Newbie Mac Pro buying/specs questions

Discussion in 'Mac Pro' started by macstatic, Oct 28, 2012.

  1. macstatic macrumors 6502a

    Joined:
    Oct 21, 2005
    #1
    I need a new computer (I'm still using a 1.67GHz PowerBook G4 believe it or not) and am considering a Mac Pro. Its main task will be photography (Photoshop CS4 and Lightroom 3). I've considered an iMac (and also the recent Mac Mini) but after careful consideration, reading through the Mac Performance Guide and various forum threads I've concluded that the MP's upgrading ability is better suited for professional needs and a better, long term investment.
    I have some newbie questions:

    1) Besides the obvious processor upgrades between models, are there any significant differences I should know about?
    (I've read that 2008 or earlier MP models use more expensive RAM upgrades, so they're not recommended). Do all Mac Pros have the same expansion slots, drive bays etc? Any sites with a Mac Pro "comparing specs for all models"?

    2) When does the amount of cores make any difference?
    I've heard that for Photoshop (CS4 at least) and Lightroom it doesn't mean much and only mathematical type software needs additional cores. I will probably also use it for video editing in standard (not HD) resolution for now (Final Cut?) and multi-track music recording (Logic Pro?) at some stage, so perhaps this is something to keep in mind still?

    3) Do I need to consider a powerful graphic card for my use or will a "basic" stock card do?
    Mac Performance guide recommends the NVIDIA GeForce GT-120 which apparently comes as standard from Apple.

    4) Among the many Mac Pro versions, which one would you recommend I get when trying to cut costs down and getting the most power for my specific needs?
    The 2011 BTO 21.5" iMac with 2.8GHz i7 was within my budget (I don't care much for the October 2012 update with no user-upgradeable RAM, slower hard drive, no optical drive, no Firewire port and at a higher price than before), so I'm hoping for something around the same cost (or less!). I considered the 21.5" for starters as I'd invest in a pro display later on and continue using the built-in display for the Photoshop tool palette and email, web etc. With a Mac Pro I'd have to buy an external display right away, but I could of course buy a cheap one to start off with. Are there any sites with current prices of the various models so I'd know what to expect? A lot of sellers seem overly optimistic in my opinion, but that could be my ignorance.
     
  2. dazey macrumors 6502

    Joined:
    Dec 9, 2005
    #2
    The pre-2008 have significant differences and are probably best avoided. They had differences in EFI booting or something and think they didn't do 64 bit? 2008 models were good (I bought a 2008 in 2010 and the 2010 were not significantly further on, especially as they had issues early on). after 2008 I think each year was more or less an incremental upgrade. The stock graphics cards are all a bit dated, even if you buy the latest ones. I opted to flash a PC card at the time. I am not sure it was really necessary (mine is used for photography too)
    There are differences in how you upgrade the RAM and my memory is getting a little hazy. My 2008 is upgraded in pairs of ram boards. you get one block of memory slots per CPU so you need to avoid the single CPU machines, not only are they slower, you have less slots for memory.
    I do recommend putting in an SSD as a boot drive, there are two spare sata connectors so you can just put an SSD in the spare optical drive slot
    You use all the cores in imports and exports but not in general as far as I see.
     
  3. maxmaut macrumors regular

    Joined:
    Nov 13, 2011
    #3
    I decided to share my experience in this area, though I am not that geeky and cannot tell you all the differences between models.

    When I decided to buy a new mac a year ago, I did a lot of research, and since my tasks are similar to yours (I am a graphic designer), I think you might want to go with what I did.

    My choice was 09 MP. It was a basic configuration of 8-core 2.26, 6gb ram, and standart hdd. I was e-bay hunting for quite a while (around 2 months) to find a suitable option. I got the tower itself for $1400 wich was an awesome price by that time (I am not sure about if it is a good price at the moment).
    I also ordered OWC 120 GB SSD, and also 32 GB of OWC memory.
    Including shipping from US to Ukraine of the tower and the parts, the total bill was $2000. Wich was great, because the closest price for a basic machine of that type in my country was around $4000.

    The machine is awesome in work. I only had to replace hdd that shipped with the MP, because the seller sold it with 160 GB HDD instead of 600 GB that was stated, but the expansion is extremely easy, so I managed to use old HDD from my PC.

    Also my boot drive is SSD, so everything works incredibly fast. Standart video is totally OK for Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, ArchiCad, Painter and other apps that I use. But when I try to play games once in a while it is definitely not enough, so If you will do some rendering, or gaming you should consider buying a better card.

    I think that with this specs (8 cores and 32GB of ram) I am set for couple more years, and the machine will still remain a powerful workstation, even when new lines of iMacs and mac minis and (hopefully) mac pro's will outperform it.

    Plus with 09 MP, you always have an option tu manually update firmware to 2010 analog, and modify CPU's and use faster RAM (though it is not that easy to do, but still). So to me it looks like this is still a machine to go with.

    If you budget is lower, and you need to consider also a monitor (I would not recommend to go with a cheap one, even at the beginning), you could buy less RAM, or go with factory 6 GB set, and also go with HDD, not SSD, and buy some 22'' Dell UltraSharp. Another option is to go with 1-CPU machine, but in that case you will have less slots for RAM (but the CPU upgrade is much easier).

    I hope this would be helpful for you, it took a lot of time to write this much in English =)

    Also, I would suggest you to use Geekbench Mac Benchmarks list, to compare models. Those are not real-life tests, but still can provide you with the better understanding of what model to go with.

    Best regards,
    Max.
     
  4. Loa macrumors 65816

    Loa

    Joined:
    May 5, 2003
    Location:
    Québec
    #4
    Stick to 2009+, and since all the Mac Pros since 2009 are all basically the same machine (firmware = only significant difference), you only have one machine to "compare".

    The probably in your last sentence makes me believe that the 3.33 hex core will be the best compromise for you. It is the best CPU for PS, and has a lot of power for anything else as well.

    Some filters are able to use the power of the GPUs, and Adobe certainly seems to be going in this direction. But as things stand right now, GPUs will not matter all that much. I'd stick with the standard and upgrade later if need be.

    Ebay for used prices, as with this budget you're going to have to look at used machines. Unless you're doing this professionally 8 hours+ a day, the 2009 2.66 Quad is going to be a very good work machine. Get it up to 12GB+ of RAM. Forget about SSDs for PS on a tight budget: get more RAM instead. Going above 16GB will only help you depending on what type of images you're working on. But 16GB seems like a sweet spot right now.

    Don't use Geekbench as reference, as PS isn't much aware of multiple cores. The basic clock speed of a Mac, provided you give it enough RAM, is a very very good predictor of PS performance. It's sad that PS isn't more aware of multiple cores, but what can we do?

    Good luck.
     
  5. deconstruct60 macrumors 604

    Joined:
    Mar 10, 2009
    #5
    If this is a professional photography set up this a huge compromise. Going cheap on the display is questionable to put behind disk access or CPU speed.

    Second if your budget is capped at around $1,699 for both screen and Mac then there are some hard choices to make. Given your budgets cores do make a difference. Stick with 4. RAM and I/O speed ( either multiple HDDs or SSD ) are a far better investment for the stated primary software mix.
     
  6. dazey macrumors 6502

    Joined:
    Dec 9, 2005
    #6
    This is a good point, don't forget the display. Laptop screens are limited in colour range and you should really get a good accurate display. I still use a 20" apple cinema display, which cost more than the computer at the time (a G4 dual MDD). One day I am going to get a nice Pseries NEC as well but they ain't cheap)
     
  7. darkcoupon macrumors regular

    Joined:
    Aug 8, 2012
    #7
    Honestly it sounds like if you're still using CS4 and don't want to spend too much on upgrades, either the 21.5" iMac 2.8 that you mentioned, or the 2009 Mac Pro 2.66 quad will probably be more than fine for you

    Last I saw an iMac with that specification it was listed for about $1400. The Mac Pro can be found for around $1200 on Ebay. Add another few hundred for a decent monitor, but you probably don't need to spend more than $400 or so if you're comfortable with calibrating.
     
  8. macstatic thread starter macrumors 6502a

    Joined:
    Oct 21, 2005
    #8
    Thanks for all your replies. I'm still a little confused, so please bear with me for additional questions :confused:

    I understand that even the "entry level" 2009 models (such as the single 4-core 2.66 GHz) will be "good enough" for most Photoshop/photographic uses while a single 4-core 3.33 GHz 2009 model would be better when money is a concern.
    More cores and dual processors is, from what I've gathered, mostly a waste for money and computing power for my (main) use with the exception of importing/exporting photos, right?
    But since I'm also into music and video (as hobbies, not at a professional level), wouldn't I benefit from 8 cores for other things than Photoshop? More importantly I understand that the 8-core model makes for more flexible memory expansion and allows more memory to be added than the 4-core. Are there also memory configurations (how many memory modules to use at specific sized) which give better results than others or isn't this an issue, just the final amount of RAM you have?

    How about processor speed vs. cores? What would be better to get: a 2009 4-core/3.33GHz or an 8-core/2.93 (or even 2.66) GHz? I'm guessing I can forget about the 2.26 GHz.
    dazey: you said I should avoid the single CPU models. Are you referring to the 2008 Mac Pros or in general? The Mac Performance guide says that a dual CPU machine will perform slower than one with a single CPU when it comes to Photoshop. But cores can apparently be disabled using Apple's CHUD software, effectively turning it into a single-core machine.
     
  9. thekev macrumors 604

    thekev

    Joined:
    Aug 5, 2010
    #9
    You have quite a lot to learn. Imacs are used in photography at times, but do not take what you see on your display as an absolute. There are some displays that are generally a bit easier to match against prints. With the mac pro, avoid the older ones. The NVidia GT120 is on an older one, and it doesn't support OpenCL. Photoshop can make use of OpenCL for a few functions such as liquify, warp, iris blur, and a couple others. Liquify and Warp are basically instant rendering with it. A mac pro isn't truly essential. Even my 2011 macbook pro flies through it with 16GB ram + 512 ssd. It is faster than my older model mac pro, but it runs so god damn hot when I use that machine, and the display has nasty backlight bleed whenever it's running really hot (I'll take it in one of these days for repairs, probably some kind of warping). I think lightroom either went or is going that direction. Beyond that buying old + expensive machines is just a bad idea in general.You'll lose current OS support at some point, and Adobe tends to support what Apple supports. If you want lightroom to open raw files from newer not yet released cameras, you'll need to be up to date. This means you should stick with newer machines.


    Budget for a CS6 upgrade. You'd gain the ability to save things in the background. This is nice with larger files. CS5 and 6 are the 64 bit revisions. Adobe also cuts off upgrade eligibility for CS3 and 4 as of the end of this year. If you already have 4, you might as well upgrade. They gave you an option of up to 3 versions past in the past. Now they're switching to 1 version back. If you do choose to forego the upgrade until later, you need to stay with an OS revision that supports CS4. I think that means Lion or earlier. I'd probably go Snow Leopard, but this may eventually cut you off from newer raw file camera support or just make it awkward. If you choose to forego upgrades, you will lose upgrade eligibility. They've set the monthly licensing on PS at $20/month or so assuming you buy an entire year. Buying an upgrade at $200 seems cheaper.

    Make sure you set up your disks and ram allocation well. 8GB is the minimum you'll want here. 16 isn't a bad idea at all, especially if you're using lightroom and photoshop simultaneously. If you're working with large files, 8 + ssd or 16 + whatever is practically essential. Whatever drive handles scratch disks, turn off spotlight to the scratch directories to minimize weird behavior.

    Last thing I want to mention, don't buy a used display unless you can at least check the number of hours on it. What I'm really saying is don't make the silly mistake of buying an older model Apple or Dell display. Eizo and NEC are pretty great, but they're expensive. It's just really easy to see details due to how well they set the levels, and they're stable. They also have ways of compensating for uniformity. On a budget, Dell is okay. The current Apple displays are too shiny, and a thunderbolt display won't work with the mac pro. You'd have to get the slightly older revision, although they still carry it.

    A lot of this stuff comes down to how picky you are, and how much control is required. I can tell you that good displays make that kind of work a lot less agonizing. I'd personally take an Eizo (assuming a CG model + a supported colorimeter) + a mac mini over a mac pro + an Apple display for what you're doing unless I needed to process thousands of images in a short amount of time. If you're planning on doing any detailed adjustments, a lot of masking, etc. you'll want to get comfortable with a wacom tablet. I like the large or oversized as I can't stand weird mapping. Everyone has a different opinion on that. I can draw quite fluently on paper. If it feels like my cursor is moving way further on the screen than I move my hand, it messes me up. I've tested both ways, and if you're adjusting photography, you really don't see every stroke as you would putting lines on a blank page, so it's best not to stack things against yourself.

    Hopefully some of this helps.
     
  10. Loa macrumors 65816

    Loa

    Joined:
    May 5, 2003
    Location:
    Québec
    #10
    Hello,

    First thing, the 3.33 is a 6-cores, so the difference between single and dual CPU is a lot less than you think. That CPU is very very popular because it's got very fast clock speed and 6 cores at the same time, and can fit on a single CPU Mac Pro. It's a winning bet on all fronts.

    The only advantage of dual CPUs is the number of RAM slots. The cost, is, well, the cost. Dual CPU machines cost a lot more.

    Memory configuration is not an issue, only the amount.

    Don't fret about a few % more or less performance, especially for something you call a hobby... the hex 3.33 is just about the best CPU for PS, and is almost the best for anything else as well.

    Loa
     
  11. darkcoupon macrumors regular

    Joined:
    Aug 8, 2012
    #11
    A 2009 quad core 3.33GHz will be marginally faster, yes, but probably not enough to justify the difference in price.

    Not necessarily. Yes, an 8-core machine will increase performance while using programs such as Logic Pro or Final Cut Pro, but if your main use is Photoshop with a little music and video on the side, your best compromise would be a 2010 six-core 3.33GHz machine. You can also upgrade a 2009 quad-core to the six-core Westmere processor with a firmware update, which is why I recommended the 2009 2.66GHz quad-core to start off with.

    Yes there are, but the difference is minimal. Generally the rule of thumb is 3 modules per processor (i.e. for 24GB use 3 x 8GB modules for single processor or 6 x 4GB for dual processor, for 48GB use 3 x 16GB modules or 6 x 8GB, etc...) It's really nothing to worry about as the difference in performance is hardly even measurable unless your uses are scientific or mathematical. If you want to use 4 x 8GB for 32Gigs of RAM your system won't hate you for it.

    Typically for raw performance, more cores are better than higher clock speed. The 2.26GHz 8-core still out-performs the 3.33GHz quad-core in geekbench scores. But the 6-core 3.33GHz actually out performs the 8-core 2.26. But, like has been stated many times, real world performance is user specific.

    What this article was explaining is disabling hyperthreading, not disabling physical cores. The Mac Pro's Xeon CPU's are capable of hyperthreading, which is effectively creating virtual cores that the system recognizes as additional processor cores, and Photoshop see's a slight performance increase with hyperthreading disabled. Disabling an entire processor would also mean disabling the RAM associated with that processor, so if you're going to spend the extra cash on an 8-core machine just to disable half of it's capabilities for your main use why would you waste the money?
     
  12. DPUser macrumors 6502a

    Joined:
    Jan 17, 2012
    #12
    Don't forget, the 2009 2.66 quad can be upgraded to a 3.33 6 core with a simple EFi update and CPU swap. Cost me $600, and geek bench (32 bit) went from 8500 to 13800.
     
  13. macstatic thread starter macrumors 6502a

    Joined:
    Oct 21, 2005
    #13
    I assume the 2.66 (2009) model needs to have all its PC3-8500 DDR3 ECC to be replaced with PC3-10600 DDR3 ECC to take full advantage of a 6-core 3.33GHz upgrade?
    If that's the case I might as well upgrade memory on the 2.66 with PC3-10600 to begin with, even before upgrading the CPU -that wouldn't cause any problems with the 2.66, would it?
     
  14. thekev macrumors 604

    thekev

    Joined:
    Aug 5, 2010
    #14
    If you're considering a 2009, you should also look at the cost of refurbished units. That upgrade became popular at an earlier time, when pricing was different. Right now refurbished is around $2500 with the standard warranty. I can't recall which gpu is better. The W3680 is around $600. The point is to ensure you're not buying something that will end up more expensive in the end.
     
  15. macstatic thread starter macrumors 6502a

    Joined:
    Oct 21, 2005
    #15
    Refurbished would be an option if I was in the U.S., but they don't sell refurbished here so the second hand market is my only option.
     
  16. Loa macrumors 65816

    Loa

    Joined:
    May 5, 2003
    Location:
    Québec
    #16
    Not at all. The real-world performance increase from using slightly faster memory is inexistent. Don't waste money on faster RAM.

    Loa
     
  17. CASLondon macrumors 6502a

    Joined:
    Apr 18, 2011
    #17

    Can I direct you to photographer/mac tech Lloyd's website, loaded with useful advice for you.

    http://macperformanceguide.com
     
  18. Loa macrumors 65816

    Loa

    Joined:
    May 5, 2003
    Location:
    Québec
    #18

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