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2008 Mac Pro Tower Configuration ($4900)

June 20th, 2008

I recently spec’ed out a Mac Pro system for a Digital Video project I’m working on. This $4,900 configuration is what I would recommend for most photographers. I’m posting this prior to building the system because I want to get some feedback on my plan before I put it together. I’m a big Mac fan even though I run mainly PC’s; Mac hardware is really easy to configure because the choices are limited. On the inside a Mac Pro tower looks a whole lot like a Windows Server, which is what I use for workstations. Now that Apple is using Intel processors, a Mac can do a good job of running Windows as well as OSX.
Here’s How I spec’ed out this system. I’ll just order a basic tower from Apple because they charge so much for Ram and Hard drive upgrades. I’m ordering the lowest standard configuration for every component except the processor and video card. I’ll add Ramm and Hard drives later from NewEgg.com.
For the Money the Two 2.8Ghz Quad-Core Machine suits me fine. The faster 3.0ghz(Add $800) or 3.2Ghz(Add $1600) processors would be nice, but I don’t feel the small speed boost justifies the cost. The 2.8 has the same 12MB L2 Cache size as the faster models and the same 1600Mhz frontside bus speed, so the upgrade would just be processor clock speed. The single Quad-Core processor configuration would be acceptable for many photographers and it’s $500 less. The money would be better spent on Ramm and Drives.
Apple offers a fair $150 option for upgrading to a NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GT 512. It’s a good option, because the cards will cost more aftermarket, and the driver may be a problem. Apple does not offer the option for using the card’s SLI feature, which allows two or more of these cards to be used for tandem Graphics Processing (GPU). Hopefully they will put this option in on future Mac towers.

I’m ordering the standard ramm configuration of 2x 1gig from Apple. I’ll pull these out and fill all the slots with 2 Gig modules in matched pairs. Apple uses ECC fully Buffered DDR 800 Memory (PC2-6400) memory in the 2008 Mac Pro Tower. This is commonly available through vendors like Newegg.com or Crucial.com. Apples Price is just outrageous in my opinion. I’ll configure this machine with 16Gigs of aftermarket Memory. It is possible to use DDR 667 memory, but the savings is nominal and there is a speed difference. Here are the aftermarket prices I found for Mac memory:

$400 (8GB) PC2-6400 DDR 800 [Add $1,500.00 at Apple]

$800 (16GB) PC2-6400 DDR 800 [Add $4,300.00 at Apple]

$2576(32GB) PC2-6400 DDR 667 [Add $9,100.00 at Apple]

I’ll pull the Apple included 320Gig drive after I use Carbon Copy Cloner to clone the OS onto new drives. The old 320Gig drive will then go in a Firewire 800 enclosure and be used for backup. I’ll set up two Velociraptor Drives in a Raid 0 to run the OS. This is a nice alternative to Apples very expensive RAID card and SAS drives. I use a SAS raid on my Vista 64bit workstation, but these Velocirapors offer a much simpler configuration and at a fraction of the cost. What I really want in this machine is a Solid State Drive, but the cost is prohibitive for this project
We need at least a couple of Terrabytes to house all the Digital Video, so I’m filling the two remaining internal bays with 1TB Seagate Drives. I’ll probably add a Firewire or SATA II External Enclosure with more drives later.
I’ll use a Dell 23” Display, but I did not include this in the $4900 Tower Price. I’m using a couple of the Dell 30” Models on my Windows Workstations. See my previous post on LED Backlit Displays.

I’ll update this post once the build is complete. In the mean time, please feel free to comment on the configuration, as it may be very helpful to the build. Here are some of My favorite Mac Sites:
EveryMac – Great reference for system information
BareFeats – Bech tests and articles on Mac hardware
XLR8YourMac– Big users group discussing specific hardware
MacRumors– What’s Next?

Mac Business Solutins (MBS)– Gaithersburg, MD Apple Specialist
Other World Computing (OCW)– Competative Mac Store
Small Dog– Discount Mac Systems

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