Which Mac Makes the Best Server?
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The Mac server has taken many forms. From the days of the first aqua green G4 tower, it has appeared in such shapes as the HAL-like Xserve array, the silver G5, and the expensive trash can aesthetic of the Mac Pro.

These days, there are multiple Macs that can wear the server mantle, each with their own pros and cons. Let’s take a look at what Macs make good servers, and which one might be right for you.

Upgradability

One of the most important features to consider when choosing a Mac server is how much you can upgrade it.

This is the device on which your entire environment will depend. You’ll use it for backups, file shares, hosting websites, and more. Ideally, you’ll want to replace that hardware as infrequently as possible. Therefore, you want to future-proof your Mac server as much as you can.

Older servers like the original Mac Pro tower could be opened up easily, and had extra PCI slots for additional hard drives. This PCI connection was vital if you wanted to boot from it, as any other connection like FireWire or USB would be too slow. You could also expand the memory if you wanted.

These days, any Mac with Thunderbolt 2 or Thunderbolt 3 can get PCI-level speeds with an external connection. Internal upgrading isn’t necessary anymore.

The Best Mac Server for Upgrading

The Mac Pro has a whopping six Thunderbolt 2 ports. Each one of these ports allows you to connect a drive or display. Additionally, the memory is user-expandable.

Mac Pro ports

The Mac Mini, on the other hand, only has four ports. However, they’re Thunderbolt 3, which is faster. Its memory is not user-upgradable.

Mac Mini ports

Constant Uptime

Your server needs to be available at all times. Depending on what you use it for, it may even need to work hard all the time. You need a machine that’s prepared for a near-constant uptime, and some Macs are better than others for this.

The Best Mac Server for Uptime

The Mac Pro’s trash can design is optimal for dissipating heat. The fan running through the center of the computer cools all the components efficiently and quietly.

Overheating is one of the main concerns with a machine that’s constantly on, so the Mac Pro wins this category.

The Mac Pro's fan runs through the middle of the machine

CPU Speed

The speed of your server matters. It’s the first bottleneck to consider when you experience a slowdown, and it’s an issue you can’t fix without buying a new device.

The Best Mac Server for CPU Speed

The iMac Pro offers an astonishing 18-core Intel Xeon processor. Meanwhile, the Mac Pro maxes out at an 8-core Intel Xeon.

Xeon processors are ideal for servers, as they’re made for handling powerful CPU loads and long uptimes.

Storage

When it comes to storage, you can go one of two ways: more or faster. Your instinct might lead you towards more, but when it comes to your server, you want your disk as fast and reliable as possible.

The most likely and dangerous issue you can have with your server is a drive failure. Nip that problem in the bud with the kind of storage device you choose.

SSDs are ideal for servers due to their speed and low failure rate. If your budget allows you to get either a larger hard disk drive or a smaller SSD, the solid state drive is the way to go.

The Best Mac Server for Storage

The Mac Pro offers a baseline 256GB SSD, upgradable to 1TB. The Mac Mini has a wider range of an 128GB SSD to 2TB.

The only other difference is that the Mac Pro’s storage is upgradable after purchase, while the Mac Mini’s is not. Both can still connect to external drives via Thunderbolt and achieve PCI-level speeds, but the internal drive should still always be the drive you boot from.

Connectivity

If you’re using a server to host a website, or if you’ll need to work from it while you’re on the go, bandwidth is key. The more speed you can get, the better.

The Best Mac Server for Connectivity

The Mac Pro comes standard with two separate Gigabit Ethernet connections, which you can bridge to create one 2Gb connection.

Meanwhile, the Mac Mini comes with one Gigabit Ethernet, which can instead be upgraded to a 10Gb connection.

In addition, the iMac Pro can have its Ethernet connection upgraded to a 10Gb port.

Physical Space

Whether it’s on a desk, in a rack, or in a closet, the amount of space your server takes up is an important factor. Obviously, less is better, but the shape matters as well.

The Best Mac Server for Physical Space

The Mac Mini was made to fit on a server rack. Small, compact and quiet, you can hide it somewhere and forget it’s even there.

Mac Mini physical size dimensions

The Mac Pro is small, but its unique shape makes it hard to fit in with other technology. Also, because of its central fan, it can only be oriented one way, and it needs enough space to breathe so it won’t overheat.

That being said, even the Mac Pro takes up far less space than previous generation. Because it doesn’t have a display, it takes up much less space than, say, an iMac.

Winners of the Best Mac Server Title

So now that we’ve looked at the options, which Mac models make the best server?

For power and versatility:The Mac Pro’s power, cooling abilities, and upgradability make it the ideal server—if you can afford it. Not to mention, it looks great. Though the price tag is a bit steep, it should last for seven years or more with its easily replaceable parts.

But the Mac Pro is really only for power users. Find out if you would really use a Mac Pro Who Really Needs A Mac Pro? Who Really Needs A Mac Pro? If you've thought of buying a Mac Pro, you may want to reconsider. Read More before you spend the cash.

For cost-effectiveness: For less than half the price of the Mac Pro, you can get a powerful server in the Mac Mini. Just make sure you know exactly configuration you want going into your purchase, since you won’t be able to upgrade anything later (except via Thunderbolt 3 ports).

Get Use Out of Your Server

Now that you have your new Mac server, what are you going to do with it? We’ve looked at reasons to build a server 5 Reasons Why You Should Make Your Own Server 5 Reasons Why You Should Make Your Own Server Cloud computing is all the rage, but there are some practical reasons to host your own server in this day and age. Read More , which will give you some ideas.

Explore more about: Buying Tips, Mac Pro, Media Server.

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  1. likefunbutnot
    April 19, 2019 at 3:16 pm

    This is really like asking which Porsche is best for hauling cargo. Servers have hot-swap hardware and redundancy features like dual or triple power supplies; they have standard ports for I/O, dedicated ports for management over networks where physical management isn't an option, stackable chassis with airflow that is not impeded by any device atop or below the computer and the ability to contain enough local disk drives and RAM to do the jobs they're given.

    None of those things sound like any Mac.

    If I need MacOS on a "server", I'll run it as a guest host on whatever Hypervisor I'm using, probably on a computer in a 1 or 2U chassis with with Xeon E5 CPUs, 10GBE, dedicated SAS controller and more RAM than a Mac Pro can even have installed. That machine probably doesn't need MacOS though. It probably just needs some or other *nix-based host application that would run just as well on Linux, FreeBSD or OpenIndiana.

    The computer the author describes as a "server" is more properly a Workstation, a computer with a high end, high frequency CPU that is optimized for high performance I/O (though this is somewhat debatable since Mac Pros still need more or less everything fed through some kind of external Thunderbolt chassis). Workstations are fine in some server applications, but so are $300 Walmart Vomit boxes if your needs are small enough, but they can become problematic as well, since they're not well optimized for data center-style cooling or with the redundancy and management features we expect for serious applications.

    Server Admins and Infrastructure planners usually want more CPU cores/threads and truly obscene amounts of RAM for our big computers, usually in as small a physical footprint as we can get. The normal strategy for just about everything is to run some or other Hypervisor (Vmware, Hyper-V, Xen) and then break our server needs down in to as many guest server instances or application containers as our hardware can support, just to maximize our ability to use the space in a datacenter. A workstation is capable of doing those same tasks to some degree and also, any computer that's acting as a server for something is TECHNICALLY a server, but it's also very expensive and the wrong tool for the job.