Design student! iMac vs MacPro?

Discussion in 'Buying Tips and Advice' started by Aljovido, Mar 30, 2008.

  1. Aljovido macrumors member

    Mar 30, 2008
    I am currently an Illustration/Web Design major, going into my junior year at college. I currently own a macbook, and have been pushing it beyond its limit with my adobe CS3 work.

    This summer seems to be the best time for me to buy a new computer, one that would definitely need to last for a few years doing professional design work. I don't have the most amazing budget, so I'll most likely be taking out a student loan to purchase the new computer. Since I already have a macbook, and since desktops for the most part have a much better cost/feature ratio, I want a desktop. I know that the summer is still a few months away, the imac, and possibly even the mac pro could see updates by then.

    As of right now, the two machines I am comparing are:

    iMac: 24", 2.8GHz dual core, 500GB HD (more through FW800), 4GB RAM
    It comes to roughly $2500 with tax.

    MacPro: Two 2.8GHz quad-core, 320GB HD (+2 more 500GB internal, and possibly a WD raptor), 8GB RAM, GeForce 8800 GT. Plus a Dell 2408WFP (which adds $700). It comes to roughly $4500 with tax.

    Please do note though, I also plan on buying cases for the machines, and a 13"x19" pinter (which can be an additional $500-$800), a screen calibrator, other little things like cables, maybe a FW400-800 card for the mac pro, and software like (legal copies of) CS3 design premium and microsoft office 08. All which easily adds up to be another $1500-$2000.

    My loan could be anywhere from $4500 to $6500+ based on what I decide to get. I'd like to keep it as low as possible, without sacrificing anything necessary. As of right now, I am leaning towards the MacPro, but for a long time I was set on an iMac.

    Anyways, I need some suggestions as to which one to get. Since I don't want my loan to be crazily expensive, I'll of course be upgrading all my ram and possibly hard drives with non apple parts to save money. The main question is, does the $2000 price between the two machines justify itself? I'm looking for longevity of the machine, four years, maybe even more. Here's some other general questions I do have:

    - I know that an 8-Core processor is obviously better than a dual-core, but to what extent? This may seem like a dumb question, but would a 3.0 GHz dual-core be better than an 2.8GHz 8-core? I've read that only some applications can effectively use 8-core processors to their full extent.

    - Would the difference between 4GB and 8GB RAM be significant? I'm sure it gets to a point where extra RAM makes little or no difference. I do run quite a few programs from time to time.

    - Is it worth it to have extra hard drives within the mac pro? or will externals work just fine? Would a 1TB drive be slower than 2x500GB drives?

    - In the case of the Mac Pro, does an additional $750 for two 3.0GHz quad-core processors justify itself with a noticeable performance increase?

    What would you do? Any suggestions, comments, definitely help. Thanks so much!

    P.S. Saving the $2000 to put towards a new imac a few years from now isn't much of an option because I lose all my student discounts after I graduate (and my ability to take out a student loan).
  2. ValinS macrumors newbie

    Mar 30, 2008
    Hey, To be perfectly honest and I've seen this in someone's sig.
    "A MacPro as a Home desktop is like a supertanker for a pick-up truck."
    Unless your doing some really heavy processor work the Macpro is unnecessary. However if you want an affordable Macpro you can always go for the 4-core model and basic everything and expand it over time. In my opinion that would be the best thing for you. As in you need more processing you can just get more ram or a new video card.

    Hope that helps
  3. Adokimus macrumors 6502a


    Jun 2, 2007
    Boston, MA
    Ok, you're being a little silly. You're looking at the high-end iMac and wondering if you should get that or a highly-spec'd out Mac Pro. That's just silly. You should be comparing the iMac to a lower-end Mac Pro within your budget. Once you look at the Mac Pro (or even the iMac), you clearly can't help yourself from clicking on every option. There is no need to max out the Mac Pro for your needs. While the iMac and the Mac Pro both say 2.8 GHz, check the rest of the processor specs like front speed bus and cache size. The iMac uses a laptop processor and a laptop graphics card that are much less powerful than the Mac Pro. You said you will be doing some professional level work, so get the Mac Pro... BUT:

    Keep it within your budget,

    1. Get the single 2.8 GHz quad core, not dual 2.8 GHz. I mean, why consider jumping from a 2 core laptop processor with the iMac and then to 8 cores of an already much better desktop processor?? Just go 4 core.
    2. Just get one single internal 500 GB HDD with the Mac Pro. AGAIN, you jump from a 500 GB with the iMac to "should I get" a Mac Pro with one 320 GB and then a 500 GB and yet ANOTHER 500 GB on top of that, plus a WD raptor. I mean, is this a joke??
    3. RAM, buy third-party RAM from crucial or OWC or newegg. You will save a bundle.
    4. I like the 8800 GT choice.
    5. You can probably save money on CS3 and MS Office through your school.
    6. Why would you buy a case for a Mac Pro?
    7. Good choice of monitors, and the matte will be better for accurate color reproduction over the iMac. I almost wonder why you would buy a calibrator with the iMac.
    8. The Mac Pro, with the specs I listed, comes to $2599.
    9. Yes, if you are *actually* doing pro level work, which I question, then go with the Mac Pro I suggested. Resist maxing out things that you don't need.

    10. I just noticed the, "if I go Mac Pro should I pay nearly a grand more for the 3.0 GHz processor?". Let me remind you, don't go balls out just because you are paying for this with a student loan. You will have to pay for all of it eventually PLUS interest. No, don't upgrade everything that Apple has an option for. Hold yourself back. And the fact that you don't understand the differences in specs, generally means that you do not require them.
  4. skubish macrumors 68030


    Feb 2, 2005
    Ann Arbor, Michigan
    I doubt you are doing anything that would require a Mac Pro.
    What does that lab have at your college? The photography lab at my wife's college uses 24" iMacs.
  5. stainlessliquid macrumors 68000

    Sep 22, 2006
    The mac pro is overkill for design, 2d programs are not processor intensive things, they make more use out of ram than anything else.
  6. Thiol macrumors 6502a


    Jan 26, 2008
    I agree with the iMac choices above. You don't need 8-cores for CS3 work unless you need to do some video encoding. The main reason to get a Mac Pro, for me at least, is to easily upgrade as time goes on. I personally just don't like having all my components in one item (monitor, hard drive, RAM). The Mac Pro has made it easy for me to use a second hard drive for backups and get more RAM than on another system. This means that I can upgrade the monitors, video card, and hard drives in the future if needed, something not easily done with an iMac.

    In short, technically, all you need is an iMac. Get a large screen, but you don't need the fastest processor for CS3. You will want to max out the RAM. If you think you'll hang on to this computer for years and want to upgrade parts of it, then get the low-end 4-core Mac Pro.
  7. Aljovido thread starter macrumors member

    Mar 30, 2008
    I greatly appreciate all the feedback!

    Okay, so here's a my reasoning behind comparing both of those machines, which I understand are totally different. I am looking for something I can upgrade over time, something that would be able to comfortably handle the next "big design program," the next big MacOSX 10.6 upgrade or what have you. I was planning on getting an iMac from the start, but I realized that once I bought it the room for upgrading was near to none. At least with the MacPro I could upgrade for a while longer.

    Also, I wasn't sure if "downgrading" the base mac pro was wasting the additional cost of getting one over an iMac.

    How much ram would be suggested in a quad core mac pro for design work? 4GB? 6GB? 8GB? I realized that since the base mac pro configuration came with two 1GB RAM Modules, I would have an additional 2GB, making that 8GB purchase 10GB (which might be over the top?)

    -All the calculations I did included the discounts I get at school for software, and were based on OWC prices for ram and hard drives.

    -I'd get a case for the Mac Pro or iMac simply because I don't feel safe leaving it alone at school for the multi-week long breaks, and I would need to take it home on the train and such.

    -The hard drive choices in the MacPro were for as follows: apple's cost of upgrading the 320GB HD to a 500GB one is $90, so why don't I just keep the 320GB, and put the $90 I would have to pay apple towards a 500GB drive. Since I want at least 1TB of storage, I included a second 500GB drive. The WD Raptor was just a possibility to use as my main HD to speed things up a bit. I'm still not sure if its better to have internal backups or external.

    -My school has an assortment of computer labs, 4G MacPros, New iMacs, and even MacMinis (ugh). Our photo lab has iMacs.

    -The calibrator would help to calibrate the dell 2408WFP or the 24" iMac to my current 2407WFP and to my printer. I definitely do want a dual-monitor setup.

    -I am also considering the Mac Pro because of the flash work I do, and the motion graphics that I am starting to experiment in. Also, 3D animation is something I am heavily interested in, and plan to experiment with. I need a computer that can evolve a bit with me.

    And yes, it is VERY easy to get sucked into upgrading every little thing I can, haha. Thanks for slapping my head and pulling me out of that pit. But one important question I have is, should I get an applecare plan or no? I didn't get one for my macbook and everything is still running just fine.

    Thanks again,
  8. diamond3 macrumors 6502a

    Oct 6, 2005
    Just to let you know you can now get a refurb 2.8 8core mac pro from the refurb store for 2399. I've yet to see them before.
  9. NAG macrumors 68030


    Aug 6, 2003
    My opinion is that a mac pro is overkill for your needs (all the extra features really won't be needed for the work you described...the mac pro is a workstation and not really needed for most things). I use my imac for webdesign, photo editing, video editing, etc... Of course I also use my macbook air for making figures and cleaning up photos of western blots so my perception of fast enough may not be up to your standard.

    If you live near an Apple Store or a best buy or something I'd go and play with an iMac and see if you think it is fast enough.
  10. stainlessliquid macrumors 68000

    Sep 22, 2006
    Computer hardware has been moving at a much faster pace than adobe programs, even a low end computer can easily handle heavy photoshop work with enough ram. There will never be a design program that needs major processing power, its just not how it works, theres not a lot of calculations to do when drawing lines and squares or moving layers. Processors help with filters since that involves rendering but graphic design doesnt use filters very often (atleast not good design).

    Design programs need plenty of ram but theres still a limit on how much is useful. 2gbs is perfectly fine for a document thats 11x17 and a number of layers, it might be a little laggy when moving larger layers but wont interupt your workflow. 4gbs should cover you for pretty much anything youll do, its cheap so might as well get it. I cant see anything more being very useful. I use 2gbs and get by fine with large print files.

    If you think you need a mac pro for flash then your flash stuff is probably too heavy, if you make something thats only fast on a mac pro then youll be crashing people on old computers... Flash can be really resource intensive if you make something really complicated but thats not good, infact it might be kind of dangerous running it on a mac pro since you wont know if its too slow for other computers. Flash can cripple browsers on slow machines if youre not careful.
  11. eXan macrumors 601


    Jan 10, 2005
    Listen to this wise man! :)

    BTW, if you decide to get a MP, get single 2.8 GHz with 4 GB RAM and stock Radeon graphics. Adobe apps dont use GPUs for rendering, the CPU is still an overkill, but is better suited for the future, while RAM is easy to install so if you will be running out of 4 GBs you can easily get more later.

    Also, dont buy HDs for Apple - like RAM, you can get them cheaper from 3rd parties.
  12. bocomo macrumors 6502

    Jun 29, 2007
    New York
    the mac pro is a big, heavy beast! i love mine but could not imagine taking it with me back and forth

    just get the base mac pro, 4GB ram will be just fine-if you get into some heavy vid stuff, you can always add more...
  13. mwpeters8182 macrumors 6502

    Apr 16, 2003
    Boston, MA
    From someone who's taken out a good deal of loans while they were in college, and also does some computing heavy work, try to keep the loans to a minimum. It'll cost you far more in the long run to take out a huge loan now, and pay it back over the years w/ interest. you're better off getting the iMac (Which unless you are doing really, really heavy work should be fine) and waiting until you graduate to get the mac pro. If you're getting it for your job at that point, you could at least deduct it from taxes, I'd imagine.
  14. iTris666 macrumors newbie

    Feb 8, 2008
    Adobe apps:

    -> Adobe CS3 apps are only 32 bits so each one won't use mode than 4gb of RAM. 4gb should be way more than enough for Photoshop/illustrator/Flash.

    -> Bench on shows that photoshop do not offer a big improvement between older 4 core Mac Pro and the new 8 core Mac Pro, only a few percents. I doubt Flash or Illustrator will be any different.

    Overall, adobe apps architecture are old and no longer take advantage of newest features, so they won't work that much better on a Mac Pro compared to an iMac.

    3D apps:
    3D renderers like maya or 3DS Max mental mill make great use of all cores available : the 8 core will be use which will be a real time saver for precalc scene tweaking. 3D apps also can use all video memory available for textures so here the Mac Pro and especially the Geforce 8800 can be useful. Mac OS X Maya is 32 bits only though so the 4Gb rule still apply.
  15. thejadedmonkey macrumors 604


    May 28, 2005
    This may be a dumb question, but have you upgraded the RAM in your Macbook? The Macbook's processor is probably fast enough for CS3 work, and CS3 doesn't really use a graphics card...
  16. chaosbunny macrumors 68000


    Mar 11, 2005
    down to earth, far away from any clouds
    Since the op mentioned he is interested in 3D programs and will maybe start learning one in the future I say the superior power of the mac pro is not necessary for that. I am learning Cinema 4D myself since 2 years, started on a powerbook and now on my iMac. Learning and experimenting doesn't require to meet deadlines, and so you can get by with pretty much anything.

    Apart from that 3D programs are much more complicated than the Adobe stuff in my opinion, maybe because they have to represent and edit 3-dimensional stuff on a 2-dimensional medium. I'd say by the time the op masters a 3D program to a degree where he is ready to work for clients he'll need a new machine anyway, no matter if he goes iMac or Mac pro now.

    (Then again maybe I'm just to stupid for 3D programs and the op will learn one much faster than I can :))

    It's maybe best to go the cheapest possible route now, especially with a loan. As time, experience and clients come you can still sell the iMac and get something that suits your needs then.
  17. frodolives macrumors newbie

    Apr 1, 2008
    I'm glad someone brought this up - I'm wondering what's the best Mac to get myself.

    I've more or less settled on the cheapest Macbook Pro, though have been wondering if I should get the fancy 15 inch one - I'm switching from PC and will be using it for 3D work (Lightwave) and video editing + some AfterEffects as well as the usual web and 2D work. I would prefer a laptop since I tend to travel quite a bit, but would consider a desktop if it turns out to be the better option (talking price/performance ratio here).

    I'm hoping to be doing some freelance work and possibly eventually run my own little business (been running a business for the past 15 years, just not in multimedia) so I'd like to get something reasonably professional, but then again I don't want to buy something that's overkill, as I'm still very much learning. I'm concerned about rendering times for 3D as well as the ability of the machine to handle the material.

    Am I aiming for the right computer, or should I get something else?
    Any opinions appreciated. :)
  18. eXan macrumors 601


    Jan 10, 2005
    4 core Mac Pro will serve you for years to come :)
  19. xparaparafreakx macrumors 65816

    Jul 29, 2005
    Is the Mac Pro you are getting from ADC Student discount?

    Mac Pro 2.8, 8800gt : $2,399.00
    Samsung F1 hard drive 1tb: $250
    8GB of ram: $400
    24" monitor: $500
    ADC Membership $100

    $3,550 x tax = 3832 + ADC = $4k

    Thats is way less then you $4,500.

    Read this:

    Read this:

    Read this:

    I am in the same boat as you but I am not a Design Student, I just want a good machine ready for me to throw anything at it, Logic Studio, Photoshop & Traktor Scratch. When I come home from class, my desktop better be ready for anything I throw at it.

    BTW, I saw your iMac you picked was a 2.8ghz? Read this:
  20. nutmac macrumors 68040

    Mar 30, 2004
    As xparaparafreakx wrote, get an ADC membership if you are going with Mac Pro.

    But I would go with standard config 24" iMac (with more RAM, hard disk, etc.). Although Mac Pro's superior upgrade path may sound tempting, for the price of one Mac Pro, you can get two iMacs. In most likelihood, newer iMac (that will come out few years down the road) will be faster, and certain sexier than today's Mac Pro.
  21. bigandy macrumors G3


    Apr 30, 2004
    I think the most important thing you have to consider is the glossy screen of the iMac, or a Mac Pro with a matte screen.

    Matte screens are generally preferred for design work... That's your biggest descision.

    In terms of power, the iMac is fine for CS3.
  22. xparaparafreakx macrumors 65816

    Jul 29, 2005
    24" Standard iMac at amazon, $1700 with no tax.
    Ram, $90 4gb.
    Firewire 800 hard drive, $300-$400.

    $2k to $2,200 for a nice system. Use that extra money to buy a killer intuos tablet, pantone spyder, etc etc. Or if you feel like burning money, a Wacom cintiq.

    Damn I forgot about the screen being glossy. But he has a macbook and is use to it.
  23. Aljovido thread starter macrumors member

    Mar 30, 2008
    Is that for a 4-core or 8-core mac pro? (I Assume 8-core)

    The monitor I would get if I got the mac pro would be a dell 2408WFP, which costs $600-700 depending on when you buy it, (they rotate their deals). It would match my 2407WFP pretty decently, and have a crazy amount of ports on it to boot (the 2407WFP doesn't have an HDMI port on it, and DVI doesn't carry sound)

    I also have a few other intentions with the regular apple student discount. If I buy my computer during the deal they have every summer, I can get a discount on a touch or get a nano and sell it on ebay, and $100 towards a wide format printer (I also believe you get ANOTHER $100 if you buy a canon pixma pro9000 or pro9500). Does apple's 'back to school' deal still apply to ADC students?

    Is there a way to check the ADC Student discount before signing up? I didn't even know this existed for students haha, but it sounds amazing.

    My macbook is a 2.0GHz core duo (not core 2 duo) so its limit is 2GB of ram, which I have. It does work very well for light illustrator and photoshop work, but there are increasingly more times where it will begin to freeze up if I have more than one adobe program open. And forget about it handling large documents. InDesign? Lags like crazy for two page spreads. It can't keep up if I digitally paint in photoshop (lagging paintbrush). Flash for the most part is fine on its own, but open up dreamweaver and illustrator and all hell breaks loose.

    There's almost never a time anymore when I am only using one adobe program at a moment anyways, and never a time when i'm ONLY using an adobe program. I switch windows like crazy, and have even caused finder to crash on more than one occasion (I use f9, f10, f11 and f12 A LOT). I do close programs if i'm not using them. What i'm saying is I think I need something a bit tougher, a desktop? But if the imac is just an oversized immobile laptop, and the mac pro is a computing tank, then where's the midzone?

    So you're saying mac pro all the way? (As long as the screen I have is Matte of course)

    Yes, but as of now my macbook stays stationary on my desk, plugged into my 2407WFP (which is matte), USB hubs, 3 external drives, a tablet, etc... I don't use the macbook screen much at all unless I have to take it somewhere, which is a huge hassle. (part of the reason I want a desktop)


    Don't worry so much about the fact that it is a loan. I misspoke when I said I was taking a loan out FOR a computer. I'm going into my junior year, and managed not to take out any loans thus far, but I am going to have to next year. I mean, a loan is a loan, and any loan is 'bad.' But it might help to know that I'm not in any debt yet.

    On a curious note, does an 8-core processor mean there are 2x 4-core cards in it? or are both 4-cores on the one card? Sorry if thats a dumb question.

    Oh, and one more question. Does anyone know if you can upgrade the standard leopard that comes with a mac now to a 5-license 'family' pack? Or would I have to buy a whole other copy to upgrade my current macbook (which I wouldn't do)?

    Again, thanks for all the help!

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