The 2010 Mac Pro Value Equation

The amount of processing power in the top-end 2.93 GHz 12-core Mac Pro boggles the imagination – as does the price.

There are two audiences for the Mac Pro, those who need the most power possible in a Macintosh computer and those who need more expansion options than the iMac and Mac mini offer.

Original Mac Pro designThe Price of Power

The 2010 Mac Pro is bristling with power and expansion options. The least powerful model, which retails for $2,499, has a 2.8 GHz 4-core “Nehalem” CPU, essentially the same amount of processing power as the 2.8 GHz 4-core i5-powered iMac that Apple introduced yesterday at $1,999. At $500 more, the Mac Pro has room for two internal optical drives, four PCI Express slots (something no other Mac has, and one is used for the video card), and four 3.5″ drive bays.

The 4-core Mac Pro is the only Mac with ports on the front, making it a breeze to plug in USB devices, FireWire peripherals, and headphones. It also supports up to 16 GB of memory – the same as the 2010 iMac. With a second video card, the Mac Pro can support up to six displays. (The new video card has two Mini DisplayPorts and one dual-link DVI port.)

For $500 more than the 27″ 4-core iMac, you get a host of expansion options but lose the huge, built-in 2560 x 1440 pixel display.

A lot of longtime Mac users remember the days of affordable entry-level G3, G4, and G5 Power Macs (usually priced in the $1,499 to $1,699 range) and wonder why Apple can’t seem to build a more affordable Mac Pro. Even used Mac Pros usually sell for more than that.

Power to Burn

I’m a low-end Mac user. I don’t have a quad-core Mac Pro or iMac. In fact, I don’t own any Intel-based Macs – or even G5-based ones. I’m sitting here in front of my production machines, a dual 1 GHz Mirrored Drive Doors Power Mac G4 running OS X 10.4 Tiger with Classic Mode and a dual 1.6 GHz (upgraded) Digital Audio Power Mac G4 running OS X 10.5 Leopard, and it provides all the power I need for the work I do.

For my purposes, I cannot comprehend the kind of power four 2.8 GHz cores provide, let alone what a dozen cores have to offer. For the vast majority of users, the Mac Pro should be considered overkill. The iMac and the Mac mini have plenty of power for most.

But the Mac Pro isn’t intended for most; it’s intended for power users who don’t even find a 2.8 GHz quad-core iMac sufficient to their needs. We’re talking professionals, people who use Macs to make money and can justify spending $2,500 or $5,000 or even more on a single computer.

Preliminary Geekbench results for the new model put the 4-core 3.2 GHz Mac Pro at 7864, an 8-core 3.2 GHz one at 19025, and a 12-core one (CPU speed unknown) at 30722 – that’s twice the rating of the 8-core 2.93 GHz model!

The Value Equation

If you’re in the Mac Pro market, you’re much better equipped to know how much power you really need. When it comes to raw power for your dollar spent, the 12-core Mac Pros offer about three times the power of the base 4-core model at less than half the price, making them a 50% better value assuming your work can take advantage of all those extra cores (and remember, with HyperThreading, you have 8 virtual cores on the base Mac Pro and 24 on the 12-core machines!)

There is not a big market in used Mac Pros, with most selling at $1,500 and above. Compared with prices on current models and even Apple refurbished ones, they are a relative bargain and certainly the most economical way to get Mac Pro expandability for those who don’t need all the power offered by the 2009 and 2010 models.

I suspect Apple is going to have a hard time clearing out inventory before the 2010 models reach their warehouses sometime in August. Especially at the top end, the sheer power being offered per dollar spent will get most potential buyers to wait for the new models to arrive.

When that happens, expect Apple to slash prices on remaining 2009 Mac Pros, at which time we’ll revisit the value equation and update this article.

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