Apple Mac Pro Vs Windows PC : A 4-way Comparison

Now that Apple has refreshed its Mac Pro Workstation range, we have decided to bring you a comprehensive price comparison between the two main OS platforms (there's actually four models) with particular attention to the UK market.

UK prices for workstations are slightly higher than in the US. The Quad Core Mac Pro costs $2499 (roughly £1775) across the pond but £1899 here. An Apple UK spokesperson confirmed to the BBC that workstation prices had indeed increased with the refresh.

The PC environment allows users to build their own computers, which is why we will be offering two alternative PC models, one that DIYers can build from scratch and another from a reputable company.

On the Mac side, we will provide with Apple's own offerings as well as one from PearC, the controversial and unofficial Mac Seller based in Germany.

Where possible we will be beefing up the non-Apple products (adding two GbE ports for example) to match the Mac Pro model.

Apple

At £1899, the new Mac Pro adds a powerful punch with a Intel Quad Core Nehalem Xeon running at 2.66GHz at its core. The X5550 processor comes with 8MB L3 cache and is equivalent to an Intel Core i7-920. It comes with three 1GB memory modules leaving one empty slot. Secondary storage includes a 640GB SATA2 7200RPM hard disk drive as well as a 18x DVD Writer. It also comes with a Geforce GT120 video card with 512MB DDR3 memory.

Other features include four PCI Express expansion slots, Apple's mighty mouse and white keyboard plus Mac OSX 10.5 Leopard and iLife '09. As for connectivity and expansion, the Mac Pro provides with built in Bluetooth, dual GbE connectors, seven USB ports, four Firewire 800 Ports.

Dell

The US company offers the Precision Desktop Workstation T5400 which is comparable to the Mac Pro. You have to upgrade the base unit to match Apple's new Mac Pro. Grab the E5430, an inferior Xeon based on the older Yorkfield core, up the memory to 4GB. Note that only older DDR2 is available, not the newer DDR3 memory technology. Dell bundled the ubiquitous Windows Vista Business SP1. We chose to go for a Matrox M9120 512MB Dual PCIe x1 Low Profile Graphics Card to match the GT120 of the Mac Pro. Don't count on it to break speed records though.

The GT120 should be faster than Matrox's card. A 750GB hard disk drive was chosen to replace the default 160GB model. There's no sound card on the T5400 (only integrated HD) so we had to choose the only option available, the Sound Blaster X-Fi Xtreme music card that comes with a Firewire port. Dell though offers 3 year basic warranty with next business day delivery, which is better than Apple's own. The grand total reached £1853.80 including VAT and delivery. The Chassis of the T5400 is not as sexy as that of the Mac Pro though. There's no Bluetooth or GbE ports. You do get integrated RAID and a 875w PSU but no iLife substitute.

PearC

Down from Germany comes the PearC, a Mac Clone builder that seeks to challenge Apple's authority. We configured the Advanced version with the following specs. An Intel Quad Core Q9550, 750GB Hard disk space, 4GB DDR2, a Geforce 9800GT with 1GB RAM, 3 Firewire Ports, a DVD Writer, a USB Bluetooth Stick and Mac OSX Leopard. This all came to a grand total of £1027 including VAT plus shipping. The casing used by the PearC is uninspiring to say the least. It has 10 USB ports but lacks the other bells and whistles of the Mac Pro.

DIYer

Finally, we went to Ebuyer to get our parts. We build our Mac Pro like PC using the following components. A Gigabyte GA-EX58-UD4 iX58 Socket 1366 7.1 Channel Audio ATX Motherboard, an Intel Core i7 920 2.66GHz which is essentially a Xeon processor, a Compucase 6XR8 Black Full ATX Tower Case with a 800w PSU, a Zotac 9500GT with 512MB memory, a Samsung 640GB Hard disk, 3GB memory, a Bluetooth USB adaptor, a single Gigabit ethernet card, Windows Vista Business. For Input peripheral, we went for the classy Logitech Desktop S510. All in all, this rig costs £897 to build. Obviously, in this case, there's no substitute for iLife and the Mac OS X Leopard. The motherboard includes 12 USB ports, 3 Firewire IOs and a full 7.1 Sound module.

Conclusion

Since I am not a Mac user, it is easy to be biased. But just as a good cook doesn't necessarily object to eating in a great restaurant, DIYers won't necessarily say that the new Apple Mac Pro doesn't has pros. The DIYer system is by far the cheapest and potentially the most powerful of the lot due to overclocking. It costs a £1000 less than the Apple Mac Pro and prompts the following question. Why is the T5400 so expensive!

The E5430 is inferior to the i920 and yes, the M9120 is a great business card but there's too many flaws in Dell's workstation system to recommend it. That said, Dell also has the Studio XPS which costs £899 and should be serious contender. As for the PearC, it provides with a good entry point if you want to experience the Mac environment without the price. Any of the systems here, bar the Dell T5400, could fit your bill if you want to own a great workstation.