Now that all of my Mac’s are starting to have reliability issues, it’s time to lookout for a new workhorse. Not that long ago, that would have simply meant a new Mac. Unfortunately for Apple, they have nothing to offer that appeals to me.
- All laptops have an unusable, unreliable keyboard which is an immediate NO. The new MBP 16" reverts the keyboard back to the 2015 model but keeps the other negatives (e.g. only USB C connectors - no USB A, no [mini] HDMI, etc.).
- None of the iMacs appeal to me neither. Their screens might be nice, but I have no need for them (I don’t want to pay for them neither). And like others also mentioned, 21.5 inch is too small and 27 inch is way too big. Why no 23 or 24 inch screens?
- Mac Mini. They’re are as expensive as a comparable iMac (but without the screen, keyboard and mouse). Although RAM can be upgraded, the SSD isn’t. Are they’re thermally compromised due to the small enclosure.
- iMac Pro : starting price 5.499 Euro. Enough said.
- Mac Pro : starting price 6.499 Euro. Enough said. Also, I honestly don’t know what Apple understands under Pro. This machine doesn’t appeal to anyone I would consider a Pro. It’s performance is underwhelming and why that ugly, expensive box. Pro’s pay for performance. Not for a case you only look at once and then shuffle it under your desk (also $400 for wheels?).
Add to that, the rapidly declining quality of macOS and the questionable choices
of not upgrading the command line tools (and even switch to
zsh instead of
updating to a more recent
bash). macOS was once a developers dream. Now it’s
just a pre historic OS.
Since I’ve always avoided to be part of any eco system (either Apple, Google, Microsoft), it’s easy for me to consider other options which quickly resulted in choosing Linux and building my own PC. So, I started looking around. Being somewhat used to the kind of prices Apple dares to ask, it was a bit getting used to how little everything actually costs… Also, the amount of choices you have is simply bewildering. After a few nights of study work, I came up with this.
Thanks to BytesAtWork for their help choosing the right/compatible components for this project.
CPU : AMD Ryzen 9 3900X / 3.8 GHz
Ever looked at the price jump when you configure a Mac? Ever dreamed you could configure a 12 core (24 threads) CPU for less than 600 Euro’s? Yes, it’s possible, so I went for it. Drawback, those are in severe backorder and delivery times went up to 6 weeks. Luckily I ordered early and the CPU arrived just in time for my Christmas holidays.
Motherboard : Gigabyte X570 Aorus Master
After a lot of studying, it became clear that I would have at least choose a
motherboard based on the X570 chipset. In the end I settled for this one. It gave
me confidence that this board supported the
AMD Ryzen 9 3900X from day one
without needing any BIOS update (although it’s recommended of course to update
to the latest BIOS).
After my experience with the shoddy quality of Apple motherboards, I honestly have a lot more trust in these. Oh, and this one comes with audiophile capacitors as well (red WIMA and Gold Nichicons).
CPU Cooler : Be quiet! Dark Rock 4
This chip has a TDP of 105 Watt. All that heat has to go somewhere of course, thus we need a cooler. Although a cooler is included with the CPU (which is apparently sufficient) I decided to buy a bigger, more silent, one.
This is also the trickiest part of the build. You do need to apply thermal paste between the CPU and the cooler. In this case, less is better. Too much thermal paste and heat transfer to the cooler is less efficient.
M.2 SSD : Corsair Force MP510 NVMe 960GB
Samsung SSD seems to be the king of the SSD market but if you look around, there are considerably cheaper alternatives that are certainly as good. This one is 64 GByte shy of 1TB but is almost half the cost of a comparable Samsung. It has these main speeds (and the Mac Pro isn’t faster):
- SSD Max Sequential Read: 3.480 MB/s
- SSD Max Sequential Write: 3.000 MB/s
Memory : Corsair Vengeance LPX Black 32GB DDR4-3200
32 GB seems a good starting point. The CPU supports up to 128 GB. Which might be a bit small but this is a desktop CPU after al. If you have bigger needs, then the Threadripper is probably a better choice.
Also, this memory is clocked at 3.200 MHz (faster than your expensive Mac Pro). Out of the box, the BIOS clocked the memory at 2.166 MHz. But that was easily fixed with a few mouse clicks.
Power Supply : be quiet! Dark Power Pro 11 550W
We need power of course. I choose this one for its silent performance. And 550 Watt is plenty enough for my needs.
Case : be quiet! Silent Base 601 Orange
We do need a case as well and preferably one that is as silent as possible. And then you very quickly arrive at Be Quiet which goes the extra mile to keep noise down. I went a bit funky with a small orange touch. But if that’s too much, you can opt for silver or just straight black.
GPU : Gigabyte GeForce GT 1030 Silent LP 2GB
And now the most boring part of the system, the GPU. I have no interest at all in gaming nor for neural networks (which could take profit from a decent GPU). So I opted for a cheap NVidia 1030 which uses so few power it doesn’t even need a cooling fan.
In case I would change my mind, it’s easy to pop in something more beefy of course. The power supply has plenty of reserve for that.
How does it perform?
Better than expected. I downloaded GeekBench 5 and ran the test:
Single-Core Score : 1362 Multi-Core Score : 12605
The single core is faster than any Mac while the Multi-Core score is just between:
- iMac Pro (Late 2017) Intel Xeon W-2191B @ 2.3 GHz (18 cores), score 13194 8.379 Euro
- iMac Pro (Late 2017) Intel Xeon W-2170B @ 2.5 GHz (14 cores), score 11319 7.419 Euro
This home build system was only 1.800 Euro. And it could have been several hundred monetary units less if I chose less premium components…
macOS was clearly out. Windows 10 made considerable progress with its WSL (Windows Subsystem for Linux) and has become a lot more developer friendly in that way. But I decided to go Linux all the way. And this means again making a choice between a lot of different distro’s. A rolling distro seemed nice to me. Meaning that the OS is constantly kept up to date when a new component comes along compared to 1 very big update once a year. Although that can lead sometimes to an orgy of updates when 1 update of an application would need a new version of a supporting library as well. In the worst case, this can have some kind of a domino effect.
Choosing a rolling distro seriously narrowed down the available candidates. Mainly Arch Linux, Suse TumbleWeed and Manjaro. I went for Manjaro which is build on top of the highly regarded Arch distro and offers a wealth of (up to date) applications.
So far, I have zero problems with Manjaro. It installed with zero problems and all hardware was properly detected and working as hoped for (including the very new Intel WiFi chipset).
I always thought that choosing an AMD CPU would exclude any chance to transform this beast into a Hackintosh. Weirdly enough I was proved wrong and on YouTube you’ll find plenty of video’s showing of AMD based Hackintosh’s,
If you’re craving for more CPU power but can’t or aren’t willing to pay the megabucks Apple demands for their systems (or simply want more reliable hardware) then this might be worth looking into for you.