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High spec Apple Mac Pro running Windows Bootcamp – general advice

Posted on 2014-12-19
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We have a user who is prepared to pay for the best. He works in finance and runs powerful Microsoft Excel number crunching applications as well as things like Bloomberg.
However he loves Mac hardware.

He wants us to buy a Mac Pro with three high quality screen attached, fully loaded if necessary but he wants it running boot camp so that he uses it as a Windows computer.

My reaction is that if he spent the same money on a windows PC like Dell, it would result in better performance but I could be wrong. Either way he seems very keen on this Mac hardware solution.

Can I get some opinions? Will boot camp give good performance or is it going to compromise his work spending £5k / $8k on a Mac in order to use it for Windows only?
He'll spend what he needs to get great performance.

Another way to ask the question, ignoring cost, is there any downside to running Boot Camp on a high spec Mac Pro and also is there any specific upgrade specification that should be considered to improve use in these circumstances?
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Question by:IT Man200
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by:David Johnson, CD, MVP
ID: 40510428
he could easily spend $10K US.. The software should run fine, just go through the memory and CPU options.. Hope he is happy with his trash can computer.. Note: Thunderbolt accessories and cables are required
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by:byundt
byundt earned 250 total points
ID: 40510440
Your user will find that running Windows on BootCamp makes his Mac into the best Windows machine that money can buy. While you can always find a cheaper Windows box, it will invariably include compromises in build quality and component specification. The much ballyhooed "Apple Tax" is really a reflection of the fact that superior build quality comes with a higher price. Apple doesn't sell cheapie equipment--but their competitors do.

I am an Excel power-user who made a similar choice to run Windows on Mac hardware about six years ago. I got tired of buying Windows laptops where the trackpad picked up the heel of my hand and moved the cursor hither and yon while I was typing, of mice whose leftclick button started working intermittently after 12 months, of letters on keyboard keycaps that wear off after 18 months, and the motherboard would fail after three years of use. I went through two premium price HP laptops with those problems before buying a 15" MacBook Pro in 2009--which I am still using as my main computer.

It took me only a couple of days with my new Mac to become thoroughly spoiled by its build quality. Despite being a resolute mouse user on HP and Dell computers, I found the trackpad on the MacBook Pro was 100% reliable--so I stopped using a mouse. I also enjoy being productive in dim light because of keyboard backlighting.

When buying a Mac, I suggest populating it with a lot of RAM. In some Macs, the memory is soldered in, so you need to make that decision when you buy the computer. In others, the memory is replaceable; if so, I suggest buying it from a reputable third-party source such as macsales.com instead of from Apple. I also suggest buying the Mac with a SSD instead of a hard drive.

When using BootCamp, you are literally using a 100% Windows machine. This is the way to get the ultimate performance, though you do forgo being able to use Mac applications (unless you reboot into OS-X). FWIW, I run Windows in a virtual machine using Parallels software on my Mac. VBA code runs about 25% slower than with BootCamp, but I can use both Windows and Mac apps at the same time.

For doing number crunching using Excel, your client ought to take a look at the new Retina iMac instead of the Mac Pro line. Excel VBA doesn't really take advantage of multiple cores in a CPU, so the higher clock speed of the Retina iMac would give the same or better performance than a Mac Pro. And to illustrate how competitive Apple is with their pricing, Dell gets $2495 for their 27" 5K monitor--while Apple sells the same 27" 5K monitor in the Retina iMac as a complete computer for $2499.
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by:IT Man200
ID: 40510534
Thanks for the comments. Interesting what you say about the new retina iMac. I'm writing this on my mobile, but can't one upgrade the mac pro processor to match the new iMac?
I thought you could go really far with ow much you upgraded the mac pro?

Also is that right about excel not taking advantage of using multiple CPU's? Is there other financial apps that might do so?
 Thanks again
 Very useful so far.
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Author Comment

by:IT Man200
ID: 40510535
Oh also he wants three very expensive apple screens too, another reason why the iMac might not be suitable. Than again I suppose it probably can support additional screens now and if they were 5k screens too, that means he can have three very good screens.
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by:VB ITS
VB ITS earned 125 total points
ID: 40510698
can't one upgrade the mac pro processor to match the new iMac?
Unfortunately no. The iMac offers a 4.0GHz quad-core i7 in the top of the range model whereas the MacBook Pro only offers a 2.8GHz quad-core i7. Remember that you also lose portability with an iMac as it's not a laptop.
Also is that right about excel not taking advantage of using multiple CPU's
byundt is only referring to VBA, some functions in Excel do make use of the multiple cores starting from Excel 2010 as stated here: http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/office/ff700514(v=office.14).aspx

Although I don't entirely agree with a few of the things that byundt has said, I will concentrate on your original question. When you use Boot Camp on a Mac, the Mac boots up in a Windows environment so all of the Mac's resources are dedicated to Windows. If you opt to use Parallels or VMWare Fusion then you'd be sharing the Mac's resources with both OSX and Windows, I don't usually recommend this unless the user needs to swap to an OSX-specific application and a Windows application on a constant basis.

Just take note that once you create the partition for Windows using the Boot Camp Assistant in OSX, you will not be able to give more disk space to OSX after you have installed Windows without destroying it so double check that your client won't be using OSX whatsoever then allocate as much space as possible to the Windows partition (simply drag the slider all the way to the left).

The Windows driver for the touchpad is also rubbish as you'll lose a lot of the multi-touch gestures available to you in OSX. You can look at using Trackpad++ though which is the next closest thing you will get to the native OSX touchpad features: http://trackpad.powerplan7.com/
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by:byundt
ID: 40510850
I assumed that the client was originally considering the Mac Pro, a cylindrically shaped desktop computer. It uses the Xeon series of CPU, as opposed to the Haswell i5 or i7 in the Retina iMac. Even though the CPU in the Mac Pro is replaceable, I don't believe the Haswell chips will fit in the socket or be compatible with the rest of the motherboard.

From the original description of a client who "works in finance and runs powerful Microsoft Excel number crunching applications as well as things like Bloomberg," I assumed he was interested in stock trading. That would also explain the interest in multiple displays. While it is true that worksheet functions can take advantage of multiple CPU cores, I believe a trader would be more interested in using custom-written software (possibly in VBA) to perform stock trading. VBA doesn't take advantage of multiple CPU cores, so if you want better performance, then higher clock speed and more calcs per tick are the way to go--hence my iMac suggestion. The Mac Pro, however, is optimized for graphic and video work, where software is already optimized for multiple CPU cores and that approach will improve your overall speed of workflow. Here is a third-party comparison of the two alternatives: http://www.marco.org/2014/10/16/retina-imac-vs-mac-pro

The Retina iMac does support multiple external displays, but they won't be 5K because that takes too much bandwidth. Apple developed a custom TCON for the Retina iMac just to support the built-in display--an approach that isn't compatible with driving external 5K displays. You can use an external 4K display, however.  It has also been reported that two displays offering lower resolution (up to 2560x1600) can be supported by the Retina iMac http://forums.macrumors.com/showthread.php?t=1808291

If your client is developing software for stock trading, then the utmost in speed is perhaps not so important. I have been doing software development for a hedge fund for the past year using my 2009 MacBook Pro laptop & Parallels emulation.

But if your client is running software that has already been developed to perform high-speed algorithmic trading, then he will want to go the BootCamp route. Unless his software developer says that the software supports multiple CPU cores, he will get better performance out of the Retina iMac than the Mac Pro.
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by:IT Man200
ID: 40510856
OK. Just to clarify, and sorry I did not make this clear before. the end user is wanting a Mac Pro (not a Mac "Book" pro). So the black cylinder model. he would not consider the laptop. So the talk of the touchpad is irrelevant really as this would not be a consideration.

I would have though the processor options in this would have been better than any iMac if upgraded, especially if you look at the price to move to the top processor which is a Xeon X5 12 core which adds £2400 ($4500) to the price. More than the top iMac itself.

I could be wrong though.

So on that looking at the Mac Pro, you can see how the base hardware can very from £3500 to £10000 if you increase the processors and memory and storage. Quite significant jump.

Also from what I see, although the Mac Pro is multi core, it's main processor does not seem to in multiples. It has multiple cores but there is only one. As Apple say "Quad-Core and Dual GPU"

So questions summary:
1) Does this information change any opinions from what have already been expressed?
2) With the more information, are there opinions on what spec's to choose. For example, for Excel based calculation is paying £2400 to upgrade the processor going to make a difference. I think this is the sort of thing my client wanted to know from me. I just wanted to go a bit further and get an overall feel.

Thanks again.
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by:byundt
byundt earned 250 total points
ID: 40510869
Your client will need to tell you whether the work he does will benefit from multiple cores. Formulas on a worksheet do benefit, but VBA code does not.

Unless there is a strong benefit from multiple cores, the Retina iMac will be faster than the Mac Pro. The Mac Pro might have 12 cores, but if only 1 is being used for VBA code, the other 11 will remain idle. That's why the Retina iMac can be faster--its small number of cores run at a higher clock speed.
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by:IT Man200
ID: 40510901
OK thanks. My last post was sent at the same time as another. I will add some more details about what I know.
I know the users purchased third party plug ins for Excel. We've had some fun trying to troubleshoot issues when some of them have caused crashing.
He runs Bloomberg on the screen. He does do some kind of trading, but I've never understood exactly what he does but it is a finance company and I'm sure it's trading related.

He has a three screen system now and he paid a lot for the three screens, but he himself has already decided he wants three top quality Apple screens for his new setup.

Also he already has tried both solutions. At his home a few years ago we setup an IMac running Windows in Boot Camp, and parallels which we set to be able to access the windows partition from Boot Camp (At the time I studied if there is a compromise in having Boot Camp available and parallels to access that Boot Camp partition from Mac OS).
At the same time he also bought a power multi processor expensive Dell Precision rig.
Over the years since, his preference is the Boot Camp mac. However I think this is partly the Mac is SSD and the Dell was not. Although we upgraded the Dell to have a SSD recently, the Dell only supports Sata 2 so he is not utilising the full benefits.

Never the less the office PC is the one he has experiences more issues with, even though it might actually be that he uses it more and more heavily.

So, wanting to give him the best advice, I'm weighing up the options. He's pretty savvy himself, but I think he likes this type of research and always runs it by me, and I like to run it by EE amongst other places.
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by:byundt
ID: 40511013
I think you have enough discussion from me on the iMac vs Mac Pro issue.

One further item to discuss is whether your client runs 32-bit or 64-bit Excel. Microsoft recommends 32-bit Excel because of compatibility with drivers and controls. Your client's trading platform, however, may suggest using 64-bit Excel--it is worth checking.

If your client uses the BI add-ins (PowerPivot, PowerQuery, PowerMap), those are reported to be more stable in 64-bit Excel than in 32-bit.
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serialband earned 125 total points
ID: 40514411
First off, you do not buy a Dell for quality pricing.  You can't really compare a Dell to a Mac.  It's like comparing a Ford Escort or a Buick(or whatever your low to mid range car is in the UK) to a Lexus or BMW.  They're in different classes.  The "high end Dells" are rather mediocre.  Of course he's going to go with Mac when he's got only Dell to compare it to.

You can buy other brands and get more RAM, double the CPUs, in a larger case with more graphics cards for the same price as a fully spec'd out Mac Pro.  You pay a bit extra for Apple's brand and the smaller, sleeker form factor.  You're not paying for power.  You're paying for branding, looks and smaller size.

You're not going to really convince him with a Dell.  You need a flashier system.

I priced out an OriginPC for less than the top end Mac Pro.  You can get even more cores and more RAM and more powerful graphics capabilities if you wish to pay for it.  It's expandable beyond the Mac Pro.   http://www.originpc.com/configurator/prime/1.aspx?shellid=5  You should look for an equivalent in the UK or see if OriginPC will ship overseas.

I have Samsung screens with the same resolution as the Mac screen, but they accept multiple inputs (2 DVI and 1 DisplayPort) and can be used with PCs and run a split screen.   We have an even split of Samsung and Mac monitors and I prefer the Samsung.  Unfortunately, it's is close to the same price as the Apple Monitor.  If you're comparing the Mac Screens to the Dell, you're going to want the Mac screen.  Again Dell is not what you purchase for quality pricing.  Dells are low to mid end systems.  I'm not sure how or when people started believing that Dell was quality priced.  Even with rack mount servers, I would get better deals with other companies.

Quality is about even when you buy high end PCs versus a Mac.  The people who think Macs are better in general have been used to buying cheap, low-mid end PCs.  When they switched, they spent more and got better equipment.  If they had originally spent that same money on a better quality PC, they would have had the same experience.  I've always spent more on my PCs and bought systems that were better than average, so my systems were top tier, very stable and were kept far longer than the usual PC, just as Mac users would keep their systems longer.  The main difference was that the Mac was prettier and had a smaller profile.  If pretty is important, by all means get the Mac Pro.  It's a trade off.  Some people prefer it and that's fine.

Macs are not necessarily more stable than Windows.  Even now, I'm rebooting my Mac more frequently than once a month, not just because of patches, but my system freezes or something crashes.  I've rarely had to reboot my Windows systems as often in all my years running both systems.  Even back in the MacOS (pre-OSX) days, I've had to reboot my Mac far more frequently than I've ever had to reboot windows when I use it heavily.  The only time I don't reboot have to reboot the Mac so frequently is when I'm working on my Windows system and not using my Mac heavily.  You really need an apples to apples (pun not intended) comparison and not an apples to oranges comparison.
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by:speed_54
ID: 40528893
I'll just comment here that currently boot camp will not happily support any version of windows greater than windows 7
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by:serialband
ID: 40529033
That's incorrect.  I've installed and run Windows 8 preview, Windows 8, and Windows 8.1 on several systems without issue.  What problem are you having with Windows 8?  My only issue is that Windows doesn't support the full touchpad capability that OSX does.
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by:VB ITS
ID: 40529037
Boot Camp works perfectly fine with Windows 8, it just depends on your Mac. You can check the compatibility table in this page to check if your Mac model supports Windows 8: http://support.apple.com/en-au/HT204048
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Author Closing Comment

by:IT Man200
ID: 40529069
Thanks for the input on this. I have passed on a summarised view of details to the client.
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