MacPro for a Windows User
March 17, 2008 12:46 PM   Subscribe

MacPro for a Windows User: Please help me plan my new MacPro that can ease me from my Windowsean ways and meet my eccentric needs about dual-booting and hardware disk mirroring.

I'm looking to buy and then hardware upgrade a new MacPro 8-core tower as my older Dell PC replacement/all-in-wonder home machine. I'd likely buy a base model MacPro (8-cores, 2GB ram, 1x320GB sata drive)


1) Parallels/Dual-Boot of Windows: It'll be some time before I'm part of the Mac-l33+, so until then I'll need the crutch of Windows and its programs. 95% of the time, I'd be happy running Windows Vista as a virtualized OS in parallels. But ideally, I could Parallelize a Bootcamp'ed dual-boot partition inside OSX, so that if I need to dual boot to a true, native hardware mode for graphically intensive programs like PC games, I can do that as well. Am I crazy that the two OSes can happily coexist?

2) Hardware improvements: The MacPro has crazily expensive updates, wanting hundreds of dollars more for disk drives, RAM, or RAID controllers than any sane person would pay. It's far more sensible for me to buy 4GB RAM for ~$250 aftermarket, and 4x750GB or 4x1TB drives at $150 each and put them in as two hardware mirror sets. Does the MacPro do hardware mirroring natively without the pricey add-on card? Can I "clone" my OSX to a new drive and then mirror it if I start with the base 320GB drive?

3) Home DVR: Currently I have a Comcast Motorola HD-DVR, but it is space limited especially for HD (the older 120GB drives). So why not have an internal/external capture card(s) on the MacPro doing the same thing? I assume there are a number of OSX software packages that do a mythTV et al recording (if only someone affiliated with Metafilter ran some kind of personal video recorder blog...).

4) Music software: I wanna be the next cortex! :) I've abandoned my music for years since entering the working world, and have a nice Kurzweil PC88 collecting dust. I understand Garageband is good enough to start with, and comes free. Are there midi-to-whatever convertors that can help me hook my keyboard up to the MacPro.

I know I'm asking a lot of questions, of which the dualboot/parallels and the "how can I hardware mirror drives for less than $800?" are the most critical to know in advance. Thanks for your help, and hopefully I won't be pissing $3500-4000 down the drain! :)
posted by hincandenza to Computers & Internet (15 answers total)
Best answer: You can do Parallels (VMWare Fusion is faster) from your bootcamp partition, however it works by enabling a second hardware profile in the windows install, and things can get ugly if a parallels instance isn't closed properly, etc. It is doable, but if all you are doing is game,s you can also manage a second install of windows just for games in bootcamp, and keep your parallels image for the misc. windows stuff while you are working.

You can't do hardware mirroring without the raid card. You can do it in software. I do not know of windows supports software raid mirrors. Your best investment would be two drives mirrored for boot if you must, a third for your windows boot, and another really big one for your time machine backup disk. Or you can just not bother with mirrored boot disks and use the second disk for timemachine backup. I haven't found a compelling reason to do mirrored bootdisks outside of a server environment. (you can recover from a timemachine backup using your boot disk and the backup disk, and restore your machine all back on a new hard drive). (Also software mirrors are great in that you can pull a disk and pop it into another machine and still use the disk, you don't need to find the same controller / interface / format).

Buy your ram from, any SATA drive will do. Just don't throw out the ram that came with the box, as apple will want that in case you have to troubleshoot it under warranty (they don't support 3rd party ram, as well, its a pain to troubleshoot).

Get Applecare for the machine. it is worth it, and can make it easier to resell in two years if it still has a year left on warranty.

m-audio makes all sorts of midi stuff.
posted by mrzarquon at 12:57 PM on March 17, 2008

Best answer: If you want to buy local, actually has some decent deals, they can bundle 3rd party ram and disks with the box, and will still do apple certified warranty work on the box, if you want a local brick and mortar store to work with. (I can't speak to the quality of the sales people, as they have changed since I was last there, but their service department is top notch).

For tivo/pvr/dvr look into el gato, they do external usb/firewire based tuners, instead of internal cards.
posted by mrzarquon at 1:00 PM on March 17, 2008

also, ram is best in matched quads, so either get 4gb to start (4x 1gb) form apple, or just get 2x 1gb aftermarket. or go all the way up to 8gb at 8x 1gb.
posted by mrzarquon at 1:03 PM on March 17, 2008

Best answer: I second VMWare fusion. I'm a switcher and went with Paralles at first but it screwed my Windows XP installation over without a vengance (it didn't boot in Windows anymore - only the virtual machine worked). I switched to VMWare and have been a happy camper ever since!
posted by remcobron at 1:08 PM on March 17, 2008

Like mrzarquon, I've had mixed success at running my Boot Camp partition from inside of OS X using Parallels and Fusion. The safest thing to do would be to keep a small, separate partition just for gaming. With that much hardware space, 30GB for your favorite games will be a drop in the bucket.
posted by svolix at 1:13 PM on March 17, 2008

Thirding VMWare. I do my Windows development on a similar machine (except a less manly 4 cores) and VMWare worked a lot better than Parallels for me. I work almost exclusively in the Bootcamp'd partition during development, but I created a new Windows Server 2003 image with VisualStudio 2008 last week and the thing screams even as a VM, so that may change.
posted by yerfatma at 1:38 PM on March 17, 2008

Once you get your new Mac you might find this guide for switching from Windows to a Mac useful.
posted by caddis at 1:56 PM on March 17, 2008

Elgato EyeTV is a nice product. It's actually a Hauppauge product repackaged for the Mac for a little bit more. It's a little USB device that can pull in over-the-air (only) HDTV signals and regular NTSC from cable (or from any external device). It won't replace your HD-DVR because there will be cable HD programs you can't get on the MAC. One of the really nice things about the MAC is the unlimited file sizes on the OS. When I record football games on my mac I can go directly to a little firewire external SATA drive I put together with an "IcyDock" enclosure.

I am a new mac user since last August and haven't even thought about dual-booting. I really don't miss any Windows applications, and the few that I do still use (DVD shrink for example) I just run on an old Windows machine. I did install my own sticks, purchased from newegg. There are pretty good instructions somewhere on on exactly how to do this (you really need exactly the right type of jeweler's screwdriver, and fortunately I have access to a machine shop).

I didn't buy the extended warranty and don't know why anyone would do that. It seemed very expensive to me.
posted by thomas144 at 2:00 PM on March 17, 2008

Response by poster: Wow, thanks for all the help mrzarquon (and others)!!! The short version sounds like "everything you want to do, you can do", so at least I know I won't be making a pricey mistake or painting myself into a corner; just might take some work.

I'm not really familiar with Time Machine; far and away my biggest concern is with dataloss from a failed hard drive, and not so much reverting old versions of documents (things like mp3 and movie/tv show files don't really change after they are written). I just want the safety of knowing that one failed disk doesn't = tens of thousands of lost mp3s. How's this for a disk profile?
Disk 0- 320GB Sata, later 750GB disk; Disk 1 750GB after market SATA drive
D0: |_100GB OSX_|_30GB Vista_|_190GB_misc_|
D1: |_100GB OSX_|_30GB Vista_|_190BB_misc_|__430GB data (until D0 upgraded)_|
Disks 2 & 3 can come later as simple software mirrors on 1TB disks. Disk 1 mirrors disk 0 as software, with unmirrored data sections until disk 0 can be replaced with a matching 750GB drive. The Vista partition is mostly run in Parallels/VMWare, with an option to dual boot. That partition would presumably get out of sync in the software mirror (and I'd have to be careful with disk 1 while in Windows), but it's also the least important: mostly it'd be in Parallels/VMWare, except in the rare hardware-pure OS boot.

Thanks for the tip on the seattlemacstore; I'm fine with buying online, but it sounds like they might have more instant gratification as well as familiarity with 3rd party adjustments. I foolishly went to the University Village Apple store and found their staff to be clueless about any of this. Actually, and I hope this isn't too weird, but... if your profile is accurate, you literally live on the same block as I do. I'd happily buy you a cup of Vivace's finest sometime just to pick your brain for a few minutes.
posted by hincandenza at 2:14 PM on March 17, 2008

hincandenza- yeah, your post actually stuck out because i have a greasemonkey script that flags contacts and people in my 'nearby' list. Hit me up over memail if you want to flesh it out more over coffee.

To answer questions here for future googlers-

Applecare *is* worth it, it is one of the few extended warranties that Consumer Reports recommends. As a technician and an engineer who has had to support, install and repair countless machines, I have it. I could probably fix the machines myself, but I'd rather not have to think about it.

Re: the disk backup, timemachine only backs up changed files multiple times, and will keep your mp3s and videos that haven't changed also (and only keep one version of them). Over time it will merge down the canged files, so for example you are working on a paper, it will keep hourly backups of that paper for the day (so you can revert to any prior version by the hour). It will then keep daily backups for X number of days, then just one snapshot a month, then one final snapshot if the document doesn't change at all. It is very cool tech, and manages the disk space on the backup disk on its own.

You can't mirror both disks that have both vista and os x installations on them (it is a software mirror, which doesn't support partitioning under OS X). I guess you could try to partition and then mirror the partitions, but I wouldn't suggest it.

I think you would get more mileage doing 320gb for osx , putting vista and 10gb fat32 partition on the 750gb drive (fat32 is read/write supported by osx), using the remaining space for scratch (internet downloads / installers, non essential stuff) and to backup your main disk.

When you want to add more storage, throw in another drive, you 4 bays to work with in a mac pro.
posted by mrzarquon at 3:02 PM on March 17, 2008

Yes, Applecare is very worth it. I've bought it for each Mac I've purchased and usually wind up using it once for something So, I would do that if you can.
posted by tcv at 4:05 PM on March 17, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for your help; I've memailed mrzarquon for the drive particulars, but since I can solve those post-purchase, it sounds like I'm gonna buy me a Mac tonight! :)
posted by hincandenza at 4:51 PM on March 17, 2008

For gaming, don't forget that the Mac video cards usually suck, and that Apple doesn't usually support the latest and greatest cards. Having said that, I've got a quad proc Mac Pro and it rocks - best computer I've owned.
posted by SciGuy at 8:07 PM on March 17, 2008

FYI, Boot Camp is not compatible with Apple's own hardware RAID card, so it's good that you're not set on it.
posted by pmbuko at 9:17 PM on March 17, 2008

Response by poster: Just an FYI to close out the thread; I did buy a base model Mac pro a week ago, it's been working great. I didn't get the AppleCare plan (since it has a 1-year parts warranty, I'd be paying $250 to insure against the chance of a parts failure in years 2 and 3 that might itself cost less than $250 to replace; for the rest, I figure I can research as well as anyone to get information and tips).

I've since added two 750GB drives, set up Time Machine, and am dual booting Windows Vista 64-bit which runs great- Flight Simulator, even on the 256MB ATI card, is pretty good looking. I will try out VMWare fusion next to virtualize the existing Vista partition (which is a partition on the 320GB drive that also holds OSX), and possibly upgrade the RAM to 4GB (with two more 1GB sticks- thanks for the "sets of four" tip about bus utilization) and add a higher end card supported by mac, such as the Nvidia 8800.

Thanks to all for your help! It's all running great, and damn if OSX isn't one slick-ass operating system! :)
posted by hincandenza at 12:02 PM on March 30, 2008

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