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Buying help! I need an Intel Mac w/32GB RAM and 8+ Cores

ascender

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Original poster
Dec 8, 2005
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Can you help me spend my money? I’ve been finding out the hard way in recent weeks about just what spec of Mac I need to run some custom VMs for a piece of work. I’ve tried to do it on lower-spec hardware and its been a harsh lesson. The stuff won’t run on my M1 Air, so I’m resigned to spending some money on an Intel-based Mac.

My question is, which one makes the most sense to buy? I’d like to minimise fan noise (if possible) for when I need to have all the cores working, although its not something I need to run all day every day. It needs to run the latest macOS and ideally not lose all its value over the next 18 months or so. It can be a desktop or laptop.

I’ve made the following shortlist so far based on multicore scores from Geekbench. Am I missing anything obvious?

Specs:

- 32GB RAM
- 8+ Core Intel CPU
- 1TB+ SSD


Options:

- 16” MacBook Pro, 8 Core i9
- 2020 iMac
- 2017 iMac Pro


Thanks!
 

ght56

macrumors 6502a
Aug 31, 2020
808
751
If you got a MacBook Pro, would you be using external displays? How important is quiet? If critically important, the 16-inch does become audible under load.
 
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ascender

macrumors 68040
Original poster
Dec 8, 2005
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If you got a MacBook Pro, would you be using external displays? How important is quiet? If critically important, the 16-inch does become audible under load.
Yes, when at the desk I'd have an external display connected. Quiet is a nice-to-have rather than a dealbreaker, but I'd read that the 2019 i9 seems to run quieter under load than the previous models.
 
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axboi87

macrumors regular
Aug 31, 2006
191
113
Dallas, Tx
Can you help me spend my money? I’ve been finding out the hard way in recent weeks about just what spec of Mac I need to run some custom VMs for a piece of work. I’ve tried to do it on lower-spec hardware and its been a harsh lesson. The stuff won’t run on my M1 Air, so I’m resigned to spending some money on an Intel-based Mac.

My question is, which one makes the most sense to buy? I’d like to minimise fan noise (if possible) for when I need to have all the cores working, although its not something I need to run all day every day. It needs to run the latest macOS and ideally not lose all its value over the next 18 months or so. It can be a desktop or laptop.

I’ve made the following shortlist so far based on multicore scores from Geekbench. Am I missing anything obvious?

Specs:

- 32GB RAM
- 8+ Core Intel CPU
- 1TB+ SSD


Options:

- 16” MacBook Pro, 8 Core i9
- 2020 iMac
- 2017 iMac Pro


Thanks!
I bought a trashcan Mac Pro for this purpose. Paid $2500 for a maxed out one with the 12-core, dual D700, 2tb and ***128gb ram**** <-- beautiful for running VMs! Just upgraded to an 8TB SSD (backup to an external 16TB HDD). If you can buy your own screen, these tiny little quiet babies are perfect as VM hosts.
 
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ght56

macrumors 6502a
Aug 31, 2020
808
751
Yes, when at the desk I'd have an external display connected. Quiet is a nice-to-have rather than a dealbreaker, but I'd read that the 2019 i9 seems to run quieter under load than the previous models.

It depends. The 16-inch MacBook Pro with the 5300/5500M GPUs (which use GDDR6) have a design feature/flaw where, with some/many external displays in clamshell mode and with all displays in extended mode, the GPU will draw 18-20 watts at idle, push up total temps, and result in significant fan noise under even lighter load (and, under moderate-heavy CPU usage, potentially-substantial CPU throttling.) The 16-inch MacBook Pro with the 5600M GPU (which uses HBM2) does not have this issue and they are quiet unless the CPU/GPU are under pretty substantial load. I had a 5500M model and I traded it in for a 5600M model. I use VMs all the time and if you are using a VM that benefits from HW acceleration, the difference between the 5500M and 5600M MBP is going to be even more pronounced given the 5600M is not only more efficient but also much faster than the 5500M. The downside is of course that the 5600M is crazy expensive and IIRC it is like an $800 upgrade over the base 5300M GPU. After adding the i9 and 32 GB of RAM, my 16-inch was pretty expensive. I love it, but if you only need this for an occasional use scenario, it would be a pretty big bill for that one situation!

If cost-efficiency is important as well and the portability of a laptop for your need offers no real benefit, I would definitely consider a 6-core Mac Mini.
 
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ascender

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Dec 8, 2005
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Thanks for all the advice. I actually tried a 6 core Mac mini a couple of weeks ago @ght56 and I thought the thing was going to melt. I did ask if the high temps were normal on here and consensus was "yip, Intel", but the fan noise wasn't the loudest, but was persistent! Even while doing normal things, the case was getting very hot - I know that's how it dissipates heat, but it was very unnerving.

I'm borrowing a friends 16" MBP today - it has the i9 so I'll see how that goes.
 
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Silencio

macrumors 68030
Jul 18, 2002
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398
NYC
Since you already have a laptop, I'd say 2020 iMac. I believe they improved the thermals over previous generations of Core i7/i9 iMacs, but I can't say by how much exactly.

The base iMac Pro model has 8 cores, 32GB RAM, and 1TB SSD. I'm reluctant to invest much in one of them, as they are from 2017, after all. One should set you back around $3K. Their cooling systems are far more robust than the regular iMacs.

A trash can could be an option. Not sure how much GPU you need, as that is a weak spot of those systems. If you bought a low-end trash can and installed an 8-core or 12-core processor yourself, upgraded the RAM and SSD, that would save some money over the iMac Pro.
 
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ascender

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Original poster
Dec 8, 2005
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Its been a crazy couple of weeks with lots of Macs in and out of the house and this weekend I was able to get to a couple of client sites to try out these VMs.

The tldr version is that if you want to have 8 cores+ working hard without any fan noise, you want an iMac Pro or presumably a new Mac Pro.

Over the last while, I've had the following machines on trial in one way or another and my son has been fascinated by seeing them all in the flesh. So here's the long, boring version...

  • 2018, 6 core Mac Mini - Nice, powerful little machine, but that fan noise.... And the case gets so damn hot that its genuinely unnerving. My main machine since launch has been the M1 Air, so its really surprising when you fire up an Intel Mac for the first time in a while.
  • Mac Pro 4,1, dual quad core - Lovely machine, still nice and powerful with lots of internal expansion which was an added bonus as I could mount all my external stuff inside. But its age was a limiting factor once I disappeared down a rabbit hole of trying to get recent VMs working. I ended up sourcing different versions of VMWare going back years, but it was fruitless. No combo would work, some of the incompatible versions seemed to be down to the older CPUs missing some instruction sets.
  • 2013 Trashcan Mac Pro, 12 cores - I've always like the look of these machines, I think its a design classic, but we all know the limitations. £1300 - £1500 gets a nice powerful machine or one you can upgrade pretty cheaply. Performs well, pretty quiet although the case and fan does start to put out a wee bit of heat under load. The older ports start to become a limiting factor when you're used to machines with Thunderbolt 3 which can drive multiple 4K, 5K, ultrawide screens etc though.
  • 16" i9 8 core MacBook Pro - I love these laptops. The screen size, those speakers and very fast components. The thermal design is definitely improved to older MBPs, so the fans were very silent during the initial setup which usually has them pretty loud, so I was optimistic. But unfortunately as soon as I started the VM and began to load some routers & switches, they come on full blast.
  • 2020 iMacs - Tried a couple of 27" models with 8 and 10 cores. Similar to the MBP, initial results were promising, but then you start to push it and the fans kick in.
  • 2017 iMac - Tried an 18 core model and was very impressed by just how damn quiet it remained no matter how many big switches I loaded at the same time. iStat was showing all the cores working hard, but the temps weren't silly and I had to strain to hear the fans. I knew the internals had been redesigned for this one, taking advantage of the space by having no spinning HDD, but I had wrongly assumed the 2020 iMacs had maybe gone down the same route (I think they have improved thermals over the 2019 ones though right?).
I'm now on the lookout for a refurb or used iMac Pro. I know the design is a bit long in the tooth, but I can't justify a Mac Pro given there's going to be a new model along in the (medium?) future. I do think the rumoured Mac Pro "mini" will be the machine I'll go for when its out, but if I want to stay with the Mac, the iMac Pro looks to be the best machine for me. I know its 3 years old tech, but it seems to be the only option at the circa 3K mark which will give good multicore performance in a cool and quiet form factor.
 
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