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The 2010 Mac Pro CPUs and pricing

Now that I’ve convinced you to get a Mac Pro instead of an iMac, it’s time to decide which Mac Pro to get.

If you go with a single-socket option (4 or 6 cores), you’ll only have 4 RAM slots instead of the 8 offered by dual-socket models. This halves the max supported RAM, which may reduce its useful lifespan depending on what you need in the future (although the 16 GB ceiling is pretty high, and may potentially be 32 GB later with high-capacity aftermarket modules). This also increases the cost of future upgrades, since you need to buy higher-capacity modules and you’ll probably need to discard the older, smaller ones to make room for the new ones.

Sorry, Dashboard/RSS viewers, this is a big table! Click here to view on the site.

 CoresGHzRAM slotsPrice*CPU score**$/point
W3530 (base)42.84$3,8737,661$0.51
Two E562082.48$4,64813,133$0.35
Two X5650122.668$6,14824,227$0.25
Two X5670122.938$7,34826,686$0.28
27” iMac, i742.934$2,3998,520$0.28

* Prices are with 8 GB RAM and a 27” Cinema Display for parity across the lines.

** These are GeekBench CPU-score estimates based on the scores that GeekBench already has listed within the same CPU families and similar configurations. Not to be taken literally, but meant as a likely ballpark. Fun fact, for a longevity example: my 2.5-year-old Mac Pro (8-core, 2.8 GHz Harpertown, 8 RAM slots) gets about an 10,000 Geekbench CPU score. It cost $3,400 new, or about $4,900 when equipped like these.

The 27” iMac with the Core i7 is still a great value up front, although high-end needs make it a worse value over time.

Usually, most of the premium for higher-end CPUs goes to Intel. This time, Apple is taking a much bigger slice for themselves:

  Intel’s CPU price* over base model’s CPU (single W3530) Apple’s price over base model
Nehalem W3565 $319 $400
Westmere W3680 $731 $1,200
Two Nehalem E5620 $180 $775**
Two Westmere X5650 $1,448 $2,275**
Two Westmere X5670 $2,318 $3,475**

* Once again, these are approximate, based on current retail pricing for OEM-packaged chips. Apple gets better pricing, but probably not by enough to matter for this comparison.

** The 8 GB RAM upgrade is $225 cheaper on dual-socket models, which has been figured in here. Also, keep in mind that for dual-socket models, Apple incurs additional costs in having a second CPU heatsink, another RAM riser, and any additional power circuitry and capacity needed. (Usually, the single-socket model uses the same motherboard and power supply, but with the second socket and RAM riser slot empty.)

Those who criticize the Mac Pro for being too expensive usually don’t realize how much Intel charges for their high-end Xeons, but Apple’s margin is bigger here than it needs to be. Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter (which is why Apple does it), because most people who need that much CPU power in a Mac Pro are willing to pay whatever price Apple chooses.

Back to the original question: Which Mac Pro CPU configuration should you get?

If you’re getting a Mac Pro, you’re not as price-sensitive as the average buyer, and you probably need more power, memory, and expandability than most users.

The 4-core, 2.8 GHz base configuration above, at $3,873 (again, these prices all include 8 GB of RAM and the new 27” Cinema Display that you can’t actually order yet), is still going to be more expandable and versatile than an iMac. But at such a large premium over the Core i7 iMac, it’s tough to justify or recommend. It’s like buying an SLR if you’re only ever going to use the kit lens.

The 6-core, 3.33 GHz configuration, at $5,073, is a good buy. This is what I’d recommend for most Mac Pro buyers, even though it only has 4 RAM slots.

The 8-core, 2.4 GHz configuration, at $4,648, is the cheapest way to get all 8 RAM slots, and performs acceptably. But it will be much slower at single-threaded tasks than the 6-core — many common tasks are still single-threaded and will only saturate one core. Unless you need the RAM slots, I’d get the 6-core 3.33 GHz instead of this.

The 12-core, 2.66 GHz configuration, at $6,148, is the best value in the lineup for raw CPU power. But its high entry price make it worthwhile only if you anticipate needing more than 16 GB of RAM or regularly making good use of the power of three top-of-the-line iMacs (and at about the same as what they would cost). Although if you need that much power, you’re most likely using it to make a living, in which case the power may be worth its cost to you.

When you buy, since I don’t have an affiliate link to the Apple Store, use this one from Bare Feats, an awesome site for geeks like me and anyone who actually made it to the bottom of this post.