Elliott C. Back: Internet & Technology

The 2013 Mac Pro is Cheaper to Build as Windows PC

Posted in Apple, Hardware, Microsoft by Elliott Back on January 11th, 2014.

This should be a non-controversial opinion, but I’ve already received in an informal forum comments like:

  • the Mac is a workstation not a gaming rig.
  • If you try building it, you will end up paying more.
  • For the money and given workloads it’s a good machine.
  • For a workstation, a prebuilt is the way to go.

For the sake of this argument, we’ll be considering the higher specced 6-core, which retails for a dollar shy of $4,000. It has the following components of interest:

  • Intel Xeon E5-1650 v2 @ 3.50GHz
  • 16GB (4×4GB) of 1866MHz DDR3 ECC
  • 256GB PCIe-based flash storage
  • Dual AMD FirePro D500 GPUs with 3GB of GDDR5 VRAM each

The “FirePro D500″ is a cheaper version of the D700, which is functionally equivalent to an ATI 7970:

The W9000 is for all practical purposes a Radeon HD 7970 when it comes to hardware, but it runs at different clock speeds and has twice as much memory as consumer counterpart.

The FirePro W9000 will provide 3.99TFLOPS of single precision and 0.998 TFLOPS of double precision compute precision, unlike the Radeon HD 7970 (also based on Tahiti XT), which offers 3.79TFLOPS of SP and 0.947TFLOPS of DP performance, respectively.

The Mac Pro is already running on last generation graphics hardware, so we’ll substitute in the superior ATI R9 280X 3GB. Now is a good time to talk about tradeoffs:

  • 99.999999% of people do not need ECC memory in the Mac Pro (and Fire Pros), unless they are processing banking transactions, or flying a mission outside of the ionosphere. For those that do, they should consider the plenitude of little DRAM buffers in their hard disk controllers, motherboards, USB hosts, etc
  • We’re going to avoid Xeon, because we don’t need ECC. But we can still have hexacores, thanks to the i7-4930K, which actually outperforms the Xeon in the Mac Pro by about 8%.
  • Whatever case we pick won’t be as pretty as Apple’s.

Here’s what I come up with:

PCPartPicker part list / Price breakdown by merchant / Benchmarks

Type Item Price
CPU Intel Core i7-4930K 3.4GHz 6-Core Processor $568.98 @ Amazon
CPU Cooler Thermaltake Water 3.0 Extreme 99.0 CFM Liquid CPU Cooler $109.98 @ OutletPC
Motherboard Asus Sabertooth X79 ATX LGA2011 Motherboard $314.99 @ Amazon
Memory Corsair Vengeance 16GB (2 x 8GB) DDR3-1600 Memory $139.99 @ Newegg
Memory Corsair Vengeance 16GB (2 x 8GB) DDR3-1600 Memory $139.99 @ Newegg
Storage Asus ROG 240GB PCI-E Solid State Disk $349.99 @ Newegg
Video Card MSI Radeon R9 280X 3GB Video Card (2-Way CrossFire) $339.99 @ B&H
Video Card MSI Radeon R9 280X 3GB Video Card (2-Way CrossFire) $339.99 @ B&H
Case Fractal Design Define R4 w/Window (Black Pearl) ATX Mid Tower Case $122.98 @ Newegg
Power Supply SeaSonic Platinum 1000W 80+ Platinum Certified Fully-Modular ATX Power Supply $225.98 @ SuperBiiz
Operating System Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium SP1 (OEM) (64-bit) $82.99 @ NCIX US
Other CPU / E5-1650 $600.00
Other Kingston 16GB 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM ECC Registered DDR3 1866 (PC3 14900) Server Memory Model KVR18R13D4/16 $210.00
Other Kingston 16GB 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM ECC Registered DDR3 1866 (PC3 14900) Server Memory Model KVR18R13D4/16 $210.00
Total
Prices include shipping, taxes, and discounts when available. $3755.85
Generated by PCPartPicker 2014-01-11 23:07 EST-0500

This is a far faster system, with twice the RAM, a faster CPU, much faster GPUs, but without ECC or server-warrantied parts. We also lack the amazingly beautiful case that the Mac Pro comes in.

I-751 (Petition to Remove Greencard Conditions) Tips

Posted in Government, Law, USA by Elliott Back on May 14th, 2013.

I recently went through the successful application to remove conditions on residence (I-751) with my wife, and found there were a few things I could have done better with my initial submission.

We unfortunately received (and responded to) an RFE (Request for Evidence) due to insufficient documentation for the petition. I had included standard items, like the last joint bank statements, marriage certificate, etc, but it wasn’t enough to prove a “bona fide” marriage.

Some tips I’d suggest for anyone looking to file this on their own:

  • Consult a lawyer when preparing your filings. Yes, it will cost you $300-$600, but it can help you prevent mistakes at the onset.
  • Draft up a cover letter detailing each piece of evidence, the time span it covers, across various categories
  • Include any beneficiary information you have
  • Your evidence should span the entire period of marriage–in my RFE I submitted information from just before our marriage date, quarterly, to the present
  • Highlighting the petitioner’s name, spouse’s name, and dates on evidence will help your examiner work the case faster
  • Include a couple affidavits; it’s easy to ask your friends/colleagues to draft one, and helpful.

Note: I am not a lawyer, and this is not legal advice, just my own personal experience.

Facebook Emails Suck

Posted in Facebook, Security by Elliott Back on June 23rd, 2012.

Apparently Facebook has decided to route all your emails through their servers first, replacing your usual contact information with an @facebook email address. My usual gmail address has been replaced with, horror of horrors, this:

The fix? Edit your contact information, and select the “shown on timeline” for your real email address, and hide the Facebook proxy from ever being known.

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