Last week Apple introduced new MacBook Pro models and the prices already initiated discussions. Maybe it is still better to build a custom PC for getting the bang for the buck.
Without a doubt, the newly introduced MacBook Pro and iMac Pro are great computers, but they are not the best. For the last couple of years, upgrading is impossible on MacBook Pros, and this doesn't seem to be changed on the new releases. Also, the pricing strategy on customizing is ridiculous as RAM and hard drive prices doubles when you want to upgrade. Apple is already charging for the base components, however for each upgrade, you need to pay more than the actual price of the component. This has been an Apple classic for a long time, and I don’t think even the newly introduced 6-core processors will save the brand’s reputation.
But Wait, It’s a Laptop, Not a Desktop!
To be honest, a six-core processor and a 32 GB of RAM in a laptop is great. But, if you’re a professional image creator, you will need total computing power. Therefore, multi-threading performance, clock speed of each core, the power of the graphics card, and the overall cooling performance should be considered. The base specs of a Mac might be sufficient for general Photoshop tasks, but for video rendering, 3D rendering, and some other compositing software, it might be slow. Even Apple is aware of this fact that they even introduced an external graphics card box to accelerate the performance. So, portability is not the case here, it’s performance, and when it comes to performance, there are many other options out there.
Choosing the Processor: AMD or Intel?
If this post was written three years ago, I would recommend Intel. However, AMD has been the game changer recently and their processors are the best in terms of price to performance ratio. The second-generation Ryzen processors are better than the first generation, and they are optimized better for Adobe applications. As AMD boosted the processor race, Intel introduced new processors as well, but with higher prices. Intel also introduced six-core entry-level processors, but not all of them support multi-threading. So for professionals, Intel x299 compatible i7 or i9 processors would be the ideal route. If you are tight on budget, then Intel socket 1151 compatible i7 8700K might be the best option as a six-core processor. If you would like to choose an AMD Ryzen processor, a build with the latest eight-core Ryzen 7 2700x will be cheaper than all Intel alternatives above, considering the motherboard prices.
Here is the current price list for processors and motherboards based on the core count and models.
- Intel i7-8700K Processor (6-core) + Asus Prime Z370-A Motherboard: $517
- Intel i7-7800X Processor (6-core) + Asus Prime X299-A Motherboard: $660
- Intel i7-7820X Processor (8-core) + Asus Prime X299 Motherboard: $760
- Intel i9-7900X Processor (10-core) + Asus Prime X299 Motherboard: $1190
- AMD Ryzen 7 2700x Processor (8-core) + Asus Prime X470 Pro Motherboard: $485
To give an average idea for the pricing, I chose the Asus Prime motherboard for each socket type. You can find cheaper motherboards made by different brands. Just make sure to buy the suitable chipset for your CPU.
After choosing the CPU and the motherboard, it’s time to choose the RAM. Memory stick prices doubled since 2016 and apparently they won’t become cheaper soon. Considering a pro workflow, 32 GB of RAM should be the minimum, but if your budget is limited, then you might choose 16 GB for the start. As an advantage of a custom build, you can upgrade the amount of RAM any time. Also, most brands offer lifetime warranty on memory modules, so you can even look for used ones for cheaper price.
This is the second most important element of a custom build computer, and powerful graphics card are not for only gamers. They have been turning into general processors and besides accelerating various software like Adobe Creative Suite, they are also being used by GPU rendering software like Octane and Redshift as the main computing unit. For video and VR applications, they are vital elements as well. On the contrary to Apple, you are not limited to AMD Radeon graphics cards on your build. You can pick any Nvidia card, which has the advantage of CUDA cores, a parallel computing platform and programming model invented by Nvidia. Here are some specs and prices for the recent graphics cards for your build:
- EVGA GTX 1070 (8 GB): $429
- Asus Cerberus GTX 1070 Ti (8 GB): $509
- MSI Gaming GTX 1080 (8 GB): $567
- Gigabyte GTX 1080 Ti OC (11 GB): $799
You can find cheaper alternatives in different series and brands, and any option will be smaller, faster and cheaper than Apple’s Blackmagic eGPU.
To complete your build, you will need a CPU cooler, a power supply, an SSD, a case, and a Windows license. You can either use an air cooler or an all-in-one liquid cooling system. Both will do the work, but if you want more silent and cooler operation, it is better to buy a liquid cooler. Ryzen 7 2700x already comes with the Wraith air cooler, so if you choose AMD, you won’t need to worry about the CPU cooler at the first step. For the SSD, you can go with the m.2 NVMe SSD, but if the price is your concern, then you should get a standard 2.5-inch SSD. Even if you upgrade to an NVMe drive in the future, you can always use your existing 2.5-inch SSD as a portable hard drive with an enclosure box.
Before buying a power supply, always check your system’s total power consumption. To do that, go to Power Supply Calculator (almost all brands have this calculate sections on their websites), select your components, and calculate. This will give the average consumption in watts and try to add at least 150 watts on that result before buying the PSU. For example, if your system’s total power consumption is calculated as 450 W, try to buy at least a 650 W PSU. Also, keep in mind to select 80-plus rated units to get at least 80 percent efficiency.
Case selection is a personal choice and there are hundreds of options in the market. You can even buy a decent case under $50. And with a Windows 10 Pro license, an Intel i7 8700K, 32 GB with the Nvidia GTX1070 TI, the build will cost around $1,700. Even if you add one or two 4K monitors, the total cost will be less than any Mac with similar specs. If portability isn’t an issue for you, feel free to build your own PC. If you have been using macOS for long time, Windows 10 won’t disappoint you and adaptation will be easier than you think. If you want to learn how to install the components, don’t forget to check Lee Morris’ PC build guide.
Would you consider switching to Windows and build your own PC? Please share your thoughts in the comments section.