These aren’t the Macs you’re looking for

I’ve been waiting six months for the new Mac Pros, which finally appeared last Tuesday. Today, I’ve been trying to find anyone with remaining stock of the old ones. Why buy now something I could have bought six months ago? Why not buy the latest and greatest? Well, here we go…

The centrepiece of the new model is the ‘Nehalem’ processor, a significant advance on the Core 2-based units in the old Mac Pros. It benchmarks around 50% faster, clock-for-clock, when doing video processing sorts of things. Great. That’s what I’ve been waiting for. But there’s a catch: Nehalem is expensive.

The desktop-class ‘Core i7’ chips are quite keenly-priced, but Mac Pros use server-class processors in order to sport two chips – hence eight cores rather than four. The catch is that server-class Nehalem processors seem to be vastly more expensive than the units they replace. So much more expensive, Apple has dropped the base spec to just one processor – four cores.

System price break down like this (approx., including VAT)

  • 8-core, 2.8GHz, ‘old’ Mac Pro: £1,750
  • 4-core, 2.66GHz, ‘new’ Mac Pro: £1,899
  • 8-core, 2.2GHz, ‘new’ Mac Pro: £2,499
  • 8-core, 2.66GHz, ‘new’ Mac Pro: £3,619

The 8-core, 2.2GHz machine might – just about – match the performance of the old 8×2.8 model for the sorts of things I do. For memory-intensive operations (Photoshop?) it should pull ahead, but for processor-bound operations it’s going to be close. But it costs more than 45% more than the old model. Whaaaaat?!

To really extract more performance than the old model, I’d need 8×2.66GHz, but that’s another £1,120. Double the total price, for maybe 20% more oomph? Gee, thanks, but… uhh… no.

Calling around this morning, it seems there was a rush on orders for the old models last Wednesday – lots of people in my position, waiting for the new ones, seeing them, and putting their cash into something they could have had six months ago. The only model I could get my hands on is an 8×3.2Ghz box, but at £2,699 that’s not exactly an impulse purchase.

Apart from, arguably, the period when the Mac Quadras were replaced by Power Macs back in 1994, I can’t recall a time when Mac prices have gone up, and performance-per-pound has gone down quite so dramatically. It’s particularly strange when one considers the forthcoming ‘Snow Leopard’ Mac OS X release, which was supposed to trumpet major advances in utilising multi-core architectures.

As it stands, Apple looks like it’s claiming ‘8 cores good, 4 cores better.’ Sorry, but that’s just nonsense.


  1. How is the pound faring against the dollar these days anyway?

  2. Oh, sure, that accounts for some of it. The US price for the ‘base’ spec. is down $300, which over here is represented by a £150 rise. But still – in terms of bang-per-buck, the new machines are worse than the old ones.

  3. That’ll teach me to hang on to my hardware budget until after my teaching is done for the year. If only Mervyn King could figure out how to trigger a run on the bang…

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