Older Mac Pro or new iMac dilemna

Discussion in 'Buying Tips and Advice' started by GMunroe, Mar 24, 2012.

  1. GMunroe macrumors member

    Mar 24, 2012
    Hi, this is my first post here, and would like to say the forum is a great source of information and most times I do not need to post, but thought my question is so specific perhaps it be best to get an opinion focused on my situation.

    First off my occupational background is in Flash video/animations for broadcast etc. and I have felt the need to upgrade my 21.5" iMac 3.06 GHz from late 2009 as I was having frame dropping issues with Flash CS5 on 1080p exports. Assuming the Mac was lacking processing power it went for sale. The iMac has since been sold, and I found a @$600 local deal on a Mac Pro 1,1 with Dual core 3.0GHZ processors x2, 4GB Ram, and a X1900XT GPU. Whether this was a good deal or not I am unsure but I have never had a Pro model before and heard they were a real workhorse when it came to video.

    All this was fine until I thought... since I have the Mac Pro, a nice display would be great with it, so I buy the 27 inch display (with timely open box discount at electronics store)... with the mini display port... Now, as you can imagine with the x1900XT, I realize there isn't a simple way of having these two devices work that isn't going to cost at least $200 to either buy an adapter or new 5770 video card from Apple.

    Then came my buyer's remorse.. all things considered, perhaps I should have just purchased the newest version of the 27" iMac instead. Trying to save a little money, I think I may have cost myself to spend just as much on an older machine. I liked the idea of the display being independent of the computer for future upgrades, and buying this aged Mac Pro allowed me to have both at once, but really is this the wisest decision given the choice? I can afford a new iMac or upgrade what I have now, but where to go from here is a big question. Where would the cost vs benefit come down on?

    These are the options I have come up with, and any experienced Mac opinions on these I welcome...

    1) Keep the Pro and display since I have them, and buy the 5770.

    2) Keep the Pro, return display and buy a $300 monitor at a big box store. Have a new setup that is at least two thirds as fast as my previous one for under $1000

    3) Sell the Pro for what I bought it, and return display, take the money and buy the iMac 27".

    4) Your advice that I may not have thought of..

    Thanks for the help in advance... :confused:
  2. Yebubbleman macrumors 68030


    May 20, 2010
    Los Angeles, CA
    Here's what I'd do: My advice comes from the standpoint of having both owned an iMac and having worked at an Apple Authorized Service Provider and thusly having seen which Macs go in for service and how frequently.

    iMacs are powerful for most needs, but there are two problems with them that are frankly, inexcusable for any desktop design be it a Mac or a PC, regardless of the OS it ships with.

    Problem #1: you can't expand an iMac in any way shape or form that isn't simply a RAM upgrade. When your hard drive fills up, that's it, you're done. Even if getting at the hard drive to replace it wasn't as tricky as it is (using suction cups to take off the glass, removing the panel, and then finally doing the steps needed to free and replace the drive, assuming you're not careless to electrocute yourself on the exposed power supply), given Problem #2 (which I'll go over shortly), there is custom firmware on the drives that makes it so that you can only replace that drive with an Apple part; aftermarket drives won't work as they do in the four Mac product lines. You actually can replace the GPU as it is on a separate board and is the same type of graphics card found in high-end gamer PC laptops, but alas, like the hard drive, even getting that far is tricky, and those video cards are pricey as, again, they're found on high-end gamer PC laptops, which are also pricey.

    Problem #2, the current aluminum design for the iMacs has them so crazy thin, and using components like a desktop CPU, a desktop North/South Bridge (chipset), a gamer laptop PC graphics board, and a desktop hard drive, all of which generate a substantial amount of heat, you see way more failures for iMacs than you do any other Mac (if you factor that most MacBooks, MacBook Airs, and MacBook Pros come in for liquid-spill cleanings and not manufacturing problems). Case in point, the hard drive's firmware is modified so that the extra power-pin that would be otherwise used for reporting disk activity to a PC tower's case Hard drive LED instead goes to the Mac logic board where it reports the drive's own internal heat sensor, a provision not needed on any of the other four Mac product lines.

    Given this poor design-induced heating issues and given the lack of expandability on something that's supposed to be a desktop, I'd say that no matter what you do, shy away from an iMac; it is not your best buy at all.

    That said, with Mountain Lion on the horizon and all evidence supporting the lack of support for the first rev of Mac Pros (otherwise known as Mac Pro 1,1 if I'm not mistaken), you should probably resell that Mac Pro as it's probably not the best of buys either. If you're looking for a used machine and you want a powerful desktop, the Early 2009 Mac Pro (as in the rev before the current rev) isn't a bad idea. The video cards that they ship with are pretty weaksauce, so you'll still have to get either the Radeon HD 5770 or the Radeon HD 5870 in order to see decent performance. Contrastingly, I'd say that a current 15" or 17" MacBook Pro is a decent buy; they will connect with either the 27" Apple LED Display or the 27" Thunderbolt display and it's probably more than enough for what you're doing in terms of power. Or, if money will allow, it, do both. The aforementioned Mac Pro that I'm recommending will last you for quite a while before you start considering a replacement; the MacBook Pros that I'm recommending will also last you for quite a while before you start considering a replacement. All around win, if you ask me.
  3. robbie12345 macrumors 6502

    Nov 5, 2011
    United States
    Ok it seems like you need a workhorse computer. So a few things were a bit unclear to me. so you did buy that old mac pro. And you did buy a cinema display. Not just planning on buying these.

    ok my fist thing to say to you is if you have a monitor more expensive then your computer you either have a bad computer or a very good monitor.

    now second of all, that mac pro you got was not a very good financial decision.

    it is not much fast then your last computer and it is aging quite fast, npot to mention it is going to the no longer supported by apples software releases.

    also for 600 it may have been a fine deal but watch what you are going to have to put in to it to make it livable.

    i would resell the mac pro and if you can return the screen. and get a new iMac 27 inch with a core i7. if you need upgradability, just watch because they are going to be doing some crazy stuff with that thunderbolt port.
  4. GMunroe, Mar 25, 2012
    Last edited: Mar 25, 2012

    GMunroe thread starter macrumors member

    Mar 24, 2012
    That is what I was afraid of after I purchased. I liked the upgradeability aspect and it seemed a decent deal compared to those of similar spec on eBay. It should be worth at least what I paid for it.

    I have returned the display, as it would be more money to make them work together. I looked at the old Mac pro as a stepping stone to get me by until I could swing a newer pro that I could use with the new display. I likely would have been somewhat content in the interim as it was faster.

    Anyhow the pro is going up for sale, and see what I can reasonably get for it, perhaps come out at a loss, but a price of an education they say. If not I'll turn it into a home server.

    Likely buy the i7 27 iMac this week, as I haven't had build issues with them yet.

    Thanks for pointing me in the right direction.
  5. yojitani macrumors 68000


    Apr 28, 2005
    An octopus's garden
    FWW I agree with YeBubbleman: iMacs are not great computers because they aren't expandable, particularly now they are locked down to prevent modifications. Also, I've yet to see an iMac monitor that doesn't have at least some backlight bleed.

    Mac Pros on the other hand are nice machines. It's very easy to add/replace the HD, expand the memory, upgrade graphics card, etc. Also, they are fast, even the 1,1 version you bought.

    Is being able to install Mountain Lion that important to you? Apple is going for iOS both in look and accessibility and for some, like me, that's not a good thing.

    Why not get a Dell Ultrasharp monitor with a Mac Pro? The huge plus with those monitors is that they aren't glossy!
  6. GMunroe thread starter macrumors member

    Mar 24, 2012
    Funny you should mention the ultrasharp, as I was just on the dell website looking at them. Nice monitors. It boils down to throwing good money after bad for me, as I my plan was ram/ssd/video upgrade as time went on as well, but if the main architecture is becoming obsolete I am a bit leery to invest more money.

    Though my wife has the new higher model 15" i7 MacBook pro with the 7200 rpm he, and I didn't see a major difference in speed for work apart from exports. I believe my pro scores @ 6200 vs hers in the 9000's according to the geekbench benchmarks I have run for comparisons sake. I like what I have read about turning the pro into an eight core machine but I wouldn't have a clue where to find the parts, again is it worth it, as I a sure there is large cost involved in that as well.

    I know what you are saying about the iMac, and snow leopard isn't a deal breaker for me, I just worry about my apps leaving me behind with updates for a new os.
  7. lixuelai macrumors 6502a

    Oct 29, 2008
    Really depends on how important the GPU is to you. The only plus side of that Mac Pro other than internal expansion options is that you can put a much better GPU in it than anything the iMac has to offer currently. It will make for a rather fun DYI project though if you plan on making it an octo-core.

    As for LCD if you don't mind a bit of risk you can get a generic 27" LCD that uses the same panel as the iMac for <$400. Google "catleap 27" if you are interested. There are a ton of threads about that and similar generic brands coming out of S Korea.
  8. GMunroe thread starter macrumors member

    Mar 24, 2012
    Took your advice, and now looking at a computer that will be a better investment for my needs.

    As I see it I have three options, and given that my previous iMac (fall 2009) core2duo chugged quite a bit when scrubbing a timeline in Flash and exporting, I am being much more careful in what I purchase and hoping for longevity.

    1) A Mac Pro 2009 vintage or later would be ideal, but I am not in a position to buy that new at this minute, so it would have to be refurb. or ebay..only given it still leaves me without a display.

    2)The Macbook Pro is a consideration, yet I need screen real estate, so again I am looking at a display. So refurb or ebay.

    3) The 3.4 iMac which I can purchase new, but perhaps not as future proof as I once thought after reading your post. Yet no separate display purchase needed. With the iMac it would be nice to have the SSD, and cross fingers for some future thunderbolt connection that makes an external SATA as fast as if it were connected inside.

    As a side note a monitor like the Apple display works perfect for my situation as it has incorporated mic, speakers, and camera, which as this computer will double as my home computer, my wife really enjoys seeing and talking to our children when she is away on business with her MBPro.
  9. Yebubbleman macrumors 68030


    May 20, 2010
    Los Angeles, CA
    Apple has a refurbished Mac section on their store, it's one of those awesome little secrets kind of like the hidden In-N-Out menu was before it became so widely known and ordered from. They typically sell things from the current revision (provided it has been at least three months since release) through two generations prior. Unless you demand the ability to customize said Mac at the time of purchase, which, as far as MacBook Pros and Mac Pros are concerned really only dictates hard drives and RAM (both of which can be easily upgrade on either machine for cheaper than Apple would anyway), there's no reason not to buy from this section instead of new. Also, Apple does the refurbishing themselves, and gives you the same one-year warranty with AppleCare elligability.

    For MacBook Pros, go here: http://store.apple.com/us/browse/home/specialdeals/mac/macbook_pro

    For Mac Pros, go here: http://store.apple.com/us/browse/home/specialdeals/mac/mac_pro

    I tend to find that their pricing on these models is more or less in line with eBay prices for them. As for which route you end up going, while the Mac Pro's speed and flexibility, in terms of what you can and can't upgrade is unmatched in the Mac line, I feel that for a desktop, it should allow for more options, whereas I feel almost the opposite about the MacBook Pro, wherein every single component is highly accessible, more so than any other laptop in its class. Given that I don't need Xeon power, let alone dual-Xeon power, let alone dual-quad-core Xeon power, and my complaints with the Mac Pro line in respects to other desktops and the lack of complaints for the MacBook Pro line in respects to other laptops, I'd be more inclined to suggest a MacBook Pro over a Mac Pro, but then again, your needs, I'm sure, vary from mine. If you think that your CPU and RAM needs might be that high, go with the Mac Pro. Otherwise, a higher-end MacBook Pro (either the 2.3GHz 15" or 17" MacBook Pro from the Early 2011 generation or the 2.5GHz 15" or 17" MacBook Pro from the Late 2011/Current generation [which I specifically suggest as those models have 8MB of Cache versus the others which have 6MB]), might do you just fine as they are also dramatically faster than the 2009 Core 2 Duo iMac that you were previously dealing with.

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