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Why I won’t be buying a MacPro for at least 9 months

Apple’s new Intel Xeon “Woodcrest” dual-CPU (quad core) MacPro looks to be a formidable workstation, well beyond the needs of anyone not doing heavy-duty Photoshop, video editing, sound production, etc. In other words, a complete waste of money for most users, who would do just as well with an iMac Intel Duo. Still, the MacPro looks to be the most elegantly designed workstation I’ve yet seen, well worth lusting over...until you consider the price. But about 18 months from now, a $1499 iMac will probably offer similar performance!

Though you can buy an el-cheapo stripped down (and not very useful) MacPro 2GHz model for $2499, by the time you go to 3 GHz, configure it with 8GB RAM, a better video card, a 30" display, and a terabyte of storage, you’re looking at $8748 (plus tax). But Apple is feeling generous—free shipping is included.

You get the following improvements, which indeed are useful to high-definition video, photography and sound production houses with bottomless budgets:

  • Faster performance, assuming your programs are Universal Binaries to make use of them. And assuming they’re not clueless about making use of all 4 cores, which most programs are. I still don’t have *any* programs that can make use of all 4 cores on my PowerMac Quad (except my own self-written Integrity Checker). Even Photoshop CS2 is lame in this regard, barely using 1.5 cores on most tasks.

  • Space for 4 internal hard drives, though I already have stuffed 5 drives into my PowerMac G5 Quad. So it’s nice to have more space internally, but whoop-de-doo. And if Apple's SATA implementation is as inferior and incompatible with some drives as on the current PowerMac G5 Quad, you'll be better off buying your own card and external enclosure.

  • Faster memory throughput. I’ve heard this one before. It’s a scam to eke out another 3%-10% performance at 3X the memory price. I keep having to buy a new set if 8GB of memory each time I buy a new desktop Mac!@@#! At least it’s ECC, but you could get ECC with the PowerMac G5 Quad, and at reasonable prices too.

  • Three (3) 16X PCI slots. Any card needing such a slot is likely to cost well over $1000. However, unlike the previous G5 Quad, a high-end dual-width video card does not occupy one of the other 3 slots. Note the on-board fans on these cards—they'll make noise—no thanks.

  • Two firewire 800 ports (oh my gawd, twice as many!). Firewire 800 is dog-slow compared to SATA, and also incompetently implemented on prior G5 PowerMacs (slow write performance). Maybe Apple has fixed this on the MacPro, but who cares? External SATA is far faster.

  • Optional 2nd Superdrive. I'm sure someone has a use for this, but it’s not so super to me. They should have added two more drive bays instead, or a tray-loading popcorn popper or toaster oven.

What do you get the raw end of the deal on? A lot:

  • First and foremost: you’ll get slower performance than with the PowerMac G5 Quad with certain critical applications. Photoshop CS2 will likely run as emulated PowerPC code until sometime next spring. Nikon Capture, Digital Photo Professional, Dreamweaver, Microsoft Office, etc will all run slower than the G5 Quad. By the time all these applications are updated, the price for your no-longer-“hot” new system will have dropped by $2000. Don’t be a sucker—wait till next March to buy when speeds will beyond 3 GHz and memory will be cheaper and Photoshop will be a Universal Binary.

  • “Expansive memory” eg the same amount as in the prior PowerMac G5 Quad—16 GB of outrageously expensive ECC RAM. How does an extra $5700 sound for 16GB of RAM? That’s $356/MB. Ouch. Ouch. Ouch.

  • A basic, slow video card that can only support one dual-link screen. You have to pay more for two video cards and/or a higher end card.

  • $800 more to get 13% more megahertz (2.66 to 3 GHz). Or choose the “I’m feeling wimpy and have no good reason for this machine, so I’ll be a cheapskate” 2GHz model. Then tack on the cost of more memory, a screen and more storage, and kick yourself for buying slow processors.

  • Overpriced hard drives: $400 each for additional 500GB SATA drives that were in today's Fry's Electronics advertisement for $189.

  • Sluggish “Airport Extreme” when other vendors are supporting much faster protocols (eg 300 megabits/sec ala Netgear RangeMax). C'mon, I'm going to use a wireless 54 megabit/sec connection when I can use two 1000 Mbps (gigabit) ethernet ports? Remember Star Trek’s Scotty trying to get the warp drive on the Enterprise to go faster...c'mon, just plug in the ethernet cable, pulleeease. Or add some dilithium crystals. And knowing Apple’s marketing-hype-over-performance approach, the two gigabit ports still probably suck up a full core each if you actually try to use them at maximum speed, jumbo frame support notwithstanding.

  • You have to pay for iWork at $79, Aperture at $299, etc. A $9000 machine and they want more money so you can actually run applications without Rosetta (PowerMac emulation)? These programs should be included, at least once you hit the $5000 mark.

  • Apple wants $29 for bluetooth when I configure a $9000 machine?

  • Why isn’t Mac OS X Server included once I pass the $5K threshold? It’s priced like a server, so include the server version of the OS.

In short, even my usual lust for the latest and greatest finds the new MacPro outrageously expensive for promised performance that might not materialize (depending on your applications) for 6-12 months from now—when prices will have dropped considerably.

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