Mac Pro 2019 vs Custom-Built PC – A closer look

CG Director Author Jerry James  by Jerry James   ⋮   ⋮   7 comments
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Mac Pro 2019 vs Custom-Built PC – A closer look

The launch of Apple’s Mac Pro in late 2019, ranging from $5000 to 50,000~, set off an endless array of memes, jokes, and general online hate.

Since they’re marketing the Mac Pro to content creators and serious professionals, we thought we’d take a look and let you know our thoughts to answer a few still-raging questions like – are they worth it?

Are these new 2019 Mac Pros really overpriced? Should professionals even consider one?

Mac vs. PC for Creators

Of course, like most things, there ARE valid reasons to go for a Mac over a custom-built PC.

Hackintosh systems do offer a mix of Apple’s ecosystem and the ability to use a custom PC, but the hardware you can use is limited and the experience isn’t flawless.

For those who value close to 100% uptime above all else, going with Apple’s Mac Pro might make sense.

Before we move on to performance, let’s go over a few factors that you should consider when you’re stuck choosing between a Mac or PC.

Mac vs. PC – The Cost

Apple isn’t known to be the most value-oriented company in the world and launching a $50,000 Mac Pro hasn’t helped their image. However, the general sentiment is – when you pay for an Apple product, you’re actually paying for the polish, the ease, and the OS itself, along with the hardware. 

The Mac Pro’s hardware seems to be quite overpriced at the low and mid-range of their customization options.

Here’s a quick example:

Mac Pro Pricing

Image-Source: Apple.com

An extra $6,000 for access to 384GB of ECC DDR4 RAM is steep.

Here’s a screenshot of an Amazon page with something similar:

Image-Source: Amazon.com

That’s close to three times extra for a simple RAM upgrade!

So, here’s what you can do instead – buy and upgrade it yourself.

Thankfully, Apple has substantially improved the Mac Pro in terms of upgradability. The Mac Pro’s Memory requirements say ‘2666MHz DDR4 ECC or 2933MHz DDR ECC varieties.’

Hence, as long as you meet those specifications, you can buy memory and install it yourself.

Mac pro 2019 RAM upgrade

Source: iFixIt

The other option is going with a custom-built PC that will outperform any Mac Pro at its price point.

For example, a Threadripper-based system with a powerful GPU will likely trounce any performance numbers the Xeon-based Mac Pro can offer.

Extensibility

Apple has taken strides in extensibility of their Mac Pro 2019 when compared to their ‘trashcan’ Mac Pro – a product that couldn’t be extended yourself at all.

With the 2019 Mac Pro, Apple has given its buyers the option to add components to extend the product’s capabilities as long as they meet the required specifications.

Mac Pro 2019 Inside Look

Source: Apple.com

That’s completely reasonable and I’m hoping to see Apple heading in this direction with all future products.

Customizability and Upgradability

The ability to customize your machine to suit your primary workloads has been one of the most attractive features of building your own PC.

However, Apple’s 2019 Mac Pro allows you to do just that as well. Not only do you have an option of prioritizing certain resources like graphics processing, memory, or CPU, but you’re also not dependent on Apple to pick many of those customizations.

In fact, iFixit gave the Mac Pro 2019 a repairability score of 9/10 – a score that’s rarely awarded to an Apple device.

To be fair, the previous ‘trashcan’ Mac Pro (2013) did get a repairability score of 8/10 so, the company seems to be moving in the right direction.

As expected though, there are certain caveats.

Firstly, the Mac Pro’s modularity doesn’t help buyers who need more fast storage because the SSDs are custom-made by Apple.

So, you’ll need to contact them for an overpriced SSD upgrade.

mac pro ssd upgrade

Source: Apple.com

Secondly, the fastest storage you can get on this platform is PCI-E 3.0-based NVMe SSDs, which are much slower than PCI-E 4.0 drives. However, this is only a factor if you need to move large chunks of data very often.

Lastly, if you’re ever in need of a replacement part that’s not featured on Apple’s list of approved repairs, you’re likely to be charged an arm and a leg.

Yes, you can use Apple’s customization options when buying a Mac Pro if you want to avoid the hassle of opening it up, finding parts with the right specifications, and so on. But this convenience will cost you.

No doubt about it.

Single vs. Multi-Vendor Support

Support is a big factor when you’re talking about purchases for medium to large professional studios.

While building a comparable PC yourself will cut costs in the short term, getting support from multiple vendors if/when something goes wrong will result in downtime that will cost way more than the markup you can pay Apple.

In my interactions with people in the industry, getting support from a single vendor for anything and everything to do with the machine is one of the best attractions of buying an Apple product, even if it’s not exactly offering ‘value’ by any short-term fiscal measure.

 

OS-Exclusive Applications (Mac/Windows/Linux Only)

Needing applications that are limited to a certain OS is one of the most critical factors when deciding between a Mac or custom-built PC.

For example, if your video editing workflow includes the use of Final Cut Pro, you’re pretty much limited to Apple’s MacOS ecosystem. Every professional has their application of choice, something that they’re familiar with and used to, so this is an important factor to consider.

Make sure you check for Windows/Linux alternatives to your favorite MacOS applications before you decide to go the custom PC route.

Mac Pro: Overpriced or Unnecessarily Pricey Hardware?

There’s no other way to say this: Apple was caught in a sea of Intel misfortune.

At a time when Intel’s HEDT platform is struggling to keep up with even mainstream AMD Ryzen offerings, let alone its higher end parts, Apple’s decision to go with Intel Xeon processors is unfortunate.

However, it’s understandable. These deals are struck years in advance and Apple really couldn’t have modified everything they’d designed to switch processors at the last minute.

The Mac Pro offers unnecessarily pricey hardware at an even higher markup – making the deal worse than it already is even without accounting for the infamous Apple tax.

But for those who need a more powerful Mac-based system, well, this is it.

Make no mistake, the new 2019 Mac Pro is powerful; it’s just not powerful enough to justify the price (processor and graphics-wise) when excellent alternatives from AMD and Nvidia exist.

Base $6,000 Mac Pro Configuration: Performance

Configuring the base Mac is a painful experience when you see that final configuration screen. I mean, you’re getting an 8-core Intel Xeon processor, a slightly-modified RX 580, and a miniscule 256GB SSD for the grand price of $5,999.

Now, had this been before AMD upped its processor game with its Zen architecture, there might have been an argument for it, but in 2020, there’s just no way this can be justified from a purely hardware point of view.

Here are the technical specs of the machine you get at this price:

Base Mac Pro 2019 Specs System Configuration

Image-Source: Apple.com

There aren’t many 8-core Xeon benchmarks out there and I have to thank PugetSystems for benchmarking the Xeon-W 3225 8-core CPU.

Finding benchmarks for the base Mac Pro system is virtually impossible because no one, rightly so, would configure a Mac Pro for real use that way.

So, to accommodate this, I decided to keep the focus of these benchmarks squarely on the CPU rather than bring the graphics card into the equation.

Here are the benchmark scores, and we will do a comparison a bit further down:

  • Geekbench 5 CPU – 8,309
  • V-Ray (CPU) – 12,246
  • Mozilla Firefox Compile Time – 20m:38s
  • Pugetbench AfterEffects Benchmark (overall) – 780
  • Cinebench R20 Multi (Cinema 4D) – 4118

Ideal $16,000 Mac Pro Configuration: Performance, Benchmarks

If you’re looking for a Mac Pro, this is the price tier you should target.

Most pro applications can make use of things like faster memory, more memory, more processor cores, and a more powerful graphics card.

That said, I wouldn’t recommend giving Apple all your money. I’d get a RAM upgrade from an online/brick-and-mortar store instead of configuring it when buying the Mac Pro.

Here are the technical specs of this machine:

16k dollar Mac Pro 2019 Specs System Configuration

Image-Source: Apple.com

If you’re considering a Mac Pro for professional workloads like rendering, video editing, and designing, you really should go with a 16-core processor and the Radeon Pro Vega II Duo.

Here are a few performance numbers you can expect with this configuration:

  • Geekbench 5 CPU – 15,722
  • Geekbench 5 GPU (Metal/Vulkan) – 102,373
  • Geekbench 5 GPU (CUDA/OpenCL) – 82,392
  • Adobe Premiere Pro (4K Export) – 1m:26s
  • V-Ray (CPU) – 23,415
  • Mozilla Firefox Compile Time – 11m:26s
  • Pugetbench AfterEffects Benchmark (overall) – 999
  • Cinebench R20 Multi (Cinema 4D) – 7443
  • Blender Render (Classroom) – 15m:54s (12-core Mac Pro variant)

Addressing the Mac Pro’s Value Proposition Compared to Other Apple Products

Here’s the thing.

If the Mac Pro is pit against the rest of Apple’s high-performance computing lineup, it’s the real deal.

It offers an excellent combination of graphics and processing power that you can leverage to tackle heavy workloads without breaking a sweat.

Those who need both MacOS and the best performance available, should certainly consider the Mac Pro 2019 as a very real option, if they can afford it.

However, for those who aren’t reliant on MacOS for work, the option of a custom-built PC does exist. It’ll prove to be much cheaper as well as way more powerful at the same price.

Note – Linus Tech Tips recently put out a video that shows you how to upgrade your Mac Pro (2019) Xeon processor without involving Apple at all. 

Building a PC to Beat/Match the $16,000 Mac Pro’s Performance at Every Task

The Mac Pro 2019 is a great performer and outclasses its predecessors by a healthy margin.

But when you have the option to build a PC with parts you choose, you can get the same level of performance for a fraction of the price.

So, if you do have a $16,000 budget, let’s see what level of performance you can enjoy (a special shoutout to Linus Tech Tips and Max Tech for benchmark numbers).

Picking Our Hardware: Performance, Benchmarks

  • CPU: AMD Threadripper 3970X 3.7 GHz 32-Core Processor ($1949.99 @ Amazon)
  • CPU Cooler: be quiet! Dark Rock Pro TR4 59.5 CFM CPU Cooler ($89.90 @ Amazon)
  • Motherboard: Asus Zenith II Extreme EATX sTRX4 Motherboard ($847.49 @ B&H)
  • Memory: G.Skill Trident Z Neo 64 GB (4 x 16 GB) DDR4-3600 Memory ($389.99 @ Newegg)
  • Storage: Samsung 970 Pro 1 TB M.2-2280 NVME Solid State Drive ($343.47 @ Amazon)
  • Storage: Corsair MP600 Force Series Gen4 1 TB M.2-2280 NVME Solid State Drive ($241.70 @ Amazon)
  • Video Card: EVGA GeForce RTX 2080 Ti 11 GB XC ULTRA GAMING Video Card ($1099.99 @ Newegg)
  • Case: Phanteks Enthoo Pro ATX Full Tower Case ($99.99 @ Amazon)
  • Power Supply: Corsair HX Platinum 1000 W 80+ Platinum Certified Fully Modular ATX Power Supply ($199.99 @ Amazon)

Total System Cost: $5400 (rounded up).

In applications like Blender where you can make full use of a GPU as well as the processor, it’s interesting to see that you can leverage a much more powerful Nvidia GPU to get things done faster.

Benchmarks

  • Geekbench 5 (CPU) – 26,591
  • Geekbench 5 (OpenCL/CUDA) – 173,545
  • Geekbench 5 (Metal/Vulkan) – 84,856
  • Adobe Premiere Pro (4K Export) – 1m:22s
  • V-Ray (CPU) – 44,643
  • Mozilla Firefox Compile Time – 9m:38s
  • Pugetbench AfterEffects Benchmark (overall) – 1,016
  • Cinebench R20 Multi (Cinema 4D) – 17448
  • Blender Render (Classroom) – 3m:08s

Comparing the Mac Pro 2019 Variants and the Custom-Built PC

Here are some comparison charts showing how the Base Mac Pro (6000$), the Mac Pro (16000$) and the Custom PC (5400$) stack up against each other:

Apple Mac Pro vs Custom PC - Blender Render

No surprises when running the Blender Rendering Benchmark: The 32-Core Threadripper 3970X CPU has no trouble at all in decimating the Mac Pro 12-Core Variant.

 

Apple Mac Pro vs Custom PC - VrayCpu

The results are very similar in V-RAY, as this render engine too scales almost linearly with the number of cores.

 

Apple Mac Pro vs Custom PC - Pugetbench Aftereffects

Even though Adobe crippled the multi-core performance of Adobe After Effects back in 2014, the Threadripper 3970X CPU still pulls ahead of our much more expensive Apple Mac Pro configuration.

 

Apple Mac Pro vs Custom PC - Premiere

Adobe Premiere Pro’s performance usually only scales up to certain number of CPU Cores, with more benefit coming from high Core-Clocks.

AMD’s 3rd gen Threadripper CPUs though have both, high core-counts and good base- and boost-clocks, helping our Custom PC pull ahead once again vs. the much more expensive Mac Pro 2019.

 

Apple Mac Pro vs Custom PC - Mozilla Firefox Compile Time

Compiling Firefox is a benchmark that shows how our test subjects perform in final stages of things like Software and App Development. Our Custom built PC leads the pack and shines with the shortest compile time.

 

Apple Mac Pro vs Custom PC - Geekbench5 Open Cl

OpenCL and CUDA are workloads executed on the GPU. It comes at no surprise that the Nvidia RTX 2080 Ti of our Custom PC easily outclasses the AMD counterpart of our Mac Pro in terms of computational performance.

 

Apple Mac Pro vs Custom PC - Geekbench5 Metal Vulkan

Even though Metal and Vulkan should have hit a home-run on an Apple Machine, the Custom built PC shows how well it performs, even in workloads not necessarily optimized for it.

 

Apple Mac Pro vs Custom PC - Geekbench 5b CPU

The Geekbench 5 Benchmark runs a Series of Tests across all parts of a Machine’s hardware. Given the high performance of the PC’s Hardware components that we have already seen in other benchmarks above, we once again see it defend the top spot with ease.

 

Apple Mac Pro vs Custom PC - CinebenchR20

Last but not least, the most popular rendering Benchmark Cinebench R20. As Cinebench R20 scales almost linearly with CPU-Cores, the 32-Core Threadripper System naturally leaves the competitors in the dust.

Performance Comparison of the Mac Pro (2019) with the iMac Pro

If you’re looking for value within the Apple lineup, the iMac Pro is actually a better deal just because you don’t have to buy a separate screen for it.

iMac Pro

Source: Apple.com

It keeps up with the base Mac Pro in many tasks and offers a much more powerful graphics card at a lower price. However, if you need a bit more juice on MacOS than what the iMac Pro can offer, an upgraded Mac Pro 2019 is the only option available.

On the flipside, you lose all the upgradability and customizability of the Mac Pro (except RAM and CPU if you’re willing to do it yourself). Once you’ve bought a certain configuration, you’re pretty much stuck with it.

iFixit awards the iMac Pro an abysmal 3/10 repairability score. A far cry from the Mac Pro’s (2019) astonishing 9/10 score.

Bottom line: Is it Overpriced?

Yes, it is.

No doubt about it. However, most of the cost isn’t just Apple tax. The higher prices have more to do with Apple’s unfortunate choice of using Intel Xeon processors instead of going AMD Threadripper or Epyc, especially when they offer better performance at lower prices.

But does that mean you shouldn’t buy one?

For most professionals, yes it does. 

For a big production studio with a virtually limitless budget that values things like single-vendor support and close to 100% uptime, the Mac Pro 2019 might make complete sense.

However, if you’re a professional who wants to get as much performance as possible, going the custom-built route is the logical way.

Of course, assuming that you’re not using applications that are exclusive to MacOS, in which case this comparison is moot.

 

That’s about it! What do you prefer and why? Mac or PC?

 

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Jerry James - post author

Hi, I’m Jerry – a Freelance Technical Content Writer and Strategist.
I’ve been building PCs for the past 15 years, and I’m not stopping anytime soon.
Feel free to comment and ask for my inputs on your PC builds; I’ll do my best to help out!

7
Comments

Max

Thank you so much for this!
Im mostly working with Blender (cycles) and After Effects. And I’m wondering if it would be a lot better to bump in an extra EVGA GeForce RTX 2080 Ti 11 GB XC ULTRA GAMING Video Card? Or would you say that one is more than enough?

I just want to make this machine as powerful I possibly can 🙂

All the best.

Scott

A very interesting read! Looks like the Mac Pro would be a waste of hard-earned cash for my work. I’ve never built a Pc myself and m not really sure where to start. Can you recommend some parts I should look at? I liked the performance of the custom pc in this article. Shall I just buy these parts?