Build A Cheaper, Customisable Alternative To Apple's Mac Pro

Build a Cheaper, Customisable Alternative to Apple's Mac Pro

Apple's Mac Pro, the sleek and shiny trash can from outer space, is certainly a feat of engineering. It also costs $4000. If you want to build a comparable machine yourself, you can save a lot of money by going with a Hackintosh.

Apple's new Mac Pro is very cool, but it has a lot of drawbacks, even ignoring the hefty price. If you want to expand its storage and capabilities, that small marvel suddenly becomes tangled in wires. You also have to spend more since external Thunderbolt gear costs more. If you don't have a great organisational scheme and deep pockets, you're not going to love the latest Mac Pro. Fortunately, you can build something better.

We consulted with hackintosh expert tonymacx86, who offered up some quality, tested builds. You can always see the variety he and his team come up with at, but today we're going to feature our favourite alternatives to the Mac Pro.

Of course, building your own Mac comes with all the risks and potential downsides of building your own machine and maintaining a hackintosh. We think they're worth it, and the process is ridiculously easy thanks to the work of tonymacx86 and his team, but you should know what you're getting into before you go buy all of this stuff. We recommend checkout out our complete guide to building a hackintosh for everything you need to know.

The Builds

We'll show you what you'll get with Apple and how much you'll pay, then do the same with a hackintosh alternative. Specifications won't always be identical, as that's pretty much impossible, but we'll note the differences in each section. We've calculated typical pricing via StaticICE searches; bear in mind that ordering individual components via multiple suppliers can work out more expensive once you factor in postage.

Fast: On A Budget

First, let's start off with an entry-level machine.

Apple's Entry-Level Mac Pro; Total Price: $3999

  • 3.7 GHz Quad-Core Intel Xeon E5 processor
  • 12GB 1866MHz DDR3 ECC memory
  • Dual AMD FirePro D300 with 2GB GDDR5 VRAM (each)
  • 256GB PCIe-based flash storage

Entry-Level Hack Pro; Total Price: $2470

  • Corsair Carbide Mid-Tower Case ($85)
  • Gigabyte GA-Z87X-UD7 TH Motherboard ($550)
  • Intel Core i7 4770K 3.5 GHz Processor ($400)
  • EVGA GeForce GTX 780 Ti ($800)
  • 16GB Crucial Ballistix 1600 MHz DDR3 16GB ($200)
  • 256GB Samsung 840 Pro Solid State Drive ($260)
  • Corsair Carbide RM 650 Modular PSU ($150)
  • TP-Link PCI Express Wi-Fi Card ($25)

What's The Difference?

The hack pro is almost $1500 cheaper, of course, but the machines have some key differences. The Hack Pro benefits from having 4GB more RAM, though that RAM is a tiny bit slower (not that you'd ever notice). Apple's Mac Pro also has dual GPUs. Albeit slower in specifications, some professional software is specifically tuned and optimised to work with AMD FirePro GPUs. Unfortunately, almost no software takes advantage of these dual GPUs on a Mac at the moment and probably won't for a while. Its PCI-based flash storage is faster, but whether or not you'll notice that speed is another story.

The main difference is the processor, as we're putting the top-of-the-line Core i7 processor up against Intel's server-grade Xeon E5. What kind of difference does this make? Not much. The Core i7 definitely scores lower in multi-core benchmarks, but Core i7 bests it in single core performance. When Macworld tested the new Mac Pro, they found its performance didn't rate much higher than a Core i7 27" iMac in real-world use. To give you some perspective, the 27" iMac uses essentially the same processor in the entry-level hack pro build here. Ultimately, you're likely wasting your money when buying a Xeon processor unless you go with a higher-end version and really, truly need the fastest multi-core processor possible.

Finally, as with all builds, the kind of ports and expandability options vary greatly. With Apple's Mac Pro, you get six Thunderbolt 2.0 ports, four USB 3.0 ports, two gigabit Ethernet ports, and one HDMI port. On the entry-level hack pro you get two Thunderbolt 2.0 ports, eight USB 3.0 ports (two on the front, six on the back), two gigabit Ethernet ports, and multiple video port options (including HDMI, DisplayPort, and DVI). You also get several PCIe slots for expanding the machine in virtually any way you like. We prefer the hack pro's port offering, but ultimately it depends on what suits your needs best.

The entry-level build we're offering isn't as cheap as it could be. We chose the fastest processor, the best motherboard, and high-end graphics card to make this a very powerful machine. If you don't need all of this power, you can knock even more off the cost. Check out tonymacx86's buyers guide for cheaper options.

Faster: A Need For Speed

If the entry-level Mac Pro and hack pro just doesn't do it for you, this next build offers a notable speed boost.

Apple's Mid-Range Mac Pro; Total Price: $5299

  • 3.5 GHz Six-Core Intel Xeon E5 processor
  • 16GB 1866MHz DDR3 ECC memory
  • Dual AMD FirePro D500 with 3GB GDDR5 VRAM (each)
  • 256GB PCIe-based flash storage

Mid-Range Hack Pro; Total Price: $2865

  • Corsair Graphite 600T Case ($200)
  • Gigabyte GA-X79-UP4 Motherboard ($275)
  • Intel Xeon 3.5 GHz E5 6-Core Processor ($750) with Corsair H60 CPU Cooler ($95)
  • EVGA GeForce GTX 780 Ti ($800)
  • 16GB Crucial Ballistix 1600 MHz DDR3 16GB ($200)
  • 256GB Samsung 840 Pro Solid State Drive ($260)
  • Corsair AX760 Modular Power Supply ($260)
  • TP-Link PCI Express Wi-Fi Card ($25)

What's The Difference?

Just like the last build, you get more expandability and ports with the hack pro, but the hack pro also levels the playing field a little more. In this build we're using the same processor as Apple's Mac Pro. It does, however, win out on the graphics side thanks to dual GPUs. The hack pro build also loses its Thunderbolt ports (and reduces the number USB 3.0 ports), as there are no compatible Xeon motherboards that feature them. Of course, this build will save you a lot of money, which might be worth a lot more than some added connectivity.

Fastest: The Best You Can Buy

If the entry-level Mac Pro and hack pro just doesn't do it for you, this next build offers a notable speed boost.

Apple's High-End Mac Pro; Total Price: $12,029

  • 2.7 GHz 12-Core Intel Xeon E5 processor
  • 64GB 1866MHz DDR3 ECC memory
  • Dual AMD FirePro D700 with 6GB GDDR5 VRAM (each)
  • 1TB PCIe-based flash storage

High-End Hack Pro; Total Price: $5405

  • Corsair Graphite 600T Case ($200)
  • Gigabyte GA-X79-UP4 Motherboard ($275)
  • Intel Xeon 2.8 GHz E5 10-Core Processor ($2200) with Corsair H60 CPU Cooler ($95)
  • EVGA GeForce GTX 780 Ti ($800)
  • 64GB Corsair Vengeance 1600MHz DDR3 RAM ($900)
  • 960GB Crucial M500 Solid State Drive ($650)
  • Corsair AX760 Modular Power Supply ($260)
  • TP-Link PCI Express Wi-Fi Card ($25)

What's The Difference?

Apple's Mac Pro definitely wins on pretty much every count. It's just a faster machine, but that speed difference is negligible where the price is not. If you buy Apple, you'll pay more than double for a slightly faster machine with fewer expandability options and built-in ports. So is it worth it? We don't think so.

Additional Hardware Resources

These Hack Pro builds were made possible thanks to the build guides created by tonymacx86 (and company). 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!


    Can we have an Australian buyers guide? The pricing and availability of parts on the tonymacx86 site is all US based, and there is a huge difference between Australia and the US for these. Additionally, there is no standard "best value" pc parts distributor in Australia like newegg and amazon in the US

      The prices in this post are all localised. I'll be honest, localising the whole of tonymacx86 might take me a while.

        Also, to be fair, I'd price the MacPro with aftermarket RAM and if you are only comparing with a single 3GB GPU card on the DIY build, then select the D500 GPUs.
        That would be far more comparable performance wise, and funnily enough the difference in price is then negligible.

        Or better still, option the PC with two 6GB workstation GPU cards and you will find the Mac Pro is cheaper than the Hackintosh.

        Please tell me where I can get these prices - start with the Corsair Graphite 600T Case ($200)....

            Not quite - even the most aggressive sellers are over this price (don't bother including greenboxit who don't have stock and don't seem to be able to provide anyway) and then delivery charges can apply on top. It would be nice to have pricing which reflected something that was closer to what the price would be for customers that simply wanted to walk in to a store and purchase or even buy on-line to achieve a true comparison. Lets face it - like it or not the Apple price IS the price you will pay which is what the article is about.

              ...and don't forget to add in all the credit card charges, delivery charges and any and all fees applicable.

              When you compare a pile of parts to a fully assembled computer ready to go with all software included and two years service and support, you still have not factored in your time, the risk of failure and the problems when seeking support.

              I have costed this umpteen times and never reached a figure that I thought was worth it.

              It is a different story if you are building a Windows or Linux box because both are much more flexible in their specifications and tolerance of hardware. Also you can turn to the broad community of PC builders for help. Not much help but better than what you are going to get with a Hackintosh.

    There is of course the small matter of OSX. I'm willing to be corrected if wrong, but isn't it against Apple's licence and therefore illegal to run it on a Hackintosh? Anybody who wants a pro machine would surely want it for professional rather than personal reasons, so opening a business up to a lawsuit doesn't sound very sensible

      There's that, and the fact a lot of the time the hardware is not supported by Apple making it a right pain in the arse to get working properly.

      Its a good thing that apple TOS is not the law then isn't it?

    Interesting story, but I wouldn't be using a Hackintosh Pro in a professional production/enterprise environment because:

    1) No guarantee that an update won't bork the install,
    2) No 'support' from manufacturer (sure - there may be at *component level*, but for any other issue, you are on your own), and
    3) EULA forbids OS X installs on non-Apple machines (fine for home, but professionals wouldn't expose themselves to potential litigation!).

    Having said that, I've bought $35 ex-corporate HP DC7800's and installed OSX Mountain Lion & Mavericks for personal use - worked a treat!

    Would be very much interested in an articles showing:

    1) Existing pre-configured machines comparable to the MacPro that can be Hackintoshed with a minimum of fuss (that way, you minimise 'holistic' hardware support woes - ideal for those who don't want to get their hands dirty), and

    2) MacPro vs Hackintosh builds/costs with as identical a configuration a possible: the same CPUs/GPUs/RAM/SSD/Ports & connectivity - anyone know of where such an article exists?

      Agreed.. Compatibility with OS X appears to be a completely missed point in compiling these builds.

      Back when Intel Macs were first launched, I build a carefully compiled Hackintosh with parts that had very high compatibility and despite that, had troubles with keeping it updated as it aged.
      The hours I spent futzing about with kexts would make up the price difference and more to me nowadays (if I were to do this for a personal project) and even more so in a Professional environment.

    Interesting, have actually just ordered the parts for one myself after long deliberation. I think the comparison between the brand new Mac Pro and a hackintosh is a little tough, mainly for the points raised above, upgrades, compatibility and life-span. $1,500 isn't a lot to spend to create certainty.

    However there is a question for those that do want to future proof themselves but don't have the budget for a new mac pro in deciding between a second hand mac pro and a hackintosh. Both Can set up back a similar cost but the second hand mac pro is the least current.

    No USB 3.0, Thunderbolt, ageing GFX card support, SATA 2, memory speed and the CPU configs are the problem. Most of the "cheaper" Mac Pros are either entry level single or dual CPUs and can cost up to $2-3k simply to get a decent processor and board upgrade.

    I have an ageing iMac and a MacBook Pro so it's not like i am risking my Income on it. But if I can load balance and transfer some services across (Plex / Photoshop) and get some gaming out of

    Last edited 31/03/14 4:10 pm

    I think 'build your own hackintosh' articles really understate the time component of building and maintaining these systems.

    I've scoured OSx86 project forums/wikis and built systems that are as close to '100% out of the box compatibility' as possible, but a simple incremental OS update in future can destroy all your hard work. While there is the obvious solution of not updating and waiting to see how users go, you can be left hanging for a long time. It's not that easy to restore a Hackintosh boot drive (cloning is the easy part) if you do test things yourself.

    There are a lot of issues with the build. Firstly, the Hackintoshes you have suggested don't use workstation grade parts, like Apple's Mac Pro. Secondly, the FirePro D700's 6GB GDDR5 RAM is far more usefully in a workstation compared to a GTX 780 Ti's 3GB GDDR5 RAM, a GTX Titan would have been a better choice. Sure this build is a cheaper alternative, but the instability of Hackintoshes with the lack of workstation grade hardware is a poor recommendation for anyone wanting to do serious work. It may be better just to tell everyone to buy the lowest spec Mac Pro possible with Dual AMD FirePro D700, then upgrade the CPU, RAM and PCIe SSD themselves, and offset the cost by selling the CPU, RAM and SSD that came with it originally. Or you could just use Windows and not have to worry about the hardware compatibility issues of a Hackintosh.

    The biggest problem for me is these 'equivalent' builds are nothing of the sort.
    They aren't using PCIe SSDs (and it makes a big difference).
    They aren't using Xeon processors, so your PCI lanes are severely limited.
    They don't have enough thunderbolt ports for serious work.
    They don't have the Dual workstation GPUs.
    Saying that "Unfortunately, almost no software takes advantage of these dual GPUs on a Mac at the moment and probably won’t for a while" ignores two of the biggest packages we use. Final Cut and Davinci Resolve. These both are much, much ,much faster on the new Mac Pro than on any of these builds. (We have tried a couple of similar builds out, and they are nowhere near usable on a real 4K workflow, the MacPro is seamless).
    The 3GB GPU cards used are relatively useless for 4K work as well vs the 6GB cards in the MacPro.

    And to say 'that small marvel suddenly becomes tangled in wires' is hardly realistic.
    We have two thunderbolt cables coming out the back of the unit. Hardly tangled.
    Using a mackintosh is production is going to require as many or more 'wires', you aren't going to fit 100TB of storage in the largest tower, and you still need to hook up your control surface, sound gear, Wacom etc. etc.
    The new MacPro isn't for everyone, it is a machine for people who make their living from it, and the $1500 saving for a sub-par, potentially incompatible machine isn't even a consideration in that circumstance.

    Making a Hackintosh is fun, I have one at home, but it is no substitute for a MacPro in a production environment.

    And the biggest difference you failed to mention is the pcie hard drive. It's no comparison to the ssd drive in throughout. So try copying files and saving huge files in video editing and the difference is night and day. Too bad the editors who wrote forgot about it totally.

    What a complete LIE! Go to Apple Store right now. Then Entry level price is $2999 NOT $4000!!!! This article purposefully uses false information to make their pricing seem like a $1500 savings to justify your frankenstein build! So the real difference in part price is $529 which is more than wasted in getting some 3rd world pc abomination working and maintaining it. No support, constant debugging rebuilding -if you want that nightmare just stay with fricking windoze!
    The mid range unit is $3999 NOT $5299. MORE LIES! Talk about irresponsible reporting! Try verifying a fact or two before shoveling BS!

      Your own research skills need work (to say nothing of your manners). This is Lifehacker Australia, and those are indeed the Australian prices. Talk about irresponsible commenting . . .


    One thing nobody has mentioned is that Apple products retain a high degree of their resale value on the used market. Every time I upgrade I sell my old Apple product online and generally get 50-80% (generally the higher end is for items still under AppleCare warranty) of the price I paid new. Nobody's going to pay that kind of money for your used Hackintosh, if they're willing to pay anything at all.

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