Mac Pro 5.1 (2012) still worth it in 2018?

Discussion in 'Mac Pro' started by Eneco, Jul 1, 2018.

  1. Eneco, Jul 1, 2018
    Last edited: Jul 3, 2018

    Eneco macrumors member

    Jul 1, 2018
    Hey folks,

    Since Apple hasn't released any new hardware this year and the modulare Mac Pro seems miles ahead, I was wondering if, with all the upgrade options, the Mac Pro 5.1 is still worth it in 2018.

    The Scenario

    I'm a Composer and Sound Designer for Film / TV and Games. Right now I'm working (believe it or not) on a Macbook Pro (2013) hooked up to a Thunderbolt Display. So far this machine hasn't let me down, but working on games is a nightmare with the low speced GPU. Therefore I want to step up my game and invest in a real pro machine.

    MacBook Pro 15" (Early 2013): i7 @ 2,7 GHz / 16 GB RAM / GT 650m / 500 GB SSD

    The Candidates

    iMac Pro: Well, the technical specs sound great, but the price is way off. Even though the basic version with 8 cores would be totally fine for me, it's still 4.800€ here in Europe. Just something I'm not really comfortable with spening on a non-upgradable machine.

    Mac Pro (Trash can): A 5 year old machine with no upgrade options and a high price tag ... seems like the worst deal. Nope, that's not going to happen.

    Mac Pro (2012): Even older than the trash can, but its huge advantage are the PCIe slots. it can be upgraded to my own needs even with the latest tech. Of course I may have to run special drivers but that should not be a problem. I would go for the 12 core 3,46 GHz version, 32GB RAM (for now), 1 TB SSD, a decent GPU and the USB 3.0 card.

    The Question

    I already calculated the costs and it would be around 1.500 €. Is it even in 2018 still a good deal to invest in such a machine? As far as I understand it, I can upgrade the RAM, the GPU, drives and USB-C by the time needing. Only the CPU will be limited to the available option.

    Any help, experience or thoughts are appreciated.
  2. Morpheo macrumors 65816


    Feb 26, 2014

    I have a mid-2012 Mac Pro. Just like my 1,1 before, it is a beast. I'm a film music composer myself so I guess we both have similar needs in terms of processing power. I don't plan of replacing it anytime soon. This year thanks to the upcoming Mojave, I have 2 upgrades on the table: metal-compatible GPU, and I also plan on upgrading my CPUs to the fastest available for this model. Which is of course way cheaper than buying a new machine ;)

    Of course this Mac Pro isn't getting any younger but it's a very solid performer, I love it.

    If thunderbold isn't a requirement for you, I would definitely recommend the cheese grater... In my case, that's irrelevant, I'm still using a FW interface, and when I get a new one, there's good chances it's gonna be usb.
  3. frou macrumors 6502


    Mar 14, 2009
    Do you have to boot into Windows to run the games? If so, I would not bother using a Mac for that aspect.
  4. MadBlue macrumors newbie

    Jun 25, 2018

    for my self I'm "downgrading" from a 2016 MacBook Pro 15" with a Dock and 4K Display to a 2009 4.1=5.1 Dual Socket Machine, due my MacBook is a bit of a unstable, unreliable mess.
    You can equip the 4.1 and 5.1 Mac Pros with higher Spec CPUs, RAM and GPUs... but there are still some major Bottlenecks you will not find ways around. Especially if "Gaming" is a thing, I would rather go for a well build Hacky then a Mac Pro.

    For Example:
    -First things first: In today the CPUs are crap. Of course in sum of 12Cores and 3.something GHz each, the overall performance is still great. But the per-thread-performance of these old XEONs is quite poor. Most games can not utilize more then 2-4 CPUs cores. So for Gaming even a cheap Gaming-Laptop gives you better CPU power then a fully upgraded cMP.

    -GPU Situation is not that good on a cMP. If you want something fully compatible, the most modern GPUs you can get are things like a GeForce GTX770 or Radeon R9-280. They will be batter then your MBP13 GPU, but with modern games this will be still not fun to work. You can go the "sort of compatible" way, without boot-screen and maybe some driver installs... then modern GeForce and Radeon GPUs can be an option. But for a production-system a semi-compatible solution it not ideal.

    -Storage situation is... 'complicated' too. NVMe is not really supported yet and SATA is limited to SATA2. There are PCIe-to-SATA3 Cards around to push you to SATA3 speeds... wich are still poor in compare to MacBook Pro. So if i/o is impotent to you, you will end up paying alot for a premium solution or have to life with limitation.

    -As far as I know, you are also limited to USB3 via a PCIe-USB Card. If you need fast i/o to external devices, you will be limited again... (or maybe find a solution over the 10GBit Network...)

    -Last but not Least: On cMP Windows 10 is not supported over BootCamp. Again: There are ways around this... but on a production system I wouln'd do that. So if you need to boot Windows 10 without a VM, you will not be happy with the cMP.

    This should not mean, the cMP is a bad machine. I have two of them at the moment and prefer them over my modern MacBook Pro by far. But they fit my use-case. (Java-, BigData- and Database-development) For modern multimedia, especially games I use a Acer Predator Notebook, wich does a better job in this.

    If you want to for for cMP, I would like to share this experiences with you:
    -My advice is: Look for the machine in the best condition, even it has very low specs. (Accept the dual-socket/single-soecket...) Do the high-spec thing's yourself. I would even prefer a good 4.1 over a "is sort of ok" 5.1 2012.
    -I have two 3.33GHz 6Cores for my main 4.1. Wich I think is the sweet spot in price/performance at the moment. The 3.46GHz doubles the price for 2 or 3 % performance...
    -Registered DIMMs give you the same performance then ordinary ECC RAM. But prices are way down in compare. But you can't mix RDIMMs und UDIMMs. So better don't pay extra for RAM when you plan to plan to upgrade RAM anyway.

    Wich you good luck finding a perfect solution for your scenario! :)
  5. skizzo macrumors regular

    Apr 11, 2018
    it suppose it matters what software you use as well. I see Morpheo, like myself is using the latest version, 2018.4, of Pro Tools. Make sure your software, as well as hardware (interfaces) is still usable on these older machines if you already have not. The main difference is I am using a 2009 Mac Pro with 5,1 firmware. I have basically the same sort of setup you wish to acquire with a SSD for boot drive, separate hard drives for audio and sessions, increased RAM, USB 3.0 PCIe card, upgraded GPU for future stability with newer OS versions. I had sessions running over 80% CPU more like 90 - 94% CPU on a 4 core 2.66GHz and went to 6 core 3.46GHz and that reduced CPU usage to 40% to give you an idea of practical real life difference on CPU upgrade. Just saying that because 12 cores might be overkill depending on your needs and typical usage. It's already been said but as long as thunderbolt isn't something you will miss I think the cMP is still an excellent machine for audio. Also I cannot imagine it would cost $3k for one of these even with all the upgrades. You should find a decent condition cMP for $500 and even after buying all the upgrades should come under $1500k total. If you find a cMP with some of the components already upgraded perhaps more like only $1k total. CPU = ~$100 / GPU = ~$300 / SSD = ~$200 / RAM = ~$150 / USB 3.0 = ~$50
  6. Eneco, Jul 1, 2018
    Last edited: Jul 1, 2018

    Eneco thread starter macrumors member

    Jul 1, 2018
    How is your performance with your CPU right now? Thunderbolt isn't necessary for me as my interface is USB. I never used Thunderbolt except for the display, which I will have to replace then.
    Is there a list with Metal compatible GPUs?

    Nope, I run them directly within the game engines, which are available for Mac. I really don't need a "high end gaming rig" as I just jump into the game to check if my sounds work properly. All of that is happening within the game engine and doesn't have to be at maximum details with 90 FPS. Visual quality doesn't matter it just has to run smooth.

    I think most of the software needs a certain OS version. Does it really make a difference if there is a 4 core i7 oder 6 core Xeon processor used? I guess Mojave will be the last OS supported for the old Mac Pro with the new modular system coming up next year.
    Maybe you're right and 12 cores is a bit over the top as I never pushed my i7 to the limits. I also checked the prices again. 3.000 was for preconfigured machines. I found a dealer here, which sells all Mac Pro components separately. With this i comes around 1.500 as you say.
  7. mikas, Jul 1, 2018
    Last edited: Jul 1, 2018

    mikas macrumors regular


    Sep 14, 2017
    Me too went for another old Mac Pro - again. Seems I just can't help it.

    Mac Pro 5,1 (2010) 2,4GHz (4-core) Dual: 440€
    6*16GB=96GB ECC RDIMM: 300€
    Sapphire Pulse RX 580 8GB: ~270€
    2x Xeon X5680 (6-core): 147€
    Cables: 15€
    HD adapter: 20€
    Total: 1192€

    I need RAM and CineBench scores and decent OpenGL:
    ArchiCAD 21 (+cinerender) + Rhinoceros + Cinema 4D (+ProRender sometimes).

    With 1192€ I think this is still a decent deal. I can see the support is ending for 5,1's. I am still on Sierra, I can put High Sierra in it, and seems like Mojave too. So at least two years of service ahead for this, if it doesn't brake or burn itself. It makes 596€ per year. Not too bad.

    I've got a HP Z800 too, and it is of equal value performance wise. I just like the os better with Apple, thats all. I am just so used to OSX/MacOS way of doing. I have to say there is nothing wrong with Windows either nowadays. I do use both OS'es nowadays.

    I've got a iMac 5K too, i7 4,2GHz, 580 8GB, 1TB Flash. It's ok with editing 3D and everything, but it does renders somewhat slower than this old Mac Pro or HP Z800. And I have to do a lot of testrenders all the time, end in the end the final render, which needs all the RAM. And I can't install anything to an iMac, RAM is allready maxed at 64GB.

    With Windows I could go with GPU rendering engines and have multiple GPUs. With Mac Pro I can too, but it's way more difficult and restricted at the moment. We'll see if modular Mac Pro delivers anything at that front someday.

    So yes, a Mac Pro 5,1 can still be usefull for a couple of years maybe. But I have to admit there are Windows alternatives with really good value too.

    Don't know if this of any help, just sharing my own decisions about 5,1 (2010).
  8. pat500000 macrumors G3


    Jun 3, 2015
  9. Eneco thread starter macrumors member

    Jul 1, 2018
    That's exactly my thought as well. I just like MacOS! I know my workflow, I have everything at my hand and it just feels good. We are all creatures of habit and so there is no reason for me changing to Windows. Even though I'm aware I might get a better deal for my money.
  10. Jethro! macrumors regular

    Oct 4, 2015
    Short answer: Yes, the 5,1 MP is still worth it. I compose and produce music with a 4,1 MP and it's still a workhorse. About to upgrade the processors to give it yet a bit more life. No way I'd get a trash can Mac "Pro". If next years "new" MP turns out to be another joke as I fear it will, I'll probably get another maxed-out 5,1 to help with the regretful transition to a PC/Windoze machine.
  11. cobracnvt macrumors 6502


    Apr 6, 2017
    I'd throw a vote out for the trashcan Mac Pro. It's still currently sold, so it will be supported for quite a while, and can be found for some decent prices on the internet, such as e-bay. You even still have the possibility of finding one with a current warranty and option for Apple Care.
  12. pl1984 macrumors 68000

    Oct 31, 2017
    While I'm a fan of the cMP IMO, given the highlighted, your only consideration should be an iMac Pro or consumer iMac.

    The technology in the cMP is almost ten years old meaning you're starting significantly behind the technology curve. If an iMac is not in your future then you need to wait for the new Mac Pro or begin making plans to transition to another platform (given Apple's lack of commitment I'd recommend this latter option anyway).
    --- Post Merged, Jul 1, 2018 ---
    I don't want to start a platform war but one should focus on the applications and not the OS. macOS and Windows are more alike than different. Implementation details are different but the overall functionality is very similar. Of course if there's something specific to an OS that's not available on an alternative then that's a major plus for a specific OS.
  13. kschendel macrumors 6502a

    Dec 9, 2014
    You can almost certainly get a cost effective couple years out of a cMP, especially if your primary limiter is the GPU. But six years? That's iffy. I can maybe see a cMP serving as a stop-gap machine, particularly if you can get one and upgrade it for around 1000 or so. If your stated 2.800-3.000€ is the best you can find, that's too high; at that point just go for an iMac (pro or not).
  14. nampramos macrumors 6502

    Dec 14, 2010
    Nice to see this thread and the answers provided already.

    I'm in a similar boat, although my use would be purely for photography editing.

    No music, no video, no games.

    I'd only be putting this system together at the very end of this year but the plan would be to start looking for parts already now so that I could find the best possible deals on each of the components I'd like to upgrade on the used market, and also finding that steal of a deal on a used cMP.

    Still, even if I find great deals, I'm still wondering if I'm not better off just buying a brand new 2018 MBP15 when they come out later this year or a refurbed or lightly used 2017 MBP15. Not that I absolutely need a laptop, but it's nice to be able to take it with me whenever I go on a trip. I do have a 12'' iPad Pro now so that makes it easier to ignore the laptop option.

    As other have already mentioned, the 12-core system can obviously still compete with modern technology *when* the software you're using can actually utilize all the cores. If the software won't take advantage of all those cores, then it will be a pretty slow machine running only a single core.

    Being able to instal a modern top of the line GPU on the cMP is great, but for my use, that won't matter since unfortunately the Adobe suite for photography does not take advantage of the GPU power.

    Another option I've even started to consider would be a Hackintosh, but I'd rather not have to deal with the hassle of it. I'd be fine doing the initial configuration to get everything working, but the thought of having to keep fixing things every time a new macOS update comes out makes this option less desirable. Although it would be the most future proof in terms of pure hardware performance and wouldn't cost that much either, especially if going the AMD CPU way.
  15. handheldgames macrumors 65816


    Apr 4, 2009
    Pacific NW, USA
    If you can quickly make back the investment in hardware, it’s a solid platform with a low cost of entry compared to any Mac platform to date. The entry price for an upgradable 2009 is $300 or less.

    Plus, It truly depends on your workflow. Where and how you work. If a desktop works and you need lots is storage and powerful gfx, absolutely.

    I’d recommend a 4/5,1 over a 2013 trash can any day.
  16. nampramos macrumors 6502

    Dec 14, 2010
    I don't need the graphics. I wish Adobe would optimise their suite to use the GPU, but that hasn't happened so far.

    I do know that it uses several cores though, just not sure if it will truly use the 12 cores (mostly using Lightroom at the moment but Photoshop is also in there, more and more). Storage is always in great demand when shooting 50MB raw files, but that's easy to fix in any platform, either with internal storage or USB3 external.

    The hardest thing about making this decision is that the benchmarks mean very little in real life, since everyone's routine is different and the way each of us uses the same hardware can be very different too.

    I know for a fact that I'm not moving big files from one disk to another or doing large files import. My biggest file is 50MB (which represent 90% of the files I work with), and I import that to the computer I'll be working with once via a USB3 SD card reader. Once it is in the computer, I'll have it in the fastest drive while I work with it and once done, archive it in another large volume disk.

    The most important factor for me is to have a fluid working environment. I hate waiting for Lightroom to load a raw file or to see edits applying to a photo, especially when I have to do 100 or more photos a day.
  17. Eneco thread starter macrumors member

    Jul 1, 2018
    In my opinion the current consumer iMac has some design flaws to make it a considerable option: Just one single fan to control the heat. The last thing I need as an audio professional is a starting airplane on my desk. I already have that right now with my Macbook Pro and that's one of the reasons why I want to invest in a better machine.

    But I'm willing to wait until October to see if Apple releases some new iMacs with maybe a better cooling system. Even though I doubt they will adapt the iMac Pro design, as it would draw people away from the pro in favour of the consumer version.

    As I already mentioned, these prices were pre-configured machines. I found some cheap machine and with upgrading them myself it will be around 1500
  18. nampramos macrumors 6502

    Dec 14, 2010
    What upgrades would bring it all the way up to 1500 (euros?)?

    I don't think I'd pass the 1000 euro mark. Of course the trick is to buy second hand parts. But there's plenty on offer, even for a modern GPU like the RX580.
  19. Eneco thread starter macrumors member

    Jul 1, 2018
    Mainly the 1TB PCIe SSD I need for my sample libraries. That's the biggest matter of expense.
  20. nampramos macrumors 6502

    Dec 14, 2010
  21. pl1984 macrumors 68000

    Oct 31, 2017
    Noise with an iMac is definitely a consideration. I don't own one so I cannot speak to its behavior in this area. Do you know anyone with a recent model who may be willing to let you test your workflow on it?
  22. AlexMaximus macrumors 6502a


    Aug 15, 2006
    A400M Base

    I think you would do great with a configuration like Mr. mikas recommended in this thread. You will be very happy for at least two yeas.
    If you don't render much, you may go as well for a quad 4.1. A hex cpu upgrade is cheap and easy to do yourself together with a firmware flash to 5.1. With Mojave and a Nvidia GTX 1180 hitting the markets in September, you could be fine till 2021.
  23. kschendel macrumors 6502a

    Dec 9, 2014
    Hmm. Do they have to be on SSD? I have a couple 1 Tb WD Blacks in my cMP, and they are very quiet and reasonably fast as long as they aren't seeking frantically. (One has a bit of bearing hiss but the house has to be quiet for me to hear it.) You could probably buy 2 WD Blacks from different vendors for half the price of a 1 TB ssd, and select the quieter one...
  24. Eneco thread starter macrumors member

    Jul 1, 2018
    Unfortunately not. All I've got on this side comes from some user experiences on this forum. But as always, these are very subjective as everyone has a different workflow, uses different tools and hast different sensitivity for this matter.

    Of course they don't HAVE to be on a SSD. It just makes life more simple, as loading up projects with lots of samples can take a while ;) I guess I will just have to try it out.
  25. fastlanephil macrumors 65816


    Nov 17, 2007
    I use my 5,1 for music creation as a serious hobbiest. I have a 500GB SSD boot drive and a 1TB SSD for samples. My recording drive and three backup drives are all HDD. The samples drive should be a SSD for creative work flow. That’s when you’re coming up with ideas and trying them out. The HDD recording drive will have some delay with saves as your project grows but not too much.

    There’s a pretty good chance that Apple will release six-core 8700K Coffe Lake iMacs this fall. This CPU Geekbench scores about 26000 for multi-core which is pretty decent. Apple could also port over a variation of the iMac Pro dual cooling fan to eliminate noise issues.

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