If money was no object, my dream Mac would be the Mac Pro. Back in high school, we’d have these impromptu competitions to find the most expensive computer possible. And since the Mac Pro was both insanely expensive and able to be configured to an eye-watering level of performance, ticking all the boxes meant you could get your Mac Pro configuration towards the $30,000 mark without breaking a sweat.
I’ve never actually owned a desktop Mac before. No desktop Mac has really appealed to me, and as someone who’s had a separate PC for gaming for years, having two desktop machines means I lose out on any potential portability I wish to partake in. So every time I’ve had to decide on a new Mac, the only real decision that makes sense is a MacBook Pro, upgraded as much as I can afford it to be.
So here’s the deal: I use a Mac as my primary machine, and at the moment, it’s a Late 2013, 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display. It does everything, from composing blog posts late at night, to writing the daily new summaries in the morning. General web surfing, media playing, and, on occasion, I’ve played the odd game of Dota 2. Although it’s a portable machine, it almost never leaves the spot on my desk where it’s hooked up to my 4K external display, Thunderbolt dock, and all the other peripherals you’d expect to be plugged into your daily driver.
Which brings us to the other side of the equation, my gaming PC. I recently put together an almost-entirely new gaming rig for the purposes of upgrading to a more modern platform, but it’s been pretty lacklustre as far as upgrades go. For what I’m using it for (i.e. gaming), there hasn’t been any real noticeable difference in performance, which is kind of disappointing, and kind of makes me feel like I upgraded in order to keep up with platform changes, instead of upgrading because my old PC was getting a little long in the tooth.
PC performance (Mac or otherwise) has long passed the point where CPU performance makes a difference, which goes to explain why buying a machine from 2010 doesn’t faze me. In terms of general, day-to-day PC performance, the number one thing that matters these days is a fast SSD. Even then, you’re going to be hard-pressed to notice the difference between any modern SATA-based model or the newfangled PCIe-based ones, despite PCIe SSDs have much higher throughput. Again, it all depends on the kind of workload you’re throwing at them, and for gaming, the only thing that matters is GPU and to a lesser extent, CPU performance.
Which is just about where my dilemma begins. The portability on my MacBook Pro is nice and all, but I almost never use it that way. And having such a highly-specced PC that I only use for gaming seems like a bit of a waste. What if I could combine the two? I’d go from two separate computers to one, and I’d have the best of both worlds — a machine that runs OS X for my day-to-day, then reboots into Windows when I want to play some video games.
Which brings us, finally, to the entire premise of this piece, the second-hand Mac Pro market. I’d never have considered the older-style Mac Pro back when it was available to buy new, but now, prices for Apple’s now-discontinued silver workstation have fallen to the point of affordability. A few eBay searches says that Late 2008 model Mac Pros can be had for under $800, with later 2009-2010 models going for between $1000 and $1600, depending on configuration. That’s well within the realms of affordability, especially when you consider that you’re getting a dual-processor Xeon workstation for that kind of money. While they may be getting a little long in the tooth, and definitely aren’t with the latest Xeon processors, readily-available CPU upgrades give them a new lease on life, giving them the chance to hold their own for a few years yet.
As for gaming, since Nvidia’s graphics drivers work with any PC graphics card, I could even stick my GTX 980 in one and have it work in OS X. I originally though power would have been an issue, but my research suggests later models of Mac Pro have decent, 800W+ power supplies, so no worries there.
Alas, there are potential downsides to this plan. For one, I’d lose the portability of my MacBook Pro. By my own admission I never used it anyway, and perhaps this makes the case for picking up an iPad for when I need to be portable. I also go from two computers to one, which seems like putting my eggs into one basket — there have been times when having two separate machines has come in handy, or when my Mac has needed repairs, I can still get all my work done on my PC. Also, my running costs would skyrocket thanks to running a dual-CPU workstation 24/7, something which I might have to consider now that I’m paying for my own electricity.
Perhaps what this actually makes the case for is building a hackintosh. I’ve never seriously looked into the topic, despite posts online suggesting it’s easier than ever these days, with very few parts being incompatible. But there’s just something about the all-in-one, put-together design of the Mac Pro that will always appeal to me more than any PC that I’ve put together myself, and the fact remains that I probably wouldn’t be able to put together a dual-CPU Xeon workstation for the price of a second-hand Mac Pro.
In conclusion: I am very confused about whether going all-in on a Mac Pro from 2010 (or thereabouts) is a good idea. It’s probably not, due to the increased running costs and the fact that I’d be buying into 6-year old hardware, even if it does perform better than what I have currently. But I am mightily tempted by the prospect of a workhorse of a Mac that can also satisfy my gaming requirements when it needs to.
If I was going ahead with this, I’d have to find a Mac Pro with the right specs. A 2009, 2010, or 2010 Mac Pro would be ideal for longevity reasons. I don’t really care what the other specs are. I’d be bringing my own graphics card and SSD and potentially upgrading the CPUs, so as long as it has dual CPUs and at least 16GB RAM, I’d be happy. I could sell off my Skylake gaming rig and my MacBook Pro, and enjoy the simplicity of a single-computer life.