Psystar OpenPro review: Psystar OpenPro

6
This content is rated TV-MA, and is for viewers 18 years or older. Are you of age?
Sorry, you are not old enough to view this content.
  • Play
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4

CNET Editors' Rating

3.5 stars Very good
  • Overall: 7.1
  • Design: 6.0
  • Features: 8.0
  • Performance: 7.0
  • Service and support: 7.0
Pricing Unavailable
Reviewed:

The Good Mac OS X-based computer with more hardware for the price than Apple; reliable restoration process; OS X Software Update tool works.

The Bad Psystar could go out of business if Apple wins lawsuit, potentially limiting future updates; Windows PCs offer more bang for the buck and generally perform the same tasks faster.

The Bottom Line We commend Psystar for pushing ahead with its mission to sell its own PCs with Apple's Mac OS X operating system. We're also impressed by its continuing efforts to ensure reliability. And although the OpenPro is a better deal than any PC currently offered by Apple, you can get a faster PC overall from traditional Windows vendors.

Editors' Top PicksSee All

Ongoing lawsuits notwithstanding, Psystar remains the only desktop vendor other than Apple to offer PCs with Apple's Mac OS X operating system. Thanks to a new restore disc and improved software updating, this $2,660 Psystar OpenPro computer is much more secure than the lower-end Open Computer the company released back in April. Like the Open Computer, the OpenPro lacks the aesthetic appeal of an Apple-made desktop, as well as some of Apple's distinctive features. And, while Psystar offers a more powerful computer than Apple for the money, its price-performance advantage is less apparent compared with a similarly priced Windows PC. As long as Psystar remains in business, the risk involved in owning one of its OS X systems has lessened, thanks to its improved software tools, but for overall value, you can find more polished and generally faster Windows systems for less.

Yup, it works
We answered the mysteries of how well Psystar's OS X implementation duplicates the Apple computing experience in our review of the Open Computer, but we'll rehash the basics here. As with the Open Computer, the OpenPro works like any current Mac. All of the OS X operating-system functions work as they should, and (unlike last time) we successfully burned a DVD--on a Blu-ray burner no less. We were able to use Apple's Time Machine backup software, play music via iTunes, and establish a wireless networking connection. In short, it works.

But what you don't get is not insignificant. First, this system is made from over-the-counter PC hardware, from its Gigabyte GA-EP45-DS3R motherboard to its Antec P128 chassis. The OpenPro is built reasonably well, but its internal design is only average compared with that of a Mac Pro or a Velocity Micro PC. The system still lacks an Apple remote control, as well as an integrated remote control receiver, although Psystar sent an 802.11n wireless PCI card with our review unit, and a USB Bluetooth adapter is available for an extra $40. Also absent from this system is Apple's iLife application suite, which includes programs such as iDVD, iPhoto, and other semi-useful programs that Apple includes for free with all of its computers.

Updates and restoration
The biggest change in this system since the last Psystar review is that the threat of an errant update disabling the operating system via the OS X Software Update tool has been greatly reduced. Psystar has achieved this improved reliability in two ways. The first is that any software updates that appear on the OS X Software Update tool come through Psystar's servers. According to Psystar, any update on that list has been precertified to work on its systems. The second insurance policy is a restore disc that lets you reinstall OS X and start with a fresh build.

We went through the entire restore process and we can verify both that the disc works and that it's fairly robust. You need to follow a few steps, which come spelled out on a brief instruction sheet, but, in general,all you need to do is boot from the Psystar restore disc, follow the onscreen instructions, pop in the Mac OS X disc that comes with the system, and install. From there, you reinsert the restore disc, boot again, and then enter a Psystar-provided username and password to verify your hardware profile from Psystar's servers.


The main screen of Psystar's new system-restore program.

We also tried making a few mistakes. We told the system to install Mac OS X with the restore disc still in the drive. We also tried updating OS X before confirming the hardware profile. In both cases, we were able to start over and restore the system to its full working and updated condition.

While the update process works well, the OpenPro is still not without its risks and hassles. For one, the restore disc doesn't come in the box, you have to order it using an included form. Psystar says this is largely a fraud-protection measure, and signing the disc-request form provides another confirmation of your identity. We suppose it's reasonable for a smaller vendor to want to protect itself against credit card fraud, but no other PC vendor requires you to take a second step to get a restore disc. We respect Psystar's interest as a small and potentially growing business, but we find this process excessive.

The other potential pitfall is the update tool. A few scenarios come to mind. What if Apple tweaks all future software updates with encryption to, say, somehow disrupt Psystar's certification method? According to Psystar, this is impossible. We don't like putting vendors in a position where they have to prove a negative, and it's not like we don't feel a twinge of hesitation every time we update Windows. We'll simply say that because of the nature of Psystar's business model, we will always have some concern about its ability to keep Apple's operating system current. The good news is that, thanks to the restoration disc, you can, at the very least, bring your system back to shipping condition.

The other concern is that Apple could also win its lawsuit against Psystar. If it goes out of business, the Software Update tool will automatically redirect to Apple's servers, according to Psystar. Perhaps that's better than disabling the tool, but given Apple's history of disabling products, you could find yourself left standing in an update minefield. Psystar also pointed out that, because of the litigation Apple is facing over bricked iPhones, Apple is unlikely to continue such aggressive, product-breaking tactics. We'll note that the case hasn't been resolved.

On to the hardware
In addition to the very act of selling a PC with Apple's OS X on it, Psystar's other mission is to subvert Apple's hardware offerings with more aggressive configurations. Our OpenPro came with an Intel Core 2 Quad Q9550, 8GB of DDR2 800MHz RAM, a Blu-ray burner, and a GeForce 9800 GTX graphics card. It's also a dual-boot system, with 64-bit Windows Vista Ultimate residing on a second hard drive. Apple offers neither Blu-ray nor that graphics card yet (much less Vista). Its


The OS selection screen on our dual-boot OpenPro.

These are not workstation-class parts, and Psystar has no Xeon CPUs or QuadFX graphics cards. If Psystar's software workarounds haven't scared off serious digital media artists, the lack of robust workstation hardware might. Still, it's hard to argue that Psystar doesn't offer significantly more bang for the buck than Apple.

Compared with Windows desktops, Psystar's advantage is less clear. First, no other Windows PC vendor will sell you a system that also has OS X on it. If that's a priority for you, there's really no question, Psystar wins. If you're more focused on getting work done in the quickest amount of time, the OpenPro looks less appealing.

  Psystar OpenPro Velocity Micro Edge Z15
Price $2,659 $1,799
CPU 2.83GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Q9550 3.4GHz (overclocked) Intel Core 2 Quad Q9550
Motherboard chipset Intel P45 Nvidia NForce 750i SLI
Memory 8GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM 4GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM
Graphics 512MB GeForce 9800 GTX (2) 512MB ATI Radeon HD 4850
Hard drives 750GB, 7,200 rpm (OS X), 250GB 7,200 rpm (Vista) 750GB, 7,200 rpm
Optical drive Blu-ray burner dual-layer DVD burner
Networking Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11n Gigabit Ethernet
Operating system Apple OS X 10.5.4, Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit) Windows Vista Home Premium SP1 (64-bit)

Velocity Micro's Edge Z15 compares remarkably well with the OpenPro. It uses the same CPU, but overclocked, has less RAM, yet more 3D graphics horsepower. If you play with Velocity Micro's configurator, you can design one that's more in line with the OpenPro's hardware. Opt for 8GB or RAM, a secondary 500GB hard drive (the smallest available option), a Blu-ray burner, and 802.11g wireless and the Edge Z15 comes in at $2,340, still $300 less than the OpenPro. Almost the only thing the Velocity Micro can't do better is run OS X.

Adobe Photoshop CS3 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Psystar OpenPro (Vista)
91 
Psystar OpenPro (OS X)
158 

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Psystar OpenPro (OS X)
122 
Psystar OpenPro (Vista)
125 

Multimedia multitasking test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Psystar OpenPro (OS X)
187 
Psystar OpenPro (Vista)
452 

Editors' Top PicksSee All

 

Discuss Psystar OpenPro

Conversation powered by Livefyre

Where to Buy

Psystar OpenPro

Part Number: OpenPro

This product is available directly from the manufacturer's Web site.

Hot Products