source: have a few hackintoshes at home

        Agreed, ive experienced hackintoshes as well, and they are as stable as a real mac, so really you saving a bucket load of money.

    I actually didnt know you could use off the shelf parts and run OSX on it (im a windows user so i never needed to know), which brings me to one question.....why would anyone buy a Apple Mac Pro when you can do it like this for a fraction of the cost?

    Boggles the mind...

      There's quite a lot of stuffing around involved with the "run OSX" part, so it's not a solution for everyone. (Certainly much easier to build and run an equivalent Windows system, but that's not what a hackintosh builder is after.)

      apple legal fine print: they sell the OS cheap, because it is ILLEGAL (technically) to install MacOS on a platform other than Apple Manufactured. Not like you'll ever get caught, pending big brother taking control of your privacy rights, so currently it is only a moral dilemma. Do something illegal, save $$$, or do the right thing and hand your wallet over to Apple.

    Why not build the Hack Pro units with Xeon processors like the Mac Pro to give a more like for like comparison?

    Here’s a high-end Hack Pro you can build for $2317, or slightly less than a quarter of the cost of the comparable Mac Pro

    In no way is a 4-core i7-based system remotely equivalent to a 12-core Xeon-based system. Even suggesting that shows that the author has no idea what people actually use Mac Pros or other multi-processor Xeon systems for. Hint: these systems aren't built to be gaming PCs.

      The two Xeon E5645s in the current top-end Mac Pro retail for about $US 1100 total at present. For nearly $US 300 less you could get a pair of Xeon E5-2620s - which are also 6-core and offer about an extra 25% performance over the older Xeons - and stick them in, say, an EVGA SR-X motherboard for about $US 650.

      Throwing in a beefier PSU and perhaps some different RAM and a larger case (but keeping the other parts the same), and you'd be spending less than $US 1000 above the Hack Pro specced out above, but still saving $US 6000 off Apple's price, and getting a far more powerful machine for the money.

      Or if you're both mad and a fan of highly threaded workflows, you could buy a pair of 8-core Xeon E5-2690s, which together outperform the Xeons in the Mac Pro by 130%, at $US 2040 each, along with an appropriate board and PSU, and you'd *still* be saving around $US 2000 off Apple's price.

    these are just normal PCs anyone can buy and build themselves... they just use components that are compatible with the actual 'hack' to get OSX onto them

    all i see here are three desktop PCs... dual 6-core xeons cost 4x the amount of the intel i7 in the mid-range hack you describe

      ... and the 6 core Xeons are a complete waste of money, compared to a fast core i7.

      Old technology.

        Dude, Seriously?

        My 5 year old Mac Pro at work (Dual Quad Core 2.8Ghz, with only 6gb of ram) Is much much much more powerful than my year old Top of the line Core i7 imac at home, with 8gb of ram.

        Xeons > Core i7 any time

          I think you missed the point. Two Xeon E5-series is not comparable to one i7 mobile process. The previous one have 12 cores while the later one has only 4. And as far as I know, imac utilize a s-version of i7, which is much less powerful than the k version.
          But for the same price, Xeon E3 1230 v2 is not as fast at i7-3770 (both ivy bridge). And of course, 6-core Xeon is not as good as a 6-core at the same price level.
          What you compared is some thing totally different. US$1000 to US$250.

    I present the EVGA Classified SR-X for consideration...
    http://www.evga.com/products/pdf/270-SE-W888.pdf

    Yes, it ups the price of the motherboard from $270 -> $700 however that still keeps the total price cheaper than the Mac, and it can also use dual Xeon processors, dual Gb Lan etc.

    One thing to note is that the Xeon chips are far more expensive than the Core iX series chips.

    My only change with these articles would be to replace the nvdidia 560ti with any 6 series ATI video card. Why? Well, no hacking necessary, it runs out of the box and gives fantastic performance. For example, Radeon 6850 in my hackintosh worked after I booted the machine for the first time.

      Depends what you're doing...Personally I wouldn't go ATI because then I couldn't make use of the Mercury playback engine in Adobe Premiere, which only supports Nvidia CUDA cards...

    Proving that mac buyers are highly susceptible to marketing.

    This comment has been deemed inappropriate and has been deleted.

      Easy. Core Audio. ASIO is a pain in the rear for audio production. In fact this really has me thinking.

    Built my ivy bridge hackintosh on Sunday and it runs like a dream, costs the fraction of an iMac and Mac pro and kills them in performance, I love apple, yet they continue to neglect consumers on prices (eg over a thousand dollars for 16gb of ram in the Mac pro), I love apple so much that the case I used to build my system is the apple powermac g5 case that i bought off gumtree that had no longer functioning internals, i modded at the rear an installed a mountain mods motherboard Tray.

    I get the same sleek apple design that I personally LOVE and a system that kills apples Mac pro in performance.

    The key to a good hackintosh is the setup to begin with, once that's done, your good, the best place IMO for hackintosh info and start is tonymacx86's blog and the forums on that website along with dsdt's, the best thing though is the custombeast that is tailored directly to your system and makes it function 100% , sorry for the but of a rant but hackintoshes are sometimes a really great option for people.

    Ps Soz if there was heaps of spelling/grammar errors :)

    Ps that Gigabyte GA-Z77X-UD5H listed in the second hackintosh cannot be had for under $200 in Australia, I used it in my build and runs great though :)

      I've pulled together the exact same build and for the life of me can not install Lion on it! Any tips?

    Enjoyed the article, interesting read.

    Noticed a minor error: Under the "Fastest: The High-End Powerhouses" , the hack-pro is still listed as a mid-range, not high-end, despite the article text.

    how safe is a hackintosh though? can you do tasks like banking on it or are there loopholes present in the way the OS is modified so hackers can access it? i mean all your work files and everything on this hacked OS seems like a bad idea

      Haha!

    The problem with this is you can buy a mac pro dual quad core model for $2000 and drop in a 680gtx... I know this because I paid $1999 for my dual quadcore 2009 mac pro. You can also flash the firmware on the 09 model to get an 2010 mac pro and then upgrade the xeons to dual hex core... giving you a 12-core xeon mac pro for ~ $4k ... with the gpu upgrade and 24 gb ram it comes to about $5k stomping the crap out of your hackintosh build...

      You're missing the point of Hackintosh... it still costs less to build one, and most of us that build PCs enjoy tinkering and fine tuning them - the same applies to our Macintosh compatible PCs.

    it also comes down to taste. do you really want to make your own ugly box with all the messy wires when you have such an elegant situation in the mac pros which are probably easier to upgrade harddrives etc? and what happens when you click upgrade on your hacked mac OS by accident. it will probably be unbootable in 2 seconds.

    also what about getting a basic mac pro and then just upgrading it? gotta be a better solution

    I'm disappointed you didn't put in a
    Hack God: Cost $9318.99
    That shows what you could get for that kinda money
    2 i7s
    64Gb RAM
    4 graphics cards in SLI

    is there a thunderbolt port for the hack pro ?? thanks!

    I decided to go a different route with used Apple hardware which yields 10000 or higher Geekbench scores (for what that's worth) but a really fast machine. Used mac pro 1,1 (first generation aka 2006) from ebay for $490. It can be any processor configuration because the next step is to replace the CPUs. Two Xeon X5355 Quad-Core processors at 2.66 GHz from ebay $75 for both. 16 GB RAM (8x2GB) from Amazon (4GB (2x2GB) packages) "added 4 of these to shopping cart" total of $115. This provides a pretty powerful 8-core system for less than $700. Also, the RAM and CPUs are server-grade (reliable).

    The downfalls of going this route:
    The older DDR2 667 ECC FBRAM for these machines is extremely expensive because it is no longer produced and it is server-grade (ECC). You can currently buy 16GB for $115 but to get more that 16GB, you have to use the 4GB modules that cost about 3 times as much as the 2 GB modules. It is possible you could get lucky and buy a machine with some 4GB modules already in it. You can use a combination of different size modules as long as they are installed in matched pairs.
    If you can live with 16GB then this setup is fine.

    possible downfall #2:
    Theses Macs are limited to a small number of compatible graphics cards.
    This doesn't bother me because I don't need graphics power.
    I read somewhere that there are decent cards that you can reflash to use with these old Mac Pros.

    possible downfall #3:
    These machines use SATA II interface (aka 3/Gbps)
    The current standard is SATA III (aka 6/Gbps)
    I haven't done the research specifically but to my knowledge, (correct me if I'm wrong) I don't think most hard drives (including lower-end SSDs) are going to use more that 3/Gbps anyway.

    My particular Mac Pro came with a 320GB 2700 RPM drive that I will put to use for storage.
    For those who need more space or more performance, it will be an added cost.
    I have a 750 GB Seagate Momentus hybrid SSD/HDD ($140) that I'll be using for my system partitions.
    These drives are a great "compromise" between the performance of an SSD and the space of an HDD. It may not be all-around as fast as a SSD but to the unsuspecting average user, it will feel about the same as an SSD.

    All-in-all, I have less than $850 in a system that I would put up against a 2010 3.2 GHz quad-core Mac Pro.

    I actually went the cheap Mac Pro method myself: I was given a 2006 2.0GHz quad core MP. Switched out the processors first to a set of Xeon 5160's. It's already faster than my brother-in-law's brand new Haswell 3.4 GHz i5 with 16GB 1866 MHz Ram. I'm in the process of upgrading to a 2008 MP logic board with Xeon 5472's. People don't seem to understand the differences between server-grade Xeons and the iX series. Xeons have triple memory channel support. That in addition to the quad channel memory configuration (2x Channels than most PC boards) means that while the clock speed may be slower, there is more available thoroughput for your RAM. This means your cores can be more efficient. Couple that with a fast SSD (I have a Samsung 840 Pro in mine) and a good bulk storage drive (2TB Seagate 7200RPM in mine) and you still have a phenomenally powerful machine that will kick the pants off a lot of "modern" machines. And I spent a total of $900 on mine. Including the MSI 760GTX 2GB Twin Frozr that I have, and a 4-port USB 3 Card, SSD, and two 2TB HD's (I dual boot.) I do both gaming, and professional work on this system. It tears through AutoCAD like it's at joke, while my i5 Quad core at work hesitates and struggles. It's also awesomely fast at rendering in Revit, 3dsMAX, Photoshop, etc. And honestly, as far as "power effieiency" is concerned, the actual difference on a yearly basis between a MP and a hackintosh is going to be negligible. If you can't afford a $100 a year increase in electricity, you need to reconsider your finances to be operating a machine like this anyway.

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