I’ve been saying for a while that the Mid 2010 Mac Pro was the best computer I’ve ever owned. The internal layout was just so great, swapping out hard drives or RAM was easy, no cables in the way, airflow well thought out, just awesome.
Unfortunately, being a Mac limits upgrades. While there are ways to upgrade the CPU, upgrading the video card requires some firmware flashing and trial and error. I had some luck buying a card to drive my 4K Monitor off MacVidCards, but the pricing for anything decent just didn’t work for me.
After 5 years, it was time to relegate my Mac Pro to be dedicated to Logic Pro X and Final Cut Pro X and go back to building a PC. I still had some leftover parts from my previous PC and ended up with this parts list for a bit less than $1000:
- Case: Corsair Carbide 200R (Review on YouTube, Amazon) $70
Antec Earthwatts EA-650 (80Plus Platinum) (Amazon) $100
- CPU: Intel Core i5-6500 (3.2 GHz, 4 Core, no HT) (Amazon) $200
Gigabyte Z170XP-SLI (Amazon) $130
- RAM: 16 GB (2×8) Kingston HyperX FURY DDR4-2133 (Amazon) $130
- Graphics Card: ASUS GeForce GTX 750Ti GTX750TI-OC-2GD5 (Amazon) $130
- OS Drive:
Samsung 950 Pro 256GB (Amazon) $180
Other stuff I still had:
(Disclaimer: Intel, nVidia and Gigabyte have been sponsors of my employer and are advertising with a game made by said employer. My choice these components was independent of that and mostly driven by price, availability and benchmarks from sites like Tom’s Hardware or Anandtech or whatever Google came up with.)
For the case, I had to concede that PC cases just can’t compete with the Mac Pro. The Corsair case looks nice from the front, has no obnoxious window in the side, is mostly toolless and has enough space. Check the YouTube review linked above. I went with a 650W power supply which is more than plenty to support the 65W CPU, 60W Graphics Card and all the other stuff. 80Plus Platinum for just under $100 is neat. It’s not modular, but modular PSUs usually result in me losing the extra cables anyway.
On the CPU side, Intel is a no-brainer these days for games. Skylake Core-CPUs just came out, are priced really well and are fast as heck. Since I don’t care about overclocking, the i5-6500 won out over the 6600 or 6600K simply because it’s a lot cheaper.
Going with that is a Z170 chipset board. The Z170XP-SLI isn’t very expensive, has USB 3.1 Type-C port, supports DDR4 and has a M.2 SSD slot – more on that later.
I have a collection of RAM sticks at home, mainly because whenever I upgrade RAM, the old doesn’t fit in any machine. This machine comes with yet another type of RAM, DDR4. How much you need is always up for discussion, I wouldn’t go below 8 GB these days, and I didn’t see a reason to get more than 16 GB. YMMV, but RAM is cheap enough to err on the side of more. Make sure to get a pair – the CPU uses dual channel memory controllers, which means that you should use two or four modules and if you use two, make sure to populate the two slots of the same color. I got DDR4-2133 memory which is technically the slowest, but the only speed the board supports without overclocking. A lot of marketing talks about support for faster DDR4 speeds, but in parentheses you usually see (O.C.). I’m not interested in overclocking, so I went with the speed that’s supported.
The OS drive is pure luxury overkill. Getting an SSD is a must these days, and normally I’d have gone with a Samsung 850 Pro – StorageReview can tell you why. This is still a S-ATA based SSD though. S-ATA was aimed at mechanical hard drives and is limited to 6 Gigabit/s. A 256 GB drive runs at about $130. On the other hand, the 950 Pro uses the M.2 slot and supports NVM Express (NVMe). It’s shaped like a stick of gum and sits directly on the motherboard – that’s why I went with this board. It’s ridiculously fast (2.5 GB/s compared to 550 MB/s on the 850 Pro), although IOPS are roughly the same. I’d not consider anything but Samsung these days as they make all components – flash chips, controller, finished product – and aren’t priced much differently than the competition.
The graphics card is the one component where I had to compromise. My number one choice would’ve been a Geforce GTX-970. However, these cards (and other 2nd generation Maxwell cards) suffer from coil whine, which is a high pitched noise when playing games. I didn’t want to take the risk, so I went with a first generation Maxwell-based GTX 750 Ti which are cheaper and will work well as a stopgap until coil whine is solved.
Whether or not you need a sound card is debatable these days. I had the X-Fi Titanium HD and love the cinch outputs to go to my amplifier.
I love my K70 keyboard because of the media keys (complete with a volume wheel) and because mechanical keyboards are just a must-have.
NVM Express and Windows
The thing with brand new hardware standards is that older operating systems don’t support it well. In my case, I was faced with the preference to run Windows 7 and the necessity to support a NVMe-based boot drive. There is a hotfix to add NVMe support to Windows 7, and Intel has a set of instructions. But at the end of the day, it was time to go to a newer version of Windows.
Windows 10 supports a NVMe boot drive natively, so no issues there.