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Windows on Mac Pro Cheaper than

Building a Comparable PC

By John Rizzo

Conventional wisdom says that Apple's new speedy and stylish Mac Pro costs significantly more than would a comparable Windows PC. But it turns out that if you want a Windows version of the Mac Pro, it will cost you far more to build your own PC than to install and run Windows on an Apple Mac Pro. Even a similarly priced off-the-shelf workstation from Dell has trouble matching the Mac Pro's specs.

Photos by Apple

Several people have posted analyses of the cost obtaining the Mac Pro components, many of which are standard parts. Although they come up with different numbers, they arrive at price tags that are significantly more than Apple's $3000-$10,000 asking price, both at the high end and the low.

Apple's maxed out configuration of the Mac Pro will set you back $9,599 -- $9,798 if you add $199 for the cost of Windows 8 Pro. This includes a 2.7GHz 12-core Intel Xeon processor, 64 GB of RAM, a 1TB SSD flash storage, and two AMD D700 graphics cards. And it comes in a sleek, 10-inch-high cylinder, a unique wow factor that screams high margins for Apple.

But Apple Insider came up with a figure of $14,310 for a similar build-your-own PC, including Windows. According to this analysis, you can save over 31% by purchasing the top-end Mac Pro rather than spending hours designing and assembling a PC in a standard 2-foot-long rectangular tower box. It's almost as if you could turn a profit by buying Mac Pros and selling off the individual components.

The extra cost of building it yourself won't get you a better environment for the Windows OS. Windows should run as well on a Mac with Boot Camp as on a build-it-yourself PC. Windows has problems with Thunderbolt devices on a Mac with Boot Camp, but this will be the case on a PC because Microsoft isn't yet officially supporting the technology in Windows 8.1 or earlier. Additionally, it will be up to you to test your home-built system to make sure it works together. Windows works relatively seemlessly installed on low-end home-built PCs, but the more exotic components used, the higher the potential for compatibility issues.

Lest you think that an Apple-focused site might skew in the Mac Pro's favor, Futurelooks' Stephan Fung, an expert PC do-it-yourselfer, came up with a more conservative figure for a DIY PC equivalent: $11,530.54. For that cost, you can buy the top-end Mac Pro with enough left over to buy a MacBook Air and an iPad as well. Fung considered cost savings measures and tradeoffs in using various components, and only considered parts that were actually available. In the end, he admitted defeat:

I'm not afraid to admit that compared to the asking price of $9,599 US, the new Mac Pro seems like one heckuva deal for these components. Everything is tested to work properly together (versus some of our unknown incompatibilities with this potential build), and a highly proprietary design that is small enough to fit into a carry on bag, with twice the amount of registered memory (32GB vs 64GB ECC). You simply can't build a smaller form factor PC that matches the Mac Pro today.

In another article, Fung looked at building the equivalent of Apple's entry-level Mac Pro. He came up with a $3,994.65 <ETH> 25 percent more than Apple's price. For the extra cost, Fong's low-end Mac Pro-compatible has a better graphics card, more expandability, and better warranties. (Individual components typically have 3-year warrantee, while Apple gives you 1 year for anything in a Mac.) Still, Fong, thinks the Mac Pro is the better deal:

At the end of the day though, IÕm still impressed by what Apple has accomplished with the new Mac Pro, which is to erase one of the biggest criticisms of their hardware, and that's the "Apple Tax". With a careful selection of components that give them an advantage in pricing, the new Mac Pro stands out to be one of the least expensive ever.

Of course, there are economies of scale in a mass-produced PC brings that will bring down the price. So I took a look at what Dell offers in the high-end workspace. It turns out, ordering a comparable PC workstation from Dell will cost slightly more than the low-end Mac Pro.

The most comparable PC that Dell has to offer is the Dell Precision T5610. The company offers several configurations, but the closest to the entry-level Mac Pro is at the company's discounted "Dell price" of $2,810. It starts with a quad-core Xeon Processor E5 at 2.5 GHz. The $2999 Mac Pro gives you a faster E5 processor, at 3.7 GHz. You get a nice video card in the Dell, but the Mac Pro has two. Dell does give you more storage -- a 500 GB hard drive -- but Apple supplies faster storage with a 256 GB flash drive. The one clear advantage in the Dell hardware is 16 GB of memory versus the Mac Pro's 12 GB -- a difference of $100. Dell also includes Windows.

Most Windows users (and Mac users) don't need the power of even the entry level Mac Pro. And even fewer need the $6800 worth of graphics cards in the top-end Mac Pro configuration. But it is clear that buyers of the Mac Pro are not paying for style. In fact, they're getting a good hardware buy for the money.