Build a Cheaper, Customizable Alternative to Apple's Mac Pro

Build a Cheaper, Customizable Alternative to Apple's Mac Pro


Fast: On a Budget

First, let's start off with an entry-level machine.
Apple's Entry-Level Mac Pro; Total Price: $2,999
  • 3.7 GHz Quad-Core Intel Xeon E5 processor
  • 12GB 1866MHz DDR3 ECC memory
  • Dual AMD FirePro D300 with 2GB GDDR5 VRAM (each)
  • 256GB PCIe-based flash storage
Entry-Level Hack Pro; Total Price: $2,145.68
What's the Difference?
The hack pro is $853.32 cheaper, of course, but the machines have some key differences. The Hack Pro benefits from having 4GB more RAM, though that RAM is a tiny bit slower (not that you'd ever notice). Apple's Mac Pro also has dual GPUs. Albeit slower in specifications, some professional software is specifically tuned and optimized to work with AMD FirePro GPUs. Unfortunately, almost no software takes advantage of these dual GPUs on a Mac at the moment and probably won't for awhile. Its PCI-based flash storage is faster, but whether or not you'll notice that speed is another story.
The main difference is the processor, as we're putting the top-of-the-line Core i7 processor up against Intel's server-grade Xeon E5. What kind of difference does this make? Not much. The Core i7 definitely scores lower in multi-core benchmarks, but Core i7 bests it in single core performance. When Macworld tested the new Mac Pro, they found its performance didn't rate much higher than a Core i7 27" iMac in real-world use. To give you some perspective, the 27" iMac uses essentially the same processor in the entry-level hack pro build here. Ultimately, you're likely wasting your money when buying a Xeon processor unless you go with a higher-end version and really, truly need the fastest multi-core processor possible.
Finally, as with all builds, the kind of ports and expandability options vary greatly. With Apple's Mac Pro, you get six Thunderbolt 2.0 ports, four USB 3.0 ports, two gigabit Ethernet ports, and one HDMI port. On the entry-level hack pro you get two Thunderbolt 2.0 ports, eight USB 3.0 ports (two on the front, six on the back), two gigabit Ethernet ports, and multiple video port options (including HDMI, DisplayPort, and DVI). You also get several PCIe slots for expanding the machine in virtually any way you like. We prefer the hack pro's port offering, but ultimately it matters what suits your needs best.
The entry-level build we're offering isn't as cheap as it could be. We chose the fastest processor, the best motherboard, and high-end graphics card to make this a very powerful machine. If you don't need all of this power, you can knock as much as $1,000 off the price pretty fast. Check out tonymacx86's buyers guide for cheaper options, as the prices is going up from here on out.

Faster: A Need for Speed

If the entry-level Mac Pro and hack pro just doesn't do it for you, this next build offers a notable speed boost.
Apple's Mid-Range Mac Pro; Total Price: $3,999
  • 3.5 GHz Six-Core Intel Xeon E5 processor
  • 16GB 1866MHz DDR3 ECC memory
  • Dual AMD FirePro D500 with 3GB GDDR5 VRAM (each)
  • 256GB PCIe-based flash storage
Mid-Range Hack Pro; Total Price: $2,752.90
What's the Difference?
Just like the last build, you get more expandability and ports with the hack pro, but the hack pro also levels the playing field a little more. In this build we're using the same processor as Apple's Mac Pro. It does, however, win out on the graphics side thanks to dual GPUs. The hack pro build also loses its Thunderbolt ports (and reduces the number USB 3.0 ports), as there are no compatible Xeon motherboards that feature them. Of course, this build will save you $1,246.11, which might be worth a lot more than some added connectivity.

Fastest: The Best You Can Buy

If the entry-level Mac Pro and hack pro just doesn't do it for you, this next build offers a notable speed boost.
Apple's High-End Mac Pro; Total Price: $9,599
  • 2.7 GHz 12-Core Intel Xeon E5 processor
  • 64GB 1866MHz DDR3 ECC memory
  • Dual AMD FirePro D700 with 6GB GDDR5 VRAM (each)
  • 1TB PCIe-based flash storage
High-End Hack Pro; Total Price: $4,162.85
What's the Difference?
Apple's Mac Pro definitely wins on pretty much every count. It's just a faster machine, but that speed difference is negligible where the price is not. If you buy Apple, you'll pay $5,436.15 more for a slightly faster machine with fewer expandability options and built-in ports. So is it worth it? We don't think so.

Additional Hardware Resources

These Hack Pro builds were made possible thanks to the build guides created by tonymacx86 (and company). Be sure to check out those resources if you want to learn more about these builds or swap out any of the parts we chose.
That should be everything you need to know. We hope you enjoy your new Hack Pro that you didn't have to wait for Apple to build for you!

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