The purpose of this article is building a 64-bit capable machine for use with Adobe Creative Suite 4 Master Collection. Our focus is fast performance in Adobe Photoshop and Premiere Pro. Originally, we decided to upgrade our RED-powered Video Production Studio with another Octal-Core system with the latest Intel Xeon 5500 processors [Nehalem-EP, you can read our review of the platform in Part I, Part II, Part III and Part IV], since we already have two Octal-Core Xeon 5400 [45nm Harpertown] Mac Pros.
However, going through the Apple.com website, something else got our attention. That "something else" was Newegg.Com, an e-tail store that sells a motherboard with an on-board Serial Attached SCSI [SAS] controller. We decided to play around with building the system, and we ended up shocked at the price difference. We will probably end up on "Banned list" on CNBC, but if you're an interested professional or a technology enthusiast, read on.
First thing that you have to put in mind about this article is that we do not give a "rat's behind" about the operating system and this is something that both Apple and Microsoft should start paying attention to. It is never about having the best OS, because what "best" actually means? At the end of the day, everything is about usage of the system itself e.g. you pay $$$$ because you expect that this machine will return your investment with more $$$$$ [hopefully $$$$$$, if our efforts pull through].
At Bright Side of News*, we want the best performance for our chosen application - Adobe CS4, and *nothing* else is important - we don't care about the graphics or the feel of UI, just about P.P.E.R.F.O.R.M.A.N.C.E. [Photoshop Premiere Editing Rasterizing Filtering Organizing Rendering Motion-Blur Automation-Scripts Noise-Reduction Coloring Executing].
To give you a bit of background, our Video Production Studio is currently a mix between PCs and Apples: 2x Octal-Core Xeon 5400 Mac Pro, 1x Octal-Core Intel Skulltrail 3.0 GHz, 1x Quad-Core Intel Core i7 965 and one Dual-Core MacBook Pro notebook. Totals are: 22 CPU cores, 46GB of RAM, 7.5 TB of storage.
Apple-To-Apple Spec Comparison
We started off by building a Mac Pro using PC parts. The goal was to be as identical as possible, and beside the part of case/keyboard/mice, we believe that this system is what you will get if you purchase an Apple Mac Pro system.
CPU: 2x Intel Xeon 5520, 2.26 GHz, 80W TDP - $759.99
Identical to the ones bundled with Mac Pro. We'll address our TCO-reducing option on the next page.
Cooling: Zalman CNPS9500AT + Socket 1366 Adapter - $75.96
Nice and silent fans, not too heavy on the motherboard. But we do believe in copper more than in Aluminum cooling in Apple's Mac Pro. After all, this system will run 24x7.Yes, these coolers were launched four years ago, but the fact of the matter was that environment then was much more "unhealthier" for coolers than is today. This cooler cooled down 150W+ Pentium 4 Extreme Editions, and we grew found of it. This model was manufactured this year, though - good things should always be in production.
Motherboard: TYAN S7002G2NR-LE - $249.99
Unlike most of Intel's "Gainestown" platform motherboards, Apple ships only four DIMMs per CPU. This means if you decide to build your Mac Pro with 16 or 32GB of memory, you actually lose dual triple-channel ability, as Nehalem-EP Triple-Channel memory controller has to default to dual-channel mode http://www.legitreviews.com/article/775/1/. Yes, you've read that correctly - reducing the memory bandwidth from 51.17 GB/s to 34.1 GB/s. Even if you go with Apple's system, don't buy 16 or 32GB of memory, you're better off with 12 or 24GB.
RAM: 2x 6GB iRAM DDR3-1066, 3x2GB ECC - $259.98
In order to go apple-to-apple with Apple's site, we had to go with DDR3-1066 memory with ECC [Error Checking & Correction], certified for usage on the Nehalem-EP based Mac Pro.
HDD: Hitachi 1TB 7200rpm 16MB Cache SATA HDD - $87.99
Our Mac Pros came with Hitachi hard drives, thus we're putting a Hitachi 1TB hard disk drive. Apple Store charges a $100 premium over an upgrade from 640GB to 1TB. No, you don't get both drives, only one 1TB drive. The price of our Hitachi was $77.99 after $10 rebate.
Optical: Sony OptiArc Black 22x DVD Burner SATA - $24.99
When it comes to Apple's "SuperDrive", we decided to go against the drive with Sony's SATA DVD Burner with LightScribe.
Graphics: Sapphire Radeon HD 4870 512MB - $164.99
Our heart really brakes with this one, but this is an apple-to-apple comparison, and we had no choice but to put a stock-clocked card in. The price of this card is actually $149.99 after rebate, but if you decide to go with this system, you can get an overclocked ASUS TOP Edition with 65MHz faster core - for a lower price [$134.99 after MIR]!
Case: Cooler Master SC-1000-SSW1-GP Black/ Silver Aluminum - $199.99
If you thought that we'll skimp on the price of the case and save some $100 or 200, you're wrong. We went with aluminum version of Cooler Master Cosmos because we wanted to have the handles. Alternative is a Lian-Li case that can even fit two power supply units, but we disliked the way how this case cools down the dual-CPU configurations.
Power Supply: ZALMAN ZM1000-HP 1000W Continuous@45°C - $214.99
Apple ships Mac Pros with 980W power supply from an unconfirmed manufacturer [do I hear… Channel Well Technology?]. We decided to go with Zalman 1kW power supply. This PSU is moddable, meaning that you don't have to plug in every cable - enabling neat cabling arrangement. Secondly, due to our choice of the computer case - the power supply is staying separate from the airflow inside the system, since it intakes the air from the bottom of the case [protected from dust with a filter].
Operating System: Windows Vista Ultimate x64 - $178.49
Even though the verdict is still out, after you disable things such as Shadow Volume Copy and continuous indexing, this OS will work just fine in professional environment.
Keyboard & Mice: Logitech S510 Cordless Desktop - $44.99
A while ago, we discovered this afordable, yet really high-quality wireless Desktop & Mice set from Logitech.
Apples-to-Apples Bright Pro* System
A grand total for our system was $2262.85. When compared to an identical, two-eggs-in-a-basket, apple-to-apple system at Mac Store, this system will save you $1,665.15, e.g. you're $597.70 short of building another identical system. Thus, we could argue that Mac Pro is $600 cheaper than two equally-configured PC workstations.
Thus, bear in mind that we would make a different call on the graphics card. The savings achieved while going to the PC platform almost equal the price of nVidia Quadro CX card that comes with RapiHD, a brilliant Premiere plug-in from Elemental Technologies. With this card in our system, any Mac Pro will be ripped apart in Premiere.
If you are running on a tight budget, it might be a good idea to purchase this system, go with Mac OSX 10.5.6 Leopard for $129.00 and run a Hackint0sh of your dreams. There are plenty of advices in Forums that give out advices on how to configure a Hackint0sh, without paying the $1,665.12 in Mac Tax.
For our own configuration and its Mac Pro counterpart, continue to the next page.
Next Page: The King of Adobe CS4 Hill, Conclusion
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