96 MacBook Pros: Most Expensive Server Rack We’ve Ever Seen

Ever see a standard server rack stuffed full with 8-dozen MacBook Pros? Well now you have.

Now before the torrential downpour of anti-Mac comments come, this actually has a purpose. No seriously. Besides, what company in their right mind would spend that much money on a rack full of paperweights? Kidding.

[Steve] works for a company that designs electronics, and for a particular launch they needed to perform a lot of testing — using MacBook Pros. There are ways he could have emulated OS X on a much cheaper hardware setup, but the whole point was to test the product with Apple hardware. So he took a stroll down to the local Apple store and picked up two pallets worth.

The server rack has 32 low-profile shelves which have just enough room for three MacBooks to sit in. They 3D printed small spacers to keep the screens of each unit open slightly and on during testing. Thermocouples have also been added to monitor the temperature of each MacBook externally, right in the keyboard area which gets the most toasty! To help with cooling, the entire door of the server rack has a good kilowatt plus of exhaust fans blowing constantly.

96 Apple MacBooks in a rack,

96 Apple MacBooks in a rack,

Take one down, Pass it around,

95 Apple MacBooks in a rack…

Sound familiar? This isn’t the first time [Steve] jammed a bunch of Apple hardware in a rack. Nope. He did it with 160 Mac Minis a few years ago.

113 thoughts on “96 MacBook Pros: Most Expensive Server Rack We’ve Ever Seen

    1. We can’t all go around testing our Linux software on Windows, or our Windows software on FreeBSD like [Narom].
      I suppose you would prefer to emulate an FPGA on an array of Basic Stamps so you can claim you tested your own Verlog code?

      Speaking of which, I have a few more thousand Basic Stamps to finish wiring up…

          1. Your comment is the flame bait. The comment in question made no mention at all of Apple at all, none whatsoever. And here you are somehow trying to white-knight for Apple, a company who obviously doesn’t need your help.

          2. Sorry (not sorry)

            Are you the type of guy that when telling a joke you have to preface it by telling everyone its a joke? I bet you don’t get invited to many parties.

            (BTW this isn’t a joke, i find you dull, condescending and boring)

        1. In these situations, I guess it’s useful to remember that half the internet is looking to take offence at anything they possibly can and nobody knows who is on which half.

      1. Basic Stamps…Haven’t heard about those in a while. I think they were around before Arduino. If they weren’t so expensive they might have been as common as Arduino. Someone really shit the bed on that one…

        1. Huh? The BS1 was $29 ~20 years ago– not much more than a ‘genuine’ Arduino. Parallax owned that market for a couple decades. (They could afford those full page magazine ads all through the 90’s and 00’s for a reason!) Guess we’ll have to wait and see if Arduino is still king of the hill in another ~13 years to make a proper comparison…

          1. Not just that, but there were a TON of basic stamp clones and derivatives. Dax, you need to keep in mind that during that time, there was no <$1 Attiny, so $29 was perfectly reasonable.

            @Brain
            Woohoo!

          2. Unfortunately, I was just learning about microcontrollers and didn’t have access to any fancy internet, so the only basic stamps I knew about at the time were the $79.95 ones at RadioShack. Suffice to say, I didn’t have much cash to throw around as a teen and didn’t get one of them. I stuck with programming on my trusty calculator my parents “had” to buy me for math class. Hurrah for the necessities.

          3. Definitely an interesting thought. I think the availability of the AVR and decreasing cost / transistor are definitely critical factors to making the Arduino possible and the reason the basic stamp never kept up (IMHO, BASIC might even be an easier stepping stone for a beginner than jumping right into C). It’s based on PIC hardware, and was designed well before Atmel came into existence, before the higher end PICs (without, um, one- or two-level stacks), and before all of them got a lot cheaper. They have a full-fledged interpreter on that hardware on the low end PICs, and if you’ve ever tried to do much work on a PIC, well, that’s far more impressively difficult than anything I’ve seen the Arduino libraries do, especially two decades ago…

            For a while they switched to an overclocked PIC-like micro, the SX. Then the manufacturer discontinued the product line…

    2. amen.

      especially since he “went to his local apple store” instead of looking for refurb deals on Macbook Pros.
      The added benefit of the refurbs is that he could widen the variety of different versions of the Macbook Pro that he can test on…..for significantly less cost.

      1. First, when you buy from the Apple store by the pallet-load, you get a discount. Second, good lord almighty…testing on a a ‘variety of different versions’ is a way to exponentially make your bugs harder to find. I fully expect that they have their reasons for doing multiple testing on a single platform. Adding another entire dimension to your test protocol (not to mention the fun surprises that would come along with used equipment) is an testing nightmare.

        1. Not likely! There is no discount if you buy a college full of i-pads. They throw in “discounted” apple care- gee thanks! A discount on hardware- HA ha ha ha ha h he he !!

          1. We don’t buy em here. The profs decide if they wan to spend 4x the money per unit to read websites and type papers. They ALWAYS get mad about the dongles and other peripherals you have to buy so it will have normal ports that 95% of the rest of the world uses on a daily basis..for work no less. Then when they break we get to smile and tell em to take it to the apple store and let a genius fix it because we would void the contract lol. Been like that for decades now. I doubt it will change unless Tim Cook has another “genius” idea to buy another OS, name it JOBS3000, and then figures out how to produce a loss-lead computer ;) Generally, I tell folks to use what they are comfortable with, but mac always has to be “different”, for better or worse…and mega greedy. If you have enterprise email/services from big G, maybe hit them up next time you are bulk tablet shopping ;)

      2. With the state of IOS and OSX at the moment, buying them new is the only way to guaranty that the machine will work properly with this crappy osx version
        Mind you for the money they could have got 270 windows machines and used the change to add another kilowatt of cooling!

        1. > Unrelated: We need a cancel report comment button… sorry bro.

          No, you dont. I see it all, and I deal with it all. It’s not really a problem. If you approach it from a UX perspective, you might have a point, but we don’t need a ‘cancel report’ button.

          EDIT: I should have seen the number of reports to this comment coming.

        1. It’s pretty sad that no one seems to know this.. There are even cabinet trays made to handle 4x mac minis in a 2u space. This guy just had too much fun with the corporate credit card. This may be the only option he told his boss about but I doubt the Apple store would’ve turned him away if he asked for 96 Mac Minis.

    1. Yes but the performance and quality of a Xeon setup would be orders of magnitudes superior.

      Really this was not really the best way to go about this problem at all. Still looks cool, though. I know aaaall about the MBP keyboard getting to very high temps…

      1. You may have missed the point — Not to get a ton of CPU cycles, but to get multiple Macbook Pros. They need to test software on OSX, legally that requires Apple hardware. Blog makes a mention of needing retina displays — If your software is optimized to use the high DPI display, you should test on hardware containing that display. Kinda sticks them with this setup. Sure, they probably could have gone smaller in quantity — But that would have extended the length of test cycles. Could have virtualized, but that A) opens them up to legal trouble from Apple and B) introduces another variable in the testing equation, making the tests less applicable to the ultimate end user setups.

        Truthfully, as dumb as some corporate decisions seem from the outside, they don’t often spend scads of money without a good reason. If they decided they need a rack of Macbooks for proper testing, I’d imagine they have a plan to cover this cost in no time.

    2. Pretty much everything but the basic “fill the rack up with random basic hardware” will beat this in price. Macs aren’t really even that expensive, on the same line with comparable windows laptops.

  1. We build and test our software on Windows, Linux and Mac.. The Mac represents the smallest number of machines in our pool of thousands of compute nodes, but in recent years has proven the most challenging to keep in “Rack” form. With Apple eliminating the Quad Core Mac Mini, this solution represents the least expensive way to get the highest density of Mac cores in a rack footprint. As I’ve said before, it would be great to be able to simply do all of our testing on linux, but we are a software company and we respect EULA’s, so we do not entertain certain “work arounds”.

    1. Fair enough you can’t preach the value of buying software while running a load of hackintosh machines and respect for that. However apple make people want to break the rules by producing only a few models with compulsary overpriced hardware. If apple were to release legal software it would take away the temptation. But that would go against their insane hardware overpricing model and probably lose them money in the long run.

      1. “insane hardware overpricing model” — Look, I’m no OSX/Apple fan. I do think it’s overpriced for my most folks’ needs, and the oft praised hardware quality isn’t that consistent. I could go on and on, but I’d be getting increasingly personal — They’re just not right for me. Their market success says the pricing model is far from insane, however – they price it high because it sells like hotcakes for them at those prices, and the insane thing would be reducing those prices before market pressure forces them to.

    1. They adapted these macs to their needs by adding temp monitors and made a custom screen spacer. The “hack” is the scale this was done at. Very impressive work. I would love to do this for a living.

      1. 1) I want to know as well. Are we getting to the point that showing 96 MacBooks in a Rack without any kind of backstory ist justification enough for a post? Can we please get something to actually attach our mind to and think about. 96 pieces of Apple Products sure have a magical attention to some people.

        1. It’s a business, you won’t often get details of their decision making process. They do cover the gist of it in the Hackaday post and the source article — They’re a software company shipping software on Windows/Linux/OSX and they do testing on all three. Apple requires Apple hardware for a valid license, so that’s a no-brainer decision for any company. The laptops were selected over something like a Mini (which both articles clearly state they’ve used in the past) because they’re testing software that relies on a retina display — Sure, they could do some video driver hackery to make headless Mini’s think they had a high DPI display attached, but end users will probably be on a Macbook Pro. In that case, testing on the end user hardware is another no-brainer decision. A good testing regime saves tons of support headaches, lost sales and lost market share / customer confidence, so of course investing in it is sensible.

    2. Ditto

      Might i add :
      3) If he would have found a way around buying/powering/poorly monitoring all of those Macbook pros, then we would have had our hack!

      Seriously, there must be a better way, regardless of the constraints of their testing. And if not, put it on the ToHack List

  2. Apple seriously is the bane of modern computing. Their stuff looks pretty, but the price point makes them generally inaccessible and being a linux platform that deviates from linux standards is annoying.

    1. “Apple seriously is the bane of modern computing”
      Ahh no not really.
      ” being a linux platform that deviates from linux standards is annoying.”
      You can stop being annoyed because it is not now and has never been Linux. It is Unix to be specific BSD.
      Apple hardware is not all that expensive it is just that Apple does not make hardware at every price point. I for one am sick of Apple’s anorexic design language being applied to product lines where it makes no sense. The iMac did not need to be “thinner” and the MacPro should have been more of a standard ATX like design to allow for easy expansion. The current MacPro is already behind the start of the art now that Haswell e and ep cpus are available. The thing is that not every company has to make a product for every price point. GM does not make a $300,000 super car. Rolls-Royce does not make a $20,000 compact car.

  3. @James Hobson

    I have a hard time believing you have never seen a rack more expensive than this unless you have never been in a decent sized server room before. Lets do some math…

    These are 32u racks.

    This guy is housing 3 MacBooks per 1u.

    1 top end Macbook = ~$2,500
    ~100 Macbooks = ~250,000

    1u = ~$7,500

    Lets compare that with a u1 server.

    A PowerEdge R730xd starts at ~$4,000
    (Configured with all the LOWEST end parts)

    If we upgrade the (single) CPU to the fastest (135w TDP) one,
    Which requires us to upgrade the chassis from the 12x 3.5″ to the 24x 2.5″
    (these are all empty bays with a single system drive)

    We get a new price of ~$7,690

    Remember. This is with the minimum RAM, single CPU, Single 2.5″ mechanical HD of the smallest size, etc.

    This was just a 5 minute price check. If I priced out a rack for a storage array it would easily bust $500,000. And this is the NORMAL stuff.

    The price gets bonkers if you want to build a rack for compute performance. A rack full of Nvidia Tesla K80s will run you over $1,000,000. What makes it CRAZY is that the TDP on an Nvidia Tesla K80 is 300w. So you are looking at a +1400w 1u even with the most miserly CPU. The power/cooling for this rack would probably exceed its price tag in under 18 months.

    I’m not calling you a liar. I just find it hard to believe.

    1. Yes, this. Even what was commodity hosting hardware Sun V480’s etc cost a arm and a leg in comparison to the same volume occupied by these. Throw in the price of a disk shelf array from netapp or a brocade fabric switch or two and bingo, it looks positively thrifty.

      We had a cluster of mac mini’s to perform some testing at a company I worked at, but we didn’t rack them, just left them laid out in rows on benches. But we had a lot of spare office real estate to hand. This is a neat layout.

    1. Probably heat dissipation?

      Like others, i am skeptical of the utility of this rack of laptops. Like others I think mac minis with KVM would have maybe been both better and far cheaper.

      I suppose the actual purpose of the array would help understand the utility.

      Virtual machines exist, even for mac.. They say they develop hardware – which means it is unlikely the laptop form factor was required – it would seem they went a little overboard unless there is some key information missing.

  4. Went and read the posters blog. Presumably they have a specific reason to have done this because they also have racks with at least 160 Mac Minis!

    Crazy.. It seems possibly they needed the retina screens on the machines for their testing purposes – maybe they work with graphic software of some sort and functional testing without actual hardware does not reveal all the bugs, or something?

    (Confused, somewhat dismayed look)

  5. What I want to understand:
    Why custom built screen spacers to keep the macbooks running?!
    I don’t own any apple product and I’m happy in my Microsoft Eco system.
    I can set my laptops to NOT shutdown or hibernate/sleep when closing the lid.
    That must be possible on a macbook, too. Seriously. And if that is one thing that is really not possible, then a macbook is not worthy being a laptop :-P

    Maybe the article is a bit off and the purpose is to keep the air flowing properly? Because I thought the macbooks pull or push air through the keyboard due to their special design? And another point:
    Why should I let monitors stay active inside a rack? Even if it’s LED Backlit – it uses energy, causes heat in some way and most important: Even in the modern days, you can still get shadowing or ghosting my leaving images on an LCD / LED Display for very long periods of time and because that stuff is inside a Rack, I don’t think someone goes around and shuts them down after 10 minutes of use.

    Kind regards,

    1. With the lid closed, the Macbook will either sleep, or run at any connected external monitors video resolutions – bypassing the GPU intensive Retina resolution (unless the external monitor happens to be at retina resolutions – but then you are not testing on Apple hardware… and what would be the point) . By leaving the lid open, the video mode is going to be running at the displays native resolution – 2880×1800 (15″) or 2560×1600 (13″). Obviously these high resolutions have higher demands on the GPU and affect testing.

      And no, the keyboard is not used for pulling air into the cooling system. The retina MacBooks have openings on the bottom to pull in air.

      I’d assume that someone who just spent $200k or so on setup has a good reason for it and probably considered your rather obvious ideas before doing so.

      This place is starting to sound like modern day slashdot – little critical thought and assumption that the poster knows best. And rabid illogical anti-Apple sentiment.

      1. My comment is not meant to be cynical.
        Like I already explained in my comment: I don’t own Apple products so I couldn’t know what you just told me. And because I couldn’t see WHAT exactly was tested I just assumed the infrastructure of the MAC is tested and not something like the GPU rendering of Retina capable HW.

        And my little tongue-smiley is there for a specific reason – to show a “joke”.

        Again: I tried to understand the point of that setup with an open lid and not bash anything. My “ideas” weren’t meant as those, but rather as a description of my thought-process to understand the reason for that whole rig because of the pretty poorly written article that mentions nothing about the purpose of the rig, nor the test that will be done with these.

        So please, don’t try to interpret hate or bashing into my comment, when there is none!

        Regards,

  6. Regarding the screen spacers, I’m sure it was for heat dissipation. The keyboard is the primary thermal coupling with the outside world on those things.

    Also, if you have a 3D printer, everything starts looking like a nail. Now excuse me, my son’s model rocket is almost done printing ;)

    1. hehe, true. No way going to the next best carpenter and ordering 86 (or 86*2) wedges would have cost less than 5% of the printed thing, took none of the development effort, and would have done by “um.. can you pick them up in four hours? I’m still working on this piece, but I’ll shove them in afterwards”.

  7. Wow this made me take a look at Apple’s product lineup for the first time in YEARS. WTF are they thinking? The MacPro looks like a portable baby toilet. The hipsters have lost their ever loving minds!

  8. On first reading I was optimistically under the impression they put 96 macs in a server rack with hot exhaust spewing onto them and jacked the screens open as some kind of sacrifice.

    1. lol great imagery. I was also thinking if they do overheat, wrap the whole rack in a towel and turn it on for an hour and turn it off to “reflow” ala xbox towel fix :D

    1. There are actually companies who do that for a fee now and can even get rid of bad/honest reviews.

      Don’t hate them though, hate the business execs and owners who give them a market..

  9. WTF is wrong with people? I used to be able to justify the costs of macs back when they were making their own hardware.. But now with them all being just PC’s with OSX on them.. Whats the point? You really dumb enough to feel good about buying $500 worth of hardware for $3000? oOOooOO but you get the logo!! I really wonder why natural selection has not taken humanity yet.. For as smart as we collectively pretend to be, there are a lot of really dumb ignorant apes running around among us.

    1. Your comment is solely aimed at peepul who pay retail. Those of us who live in College towns recognize that students frequently sacrifice ex$pen$ive hardware for ⍧heap because of perceived need…Just buy it used/broken, gain mad skillz…Profit !

  10. I switched to Mac for some of my computers a few years ago. I find that Macs have superior build quality and parts. The down side to Macs is the Draconian approach Apple has to control of its products. I have half Macs and half PCs at the moment. Each has its own merits.

  11. The title hints server racks don’t cost this much. A loaded MBP is ~$2,200. A full size rack filled with 2U servers @$10K each would cost more, and that is a normal density scenario without getting into blades or 1U servers.

  12. Why is there so much hate here? I have been an owner of Thinkpads since about 1998. I remember the 760CDs and even older machines. I worked as a Thinkpad hardware tech for years. I loved them up until the W500.
    But last year I bought a slightly used MBP retina, having never had anything Mac before. As someone who has had daily exposure to all kinds of hardware, the MBP blew my mind. The build quality is like nothing else. The inner harware layout and the design of the PCBs is stunning. The screen. The screen is a joy to look at. Yeah, I will never upgrade the CPU or RAM, but that is a non-issue since I expect this hardware will not be outdated for another 4-5 years.
    These computers are not cheap. But in a community that on one hand praises the sub-par ESP8266, yet wants to push the boundaries of today’s hardware, I would expect more appreciation for a non-plastic, beatifully designed and CNC’d chassis and appreciate Apple’s need to make everything thinner, more compact, showing all other manf. that it can be made lighter, thinner, without losing build quality, or even making build quality much better.

    1. I could buy a BMW or a Mercedes, Lexus or any luxury car. They obviously have better quality for everything.
      But… I won’t because the extra quality is too expensive considering what the average car cost. This way of thinking is debatable.

      Now imagine that every internal piece inside the luxury car is the same that the average car.
      And that you are talking to engine / mechanics enthusiast.
      They won’t give a shit about the leather seats and stuff. Top speed matter, torque matter, specs matter.

  13. Was a Considerable distance from home friend has a MAC needed some documents printed late at night, Nope never again Mac was unable to selectively print certain Pdfs which my Galaxy S5 for some reason was quiet able to do in seconds, Quality where the software is an abortion and document compatibility is not even close to a phone which is sad for a CNC’d Paper weight.

    Cropping Nope
    Margins only just
    Headers Always

    Seriously hate that OS with a passion.

    1. The capabilities of any software are always limited by the knowledge of the human operating it. The edits you mentioned are extremely easy and very low skill level. Therefore it can be concluded that you or the person operating the computer lacked proper knowledge. This does not make any software or hardware worse, and your comment has no value.
      The fact that certain tasks are not the same as in a Windows environment is due to the fact that you’re on a different OS and differences are to be expected.

      1. “…your comment has no value.” You certainly proved Mac owners are not smug assholes with that comment. Maybe watch a kitten play this weekend before suing your parents mmkay?

    2. Silly, under-informed comment. The Mac OS graphics environment is built on PDF. I moved to the Mac, at least in part that there is no other OS that supports PDF so natively, or so deeply.

      You sir, do not know what you speak of

  14. There are a lot of folks hating on this. I’m not. If “the testing we do requires Apple branded hardware,” as is explictly stated in the article, then this is a pretty eloquent solution. Besides, this setup is both reusable and resalable. That’s rack space you can rent to others who require a similar testing environ at a premium price. They might actually make a profit if they sell it right.

  15. >They 3D printed small spacers to keep the screens of each unit open slightly and on during testing

    Seems overkill, just buy 50 nylon nuts off ebay. Or just get a $2 camping mat and cut the foam into 2″ strips.

    1. Nick the Greek: Dunno Tom. Seems expensive.

      Tom: Seems? Well, this seems to be a waste of my time. That is 900 nicker in any shop you’re lucky enough to find one in. And you’re complaining about 200? What school of finance did you study? “It’s a deal, it’s a steal, it’s the sale of the fucking century!” In fact, fuck it Nick, I think I’ll keep it!

  16. Certainly not the expensive rack ever
    92*$2000=> $192000 for these Macs

    Now use a real server:
    8U DL980 G7 server without anything: $40000
    128x 32GB LRDIMM => 128*$500 =>$64000
    8x E7-4870 =>8*4000 =>$32000
    Already at $136’000 (for a 3 year old system), now add a few more expensive SSDs, PCIe-SSDs, FC-network cards etc and you’ll easily break $200k for a 8U server. Take an IBM or Sparc and things will become even more expensive.

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