Should I buy a MacBook Pro, Mac Pro, Mac mini or wait?

Discussion in 'Buying Tips and Advice' started by Dreamail, Jun 28, 2009.

  1. Dreamail macrumors 6502

    Jun 17, 2003
    What would you recommend I should get?

    I need a new Mac. My 5 year old PowerBook 12" is lovely but no longer up to modern tasks as it has no Intel CPU and can only do 1 thread at a time.
    My budget is up to about $6,000-$7,000.

    What I am looking for:

    - Very high resolution display
    I've had a 23" ACD (1920x1200) but sold it in anticipation of my new purchase. (Being stuck currently with the 12" 1024x768 res is painful.)
    1920x1200 is the minimum resolution I want, more would be better.
    - A computer that lasts me 4-5 years.
    Don't want to buy a new computer that is sorely underpowered for software coming out in 3 years time.

    What I want to use it for:

    - Photos, lots of Photoshop work
    - 3D (Maya), not extensively but some
    - intend to get Adobe AfterEffects or Final Cut Pro, not for huge projects, just to edit the 3D stuff
    - Programming, development work, mostly 3D
    - Email and Internet
    - Watching DVDs, (I don't have a TV, one of the few I guess...)
    - The odd Windows application via VMware Fusion
    - no games

    3D wasn't really possible much lately, my 12" PB is not up to Maya 2009 really. Been using the computers at work in my spare time for this recently, but that's not ideal.

    What is important hardware-wise:

    - Good GPU that supports Maya, OpenGL, OpenCL, CUDA
    - Lots of RAM, 4 - 8GB would be my minimum, the more the better

    The odd bits:

    I've been a Mac user since the Mac Portable and have always owned notebook Macs. I have never owned a Mac (nor PC) desktop.
    I travel a lot and I like having all my data with me all the time. I'm not a fan of juggling/syncing data between a desktop and a portable.

    My ideal Mac:

    - 15.4" MacBook Pro
    - quad-core CPU supporting 8 threads (for 3D stuff)
    - 1920x1200 res screen, I've seen them on Windows notebooks the tiny pixels are fine with me
    - 8GB RAM, upgradable to 16GB if needed later
    - Blu-Ray drive, as it would be nice to watch movies in HD (remember I don't have a TV)

    Of course my ideal Mac doesn't exist.
    And probably won't for another 1 1/2 - 2 years. I expect the next MBP to get dual-core CPUs supporting 4 threads, and only the one after that to get true quad-core CPUs supporting 8 threads. So we're likely talking late 2010 at the earliest. But I can't really wait another 18 months. Need something sooner than that.

    A 2.26 or 2.66 dual quad-core Mac Pro (supporting 16 threads) with 30" ACD would probably suit me best.
    Except for the fact that I have never owned a desktop. I will probably not like being locked into one chair and will miss all my data when traveling.
    Also the current 30" ACD has no DRM support so it's not really future proof. If/When Mac OS X will support Blu-Ray HD movies they will never work on that monitor.

    A fully speced 13" MBP with SSD and external 30" ACD would probably be my second best choice.
    The portability of the 13" is almost as good as that of my 12" PB and it seems the dual-link miniDisplayPort to DVI adapter issues are fixed.
    However, it doesn't really have a good GPU. And the dual core CPU with just 2 threads total is not really future proof IMHO.
    The discrepancy between desktop Macs (16 threads) and even high-end MacBook Pros (still stuck on 2 threads) has never been so huge. It's a real dilemma. Especially with Snow Leopard applications looming.

    The 15" MBP with its 1400x900 resolution is kind of the worst of both worlds, it's much bigger to carry than my current 12" PB yet still needs an external monitor to give me 1920x1200 res.
    And it has the same 2 thread limit.

    The 17" is really huge, at least compared to what I've had before. It is almost a desktop machine IMHO. I might as well buy an iMac.
    If it had a quad-core CPU I might be persuaded, but with the 2 thread limit, it is not going to be fun in 3 year's time. Probably not even in a year's time once Snow Leopard applications arrive.

    Alternatively I've even gone so far as to consider an interim solution: a fully speced Mac mini. It's a cheap solution which could last me 18 months until a better MacBook Pro arrives. And I could always use it as a server or media center later.
    But it is a waste somehow.

    And of course the last alternative:
    Continue waiting. As I've done for a year already.
    But using computers at work in my spare time is getting more difficult.

    Thanks for reading.
    And please recommend something!
  2. Shake 'n' Bake macrumors 68020

    Shake 'n' Bake

    Mar 2, 2009
    Sounds like either the 2.66 GHz or 2.93 GHz octocore Mac Pro is for you.

    I wouldn't worry about the 30'' display, because you can save a bunch of $$$ by getting a Dell monitor. They are the same quality.

    This really boils down to whether you absolutely need portability. If so, get the 3.06 GHz 15'' or 17'' MBP, if not, 2.66 GHz or 2.93 GHz Mac Pro.

    Or better yet, if you can stretch your budget enough, get high-end iMac and a mid-range MBP and MobileMe or Dropbox to sync the data.
  3. Dreamail thread starter macrumors 6502

    Jun 17, 2003
    Thanks for your answer.

    Yes, I think it boils down to that question.
    Perhaps it is OK and I'll be fine with a desktop. I'll certainly love the speed and power!
    But perhaps I'll hate it, as I've never had one.
    It'd just be a really expensive experiment.
    If I don't like it I guess I could sell it on eBay, but it will be at a loss for sure.

    I'd go for a MacBook Pro in a heartbeat if any of the models would throw me a bone, but the recent 'upgrade' didn't really do much for the 15" and 17" MBPs.

    If the 15" had a BTO 1920x1200 display, I'd get that one, as it is still a reasonably portable machine.

    If the 17" had a BTO quad-core CPU, I'd get that one, as it has the res I want and with 4 threads is at least somewhat more future-proof. Even if the machine itself is rather too big IMHO.

  4. Umbongo macrumors 601


    Sep 14, 2006
    You can reduce such a loss by buying refurb ($3,999 for 8 core 2.66GHz) and with some clever marketing and patience. Selling a system with AppleCare that you purchased on eBay will also get you a higher price.

    I wouldn't buy the 30" ACD if it is causing you some concern. Especially when you can get the far superior NEC MultiSync LCD3090WQXi for $2,000. It supports HDCP (DRM).

    If you go to the top of your budget you should be able to get those things, 12GB of memory (6x2GB), a decent graphics card and even an SSD depending on other things you might want or which graphics card you go for (Radeon 4870 of GeForce GTX 285). That would give you a highly competent system that would be very responsive.
  5. Demosthenes X macrumors 68000

    Demosthenes X

    Oct 21, 2008
    By the time Apple releases a quad-core, high-res, 16GB-RAM notebook with Blue Ray, your needs will have moved on and it will no longer be good enough. Simply put, what you want does not exist in an Apple notebook. I'm not sure if there's ANY notebook out there that accepts 16GB of RAM, quad-core CPU, and is remotely portable. And by the time there is one, you'll want something with eight cores and 32GB of RAM.

    Get yourself a Mac Pro. It has the processing power you want, and will for some time. Get a Dell 30" LCD, not the Apple display. Install a third-party Blue Ray player and watch movies under Bootcamp.

    And think about getting a baseline MBP or Air for your portable needs.

    Alternatively, just buy the 13" Pro and a 30" LCD, and use that until Apple releases the notebook you want. But remember: it might be an awful long wait.
  6. Umbongo macrumors 601


    Sep 14, 2006
    There are mobile workstations under 9lbs not much bigger than the Macbook Pros with quad core and 16GB memory support.
  7. xiovoix macrumors regular


    Jun 2, 2009
    Maybe Ned Ludd was Right?
    As above with Demosthenes X! Mac Pro atw & 13"MBP basic. Parallels+W7 RC(free to next June) & BD drive, xtra RAM etc blahblahblah! You know it makes sense?
  8. Dreamail thread starter macrumors 6502

    Jun 17, 2003
    Thanks for all the tips and feedback so far!
    Really helpful.

    Shame Apple doesn't pursue this market. And from what I can tell they won't any time soon.
    I think we're lucky that there's even a Mac Pro still. They don't sell as much as PowerMacs used to (which in those days cost about as much). I wouldn't be surprised if Apple went all consumer/prosumer at some point.

    I thought about getting a non-Apple mobile workstation. Was almost ready to pull the trigger on a high-end HP.
    But I realized I'm just not ready to give up Mac OS X. Because I am used to Windows and RedHat Linux at work I do want OSX. It's just so much nicer. Much less hassle. :)
  9. cherry su macrumors 65816

    cherry su

    Feb 28, 2008
    If you get a desktop, then you can get a netbook (or keep your powerbook) for computing on the go. you can get 1366x768 screens, 9400M graphics, and more than 6hrs battery life in a netbook these days.
  10. eXan macrumors 601


    Jan 10, 2005
    Just get the base Mac Pro and start from there.

    Trust me, if you needed 8 cores you wouldn't have asked this question.
  11. Dreamail thread starter macrumors 6502

    Jun 17, 2003
    Seems like a Mac Pro makes the most sense.

    Now would you go for a new octo 2.66 for ca. $4,400 (with employee discount)
    or a refurbished octo 2.93 for $4,999 (no discount available here)?
  12. sbb155 macrumors 6502

    Jan 15, 2005
    This is the smartest comment yet...
    Yep - base mac pro, and get a 13" MB or MBP if needed for portability. Do your hard core crunching on the MP.
    If you needed 8 cores, the answer would have been obvious
    Even the 2.66 mac pro from 2006 has a higher geekbench score than the current top of the line 17" with top processor.... enough said
  13. Dreamail thread starter macrumors 6502

    Jun 17, 2003
    Good point.

    Yet since I never owned a desktop Mac, how would I be able to judge the difference?
    I want this purchase to last me 5 years.
    But can I guess how much power then current 3D software will need in 3 years?
    I don't think a quad-core will do in 3 years.

    A 2.66Ghz octo-core will likely be sufficient.

    Just want to strike a balance between what's useful and makes sense.
    As I said I have been using computers at work the last 2 years and those were 4 and 8 core machines (one thread per core).
    Since an octo-core Mac Pro is within budget, I'm considering it. Will it be needed? Not now, I agree. quad-core with 8 threads should be enough. But in 3 years, it's a different story.
    So I am weighing current expenses vs. future use.
    Especially since the single CPU Mac Pro is no longer upgradable to dual CPU.
  14. sbb155 macrumors 6502

    Jan 15, 2005
    and you could go on a 3 year "sell mac pro and buy newer MP base model", and it will likely be cheaper than buying top end octo core and upgrading every 5 years... think about it and do the math...
  15. Shake 'n' Bake macrumors 68020

    Shake 'n' Bake

    Mar 2, 2009
    Refurb 2.93 GHz.

    If you got for the eight core, you will get more usage, and within a year or so, better speed due to multithreaded apps.

    Within 5 years, I think we'll see eight cores in nearly every mid-range desktop.
  16. Dreamail thread starter macrumors 6502

    Jun 17, 2003
    Thanks everyone for being helplful with good and insightful comments!

    The last decision would be whether a 2.93GHz quad-core with 8GB RAM wouldn't be enough.
    Or whether the 2.93 octo-core with 12GB would really be much more suitable.

    A quad-core 2.93 with 8GB RAM, 30" monitor and GeForce GTX 285 would run me about $5,500 while the octo with 12GB RAM would roughly be $7,750.

    The quad-core is still 2.5x faster than the fastest MacBook Pro.
    And the difference would buy me a nice 13" MBP or MacBook Air if I really need something faster for travelling.

    But of course at crunch time and with Snow Leopard optimized software an octo core would be better.
  17. xiovoix macrumors regular


    Jun 2, 2009
    Maybe Ned Ludd was Right?
    Why restrict yourself to a quad core machine if your looking to the future? I've been informed by other members that 16gig of ram is the way to go to make your possible purchase dreamy!:D
  18. Shake 'n' Bake macrumors 68020

    Shake 'n' Bake

    Mar 2, 2009
    The octocore will last you longer.
  19. TJRiver macrumors 6502


    Jan 14, 2009
    No man, you have to wait. I suggest another 2-3 years at least. By then, Apple will have finalized the flux capacitor and you can do that kind of work on your iPhone!!:D
  20. nickane macrumors 6502

    Feb 24, 2005
    Totally. Don't believe anyone who tells you a dell is the same monitor as an ACD. That hasn't been true for years. Dell's use older tech than ACDs which are themselves heavily outdated. If you need colour fidelity, get an NEC or an Eizo. The WQXi's are the best bang for your buck by a long way.

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