With the announcement of new Mac Pros, I thought back to the last time I used such a machine, during my years at MTV. At one point I found myself picking up the machine to move it; surprised at the heft, I remember wondering to myself, "what do they build these cases out of?!?" Platinum, apparently: that'd be the only way to justify the price. Why do I say this? Because, after yesterday's announcement, I turned to Apple's tech specs page and priced out the exact components used in the base-level Mac Pro. The results might surprise you.
The $2,500 Mac Pro includes a $350 CPU, $165 graphics card (unchanged from its PC counterpart), $75 of RAM, and a $70 hard drive. The four most important components of the machine -- processor, graphics card, memory, and storage -- total up to $660. Where's the other $1,840 going? Keep in mind this total is from buying one of each, as a regular Joe off the street; Apple surely receives substantial volume discounts on everything, widening the gap even further.
Sure, there are more components in the machine, like the motherboard (I don't know enough about Apple's motherboard or motherboards in general, but here's a dual Xeon mobo for less than $300), and a dual-layer DVD burner similar to Apple's SuperDrive is $25. There are some other components, like a power supply, networking card, cabling, and of course the fancy case, which must be really expensive, because after accounting for the major components as a single buyer -- keep in mind Amazon and Newegg are each getting a cut of what we're paying -- we've still got over $1,500 of air in the box.
Yes, Apple will build the machine and ship it, and there are warranty and support costs as well. So let's compare apples to apples -- how does a Mac Pro compare to an iMac, since they also announced new iMacs at the same time? An iMac, after all, has to be assembled and supported the same way (both machines have one-year warranties). One analysis has the Mac Pro going for a 75%/$1,500 premium over a comparable iMac. And the iMac includes a 27" 2560x1440 display! So Apple isn't just pricing the Mac Pro at a premium over PCs -- they're pricing it at a substantial premium over other Macs.
You could walk into a computer store, buy basically the same components in a Mac Pro, and assemble it yourself. Then, let's say something goes wrong -- e.g., you bought an underpowered power supply and somehow fried the whole machine (this wouldn't happen, but for example's sake... ). You'd still have enough money to buy the components all over again and build a new one! That beats any warranty coverage I can think of...
Certainly a reason to consider building a hackintosh.