Price Advice Used Tower, or New MacMini?

Discussion in 'Buying Tips and Advice' started by Earendil, Feb 3, 2012.

  1. Earendil macrumors 68000


    Oct 27, 2003
    I used to be up on every piece of Apple hardware ever produced, but then I went to college, after which I got a job. Suddenly, I only keep up with new Apple hardware.

    So my faithful 2.0ghz MacMini 2,1 is really showing its age. I went on Apple's store to check out what a new MacMini and MacPro go for these days. I was happy enough with the MacMini price, but threw up a little in my mouth when I looked at how expensive the cheapest Tower was. I know, nothing new there.

    I then went on Craigslist to check out if anyone was selling a Mac Pro for a reasonable price, knowing full well that the resell value on Apple computers is pretty decent.

    What I found sort of surprised me. The following computers in the following price ranges were available, and seemed to be about the norm if I look at surround metropolitan areas..

    MacPro 1,1 Dual 2.66 Woodcrest - $600
    MacPro 1,1 Dual 3.0 Woodcrest - $700

    Both have higher than stock ram and HD numbers.

    In no particular order, the three things I find myself wanting most in my computing environment are:
    • Dual monitors
    • External Multibay HD Case
    • Ability to use a real graphics card, and upgrade it.
    • More processing power in general, as I do lots of photography and throw around rather large RAW files. I'll also be duel booting into Windows 7 soon.

    The newest MacMini satisfies 1 and 4. But on the surfaces my uneducated mind says that one of these old towers gives me everything my current mini has, and satisfies all 4 of my desires. So before I go spend $700 on a computer, am I missing something? Are the first gen MacPros limited in some way?

    I'm not against spending upwards of $1000 on a 2nd or 3rd gen MacPro if the opportunity presents its self. So heavily suggesting one of those models based on something besides processor speed is an okay suggestion.

    Thanks for any and all help/advice/criticism!
  2. briantology macrumors 6502

    Jun 5, 2006
    Sounds like you've already answered your question. If you don't have a need for Thunderbolt or DisplayPort, but all means pick up an older Mac Pro if you find a good deal.

    Of course, the iMac is another option, although it still doesn't satisfy 2 and 3 fully, but it's more power than the mini. And there's always the Hackintosh route if you're into that sort of thing.
  3. Earendil thread starter macrumors 68000


    Oct 27, 2003
    Thanks for the feedback!

    In a tower configuration, wouldn't the DisplayPort port be a function of whatever graphics card I am using? I realize the stock configuration would not have had one, but is there a technical reason why a graphics card with that port couldn't be added? A quick glance around the internet tells me that DVI monitors are still plentiful, so monitor options shouldn't an an issure over the next few years.

    Same question goes for Thunderbolt. Could a Thunderbolt card be added in time, or is there some motherboard integration that is required for that particular technology to function in a computer?
  4. paulrbeers macrumors 68040

    Dec 17, 2009
    Yes, but then you should add in the cost of a new video card into your cost analysis because now you are adding about $100-200 for a new video card to get displayport.

    Unknown. Frankly until a new Mac Pro comes out, no one really knows how thunderbolt will work on the MacPros. Thunderbolt is both a display and a data stream combined into one. This is "easy" in desktops/laptops that the processor has a built in GPU, but the Sandy Bridge-E processors that will be used by the next Gen Mac Pros do not have a built in GPU so somehow Apple will have to route the discrete video thru the thunderbolt chip in order to make a full Thunderbolt port. No one knows how this will be accomplished, but my guess is it will not be possible on older MacPros.

    Again this is purely speculation until we see how it is done.

    You also aren't factoring in a few items. First off, the Sandy Bridge processors in the Mac Mini's are much faster clock for clock than the old 4 core (2x2) Core 2 duos.

    See benchmarks here: - Even the Base Mini beats a Mac Pro "quad core" 3.0 ghz in 64-bit processing.

    Further, you are talking about 5 year old computers. How long before they break down and you are left with $700 in "parts".... Will you really get your $700 worth?
  5. Earendil thread starter macrumors 68000


    Oct 27, 2003
    This is true, but the cost of that expansion can be distributed over time (I'm going to add that to the +1 for towers). Also, I'm willing to spend upwards of $1000 on a computer, but the Mini starts to hit a wall where more money does not make it a better machine, at least not a better machine for me. But that is a good point.

    I figured that was the case based on the dearth of information out there. But this being MacRumors and all, I thought I'd see what people were speculating. Based on the technical information your provided it does look like the technology has some inherent dependencies on other hardware and how it integrates. Even if there was a slap-in solution, it might end up being more of a hack, and not the full implementation enchilada.

    I had considered this, but without the benchmarks specs yet. However I am quite surprised how well the old towers do hold up to the new Mini's. The GeekBench tests put the new Mini only slightly above the oldest towers in processor tests (okay, 20% better). But even the tower is putting numbers almost twice as good as my current computer. So the extra 20% would future proof me a little bit, but perhaps not in the ways I want to be.

    Interestingly enough, I found SpeedMark benchmarks for all the systems, which throws the GPU into the mix. This number puts the stock 1,1 Towers against the best MacMini, and the tower gets hosed. However if the stock GPU were replaced with a $250 one, I'm betting those numbers would come much closer, perhaps even faster. Being able to carry out an internal RAID would be great for pushing around large files.

    Certainly a concern. But are these computers prone to failure that isn't rooted in user induced damage? Going back 25 years to my fathers first Mac512K, every single Mac desktop we've collectively ever had still runs. It's the laptops that fail after 4 or 5 years. I would hope that an even larger and heavier desktop like the MacPros get moved around even less :)
    Maybe that's an unrealistic expectations.

    Maybe I'll hunt around for a good deal on a 4,1 machine. Still 3 years old, but they use the Nehalem architecture which is a far larger advancement in the lineup than a little faster Core2Duo.

    Thanks for letting me bounce things off you guys. I think I've come to the conclusion that a Tower provides me with far more pros than cons. The lifespan of the parts is a concern, but I'm thinking it'll be easier to part out a Tower than a Mini anyway.

    More input always welcome though :)

  6. paulrbeers macrumors 68040

    Dec 17, 2009
    I think this is a much better solution. There is even a firmware hack that allows you to turn a 4,1 machine into a 5,1 and run all current processors. Unfortunately, this also means that the 4,1's are still in pretty high demand so their cost is relatively high and since they are only 3 years old most aren't ready to part with them yet. I bet when the Sandy Bridge-E machines come out we might start seeing a lot of 4,1's being sold off (purely speculation again).

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