Couple Questions before buying a Mac Pro

Discussion in 'Mac Pro' started by tripleg, Dec 8, 2010.

  1. tripleg macrumors member

    Dec 8, 2010

    I'm a long time PC user that is thinking about getting a Mac Pro as a photo
    workstation. I'm a part-time photographer with about a 1TB archive of RAW
    files. I currently shoot with a Canon 1D4 so my file sizes are around 20-25MB
    each. Software is mainly PS4 and Breeze Browser Pro. I may take this
    opportunity to upgrade to PS5 and try LR or Bibble5. Breeze Pro is not
    available for the Mac yet so I'll have to find a fast RAW viewer. My current
    workflow is all manual so I'm looking to streamline it a bit.

    I've read some of the Mac Performance Guides and quite a few threads here
    but have a couple questions, or confirmation, however you want to view it.

    My base system will be bought from the college store here on campus. My
    first question is what ghz to get? At this point the cost/benefit of the 6
    core is too much for me to justify so it's between 2.8 and 3.2. Any ideas,
    especially given my primary use? The 2.8 saves me around $380. Also,
    what video to get? Is there really much difference between the 5770 and
    5870? I've read that Aperture uses the GPU/VRAM of the 5870 and since
    that is something I might buy at a later date I'm going back and forth as to
    what card to get. Right now I'm thinking I'll get the 5770 and put the
    money to getting a 3.2 CPU. I'll keep everything else as is other then add
    the Apple Protection.

    I'll be getting a 120GB SSD, 2x8GB memory, and 4 2TB drives from OWC.
    SSD for boot and apps, and two mirrored 2TB volumes using software raid.
    I'll be getting an esata card so I can hookup some form of backup device.
    The memory is expensive but I figure it gives me the most options for growth
    down the line.

    The Mac Performance Guide says the software RAID is perfectly fine to use.
    For those that use it, how would you rate it? I've had 3ware RAID
    controllers in all my PC's and it uses hardware RAID so I'm a little hesitant
    about going to software.

    Any other things I should consider? Any advice welcome. I'm doing a lot
    of reading as it's a big purchase for me. I'm still not 100% sure I will do it
    but it's an option I really want to explore.

  2. zachsilvey macrumors 6502

    Feb 5, 2008
    Battle Ground
    In photography processor speed is less important than RAM or GPU, so it is up to you to decide if a small percentage of CPU speed increase is worth the money.

    Photoshop and Aperture both take advantage of GPU now but VRAM isn't as important as GPU power so if you are looking at two different cards it would probably be ok to go with the one with less VRAM.

    I have used both the Apple Raid Card as well as software raid. The only benefit of the RAID card for me was the ability to raid the boot drive so that I could do RAID 5 or 1+0 across all 4 drives.

    It sounds like the machine you will be purchasing is more than enough for what you are doing. My advice would be to look at some better software. Aperture and Photoshop are miles ahead of what you are currently using in terms of RAW processing and data management. For instance the Vault system in Aperture is a foolproof means of RAW backup.
  3. nanofrog macrumors G4

    May 6, 2008
    Clock = 2.8GHz

    Graphics = 5770 if you're sticking to 2D, 5870 if you're doing any 3D work or running a Windows installation for gaming (not mentioned, but possible, as I presume this will be your main, if not sole system). Steam of course, can let you play games under OS X, but I've no idea if you're into gaming at all, or what you play.

    As a student, you want to spend as little as possible, as things like student loans are more of a burden than you may realize, and can cause other shorter term hardships (like sacrificing funds on food - seriously).

    I hope you realize that you CANNOT mix this with the existing RAM that will come with the system (OEM RAM = UDIMM, and the 8GB sticks you'll find at OWC are RDIMM). It all has to be one or the other (or all non-ECC if that's not important).

    So to get any real capacity, you'll have to pull the OEM RAM and replace it (even OWC's 4GB UDIMM's don't mix with the 1 and 2GB UDIMM's - has to do with the thermal sensors from information available). So go with either 16GB (4x UDIMM's) or 3 or 4x 8GB RDIMM's for 24 or 32GB respectively (these options are expensive) if you're going to stick with OWC as the supplier (or Trans Int'l for that matter, though IIRC, their 4GB UDIMM's will mix with the OEM memory).

    Samsung does make an 8GB UDIMM, but it's hard to find. There's also 4GB RDIMM available as well (neither sold from OWC or Trans Int'l). If you do go with memory from another vendor, you'll have to watch the specifications carefully.

    I realize this is confusing, but I'm trying to keep you from making a mistake, and having to deal with the mess of RMA's (restocking fees and shipping costs as well as time).

    Use a separate SSD for scratch in Photoshop. It's nice to have the OS/applications on an SSD as well, but you really do not want to share it for both of these (has to do with the additional wear for scratch space, as it's a much higher write usage).

    Fortunately, OWC has some small, inexpensive SSD's that will be sufficient for scratch (around the $100USD mark, such as the 40GB Pro version).

    But why the pair of mirrors, and why 2TB disks?

    I ask, as there are other options that could be more useful, such as 1TB disks, and an archival storage system (eSATA + Port Multiplier enclosures for completed files you're no longer having to access often). And 1TB disks tend to be the "sweet spot" right now in terms of cost/capacity.

    If you're after redundancy, and will use 4x disks, RAID 10 would give you both redundancy and speed.

    He's not that good with storage.

    I'll assume at the moment you're familiar with the risks of RAID 0 (willing to accept the trade-off of your time in the event of a disaster for low cost), and am glad to see you're planning to have a backup system. It's not much of a load on the system, so it's not going to be an issue in your case (SSD's in a stripe set on the ICH is another matter). Nor does it have any redundancy, so a RAID card for this (using mechanical disks), is a waste for 4x disks.

    Software RAID is fine for 0/1/10 (mechanical, limited with SSD's, as the ICH has a bandwidth limit of ~660MB/s). Parity based arrays, absolutely NOT (cannot handle the write hole issue at all, as that requires a hardware solution). That's what prompted Z-RAID/Z-RAID2 levels to be created (software solutions are cheaper).
  4. tripleg thread starter macrumors member

    Dec 8, 2010
    Thanks Nanofrog. I appreciate the input. I actually work at the University so my budget isn't quite as tight as a student might be. I just want to avoid spending where I don't have to. There seem to be a lot of articles about the noise of the 5870 so I think I'll avoid it for the time being. I'm still debating the 2.8 vs 3.2 option but it is almost $400 I could spend elsewhere.

    I read about the mix and match of DIMM's. I know I'll be taking out the 3GB that comes with the base unit. I think OWC has a trade in program for a small sum. Anyways, I can afford to squeeze in 2x8gb now and will spend for an additional 8gb one later on to give me the set of 3. That still leaves me one more slot for expansion if I need it.

    2TB drives are not priced too badly and I really want the expansion room. I'm use to having all my drives mirrored as I don't have the raid 10 option. I wasn't sure how robust the RAID options were in software so that's what I was planning. RAID 10 would be nice. As far as the scratch disk goes, I'm not sure what to do as I've run out of places to put it. I need the optical drive also. I suppose I can look to put it in an external case. Can I do that and if so do you have any suggestions?

    Not mentioned in my original post is that I have to get a monitor as well. My Dell 2408 is not the greatest when it comes to color accuracy and it has noticable changes in brightness/hue across the panel. Annoying. It's not easy to calibrate either. I'm looking at the Apple 27" display but am really worried about the glare issue so I'm also looking at the 27" NEC but it is almost twice the price and probably out of my range with everything else I'm getting.

    Thank you for responding though. I'm giving myself a decent budget for this but I also want to get full value and not have an overkill system. I'm looking to keep it for a while and like the fact that I can upgrade it to the 6 core cpu at some point.
  5. johnnymg macrumors 65816


    Nov 16, 2008
    I'd highly recommend the 3.2 GHz upgrade. It's totally cost effective on a $/performance basis. JMO ~~~~ :)

    I'd also recommend the 5770 GPU. No need for the more costly option.
    SSD's: OWC or OCZ.

    RAM: eh, lot's of options but OWC's prices have come more into line with industry standards so they are looking OK now. I'd say a good starting point would be 3x4GB or 4x4GB. It's unlikely you'll need more RAM than 12 GB.

  6. wirelessmacuser macrumors 68000


    Dec 20, 2009
    I concur with Nanofrog's excellent suggestions. I just bought a new Mac Pro myself. Photography is a hobby I've enjoyed for years, and take rather seriously. Having a decent budget for my annual tech costs, has allowed me to purchase, test and evaluate several SSD's over the last few years. My current favorite is OCZ Vertex 2. It's particularly fast, and after hrs & hrs of very extensive use, it's still benchmarking at the same speed. One of the first SSD's I can say that about. The machine you're considering will be a delight to use. You're really going to enjoy it. I'm a multi-platformist that appreciates each OS's strengths. Yet that said I will admit a bit of a preference for OS X, as well as having enjoyed quality Mac laptops for years.

    Cheers... :)
  7. nanofrog macrumors G4

    May 6, 2008
    Ooo.. Government budget system and ye olde PO method to purchase toys! Yay... :rolleyes: ;) Awfully familiar for some strange reason.... :D :p

    Given you're described usage, you won't need the 5870. As per the clock speed, that's up to you, but RAM and storage are a better investment in terms of improving workflow (speed you get projects completed). So if the budget is rather tight, don't skimp in either of these areas. The faster clock is a luxury in comparison.

    OK, that's fine.

    I'd recommend keeping the OEM RAM until the warranty is expired though, as you'll want to pull out any upgrades and swap in the OEM parts before hauling or shipping it in for service that may be needed. People tend to get systems back minus their upgrades, so pull them if you're not prepared to replace them (there's a few stories about this here in MR).

    OK, this can be dealt with, but you'll need a card of some sort.

    • HDD bays 1 - 4 = RAID 10
    • Optical bay 1 = Optical disk
    • Optical bay 2 = OS/applications disk (there's a cable in there that will connect both data and power; SSD may be a luxury according to budget, so you may have to use the OEM HDD here)
    • newertech eSATA card (PM support version; 6.0Gb/s compliant, so it's fast enough not to throttle the SSD) attached to an SSD for scratch space (enclosure, and a power adapter)

    Now this also gives you a bit of an option with storage capacity as well. You can get a PM enclosure that can be used as backup and archival storage (move completed files to an archival location). It also can allow you to use smaller disks for the RAID 10 as well (can offer you more total capacity).

    BTW, if you get the PM enclosure at the same time, you can skip the newertech card, as the PM enclosure comes with a similar card. ;)


    The 27" may not be the best monitor for your purposes either (glossy screen). Perhaps a an HP2475w would be something to consider (S-IPS IIRC, and not terribly expensive). A tad smaller, but it's a matte screen, and once calibrated, is a really good monitor. Review. Not sure of the best place to get it, but the link is the lowest price I saw ($402USD).

    Yeah, it's a bit smaller, but it's quite a bit cheaper than an NEC, and it uses the same panel as a 24" NEC IIRC. The NEC's do have better electronics, but it's going to up the price quite a bit (basically double for a 24", and more for a 26"). Though if you're set on a professional monitor, I'd go NEC vs. Eizo, as it's a better cost/performance ratio (I use an NEC LCD2490WUXi myself, and can attest it's a really good monitor).

    BTW, an actual idea of budget and a backup configuration would be helpful (might be able to eek out a bit more performance, capacity, or screen real estate for example). ;)
  8. toxic macrumors 68000

    Nov 9, 2008
    it should be pointed out that the LP2475w is a wide-gamut monitor, covering Adobe RGB. wide gamut has its own collection of hassles if the OP doesn't want to be bothered...the HP ZR24w is a "standard gamut", sRGB alternative.

    Photoshop, Aperture, and every other photoediting tool requires very little GPU power. Aperture requires more GPU than the others, but that doesn't make it demanding. what it wants, video card-wise, is lots of VRAM.
  9. nanofrog macrumors G4

    May 6, 2008
    Good catch, as that part had totally slipped my mind. :eek:

    tripleg, here's a review on the HP ZR24w if you'd prefer to stick to a standard gamut. And at $390 (here), it's still finanically viable as well, giving you a choice of either gamut format.
  10. tripleg thread starter macrumors member

    Dec 8, 2010
    I'm wondering if I can take the optical drive out of the Mac Pro and use it as an external device via USB or FW enclosure? Would that let me still boot from it?
    I'd feel more comfortable with both SSD's in the Mac Pro.

    Thank you to everyone for all the advice.
  11. nanofrog macrumors G4

    May 6, 2008
    Yes, you can remove it and place it in a 5.25" external enclosure. USB will boot, and works for multiple OS's (Windows for example will no longer boot from FW). USB is easier to find as well in that size. ;)

    But the faceplate on the OEM unit is missing so it can fit the tray through the aluminum slot on the front of the MP.

    Inexpensive example (I've seen better looking that would match the MP, but they're currently out of stock).

    OWC has units as well, but it seems they all come with optical disks in them.

    Most importantly however, there is a specific reason the SSD has gone external; speed, and still keep costs low. The eSATA card is 6.0Gb/s compliant, so it won't throttle on the ICH).​
    But what you want to do (SSD internal) can be done, but keep in mind, the ICH ports are all 3.0Gb/s as well (why the mention of throttling; not bad for a single disk, so long as the total bandwidth on the ICH doesn't exceed ~660MB/s).
  12. tripleg thread starter macrumors member

    Dec 8, 2010
    Thanks Nanofrog. For some reason I was thinking the eSata card only had 1 port on it and I wasn't sure about daisy chaining my mirrored backup device.
    The card has 2 ports though.

    After thinking about it I think your plan sounds good.
  13. nanofrog macrumors G4

    May 6, 2008
    Glad you got sorted. :)

    BTW, the solution I posted was customized from the information you provided, not a generic solution (1 port cards do exist, but the additional port was the right way to go in your case for a cost effective solution). ;)
  14. tripleg thread starter macrumors member

    Dec 8, 2010
    I think it will be an awesome system. I just have to convince myself to pull the
    trigger on the deal. It's a $6000 investment and will strap me for new camera
    lenses for some time.

    One thing I wonder about is how Apple will view all the extra hardware in the
    box under the Protection Program. If something goes wrong do I need to get
    the system back to original spec?
  15. nanofrog macrumors G4

    May 6, 2008
    You'll want to pull your upgrades if you ever need to send it in for repairs, as they won't be responsible for it's loss (and users have lost upgrades before, so it really is in your best interest to pull the upgrades out).

    So hang on to any of the OEM parts you may have to pull until the warranty period is expired. ;)

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