How much woud it really cost to build a PC Mac Pro?

By Mike on 6:42 pm

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A lot of people think Apple overcharges for their Mac computers. For today's post, I'm going to lay the costs out bare by building my own PC based Mac Pro clone to see how much it really would cost and how much the "Apple Tax" really is. One report I read claimed that Apple overcharges over $1600 for this system. Let's look at just the facts miss. We'll build a Mac Pro with the cheapest comparable parts, not the cheapest outright as that can skew results. Prices all from, unless otherwise stated. Prices in US dollars.

We'll look at the base model Mac Pro that comes with a single 2.66ghz "Nahalem" quad core Xeon processor, 3gb DDR3 1066, a 640gb 7200rpm SATA hard drive, a Radeon HD 4870 512mb, 18x DVD drive, Bluetooth mouse and keyboard, no Wifi, and OS X Snow Leopard 64-bit. The Mac Pro costs $2,719 with this setup.

The Mac Pro PC

Motherboard: $299.99
Apple uses an ATX style server motherboard for their Pros based on Intel's X58 chipset. The Pro has a board with four PCIe slots and requires Firewire connectivity. I found just one that fit this requirement. The Asus P6T WS Pro. It only has two PCIe 16x slots but has five expansion slots total, and supports Firewire.

Processor: $999.99
The Mac Pro base model uses a single Intel Xeon X5550 clocked at 2.66ghz. This CPU has four cores based on the "Nahalem" architecture, similar to the prosumer i7 processors.

RAM: $101.97 ($33.99 per stick)
The base Mac Pro uses three 1gb sticks of server DDR3 1066 in a triple channel configuration, which must support ECC. I went with three Crucial 1gb sticks since there are no 3gb triple channel server kits available.

Graphics: $179.99
The base model comes with an nVidia Geforce GT120. These cards aren't available to consumers so I upgraded it to an ATI Radeon HD 4870 512mb. The additional cost is included with the price of the Mac Pro I listed above. VisionTek still makes these cards with 512mb.

Hard Drive: $59.99
The Pro comes with a surprisingly small HDD, at only 640mb. It's a standard SATAII 7200rpm desktop drive. I went with Western Digital's Caviar Green drive, to make Al Gore happy.

DVD drive: $29.99
The Mac Pro comes with an 18x DVD multi burner, presumably with a SATA interface. No 18x drives were listed on Newegg so I went with a 20x drive from MSI. The difference is fairly negligible.

Case: $259.99
Finding a case to match the Mac Pro is hard. The closest I could find to that Mac Pro look is the Lian Li V1000Z. It's a full tower ATX case that has the same number of hard drive slots, etc. Full anodized aluminum. It's black but close enough. There used to be a silver version available. From FrozenCPU as Newegg no longer sells it.

Power Supply: $99.99
The Mac Pro is rumoured to have a 1kw power supply. It looks to be modular (removable cables) too based on pictures. I went with the ePower EP1000-SC 1000w PSU.

Keyboard and Mouse: $149.99
The Mac pro comes with a wireless mouse stock but I added a wireless keyboard as well for good measure. Both run on Bluetooth. The only one that seemed to fit the bill was Logitech's pricey MX 5550 Revolution gaming keyboard and mouse. A little more robust than Apple's but this is plastic and conventional instead of brushed aluminum and multi-touch mouse, so it evens out.

Operating System: $174.99
Apple really offers a bargain with OS X is seems. To get it's drive encryption features and other pro functions, we had to go with Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit single license OEM. Windows of course now comes with programs similar to iLife, so those don't need to be added separately.

Total: $2,362.88

So the price difference between a Mac Pro and a similarly configured PC is $356.12. I'll add $150 in to cover warranty, shipping, and assembly costs, bringing the Apple tax down to about $206.12.

So there definitely is an Apple Tax, but it's not as much as some people are claiming.

2009 Xmas/Boxing Day Console Buyers Guide

By Mike on 12:00 pm

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Late this year, but here we are with our annual gaming buyers guide. What should you pick up for your gamer? Let's take a look at the contenders.

TV Top Console

Best Budget System: Xbox 360 Arcade
As it stands, the Wii is still grossly overpriced and gimmicky. The 360 has taken the supreme crown for the best family friendly and best budget systems. With it's wide array of XBLA games, low cost titles, the best online experience, and excellent graphics, picking one of these up for $199 is an excellent choice.

Best Console Overall: PS3
The PS3 has had a vary good year. Now at $299, the price is a little more palatable. With it, you get an excellent gaming system that boasts the highest number of top rated games on any system. To top it off, it also makes the best media centre out of all the consoles with it's Blu-ray functionality being top notch. The PS3 is still an excellent value.

Systems to Avoid: PS2, Wii
The Playstation 2 is still going strong but it's dated now. Only get it if you can't afford anything better. The Wii is just too expensive and gimmicky. Most people say that their Wiis get the least amount of play after the initial novelty wears off. It also has the weakest game library.


Best Budget System: Sony PSP-3000
The oblong brother to the Go still stands as packing the best value out of all other portables. It plays movies, games, music, and surfs the web. Plus you can buy full games online over Wifi as well as use disc based games. The base system is just $170 for all that. $199 gets you great combo packs with two games and a 1gb memory stick. It also has a large library of good low cost games such as Patapon, LocoRoco, WipEout, and others.

Best Overall: Nintendo DSi
The improved DS is one of the most family friendly systems and will get lots of use from both kids and adults alike. It doesn't have the best graphics but it has a vary strong lineup of games, great online connectivity, plays music, and has a built in camera. A good choice for anyone on your list, especially if they're not a gamer. The system is $180. For a more budget friendly option, the DS Lite is still a good choice. It trades the camera, music, and downloadable games for Gameboy Advance compatibility. It's much cheaper at about $120.

Systems to Avoid: PSP Go
The Go is overpriced and poorly developed. People who already own an older PSP will not want this. It doesn't support older disc based games and Sony has not done a good job stocking the library on their online store. Some report it not being vary ergonomic. Spend your $250 on something else.

PC Gaming

Best Budget Graphics: TIE: ATI Radeon HD 5770 / nVidia Geforce GTX 260
These two upper mid range card pack a lot of punch. One supports the latest DirectX 11 series graphics, the other is DX10 but slightly faster. Both come at a comfortable price point of $190.

Best Graphics Overall: Radeon HD 5870
If you have deep pockets and you're feeling in a giving mood, this is the fastest single GPU graphics card money can buy. It also supports DirectX 11, which comes with Windows 7. It's expensive, setting you back $450.

A Note on PC Parts: Gift certificates to big computer stores like NewEgg are an excellent choice as it will allow your gamer to pick their own parts. Especially given how each PC is different. You wouldn't want to accidentally buy an Intel CPU for someone who has an AMD system, or vice versa.

PSP Classic Outsells PSP Go 10-1 in Japan

By Mike on 9:10 am

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Sales results out of Japan for the last week of November show some interesting findings in the portable front. The original oblong PSP is outselling the new PSP Go by a factor of 10-1. The Go only managed to push 3,800 units nation wide versus 38,800 for the original. It's not particularly terrible but it's at the bottom of the list for portable sales. Especially given the brand power Sony holds in the Land of the Rising Sun.

The supersized DSi LL by contrast has had a vary good launch, selling 67,200 units, a factor of 2-1 over the original DSi.

Source: Joystiq

The Best Free Video Encoders

By Mike on 9:57 am

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Video encoding is a common task these days. We all want to export our DVDs to different formats so we can watch them on a variety of devices we have around the house. Or maybe you need something converted to a format Final Cut can read for editing your home movies. Here are four excellent free video encoders you should definitely take a look at.

Handbreak (Windows, Mac OS X, Linux)
Encodes video as H.264 and MKV formats. Vary easy to use but contains a few powerful features. It supports multi-core processors and the Mac version is full 64-bit, promising a 10% boost in performance. Handbreak comes with a number of presets for devices such as Apple TV, PS3, and Xbox 360 making it the ideal, light weight choice for encoding files for your media devices.

Dr. DivX (Windows, Mac OS X)
A free DivX encoder that is produced in house by DivX Labs, it acts as a counterpart to the payware DivX encoder. Not as easy to use as the paid version but it's quite a powerful piece of software. It will convert any video you have to the popular DivX format which can be played back on numerous devices such as PS3, Xbox 360, and many DVD players. DivX isn't as good as H.264 but it encodes faster.

Super (Windows)
It's not user friendly but Super is an extremely powerful encoder. It's a must have for anybody doing video editing, namely because it's one of the few (if not the only) free converters that will encode anything you throw at it to DV and MPEG 2. It's also blazing fast compared to a lot of other programs out there thanks to it's excellent multi-core support. Too bad it's only for Windows.

Red Kawa PSP Video 9 (Windows, Mac OS X)
A light weight encoder tailored specifically to encode videos to PSP and PS3 formats. It's a bit on the slow side but it's dead stupid easy to use. If you're encoding files for mobile devices, this is the one to get. Check out the other Red Kawa device specific encoders too.

Nyko Responds to PS3 Frontman Issues

By Mike on 9:49 pm

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Several people on the official Playstation forums said they received a letter from Nyko over the Frontman wireless guitar issues. Nyko has finally posted a statement on their website acknowledging there is a problem.

"The latest firmware update of the PlayStation 3 (Version 3.10) is not compatible with the FrontMan for PS3. We are currently researching any possible solutions to fix this problem."

Not really an encouraging statement but obviously the problem lies with Sony as the guitars worked fine before the update. I can't imagine they're in too much of a rush to fix third party controllers though. For those who don't know, the problem lies with the PS3 not interfacing with the controller. The FrontMan shows a red controller 1 connection LED but does not respond when buttons or pressed, nor does it show up in the PS3's menus.

PSP Go to get UMD Drive Add-on

By Mike on 5:35 pm

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Soon the PSP Go will be little more than an expensive plastic brick to UMD owners. A source told CVG that Logitech plans to release a UMD drive addon for the solid-state console. Not a lot is known about the device at this time. Gizmodo figures it presumably plugs into the MSPD card slot. The download-only PSP Go had been heavily criticized for not being backwards compatible with UMD based games.