What it costs to build your own Mac Pro in SA

The authorised distributor of Apple products in South Africa, Core Group, recently confirmed the pricing and limited availability of the Mac Pro in South Africa.

Apple’s new workstation PC will start at a whopping R38,999, raising the question of what it would cost to build a similar machine from normal off-the-shelf components.

To help with an answer we approached a number of custom PC builders, many of whom opted out of providing a quote, mainly due to difficulties in sourcing FirePro graphics cards equivalent to those in the Mac Pro.

In the end, Phoenix Tech and Evetech delivered a set of quotes.

The two companies approached the challenge differently, with Phoenix Tech designing two machines to match the Mac Pro specifications as closely as possible.

Below is a table showing a comparison of the base quad-core Mac Pro and Phoenix Tech’s equivalent.

Quad-core Mac Pro comparison
Component Mac Pro Phoenix Tech
Processor 3.7GHz Quad-Core Intel Xeon E5 processor Intel Xeon E5–1620 V2 3.7Ghz Quad (R4,600)
RAM 12GB 1866MHz DDR3 ECC memory G.Skill 3X4GB DDR3 1866 ECC DIM (R3,000)
Graphics (Custom) Dual AMD FirePro D300 with 2GB GDDR5 VRAM each 2x Sapphire FirePro W7000 (R20,000)
Storage 256GB PCIe-based flash storage Super Talent GS5 PCIE SSD 256GB (R12,500)
Power supply Custom Seasonic Platinum 1000W PSU (R3,500)
Motherboard Custom ASUS X79 Deluxe 2011 Motherboard (R5,642)
Case Custom Corsair Obsidian 550D PC Case (R1,468)
CPU cooler Custom “Thermal Core” Corsair H60 CPU Cooler (R1,099)
Operating system OS X Windows 8.1 Professional (R1,895)
Total R38,999 R53,704

Phoenix said that it opted for the FirePro W7000 cards as they best matched the specs of the dual D300s inside the Mac Pro.

They also decided to use the H60 closed-loop CPU cooler to try and mimic the cooling system used in the Mac Pro, Phoenix said.

However, considering the dramatic impact the twin FirePro W7000 graphics cards make on the quoted price, it warranted further exploration.

A quick search online suggests that the W7000 is a good comparison for the D300, and an unbranded card can be had for around $740 from the AMD shop. Using an exchange rate of R11/$) and adding VAT of 14% comes to around R18,785 for two cards (excluding shipping).

It would seem then that the pricing of the “entry level” Mac Pro is well within reason and, in fact, is actually a pretty good deal in South Africa.

You can skimp on some of the components Phoenix quoted for, but even if you go for a cheaper hard drive (you can shave off R10,000 or more), disregard the cost of Windows, and go for cheaper components all round, the machine would still cost about the same as the Mac Pro.

Mac Pro core exposed
Mac Pro core exposed

 

A similar comparison on the higher-end model of the Mac Pro showed much the same results:

Hexacore Mac Pro comparison
Component Mac Pro Phoenix Tech
Processor 3.5GHz 6-Core Intel Xeon E5 processor Intel Xeon E5-1620 V2 3.5Ghz Hexa (R8,800)
RAM 16GB 1866MHz DDR3 ECC memory G.Skill 2x8GB DDR3 1866 ECC DIM (R3,600)
Graphics Dual AMD FirePro D500 with 3GB GDDR5 VRAM each 2x Sapphire FirePro W8000 (R35,257)
Storage 256GB PCIe-based flash storage Super Talent GS5 PCIE SSD 256Gb (R12,500)
Power supply Custom Seasonic Platinum 1000W PSU (R3,500)
Motherboard Custom ASUS X79 Deluxe 2011 Motherboard (R5,642)
Case Custom Corsair Obsidian 550D PC Case (R1,468)
CPU cooler Custom “Thermal Core” Corsair H60 CPU Cooler (R1,099)
Operating system OS X Windows 8.1 Professional (R1,895)
Total R50,999 R73,761

As before, the AMD FirePro W8000 is available from AMD’s own online shop for $1279, which comes to around R32,077 for two cards with VAT included and shipping excluded.

What can I get for (about) the cost of a Mac Pro?

Evetech provided a quote for a modified version of one of their pre-built servers, giving an indication of what they could supply for around the same price as a Mac Pro.

Their quote is summarised and compared against the specs of the Mac Pro in the table below:

Hexacore Mac Pro comparison
Component Mac Pro Evetech
Processor 3.5GHz 6-Core Intel Xeon E5 processor 2x 2.0GHz Intel Xeon E5-2620
RAM 16GB 1866MHz DDR3 ECC memory 8 x 8GB DDR3-1600MHz ECC memory
Graphics Dual AMD FirePro D500 with 3GB GDDR5 VRAM each NVIDIA Quadro K4000 3GB 256-bit 768 Cores
Storage 256GB PCIe-based flash storage Samsung 840 EVO 500GB SSD
Power supply Custom 850W Modular PSU
Motherboard Custom SuperMicro X9DAI Server Board
Case Custom NZXT H630 Silent Workstation Case
CPU cooler Custom “Thermal Core” SuperMicro 4U Active CPU Heat Sink
Operating system OS X Windows 8 PRO 64bit
Total R50,999 R52,999

One can not help but be impressed by the amount of machine Apple managed to fit inside a comparatively small case and still keep it modular.

While there is no doubt that the the Mac Pro is expensive, benchmarking its current SA price against the workstation PCs that system builders can deliver indicates that it is also not overpriced.

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What it costs to build your own Mac Pro in SA