Productivity

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 Additionally, with the immediately out-of-date Mac Pro starting at $2999, you’re already overpaying for a machine that’s slower than the one you can build yourself.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!


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