Mac Pro (2013) vrs a stack of Mac Minis (2012)
After being previewed at WWDC I was pretty excited to see what the all new Mac Pro could do. In many ways I was impressed, in a few ways I was a little disappointed.
You see, the new Mac Pro makes a big bet on GPU compute being the future. With two powerful workstation GPUs and only a single CPU socket the Mac Pro is not the CPU monster it use to be.
So this got me thinking, how many Mac Minis would you need to equal or improve on a Mac Pro for CPU performance? What would it cost?
It turns out, it would only take a pair 2012 Quad Core Mac Minis to provide more CPU performance than the entry level Mac Pro.
It would cost about £1360 and would save you around £1139. Two Mac Minis would offer a 1.63x performance improvement over what the Mac Pro offers measured on CPU grunt alone.
At the high end the improvement is more impressive.
The 12 core top spec Mac Pro (with just the upgraded CPU) turns in a Geekbench score of 32912 and costs £5699. For £5430 or so you could purchase 8 Mac Minis for a combined Geekbench score of 94880, a 2.8x performance improvement. If you wanted to match the CPU performance you could net a saving of around £3662 by only purchasing three Mac Minis and still come out on top for CPU performance.
Thats a serious saving and performance improvement if scaling out suits your needs.
Of course, the two approaches are not comparable for day to day use. The Mac Pro gives you a single workstation which is pretty simple to use, while the Mac Minis would give you two or more machines you would have to coordinate introducing complexity. But for some problems the performance benefit and price benefit would be substantial.
For example, if you had a constant stream of videos (say a stack of blu-rays) and wanted to convert them all into formats suitable for the iPad and iPhone then the divide and conquer approach would probably be faster and cheaper. While the time for a single blu-ray conversion would be slower, the fact two or more conversions can happen in parallel would mean the total throughput would be greater.
I think the new Mac Pro is a very cool, capable little box, I do wish they had gone further with the CPU options but it should be fun to see how the bet on GPU computer works out. Perhaps they will offer a configuration with a single GPU and a pair of CPUs, who knows.
This article is a little tongue in cheek, but it does highlight the advantage of scaling out rather than up. Mac Minis are not a cheap way to buy CPU grunt, i’m sure with some effort getting the the right machines it could be even cheaper.