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The Mac Pro Killer Build Guide, featuring Supermicro and Intel (Page 2)

By: Steven Bassiri from Oct 21, 2019 @ 22:06 CDT

Hardware Selection

CPU: We are using the latest generation of Xeon W CPUs, which are some of Intel's newest CPUs meant for workstation users. We are using the Intel® Xeon® W-3235 Processor, which requires a lot of cooling.

Motherboard: Now that we have picked a CPU we need a pick a motherboard. The socket for the Xeon W is much larger and bigger than the typical LGA2011-v2 socket. Supermicro sent us their C621 chipset X11SPA-T motherboard, which does support the new Xeon W CPUs. You can also take into consideration the number of PCI-E slots you would like, in the case of this motherboard there is a PEX8747 chip that takes x16 lanes and outputs x32, so that we have a total of seven PCI-E slots.

Four of the slots are x16 slots that can operate at x16 all the time depending on M.2 slot usage and x8 PCI-E slot usage. The motherboard also has IPMI, which is a remote management capability to remotely configure and even use the system. You might also want to take form factor into consideration as it will affect case selection, as workstation and server motherboards don't always use the ATX standard. In our case the motherboard is E-ATX, which is easy to match with a large enough case.

RAM: The Xeon-W CPUs cannot accept just any DDR4, you must use RDIMMs, so we used six sticks of Samsung M393A1G40EB2-CTD 8GB DDR4-2666 RDIMM registered ECC memory. You can also save money by just using two sticks for dual channel or four for quad channel, but if you use less than six sticks you won't get the performance benefit of hexa-channel RAM.

Storage: The motherboard has eight SATA 6Gb/s ports and three x4 PCI-E M.2 slots all connected directly to the CPU, so there is no DMI bottleneck. What this means is that if you RAID all four slots using a Virtual RAID On CPU (VROC) key, you will get maximum performance. We should mention you lose the bottommost PCI-E x16 slot if you utilize all the M.2 slots. You can also use PCI-E add in cards for storage. We opted for a Samsung PM981. Be advised that if you want to use VROC for NVMe RAID, there is a list of approved drives on Intel's website, and you will want to buy one of those SSDs to make sure things run smooth.

Case: A few months back you might have read our review of the Xeon W-3175X, which utilizes the same socket as our Xeon W, but the motherboard we used required a special case since it utilizes the SSI-CEB form factor. You will want to check the form factor of your motherboard to pick a case. In our case (no pun intended) we were lucky since our motherboard uses the E-ATX form factor. We reused our cased from that build, the Andees AI Crystal XL AR.

Power Supply: The CPU has a 180W TDP, so we are going to budget 220W for it. Our RTX 2080 Ti will cost us about 300W, and we will double that to 600W in case we want to add another down the line. The motherboard's chipset has a 15W TDP, the PEX8747 has an 8W TDP, and the 10Gbit NIC requires a heat sink so we estimate 5W of power. The motherboard has a lot of other features as well, so we will budget around 50W for the motherboard. We estimate the system could use up to 1000W, so we used a 1200W power supply. Steady power is very important, and PSUs are one of those things that go before other system components.

We will stick with the tried and true AX1200i from Corsair which not only has the highest level of certification, but also a 10-year warranty. We should also mention that if you use more than four PCI-E slots, you lose your warranty if you don't attach a third 8-pin ESP power connector, so if you are going to a very high wattage system you will want a PSU with more than two 8-pin ESP power connectors, or at least one with many PCI-E power connectors so you can use a 6-pin to 8-pin power adapter.

Cooling: You might choose to go with a basic LGA-3467 cooler capable of handling a 200-220W Xeon CPU for around $50, but these typically tend to be built for datacenters and can be quite loud. In our case we went with an EKWB Phoenix 360 Annihilator, so we can turn the fans down and run the system at maximum performance. However, keep in mind that the LGA-3467 socket has no hold down mechanism, and many instruction manuals recommend a cooler that mounts to the CPU, which you then attach to the motherboard, so research is recommended depending on your level of expertise.

  • Motherboard: Supermicro X11SPA-T
  • CPU: Intel® Xeon® W-3235 12-Core 24-Thread Processor
  • Cooler: EKWB Phoenix 360 Annihilator
  • Memory: Samsung M393A1G40EB2-CTD 8GB DDR4-2666 RDIMM
  • Video Card: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 1080 Ti FE
  • Storage - Boot Drive: Samsung PM981 512GB M.2
  • Case: Andees AI Crystal XL AR
  • Power Supply: Corsair AX1200i

Total Cost Breakdown

  • CPU: $1387
  • Motherboard: $604
  • RAM: $534
  • SSD: $99
  • Case: $269 (Towers that support E-ATX start at $91 on Newegg)
  • PSU: $339 (1200W 80+ Platinum PSUs start at $129 on Newegg)
  • Cooler: $400 (Noctua NH-U12S DX-3647 is $99 and would offer much more value)

Total: ~$3,628, which can go down significantly if we change out the cooler, PSU, and case for more reasonably priced models. If we go with the alternatives mentioned above, system costs comes to ~$2,939, and we could use the extra wiggle room to double our SSD capacity, and the system would chime in at 50% the cost of the base Mac Pro.

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