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Mac Musings

The 2008 Mac Pro Value Equation

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- 2008.01.09, revised - Tip Jar

Kudos to Apple. It took 17 months between the announcement of the original Mac Pro and unveiling a new version, but they made it worth the wait.

Where the first Mac Pro used a pair of dual-core Intel Xeon processors running at 2.0, 2.66, or 3.0 GHz, the new Mac Pro uses quad-core Xeon CPUs across the board - and on a faster bus in the bargain (1.6 GHz vs. 1.33 GHz). The 2008 Mac Pro gains Serial Attached SCSI (SAS) support and includes Bluetooth as a standard feature. It also has a new video card.

The entry-level Mac Pro now has a single 2.8 GHz quad-core CPU, a big step up from a pair of 2.0 GHz dual-core Xeons in the 2006 model. With a $100 higher price tag, you're gaining at least 40% more processing power.

The standard configuration for the Mac Pro has a pair of 2.8 GHz quad-core Xeons, replacing a pair of 2.66 GHz dual-core Xeons on the older model. At $300 more ($2,799 vs. $2,499), it has over twice the raw computing power. Very impressive!

The first step up is a 3.0 GHz 8-core configuration, which lists at $3,599 - $400 less than last year's 3.0 GHz 8-core model. And topping out the line is the 3.2 GHz Mac Pro, which is perhaps 10% more powerful than the 2007 8-core Mac Pro. With a $4,399 price tag, it's going to be hard to justify.

In terms of processing power per dollar spent, the 8-core 2.8 GHz model is the clear winner. In terms of value, the new 4-core model could be the winner as four cores is more than enough for most tasks and $500 buys a lot of third-party RAM. Spending $800 more for 3.0 GHz - 28% more money for 7% more power - just doesn't make sense, let along coming up with $4,399 for the 3.2 GHz Mac Pro. That's 57% more than the base 8-core 2.8 GHz model sells for with just 14% more speed.

Out with the Old

Of course, that's looking at retail prices, and nobody is going to be able to get that for the old ones with the new Mac Pro on the market. It's time for blowout prices.

Keep in mind that the new Mac Pro has a better graphics card, a faster system bus, and ships with twice as much memory as the earlier model, all important factors when comparing prices.

At the Bottom

It sometimes takes a day or two for blowout prices to get posted, but at present Club Mac is selling the 2.0 GHz Mac Pro for $2,094 after a $100 mail-in rebate. Compare that with $2,294 for the 2.8 GHz entry-level model, and there's really no comparison. The new Mac Pro wins hands down.

The Standard Configuration

The standard 2.66 GHz twin dual-core Mac Pro configuration is going for $2,294 (with no rebate), which makes it the same price as the new 2.8 GHz 4-core model and $500 less than the 2.8 GHz 8-core Mac Pro. There's just no way it makes sense to order the 2.66 GHz model at this price.

At the Top

The 2007 3.0 GHz 8-core Mac Pro is going for $3,794 after a $200 mail-in rebate from Club Mac, which doesn't stand up at all in light of the $3,499 price of the new 3.2 GHz 8-core Mac Pro. Once again, the newer Mac Pro wins the value comparison.

Looking at today's best prices for new Mac Pros, here's what we have:

  • 2.0 GHz 4-core, $2,094 after rebate
  • 2.66 GHz 4-core, $2,294
  • 2.8 GHz 4-core, $2,249
  • 2.8 GHz 8-core, $2,699
  • 3.0 GHz 4-core, $3,099 after rebate
  • 3.0 GHz 8-core (2007), $3,794 after rebate
  • 3.0 GHz 8-core (2008), $3,494
  • 3.2 GHz 8-core, $4,394

Bang for the buck, the 8-core 2.8 GHz model is the clear winner.

Refurbs

You can't look at value without considering the price of refurbished computers from Apple. These carry the same one-year warranty as new-in-box merchandise, but usually at a significant discount.

The Apple Store is currently offering the refurbished 3.0 GHz 8-core Mac Pro for $3,399, 15% less than its original retail price. But with the new 3.0 GHz 8-core Mac Pro selling for as little as $95 more with twice the RAM, a bigger hard drive, built-in Bluetooth, and better video, the new model is definitely the better value.

Looking Ahead

Prices are bound to change as dealers get inventory. Apple will have more refurbished 2.66 GHz models, which sold for $2,199 the last time Apple had them in stock. And the 2.0 GHz model was just $1,899 refurbished the last time Apple had some in stock. We Apple to knock the 2.66 GHz refurbs down to $1,999 and the 2.0 GHz refurbs to $1,599, they could be excellent values.

But the other factor is that you can pretty much count on Club Mac, MacMall, and Amazon.com to offer rebates on the 2008 Mac Pro, something nobody is offering this early in the game. If they are true to form, expect $100-150 back on the 2.8 GHz 4-core model, $150 on the 2.8 GHz 8-core, and $150-200 on the faster models.

Assuming rebates, end cost should be roughly $2,200 for the 4-core 2.8 GHz Mac Pro, $2,650 for the 8-core "stock" configuration, $3,450 for the new 3.0 GHz 8-core, and a whopping $4,200 for the top-end 3.2 GHz beastie. Fortunately, the introduction of the new Mac Pro has been widely anticipated, and dealers have a month to clear out old inventory before the new model ships. But once they ship and rebates are being offered, prices on the original Mac Pro will have to be further slashed to clear them out - that's how much better the value of the 2008 model is. If you can wait a month, do it.

Of course, you'll need to evaluate your own needs and budget. If you just need a powerful, expandable Mac but nowhere close to ultimate power, a refurbished 2.0 GHz Mac Pro could well be your best bet. It's the only game in town for under $2,000. Above that point, the new 4-core and 8-core 2.8 GHz models are the value champions.

I can't imagine too many tasks where users will be able to justify the extra expense vs. the small gain in performance for the 3.0 GHz Mac Pro, let alone the 3.2 GHz model. (For rendering farms, keep in mind that you can buy three 8-core 2.8 GHz computers for less than two 3.2 GHz ones!)

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Dan Knight has been using Macs since 1986, sold Macs for several years, supported them for many more years, and has been publishing Low End Mac since April 1997. If you find Dan's articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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