Contemplating a partial return to the dark side

Discussion in 'Mac Pro' started by Gomff, Aug 14, 2010.

  1. Gomff macrumors 6502a

    Sep 17, 2009
    Hi all,
    With all the recent chatter around the 5870 cards, especially the availability and compatibility issues with older than 2009 Mac Pro's, I'm wondering whether OS X is still a viable platform for a 3D graphics artist.....Having only really acquired those credentials a short while ago.

    The 2 things that are really important for 3d graphics are a decent GPU and as much CPU rendering power as you can get. The 08 Mac Pro had both of these things and was great value but since then things have changed. It's not just the cost of upgrading a system although that's pretty damn high at the moment. It's other stuff like the 5870 having 2 MDP's instead of 1 and an HDMI port, which is in my opinion far more useful. It's all the hassle and limited choices when it comes to upgrading the GPU when you can slot anything into a decent PC rig and just get on with it. It's being able to build a decent core i7 system that can render away and chug out frames without costing as much or more than a decent car. And it's about forced obsolescence....Systems that are only 2 or 3 years old being left out of the loop and the sense that Apple took your extra money in exchange for upgrade potential, and then welshed on the deal.

    Conversely, I love the OS X environment. It's stable, keeps out of the way, it's great for video and general digital life management. I don't need to be reminded of the pro's and I am in general an advocate of Macs. If I didn't do 3D graphics, I'd buy an iMac and be very happy but that just doesn't cut it in the 3D world.

    So I'm coming to the conclusion that my next big system purchase in a year or so is going to be a PC again. I envisage working on that during the day and having my Macbook open beside it for email and iTunes etc (ie, all the fun nice stuff) and then when the working day is done, firing up the MP or plugging in the MBP to the big screen for "everything else" like music, video etc.

    I'm OK with this from a pragmatic and professional point of view.....When it comes to rendering out frames and CPU horsepower the Mac Pro just doesn't stack up financially anymore and that doesn't look likely to change. But on a personal note, I think it's sad that having reached parity (in terms of performance and cost) with PC's for professional 3D work, the Mac Pro is now sliding out of view again with no viable OS X alternative.

    I find myself wondering why Apple bothered with the 08's in the first place? Were they an accident? An oversight? Have the bean counters at Apple put together a killer slideshow in keynote for Steve to show that Middle of the Road consumer products are where the money is and if Graphics Professionals really want to stay with OS X, then they'll willingly pay double what they did 2 years ago?

    Perhaps I was naive but I thought the 08's heralded a change in attitude at Cupertino. In retrospect they look like a blip on the radar.
  2. Ryan P macrumors regular

    Aug 6, 2010
    Interesting points. It's hard to argue that you can't get more performance per $ for windows but I also prefer OS X (even though I spent years as a windows systems administrator). Hackintoshes are also worth considering.

    Still if you compare Mac Pro's to the Workstations of the major brands HP, Dell etc the Mac Pros stack up quite well once you are in dual processor land. Those Windows workstations also tend to have quite a few proprietary bits. We have a rather recent one at work that we spent over $16K on and have not been able to get a 5970 to work in.

    I only dabble in 3D, but recently read this article on GPU rendering I'm not clear on how much of these are windows vs os x or cross platform?
  3. strausd macrumors 68030

    Jul 11, 2008
  4. sboerup macrumors 6502

    Mar 8, 2009
    Ya, when Win7 went official and I had a chance to run it (for gaming stuff) I was honestly jealous. OSX had spoiled me and made me change all my machines from Windows. I had always built my machines and never had a real problem with windows. But Win7 is actually a great OS, OSX still wins for me for many reasons.

    I was curious about how my new MP stacked against Dell (workstations and aliendware) and HP workstations and I was shocked to see that they costed much more! Yikes.

    Building your own custom i7 and fully loaded is definitely much more economical, but when I priced one up and compared it to my new Hexacore, sure the price savings was maybe $1200, but that was just the surface. The hardware wasn't nearly as nice, it wasn't all designed to work flawlessly together, it doesn't have the best warranty service ever, it will never be as stable, it doesn't have all the 'niceties' of OSX. There is only one thing that I hate more than wasting money and that is time; I need a system that will ALWAYS be working and running, because I use it to make money and every hour I lose "fixing" my windows machine is money out the door.

    It's going to take a lot for me to look back at Windows for my main machine . . . gaming for sure, but only do a few hours a month at best so it's just not worth it.
  5. Shademaster macrumors member

    Dec 8, 2009
    This is really funny, I am a 3D artist too running a small 7 head studio and I have the exact same opinion.

    I too bought the 08 3.0ghz MacPro when it came out and it was seriously the best investment I ever made. However the latest developments and the feeling of being left in the dark with my system makes me doubt the new MacPro's a lot.

    Right now we are running 5x i7 hackintoshes that are faster, have better warranty than apple (bought everything corsair), will last me longer because they are easier to upgrade, cost me way less per render point.

    I made a little calculation of how much cinebench renderpoints a machine would give me.

    All machines are specified with a 850 watt corsair PSU, basic GPU, X58 UD5, 2x 1TB HD, 12gb 1600mhz RAM. The number represents how many euro's you pay for 1 cinebench point in a whole system.

    An i7 930 has a euro/1cbpoint ratio of: 180
    An i7 970 has a euro/1cbpoint ratio of: 160
    An i7 980 has a euro/1cbpoint ratio of: 175
    An hexa MacPro has a euro/1cbpoint ratio of:466
    A Core2Duo iMac 24 inch 4gbram has a euro/1cbpoint ratio of: 800

    After I made this graph I immediately sold our remaining iMac and bought an i7 for it.

    Cool thing is I can just plug in a GTX480 or 2 if I am going to need GPU rendering. No waiting for Nvidia or ATI finally releasing an overpriced slower version of the high end cards that have flaky drivers for OSX compared to their PC counterparts.

    Cool thing is, in about 2 years time I replace my 920/930's for 970's, install the latest GPU rendering gaming card and I don't need to replace any other part of the hardware. Stupid thing is that these 5 core i7 rigs cost exactly the same as 1 latest and greatest MacPro system specced the same way at the same performance level.

    So yea I can definitely feel were you are coming from, you aren't the only one.

    The OSX premium is becoming too high for 3D artists at the moment.
  6. highdefw macrumors 6502

    Apr 19, 2009
    I'm a student majoring in Visual Effects/Compositing. I really enjoy using Maya and Nuke on the OSX platform. I've mainly been working off a late 2008 2.53 dual core MBP, but finally decided it time to upgrade to a desktop workstation

    After doing my research, I decided to build up a MP from scratch by sourcing all the parts and assembling it myself. I now have a 2009 2.93 8 core MP with 16gb ram, a 120gb OWC ssd, a couple 1TB hdds, and a 4870. I got it all for about $3500. I'm looking at grabbing the NVidia Quadro Fermi 4000 when it comes out.

    I agree windows 7 has some major improvements, but I enjoy OSX too much to give it up.
  7. Gomff thread starter macrumors 6502a

    Sep 17, 2009
    Yeah, I don't want to use Windows any more than I have to, even Windows 7 despite it being an improvement. My usage would probably break down as follows:

    PC: 3D Graphics, the odd game here and there.
    Mac: Video work, Image editing and creation, Music, Web Page creation, iPhone app development, Email, iWork / iLife stuff, surfing.

    If I did buy a PC workstation, I might consider getting something that could also be a Hackintosh, but primarily it would be a Windows 3D machine. I would probably give it a great GPU and spec it for performance but keep it very tidy with very little software on it.....I find Windows sluggish enough over time as it is, never mind if there's lots of software installed on it as well. It would probably be offline most of the time as well.

    If this were just a choice between Windows and OS X there wouldn't be a discussion for me at all. Unfortunately, it's more about Apple's forced premature obsolescence of otherwise decent machines. They've already indicated that the 5870 is unsupported in the 08's when there's no good reason for this at all.

    If it is possible to buy the Mac 5870 and slot it in my 08 without any issues, then this would buy my workstation a year or two more as my main machine for working on....It's still very very capable in all other departments. But when there are GPU's available on other systems which Apple only offers a slim selection of on their platform and again, only if you're willing to pay £3999 for the privilege then it really is time to look elsewhere.

    I thought the cinebench per euro breakdown was also very revealing....I just don't know how the 08's were ever made given Apple's attitude since then...They seem to be an anomaly. I guess though for the sake of being fair, Intel should take some of the blame for the pricing of it's processors as well.

    If Apple were to make a dual CPU machine with i7's which made them more affordable then I'd probably go for a system like that. Unfortunately they have to manage a big enough divide between the iMac and Mac Pro lines and presumably deem such a system spec to be counter productive for them.
  8. Vylen macrumors 65816

    Jun 3, 2010
    Sydney, Australia
    That's not for Apple to decide :p

    All i7 cpu's have 1 QPI link - meaning you can't make a dual CPU machine with them. That's where the multi-processor Xeons come in with their 2 QPI links ;)
  9. Luis Ortega macrumors 6502a

    May 10, 2007
    Fetcham Surrey UK
    I agree. If it hadn't been for the 08 8-core models, I would have never been able to afford a Mac Pro.
    They have gone insanely over-priced since then.
    Luckily, it's such a great beast that I can continue to work with it for several more years.
    The software has still to catch up to its capabilities.
    I have upgraded to the gtx 285 and to 16gb ram and it is a great machine. I have Windows 7 on another hard drive. My next upgrade to it will be an ssd boot drive.
    Maybe in another three years or so, the software will have exceeded its capabilities, and then I will have to decide which platform to go with, just like you.
  10. Spanky Deluxe macrumors 601

    Spanky Deluxe

    Mar 17, 2005
    London, UK
    Dual i7s is not possible. Dual processors is only possible with intel 5xxx series Xeon chips, which are used in the dual processor machine. i7s and intel 3xxx series Xeon chips (as used in the single processor Mac Pro) are far far cheaper and cannot run in dual configurations.

    Apart from the entry level octo Mac Pro, the octo and hexacore Mac Pros aren't that badly priced. The problem is that the quad core Mac Pros are overpriced by about $1000. The W3530 processor in the entry level Quad Mac Pro is basically just a Core i7 930 CPU with ECC memory support and it's priced as such (E3580: $314.99 | i7 930: $289.99).

    It was calculated numerous times at the time of the 2009 Mac Pro release that Apple increased it's profit margins by about $1000 across the board on their Mac Pros. I won't go into the details now but the crux of it was that the quad core 2.66GHz 2009 Mac Pro should have been priced $1000 lower and the octo core should have come with the 2.66GHz processors as standard. That would have been roughly in line with the profit margins on their previous Mac Pro systems.

    As I've mentioned before on here, the target market of the Mac Pro was shifted by Apple. The 2006/7 and 2008 Mac Pros were targeted at the professional/prosumer market. The 2009/10 Mac Pros are targeted at the corporate/professional market. They'll sell a handful fewer Mac Pros but they'll make a far larger profit on each one. The prosumer market's Mac is now considered by Apple to be the i5/i7 27" iMac. If that doesn't sit right with you then you fall into a very small minority that doesn't fit into one of Apple's neat boxes - albeit a disproportionately vocal small minority in online forums.

    I've noticed a considerable decrease in prosumer grumblings in the Mac Pro forums in the last year. The reason for this is (in my opinion) that most of the prosumers who were affected by this target market change have either done what Apple wanted and bought an iMac (just see how many people in the iMac forums mention that they used to have a Mac Pro), have built a hackintosh (while still keeping their laptops etc Apple branded) or have switched to the dark side like you're contemplating. The loss of earnings for Apple by people doing this is going to be obliterated by the large amounts of extra profit Apple make on the Mac Pros that are bought and the prosumers who went for the iMac route will likely spend a lot more on Apple products anyway since they'll be replacing their i5/i7 iMacs in two to three years. It's a win-win situation for Apple and makes superb business sense. Alas, it's something Mac prosumers who don't have an infinite supply of cash simply have to come to terms with this.
  11. Gomff thread starter macrumors 6502a

    Sep 17, 2009
    Thanks for the info on the dual i7's....I guess it makes more sense now why Apple went with the CPU's that they did. Maybe it's also an explanation for those alleged meetings Apple had with AMD?

    Spanky, all your points are spot on.....3D Graphics artists are a tiny portion of the market but we're also one of the most likely to max out all our cores since so many 3d apps are multi-threaded these days. We're also one of the most likely groups to need decent GPU upgrade options. With the 08's, I thought this was going to be the case but I guess not....It's back to PC's for 3D graphics again and a Mac for everything else.....Seems kind of inefficient though.

    I will look into the Hackintosh route as well. I have no qualms about building such a machine form a moral standpoint seeing as Apple have no issues with limiting our options so much. I'd rather just run one decent machine than two but professionally you have to be flexible and take the best option at the time. If that involves building a hack then so be it.

    Having said all of this, if I can buy the Mac 5870 and slot it into my 08 I'll be a happy camper for a little while longer. I still totally love this system, it's still the best workstation I've ever had.
  12. Spanky Deluxe macrumors 601

    Spanky Deluxe

    Mar 17, 2005
    London, UK
    It will work. There's no reason why an upgrade card for a 2009/2010 Mac Pro will not work in a 2008 Mac Pro. They both have EFI64 and the drivers are part of OSX. Flashed PC 5870s are already working in 2008 Mac Pros using the new iMac's 5xxx series bios dump.

    The only thing Apple can really do at the moment is artificially limit the 5870 to only EFI64 - rendering the 64 bit but not considered worthy of being 64 bit 2006/7 Mac Pros unable to utilise graphics cards which can be plugged into six year old PCs without a problem. They would have to be doing some rather elaborate system model number checking in order to artificially block use of Apple's 5870 card on 2008 systems. I would be very surprised if Apple tried to do this since it would cost them a fair number of research hours and would ultimately lead to a loss in profits since most 2008 Mac Pro owners will not be buying a new Mac Pro just because their two year old computer can't use the latest graphics card - especially when the entry level octo right now can barely outpace the cheaper entry level 2008 Mac Pro. If for some reason they do go this route then just get a PC card and flash it - it's already been proven to work.

    Count yourself lucky that you own a 2008 Mac Pro - the best value Mac Pro with good future compatibility due to the EFI64 and also the best Mac Pro for holding its value.
  13. Gomff thread starter macrumors 6502a

    Sep 17, 2009
    Yeah, I know I lucked out with the 08....I did wait for 9 months until it came out though, and then ordered online the moment I was able to.

    When I'm feeling optimistic, I tend to agree that the 5870 will work with the 08's no problems.....I'm not bothered about support since I can look after my system in terms of maintenance and upgrades. Short of something breaking I think I'm OK.

    I just hope Apple don't throw any curve balls....Lets not forget all it would take to make the 06 and 07's able to run the latest GPU's is an EFI update and the chances of Apple doing that are non-existent.
  14. dimme macrumors 65816

    Feb 14, 2007
    SF, CA
    Thats where I see my self heading. Apple is getting more close minded every year. For complete customization / upgradeability you need a custom built PC. I think the best macs made right now are the Macbook Pros.

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