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New Apple Mac Pro vs Genesis Workstation PC

William George (Customer Service Lead)

New Apple Mac Pro vs Genesis Workstation PC

Posted on March 7, 2014 by William George

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By now, most folks have seen Apple’s updated Mac Pro - or as I like to call it, the trash can. Before any Apple fans out there get too concerned or close the page, this is just a visual comparison. 

apple trash can.png

I am not saying the Mac Pro is a trash can (or trash). It has some decent hardware inside, but I do find that the limitations on the hardware imposed by its size and form factor are unfortunate. The Mac Pro used to be a powerful, dual-CPU rig with room for lots of drives and expansion cards… but the new iteration has put form over function, and that has a lot of people looking at PCs instead when they need a high performance workstation.
Because of that, we are getting a lot of questions about how our Genesis workstation line stacks up against the Mac Pro. I wanted to make an overview of the differences, for people who may be on the fence about what to get or simply curious about what the options are outside of Apple’s walled garden.
Here is a run-down of the specs on the Mac Pro, as of early 2014:
4 - 12 core Intel Xeon E5 processor
12 - 64GB of ECC memory
256GB - 1TB solid-state drive
Dual D300 - D700 AMD FirePro video cards
And that is pretty much it, all wrapped up in a small, round, black package. What is great about it? Well, small size is certainly nice. They are using great Intel processors, and taking advantage of the Xeon line’s support for error correcting memory. The solid-state drive is also excellent, and a bit faster than most available for PCs due to the form factor they use (it isn’t a standard SATA drive). Dual video cards also give a lot of potential 3D graphics performance, and are sometimes used for other sorts of processing in modern applications.
However, there are just as many things which are unfortunate about this design:
  • There is no option for dual CPUs, even though the E5 Xeon series supports that
  • You are limited to 64GB of memory at most, though (again) the Xeons are capable of supporting more
  • You are stuck with two video cards, whether you need them or not
  • Despite bearing the FirePro name, these video cards do *not* use ECC video memory; in fact, they don’t directly match any of AMD’s other FirePro cards, and the specs on them are much closer to the mainstream Radeon line instead
  • No NVIDIA graphics options means no way to get support for CUDA, the general purpose GPU processing language pioneered by NVIDIA; this may not matter much for software running on OSX, but if you want to run any Windows based applications that use it you are out of luck
  • There is no option for added internal storage, either with additional SSDs or traditional hard drives
On that last point, Apple seems to be making a big push toward using external drives for storage. They do provide several USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt ports on the Mac Pro, so the connections are there, but every external drive you add means more desk space used up and more wiring cluttering your workspace. They do have the market nearly cornered on offering Thunderbolt currently, though that is expected to change - just like Firewire was on Macs first, but eventually an option on PCs as well - and for external platter drives USB 3.0 is more than fast enough anyway.
By comparison, our Genesis workstations offer a lot more flexibility. The Genesis I houses a single CPU, much like the Mac Pro, and then we have our Genesis II for dual processor builds. That means we can pack up to twice the raw x86 processing power of a Mac Pro.
When it comes to memory, the Genesis I supports up to 64GB like the Mac Pro - but the Genesis II can quadruple that to 256GB. If you have big applications and files that are memory intensive this could be a huge advantage.
For graphics, both versions of the Genesis offer single and dual video card configurations. AMD and NVIDIA cards are equally represented, with both mainstream (Radeon / GeForce) and professional grade (FirePro / Quadro) models available. And many of those pro-grade cards have true ECC video memory, unlike the FirePro options on the Mac Pro.
As for storage, our Genesis systems knock things out of the park. We have solid-state drives ranging from 128GB up to 1TB, but we can fit more than one in a system. If you want high-performance SSDs for your OS as well as for editing files, we can do that! We also have platter drives up to 4TB each, and room to fit several inside the chassis - so no need to resort to external drives. If you want larger or faster drive arrays, we can customize further by adding a RAID controller to give even more storage options.
Now Apple does use a fast connection for its solitary SSD, which removes the bottleneck that SATA 6Gbps can be. This lets their SSD reach speeds higher than any single SATA-connected SSD could on a PC... but it isn't really a big factor for performance anyway, since all high-quality SSDs perform quite well these days. If you really do need particularly high speeds, though, the motherboards in our Genesis workstations allow you to pair two SATA drives in RAID 0. That isn't something we recommend for everyone, but it does boost read and write speeds to nearly double what a single SATA 6Gbps SSD can reach - and in the process surpasses the performance of the Mac Pro's SSD!
Oh, and did I mentioned that if you make comparisons with similar internal specs our Genesis systems come out costing less than the Mac Pro too? Well, they do! You have to be a little careful comparing video card prices, though, since as I mentioned the FirePro cards Apple uses have no direct analog on the PC side. I find that comparing to the new Radeon R7 and R9 series cards is the most fair if you want equivalent performance levels and similar technology / feature sets.

Tags: Genesis, PC, Workstation, Apple, Mac, Pro, Trash, Can, Comparison

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Yes, but I can run the Mac OS on the Mac. I've yet to see a Windows OS that compares will with it.

Posted on 2014-03-12 18:41:28

I suppose that is up to personal preference :) I don't much care for OSX myself, but then I grew up on DOS and Windows. There is also a lot more software that can run on Windows. If you don't like Windows, though, there is also Linux available - that may be more akin to the Mac operating system, especially under the hood. It is often favored for really heavy duty processing work, like distributed rendering farms.

Posted on 2014-03-12 18:45:09

Forgive me if I am wrong, but just stumbled upon this article. Although the specs are way better. Have you done any bench marking tests with Apple applications vs a similar app that runs on windows? Only reason why I ask is because a lot of the performance you get is how well say..logic works in conjunction with OSX and Apple hardware. Although you mentioned that you could have more RAM for more intensive apps….for instance music recording. Most of the time if your really needing that much power a lot of people are going to be using a Pro Tools HD rig and or something with external processing…say something from Avid or Apollo. I can def see how gaming is way better as well macs have never been catered with that, but for video I think honestly it’s going to be up to the software and the hardware intergration same with music recording. For me it’s stability and noise.

Posted on 2014-05-27 22:06:14

I would love to do some sort of testing like that, but I think it is a bit outside our scope here at Puget Systems. We have tons of PC hardware available, and can often get samples of stuff from manufacturers when needed, but we don't have any way to get a MacPro or the software to run on it short of just buying it... which for a single article would be a bit costly. Further, and I guess I can only speak for myself here, I don't know enough about Macs to make sure that I was making fair comparisons when running applications and tests. I just don't have a lot of personal experience with their OS and software platform.

This is something I would love to see a bigger hardware review website look into, though!

Posted on 2014-05-27 22:10:05
marcus carneiro

You can install OSX in Intel based PCs, it is not supported by Apple but works as it should. Of course you will have to buy the OS and use a custom installer.

Posted on 2014-07-02 16:13:22

Maybe so, but we don't do that! [looks over shoulder nervously checking for Apple lawyers]

Posted on 2014-07-02 16:18:05
marcus carneiro

I was talking as an individual acquiring an user license.

I mention it mostly as a curious fact, generally people think that Apple hardware have some mystic power. If you think this comment is inappropriate, please feel free to remove it.

Posted on 2014-07-02 16:50:51

No need to remove it, I think, but we should point out that even if you purchase a full license for OS:X it says in the terms that you can't install it on anything but Apple hardware. Which sucks, IMO!

Posted on 2014-07-02 16:55:28

Not all Intel based PCs - I know people (no one here at Puget!) who have dabbled with that sort of thing, and they have to be *very* careful about what motherboard and other hardware to get in order to have it work properly. The fact that Apple condemns and forbids installing their OS / software on anything but their own hardware really keeps the community working on that effort small, unlike the large communities who help get Linux going on a huge variety of hardware. Those restrictions are also a large part of why I personally dislike Apple as a company and refuse to use any of their products in my life.

Posted on 2014-07-02 16:31:29

Ugh... I was in the Mac store in SLC with a friend that works for Microsoft support. The Mac Pro was on the end of the row next to the one of the larger iMacs. He was holding onto a napkin, threw it at the mac pro, watched it bounce back out, and asked... "What kind of trash can is this?" I couldn't stop laughing for like I'm still laughing... It has been months...

Posted on 2014-08-17 07:47:15
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