Viability of Older Mac Pros

Discussion in 'Mac Pro' started by ounce1, Dec 4, 2013.

  1. ounce1 macrumors newbie

    Dec 4, 2013
    This is a topic that has seen some discussion here, but it tends to be fairly specific (e.g. "should I buy this model of Mac Pro?") and my question is more general. I'm about to purchase a new computer to replace my late 2009 27" iMac, and am probably going to get a 15" rMBP (the higher end model), as this would also serve to replace my aging 11" Macbook Air. I'm pretty confident about this purchase, but it is a little on the pricy side, and the size of the 15" rMBP makes me wish there was a way I could just buy a desktop and a laptop separately. Only, I don't really favor the new iMacs over the new rMBP, so I wrote them off early in the shopping process.

    But I've read some stuff about used Mac Pros that seem to indicate that they're workhorse desktop computers, even years after they were released. I've snooped around on eBay a little bit and found that a lot of them have 16GB+ of RAM, multiple quad-core CPUs, multiple GPUs, enormous HDDs, and extensive capacity for upgrading. They also often hover in the $1200 range, which would free up some cash for me to supplement it with a new Macbook Air (far more portable than the 15" rMBP) for about the same amount as I'd spend on a 15" rMBP.

    My question is this: how viable are these older models? I'm not very informed about the myriad CPUs and GPUs out there, and on paper a lot of these computers still look like really solid performers. Am I wrong? How do they actually compare to current iMacs and the rMBP refresh?
  2. thekev macrumors 604


    Aug 5, 2010
    You should probably stick to 2009 or later, and you should be able to do better than $1200.
  3. snarfquest macrumors regular

    Jun 7, 2013
    I bought a 2012 5,1 MacPro fairly fully loaded. My hope is to hold out while Apple figures out that yes we users actually do want to be able to upgrade our systems. However, I do "get" the mindset of Apple and other companies..

    Computers are becoming very much so a buy what I want/need now and do a full system swap in a year or 2. That's *fine* but for "me" not at the price point currently being demanded.

    As a hobbyist in the computer realm I like to tinker and tweak the best possible system. While this concept is certainly still alive and well in the Linux world it is fast becoming irrelevant in both OSX and Windows worlds. It makes sense tho. Computers are fast become yet another appliance in the home that everybody in the masses just wants a "box" that works.

    So what's to come? I don't know. I'm just hoping the really cool stuff I enjoy playing with doesn't become the domain the the 1% rich which of course those 1% have no clue what to do with it.

    My biggest complaint of late is that the nMP while seemly a fantastically cool new machine is only obtainable by the very wealthily or those using it for business. It is a non-upgradable black box. It's price is too high to be a throw away upgrade when one desires to upgrade something as simple as a graphics card.
  4. cgk.emu macrumors 6502

    May 16, 2012
    I've found my early 2009 MP to be quite sufficient. In fact, I just put a PNY GTX 670 in it with no issues, it sped up the graphics processing tremendously over the 5870 I had.
  5. ounce1 thread starter macrumors newbie

    Dec 4, 2013
    Yeah, that was on the high end. I've seen other ones on eBay go for $650 and up, but some of those seem to be the ones that people warn against buying at this point (specifically, the ones with Nvidia 7300 GPUs and other fast-aging specs). I know the figure I threw out is high, but mostly my point was that at the very most it seems like I would still be spending just about half of what a new rMBP would be costing me, even with a student's discount.

    Do you have any specific suggestions about models/specs I should be looking for? I'm essentially just looking for a computer to get me through the next 4-5 years. I'm not a power user, and I don't necessarily need the high-end specs of the new rMBP; they're largely to future proof it so I don't have to worry about updating it anytime soon. Most of what I do is: Internet, email, productivity stuff, media consumption, social media, and some moderate gaming. Would a Mac Pro fit the bill for a few years of that, or is that a pipe dream? I know they're built for GPU-intensive activities, but I also know that games like BF4 and such don't necessarily use the GPU in the same way things like video processing does. Hearing myself ask if a 2010/2011 Mac Pro would be a solid all-around/occasional gaming rig into 2018 sounds a little ridiculous, but I honestly don't know, especially since they support multiple graphics cards and seem to be very upgrade-friendly.

    Again, I'm not committed to this at all, but I'd really like to explore all my options. After tooling around with one in the Apple Store, the 15" form factor isn't a deal breaker, but I wouldn't even be considering it if the 13" one had similar specs. I feel like I'm giving up small size, light weight, and convenience for the sake of having an all-in-one, do-everything laptop.
  6. thekev, Dec 4, 2013
    Last edited: Dec 5, 2013

    thekev macrumors 604


    Aug 5, 2010
    Video processing is a bad way to put it. Many people misinterpret what commonly leverages what. Anyway the only thing that would possibly justify the mac pro would be gaming. It has some available after market cards. None support 4K displays, but as long as you are happy with current displays it's fine. I've wanted to see higher resolution for years, but that's because of the amount of painting I do on them. It's nice to be able to see more of the pixels without zooming in further. That could be counter-productive for gaming. With the rest of that stuff, even a mini would last you that long assuming parts do not break. That is always the one qualifier. Repairing macs is costly.

    Edit : I just glanced at this again. I meant the only thing out of your list where it would make a big difference would be gaming. You do have a few cards there that are significantly better than your other options on the OSX side.
  7. ybz90 macrumors 6502a


    Jul 10, 2009
    I recently picked up an "older" Mac Pro on Craigslist for $900 used. The case has seen better days, but the internals were sterling. I threw in a pair of hexa-core Westmere-EP processors, a fresh 24GB of RAM, and a GTX 680, and now this thing is flying (for a grand total of just under $1600).

    Just make sure if you do get one that you opt for 2009 or newer and get a dual-socket Mac Pro. Those are the ones with the best upgrade path and best overall value and longevity.
  8. pastrychef macrumors 601


    Sep 15, 2006
    New York City, NY
    In my opinion, stick with 2009 or newer Mac Pros. While the older ones are still very capable machines, their performance can be matched or beaten by smaller, more power efficient, cooler running Macs. On top of that, the RAM modules for older model Mac Pros are very high.

    Even today, a properly configured 2009-2012 Mac Pros can hold their own against any current Mac. If the budget allows for a Mac Pro and a MacBook Air, I think it's a no brainer compared to single MacBook Pro. Lots of power when you need it and extreme portability when you're on the road.
  9. MassMacMan macrumors regular

    Jul 12, 2012
    Boston MetroWest
    I bought a 2.66 gHz 4-core base 2009 machine new in 2009. It was great at the time, but 4 years later was looking long in the tooth.

    This year I flashed it to 5.1, put in a 3.33 gHz hex-core CPU, put in 24GB of 1333 mHz RAM, a 500 MB SSD boot drive, a flashed 3 GB GTX 580 and a base GTX 570 graphics cards, and a cheap USB 3 PCIe card. I use it mainly for Premiere and Photoshop, and it should work adequately for several more years.

    The ability to upgrade the Mac Pros has always been a critical element in my choice to go this route, and the nMP may be sorely lacking in this regard. I'll wait and see.
  10. Gav Mack macrumors 68020

    Gav Mack

    Jun 15, 2008
    Sagittarius A*
    I would stick with the 2009 onwards models with one exception.

    Like in my case with a fully loaded 3,1 2008 maxed out with 32GB ram and twin 3.2 Harpertown Xeons. No expensive ram or processor upgrades required, and any other parts you add for performance like I have with the Solo X2, SSD's, GTX 680, USB 3.0 card can be migrated to a 4 or 5,1 at a later date when it either breaks down completely or rendered totally obsolete . Or you get a newer Mac Pro for a steal like I got mine for $640!
  11. NOTNlCE macrumors 6502a


    Oct 11, 2013
    DMV Area
    Have to agree with most of the stuff said here. 2009+ is the way to go. I personally own a 2008 Mac Pro, just purchased about two months ago, but it was also a steal. $200 for a Quad Core, 6 gigs of RAM, 2 HDDs, Keyboard & Mouse, and a 1080p Workstation Class Monitor. A situation like that is the only reason I see from deviating from the "2009 & Newer Rule," as the 4,1 to 5,1 flash is going to offer extensively more longevity than anything a 3,1 can do. Throw in some RAM, an new Graphics Card, and if you can and/or need to, upgrade the CPU(s). If you can manage to get a dual socket board, absolutely go for it. The lowest 8 core '09 can be modded, upgraded, and flashed to almost TWICE the CPU power with 2012 CPUs.

    EDIT: Just realized I pretty much said the same exact thing Gav Mack said. Guess that just verifies what I'm saying, haha.
  12. briceman macrumors member

    Oct 10, 2011
    I recently purchased a 2008 MacPro (8 core 3.0 GHZ), with upgraded video card, and 14GB of RAM. I primarily edit 1080P video on Final Cut Pro X and this thing flies. Grant it I'm coming from a slow 3.2 duo core processor, but I see this computer working for me for a few years at least.
  13. Louis Wu macrumors 6502

    Sep 1, 2011
    I just picked up a 2009 Mac Pro with the 2.93 chip for $600 as a scratch and dent special; the only thing I'll add to the discussion is that while the dual processor units are capable of much higher performance, especially with multi-threaded applications, often a fewer-core higher-clock CPU is a better choice.

    You could buy a 2.66 4-core 2009 and then go to ebay and get a 3.33 4-core chip for $200 and pop it right in, I'd think. I did the 2.8 4-core to 3.33 hex-core swap on a 5.1 and it was very easy and I'm very happy with the performance boost. But that chip was more than $600. And when you're talking TWO X-series Xeons you're often looking at some serious money.

    just my two cents...

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