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Category Archives: computer

New Mac Pro or Hackintosh? That is the question.

The new Mac Pro is really nice.  It’s also very expensive.  The base model is $3,000.  More expensive than previous generations of the Mac Pro, because it’s not equivalent to previous generations in expandability and if you require that expandability you will need to spend significantly more.  As a result, I’m leaning toward build a Hackintosh (running Mac OS X on non-Apple hardware).

First, my requirements:

  • SSD RAID 1 (mirroring) for the OS
  • RAID 5 for extra storage (music, photos, videos, backups, etc) using regular spinning disks — must hold at least 4 disks, more would be nice
  • Mac OS X 10.9

Aside from the new Mac Pro not meeting the first requirement, as it has a single SSD.  That means buying an external enclosure that supports RAID 5 (Mac OS X itself does not support software RAID 5, only 0, 1 and 10).  Because I don’t believe USB for this situation is sufficient, it has to be Thunderbolt, which the new Mac Pro has.  Here are the options (this is a good summary of all the hardware available):

The Promise is actually sold by Apple, but it’s a really crappy choice because 1) it has 4 slots and 2) the max size of the disks is 2TB.  The Drobo I’m not thrilled about because it comes with their own RAID and it’s basically a huge software layer between me and my disks.  For people that don’t want to do full-partition encryption and other stuff, it’s probably fine.  Also, I found a lot of people on Amazon complaining about Drobo’s support and quality.  That leaves the Areca.  Indeed, it looks like a very nice unit and it has excellent reviews and seems to offer very good performance.

That puts the price of the Mac Pro at $4,420 (without disks, tax, shipping, etc).  I want to point out, previous generations cost about the same and you did not have to spend more money to get expandability for 3.5″ disks.

Let’s look at the alternative, a Hackintosh.  There’s a fantastic community over at tonymacx86.com which has all the information you need to build a Hackintosh.  Here’s what I’ve come up with:

CPU: Intel Core i7-4770K Quad-Core Processor 3.5 GHZ 8 MB Cache
  ($337.98 @ Amazon) 
CPU Cooler: Noctua NH-U14S 55.0 CFM CPU Cooler  ($69.99 @ Amazon) 
Motherboard: Gigabyte GA-Z87X-UD5H Z87 LGA 1150 ATX Motherboard
  ($219.99 @ Amazon) 
Memory: 2x G.Skill Ripjaws X Series 16GB (2 x 8GB) DDR3-1866 Memory  ($139.50 @ Newegg) 
Storage: 2x Samsung 840 Pro Series 2.5" 128GB SATA 6Gbps SSD
 ($121.99 @ Amazon) 
Video Card: EVGA GeForce GTX760 2GB GDDR5 256bit Graphics Card
  ($249.99 @ Newegg) 
Case: Fractal Design Define R4 (Black Pearl) ATX Mid Tower Case  ($111.98 @ Newegg) 
Power Supply: Corsair 760 Watt ATX Modular Power Supply AX760
  ($159.99 @ Amazon) 
Other: HighPoint RocketRAID 2720SGL 8x PCI-E 2.0 x8 SAS/SATA RAID Card
 ($150.00)
Other: 2x HighPoint Internal Mini-SAS to 4SATA ($15.00)
Other: StarTech.com USB 3.0 Adapter
Other: HDE USB 2.0 Adapter
Total: $1,852

Some notes on the parts:

  • The HighPoint RocketRAID 2720SGL works fine with Mac OS X, but this hardware isn’t very good for SSDs.  The SSDs would go directly on the motherboard and run software RAID 1, which Mac OS X does fine.
  • The case supports 2 2.5″ disks and 8 3.5″ disks.  Plenty for my needs.
  • Xeon motherboards (socket 2011) aren’t as well supported, and sleep doesn’t work, which  is pretty important to me.

So, it comes down to a Mac Pro for $4,220 or a Hackintosh for $1,852?  Here are the pros for each:

Pros for Mac Pro:

  • Mac OS X compatibility
  • Xeon processor
  • ECC RAM
  • Thunderbolt 2 for expansion (though I have no immediate need for it, other than the RAID)

Pros for Hackintosh:

  • Price
  • +18GB of RAM
  • 2x SSD RAID 1 for the OS boot drive

I’m pretty convinced the tonymacx86.com forums will help with any upgrades of Mac OS X.  When a new version of Mac OS X comes out, upgrade guides are published pretty quickly.  I would like ECC RAM, but this isn’t a deal killer, by any means.  Not having Thunderbolt isn’t, either.  For Xeon vs i7, it really comes down to Adobe Lightroom performance.  I think the extra 18GB of RAM will beat out the bigger cache on the Xeon.

So, it really comes down to the price, and are the pros for the Mac Pro really worth $2,568?  I really don’t think so.

I really like the new Mac Pro design, but I think Apple really made a huge mistake not insuring low-cost expansion units for regular, spinning disks.  All the previous Mac Pros had room for extra disks at the price of the base unit.  There is, essentially, a $1,500 tax to purchase the new Mac Pro.  That tax goes up to $2,500 if you need 6 disks instead of 4.