About to buy a new Mac Pro - needs some advice on configuration

Discussion in 'Mac Pro' started by aponsin, Mar 28, 2009.

  1. aponsin macrumors member

    Mar 28, 2009
    Hi All,

    This is my first message on the MacRumors forum.
    I have been using MacBook and Hackintosh for a few years now.

    I do a lot of heavy photography and my macbook is lacking the power I really need to work comfortably. Hence the drooling for the Mac Pro :)

    Money always being an issue - to a certain point - I want to minimize the investment cost but still give myself the option to upgrade later on...

    Since I am pretty new in the Mac Pro world, I'll probably ask some stupide questions... so please excuse me in advance !

    Here we go:

    1- Are there really 2 types of Mac Pro ? the 4-core & the 8-core ? Isn't the 4-core upgradable to an 8-core by adding a new processor ?

    2- Why does it say on the apple page that the 4-core is limited to 8gig or Ram whereas the 8-core is limited to 32gig ? Looking at some picture and video of the inside it looks like there space for 8 slots on both... I am confused...

    3- The graphic card, is it worth to buy the ATI versus the Nvidia? I will most likely do some occasional gaming...

    4- RAID card... I am interested by the RAID card to do some Raid 5 for speed and redundancy. But I can't afford the card and the disk right now... How easy is it to upgrade later on? Will I have to reinstall macosx system on the RAID array? How does it work, I am not really familiar with hardware RAID.

    5- RAID & Bootcamp, I have read everywhere that bootcamp won't work on the RAID array... ok, what if I do 3 disk on RAID 5 to use as the systems disk for MacOSX and add a 4th standalone disk not even plugged on the RAID card but on the SATA connector of the main board and install Window XP through BootCamp on it? Would that work ? I don't care about seeing my main maxosx partition under windows...

    6- I already own what I feel is a really good 24inch monitor with standard DVI input, can I plug it directly to the Mac Pro or do I need some sort of adapter? Because I read that the Mac Pro has mini-display-port (that my monitor does not have) and the dual-link-dvi, what the h.ll is that dual-link-dvi, I know it's useful for the 30inch apple cinema display, but does it mean it only works with that?

    7- Is it worth it to consider the 4-core vs the 8-core if it's not upgradable ? Major performance difference? I don't think I quite grasp the potential performance gap between the 2...

    8- The Ram, 8 slots on the 8-core, standard comes with 6x1 G... sounds dumb to me... but if I went to add more ram later.. do I need to add 2x1 G or can I do 2x2 gig, etc. ?

    I think that's about it for now, thanks to the courageous that read until the end :)


  2. RemarkabLee macrumors 6502a

    Nov 14, 2007
    The quad and octo boards are different, so at least for the 2009 versions, you can't add a second processor. Perhaps in theory you can remove the processor/memory tray and replace it with a octo version, but I'd imagine that would be cost prohibitive anyway. By the time you'd grow out of the quad machine, there will be a 16 core monster for a comparative price ;)

    Apple are only officially supporting 8Gb on the quad, but in the next few weeks we'll probably know if it's possible to expand the quad to 16Gb using 4Gb DIMMs thanks to OWC and other third party suppliers. Check the other threads. There are only 4 slots on the quad, 8 on the octo, btw.

    Check barefeats.com for some benchmarks. A lot of people say the ATi upgrade is a 'no brainer' considering the performance advantage with a relative small upgrade cost. Makes a big difference for games. Perhaps in the future with Snow Leopard, GPUs will be more relevant as the OS can leverage the GPU power for rudimentary tasks using the OpenCL API, ie. the GPU can be used for number crunching instead of just graphics. In the short term, some graphics packages (Aperture?) use the GPU to speed things up as well, but Photoshop today does not. I would advise anyone to get the ATi for these reasons - but I'm putting a lot of faith in Apple to deliver with Snow Leopard.

    See CaptainChunk's answer below.

    The 2009 Mac Pros have both a mini display port AND a dual link DVI port. So you can use your existing monitor. Dual link DVI just means you can use a 30" using the single DVI port.

    Check barefeats for benchmarks. If you can list what applications you'll be using in %age terms, perhaps we can be of better assistance. Example, if you are using Photoshop 80% of the time, it will not benefit you to get the octo - at least based on todays benchmarks. Perhaps in the future, there will be a fully threaded version of PS which will use all cores efficiently, but that is just not the case today.

    Nehelam (2009) Mac Pros work most efficiently with multiples of 3 sticks for technical reasons. I don't know if you can mix and match densities - check the other threads about this.

  3. CaptainChunk macrumors 68020


    Apr 16, 2008
    Phoenix, AZ
    On the 2009 model, this is not the case because the processor(s)/memory are now on a slide-out daughter card. The Quad has an entirely different daughter card than the Octo and doesn't have a second CPU socket and only 4 memory sockets. So if you think you want an Octo, you have to buy an Octo to begin with.

    The Quad model has only 4 memory sockets versus the Octo's 8 sockets. Apple marketing states that it supports up to 8GB of RAM, although it's recently been discovered that the sockets will indeed support 4GB modules for a maximum of 16GB. However, 4GB ECC DDR3 modules are prohibitively expensive at the moment.

    The 4870 is a better card for gaming than the GT120, but according to Barefeats, the NVIDIA cards (GT120, 8800GT) are performing better right now in Core Image apps (Apeture, Motion, etc.). A driver update might turn the tables. Who knows?

    The card drops right in, but it also bypasses the SATA controllers for the internal HDD bays. So if you plan on booting from a RAID-5 set, you'd either have to reinstall OS X on the new RAID-5 or clone your existing boot drive to new RAID set.

    Since Apple's RAID card bypasses the SATA controllers for the internal HDD bays, you would have to plug a drive into one of the two SATA ports that are used for the optical drives for use in Windows. Someone that's more familiar with this on a 2009 Mac Pro can probably elaborate.

    The GT120 and Radeon 4870 cards are both configured with one dual-link DVI port and one mini DisplayPort. So yes, you can plug in your existing 24" display. If you plan on adding a second DVI display, you need one of the Apple mini DisplayPort to DVI adapters (they make a single- and dual-link version) OR a second video card.

    Tough decision. You'll see a major performance difference with an 8-core machine on multi-threaded applications that will actually utilize all 8 cores (3D and video rendering, mostly). For single-threaded tasks, the base Quad 2.66 smokes the base Octo 2.26 because of raw clock speed.

    There's actually a method behind this madness. The new Core i7 architecture supports triple-channel memory addressing. Thus, the best memory performance is achieved in multiples of 3 memory modules. This is why the new Octo has 3x2GB modules standard for 6GB, while the Quad has 3x1GB modules standard for 3GB. What's puzzling is why Apple didn't provision for 6 memory sockets per CPU. That would make a lot more sense in triple-channel memory configuration...
  4. RemarkabLee macrumors 6502a

    Nov 14, 2007
    Good question. There is certainly enough space on the card/tray for this. I have a feeling it's to 'force' memory hungry power users to get the octo :mad:
  5. CaptainChunk macrumors 68020


    Apr 16, 2008
    Phoenix, AZ
    I hear you, because the new Octos are a tough pill to swallow. There's some Apple markup for certain, but Intel is charging a lot, too. The price difference between the single-processor Bloomfield chips and the multi-processor Gainestown chips is very significant ($284 vs. $958 for a 2.66GHz clock, in lots of 1,000).
  6. eXan macrumors 601


    Jan 10, 2005
    Or you can get the previous gen octo 2.8 GHz and save a ton of money. They are equal in performance with current 2.26 GHz octo, but cost a lot less and also have 8 RAM slots.
  7. aponsin thread starter macrumors member

    Mar 28, 2009

    Thanks so much guys for all the feedbacks... I really appreciated it.

    Let me give you a little more insight on what I am planning on doing with the beast...

    Tought to put percentage in, but my most significant utilization are:
    - lightroom (photo editing)
    - adobe bridge
    - photoshop CS4
    - photomatix (HDR photo editing)

    I do manage heavy images: 12mpix 16bits Raws , quick a bit of HDR (5 times the weight for a given images) and I tend to do a lot of panoramas (some built with like 60 images). Everything I am doing today is somehow doable with my Black Macbook 2ghz, but some of the pano tasks takes hours to do... it's just killing me. Some images that I am playing with are about 1gig / files (16bit tiffs).

    I am also a high quality movie addict, I need flawless playback of 1080p files. When it becomes available I am also planning on adding a blueray player to the macbook.

    All the rest I am doing is pretty standards... iLife, iPhoto, Ms Offices, etc.

    And then finally I haven't played video game for a while... and I wouldn't mine being able to play some of the new and upcoming titles: Crysis, Broodwar 2, etc. hence the bootcamp questions...

    With your comments and the lack of applications actually being able to benefits from true multithreading.. I am wondering if I should go for a 4-core in 2.6 or 2.9 instead of an 8-core...

    And regarding the RAID questions.. well I thought that adding RAID into the mix would only help me manage those 1 gig image files...
    Will boot camp see and accept a 4th or 5th disk if I use the Sata dedicated to the optical drive?

    Finally regarding the RAM question, I was still on the Dual Channel concept, it all makes sens now :) Well almost, as it would have made sense to allow for 6 slots instead of 4... but anyway :)

  8. aponsin thread starter macrumors member

    Mar 28, 2009

    Well it's definitely worth a tough...
    What are the main differences ?

    The new proc architecture ? The graphical card ? Would the previous gen be enough for my needs ?

    What about the future... upgradability ?

    After looking at some pre-ownd or refurbished, I could get the previous for about 500$ less that the new 4-core... is it worth it ? I don't know....

    ARgghhh tough choices :)

  9. eXan macrumors 601


    Jan 10, 2005
    The only major benefit of the new models is faster RAM bandwidth. Hard to say how it affects real-life performance, but judging by the early benchmarks, the previous gen 2.8 GHz octo is about equal with current gen 2.26 GHz octo while costing much less.
  10. aponsin thread starter macrumors member

    Mar 28, 2009
    I see... and can I put the new graphic card on the old mac pro ?
    How much would that cost me as a side to upgrade ?
  11. Genghis Khan macrumors 65816

    Genghis Khan

    Jun 3, 2007
    Melbourne, Australia
    That's what I did ;) and the difference was even more pronounced as Pr's have gone up by 1k in australia.

    You can put the 4870 in there no prob, just buy it from the apple store. Although you could flash the ROM of a PC 4870 (see the multiple threads on this) and get it for half the price (as i'm looking at doing).
  12. nanofrog macrumors G4

    May 6, 2008
    It might prove to be possible to swap them out though. Apparently (posted here), both machines use the same logic board, but with different daughter boards. It should also be noted that the SMC's (flash ROM for power management) are different between the Quad and Octo's. So this would have to be updated if a daughter board swap is attempted.

    Actual limits are apparently the same as their PC counterparts. Number of DIMM slots * the capacity of each DIMM. (No artificial limits set in firmware). :)

    But as you pointed out, expensive to go above 2GB DIMM's ATM. :(

    Apple's RAID card WILL NOT WORK WITH WINDOWS. It's still OS X ONLY. :mad:

    To use a multiple operating system with RAID, a 3rd party card would be required. (It's not as easy as it was in the '06-'08 models, as Apple soldered the SATA ports to the logic board). No 3rd party card can use the board traces for data throughput. ONLY Apple's card can (slot 4 ONLY, BTW). So going 3rd party will prevent the use of the 4 HDD bays, unless someone creates a special mount that isn't as deep, allowing cables to be used in the drives.

    Not enough room (from the layout shown in pics). To me, it's the result of the decision to recycle the case (using new internals), and the daughter board for the processors. These choices left them with too little room for 2 DIMM slots per memory channel. :(
  13. Mac Husky macrumors regular

    Mar 28, 2009
    Bavaria, Germany
    Sounds to be the very right stuff for an 2.66 or 2.93 quad Mac Pro with some RAM instead of thinking of an 2.26 octad. Doesn´t it?!
    Especially now, as it is confirmed that the quad does work with 4GB RAM sticks if you should have need for them later on.
  14. aponsin thread starter macrumors member

    Mar 28, 2009
    I guess... but looking at the benchmark from the link provided earlier.. it seems that even in photoshop the octo 2.26 with the right amount of ram is the second best choice after the octo 2.93 (which is definitely out of my price range).


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