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This Old Mac Pro: Sierra special
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Jun 16, 2016, 07:46 AM
 
Yeah, I know we were going to talk about video card upgrades this time, but we need to move that to next week. For Apple's WWDC this week has shoved the Mac Pro 3,1 and 4,1 to the side -- but not the 5,1. So, we're going to talk this week a bit about work-arounds that exist, and some that may yet appear for our slab-side faithful machines. Also, some big-time issues have cropped up with PCI-e cards under the new OS revision, and we'll chat a bit about that as well.

Sierra on the upgraded 1,1, 2,1, and 3,1 Mac Pro?

Apple officially left behind the first two Mac Pros a very long time ago -- the fateful WWDC keynote that unveiled Mountain Lion in 2012 was the official death knell for those two. Still, the enthusiast community brought the decade-old design back from the dead year after year. However, it looks like we've now got confirmation of what we talked about in the first two articles, that the continued march of upgrades to the machines may be at an end.

We've started fiddling with it, and ran into problems with a brutal kernel panic during the boot process. We got distracted by other WWDC news we had to report, and in the interim, Netkas.org confirmed the issue, noting that SSE4 is now required for macOS 10.12 Sierra.

For those not in the know, SSE4, or Streaming SIMD Extensions 4 is a CPU instruction set with 54 instructions, with many not present in previous SSE executions. It was rolled out in its first form in 2006, with full implementation in 2007 "Penryn" processors. Previous versions of OS X required SSE2, and then SSE3 -- now Apple's moved on to SSE4, which is still almost a decade old.

The enthusiast community has worked around a problem like this before for the Core Duo processor, developing a SSE3 emulator to combat the problem for bootloaders and custom installers for OS X. I'm not convinced that this is going to happen this time. The SSE3 emulator was developed between 2008 and 2010, and stopped when builds of OS X required 64-bit processors.

So, right now, no Sierra on the 1,1 through 2,1. Using some wishful thinking, we reckon there may be a third-party firmware patch that will mean we can boot a 3,1 machine but if there ever is, it isn't coming before the official release of macOS Sierra.

What about the 4,1 and 5,1?

Curiously, the 4,1 Mac Pro has been stricken from the official compatibility list for Sierra yet the 5,1, with nearly identical hardware has not. I haven't been able to get a straight answer from anybody at Apple about this yet, but I suspect that the 4,1 being removed from the list has more to do with graphics cards available for the machine in stock configurations.

After failing to get a stock Nehalem 4,1 to boot even with an upgraded video card into Sierra, we have succeeded in making the same machine with a 5,1 firmware update boot. We haven't addressed the firmware update procedure here, yet, and we're not going to this week either. We'll get heavily into firmware updates next week with the actual video card conversation that we were supposed to have this week.

On the topic of expansion cards

Nearly all of our PCI-e expansion cards stopped working on the 4,1 flashed to 5,1 with Sierra installed. This wasn't because of the firmware update, but it appears that Apple has changed a lot of critical frameworks again, cutting low-level card driver support off at the knees. We borrowed a genuine 5,1 to try Sierra out on, and it manifests the same problems, proving the firmware flash isn't the issue.

Worse yet, the current CUDA video card drivers from Nvidia are flaky under Sierra, with graphical issues. This is a major problem for those wanting to jump over to the new OS that we expect will be rectified in short order, but it is a problem today nonetheless.

As I'd mentioned before, we've got a long history of fiddling with the Mac Pro and jamming new operating systems on it. We had some PCI-E cards break when 10.9.5 came out, a few more with 10.10, and a few more with 10.11. We've never seen a wholesale slaughter of compatibility like this before, though, unless you count the (brief) FireWire Audio peripheral issues in the early days of 10.11.

Yes, its early in the beta process. Yes, hardware manufacturers could very well get their house in order before the "retail" release of Sierra. We'll see what actually happens.

However, now, as always, MacNN does not recommend installation of beta software from any manufacturer on mission-critical hardware. Machines with hacks are commonly victims of updated software, and Sierra has proven to be no exception.

The future of the Aluminum Mac Pro

I said in the forums that new releases don't make the old ones burst into flames, no matter how much a manufacturer may want that to happen. This batch of hardware added to Apple's no-go list isn't surprising, and was inevitable. Critics call it forced obsolescence, and I see where the complaint comes from -- but it's not entirely accurate.

Even for Apple's pro user, the company still looks out for simplification of installs, and reducing friction for the user. The 1,1 through 3,1 may ultimately take Sierra with time (and upgrades), but it'll require a lot of work from the independent developer community to make it happen. The 4,1 already works, when modified some from stock. Neither are simple, plug-and-play executions, though.

Early on in the process, we said that there wasn't anything wrong with propping up a Lion-equipped 1,1 in the corner, and having it serve files about your house. There still isn't. For a functional workstation, the much newer El Capitan on the 3,1 (or the upgraded 1,1) will be viable for a long time to come, and still get Apple-issued security patches.

Proceed with no fear. The video card discussion is next week, no kidding this time.

Introduction to MacNN's Summer Project: This Old Mac Pro
Part 1: Evaluate what you've got, and what you want
Fidgety upgrade details and discussion points.
Part 2: RAM, SSDs, and El Capitan
Discussion: Sierra and the Mac Pro - you are here!
     
panjandrum
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Jun 16, 2016, 09:29 AM
 
What will make the difference, ultimately, is if Apple so consistently ties their other software updates / upgrades to specific versions of the OS. That's fundamentally more of a problem than the OS itself in many cases (although there are huge issues with Open Directory / Network Home Folders across different versions of the Mac OS - you really have to be on a single version of the MacOS for things to work properly in those environments). My point being; if Apple releases, for example, a new version of iWork that works only on Sierra, and then makes the backwards file-compatibility difficult for the average user (something even Microsoft learned ages ago was a bad idea), then that becomes a considerable issue. Working in these environments, I see a lot of user frustration, and I see little understanding on the part of Apple about financial realities. One interesting conversation I had with our regional Apple Education Sale Rep in which I expressed that a school absolutely did not have enough money to replace nearly 50 Macs abandoned (officially) at Lion clearly demonstrated a huge misunderstanding about what "not enough money" means - as his only suggested solution was to "consider financing new Macs" (as if financing somehow magically produced money for the school, rather than for Apple). Our actual solution? Move to LibreOffice and Google Docs. After many years of happily using iWork, the entire school is now in the process of moving away from it. Not because they really want to, but simply because Apple has failed to provide an update so that older versions of iWork can seamlessly open documents made with newer versions. That's all Apple needs to do. Simple. But they don't. (The upshot of *that* is that staff and students are no longer feeling locked into Apple hardware nearly as much; so some of them are buying Windows systems for personal use rather than Macs. It's unimaginable to me that Apple no longer seems to have any clue how important it is to maintain long-term users). I'm hopeful that Sierra will be a good, fast, stable OS and hope it will bring the UI back in-line with what an Apple UI should be. But here is hoping it doesn't bring with it another round of "upgrade or else" mentality from Apple.
     
Inkling
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Jun 16, 2016, 09:43 AM
 
You know what's the worst aspect of the Mac eco-system? This article is an illustration. It's the limited array of hardware from Apple. No continually updated power machines that take expansion cards. No practical, easily upgraded component desktop, so beloved by salt-of-the earth businesses that serve the public despite low profit margins. Just computers that a lot of people sneer at as mere pretty toys. Apple fell into this trap in the late 1990s, when its market share was microscopic, and it needed a simple product line. That hasn't been true for at least a decade, and yet management seems unwilling to adapt.
Author of Untangling Tolkien and Chesterton on War and Peace
     
Mike Wuerthele
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Jun 16, 2016, 10:53 AM
 
What also isn't true is that 95% of the public needs an practical, easily upgraded component desktop.

Yes, I get that you want it. Yes, I would like one.

Regardless of your claims, what you're asking for is only demanded by a very vocal, vast minority. Apple Management has adapted. They adapted to the 95%.
     
JackWebb
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Jun 16, 2016, 01:46 PM
 
Think same.

Fortunately I have ATI 5770 in my 4,1 and merely had to do the firmware change. But need to go confirm USB3 card is working.
     
Mike Wuerthele
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Jun 16, 2016, 02:20 PM
 
Jack, our Sonnet works fine, as does our recommendation the other day. However, some of the other cards we're testing don't work.

I haven't isolated the chipset yet, but two of the cards sneakily fail. They'll mount the drive, but don't do sustained writes or reads. On-board USB and FireWire are fine.

PCI FireWire is fine, though.
     
Steve Wilkinson
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Jun 17, 2016, 02:54 AM
 
Originally Posted by panjandrum View Post
(The upshot of *that* is that staff and students are no longer feeling locked into Apple hardware nearly as much; so some of them are buying Windows systems for personal use rather than Macs. It's unimaginable to me that Apple no longer seems to have any clue how important it is to maintain long-term users).
Short term thinking.

Originally Posted by Mike Wuerthele View Post
Regardless of your claims, what you're asking for is only demanded by a very vocal, vast minority. Apple Management has adapted. They adapted to the 95%.
And, it will be interesting to see how Apple reacts when that fickle 95% they are now chasing turns on a dime to a different flavor of the month.

Call it Apple management adapting... I call it stupid.
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Mike Wuerthele
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Jun 17, 2016, 07:00 AM
 
Originally Posted by Steve Wilkinson View Post
And, it will be interesting to see how Apple reacts when that fickle 95% they are now chasing turns on a dime to a different flavor of the month.

Call it Apple management adapting... I call it stupid.
They've adapted a few times to something that their customer base didn't necessarily want at the time, and it's worked out. 68k to PPC, PPC to Intel, iPod, iPhone, iPad.

The 95% doesn't quite turn on a dime, it's like moving a tractor trailer. The cab moves first, then the tail follows.

We'll see how it goes.
     
Steve Wilkinson
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Jun 19, 2016, 08:40 PM
 
Originally Posted by Mike Wuerthele View Post
They've adapted a few times to something that their customer base didn't necessarily want at the time, and it's worked out. 68k to PPC, PPC to Intel, iPod, iPhone, iPad.

The 95% doesn't quite turn on a dime, it's like moving a tractor trailer. The cab moves first, then the tail follows.

We'll see how it goes.
But, I think those moves were market-leading moves, or ones of necessity, with a highly committed audience.

And, while 'turn on a dime' might be a bit too strong, Apple seems to be leaning more on fashion, trends, and following (rather than leading) things that can be more matters of taste.

Yes, we'll see what happens, but I guess I've given up hope at this point. I'm now just here because I have no other place to go (yet). And, from a company/branding perspective, that's not good if there are many more like me.

I'm here because I'm stuck, is a LONG way from I'm here because I love them and try to convince everyone I know they are the best.
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nealt
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Aug 4, 2016, 04:57 PM
 
The problem is that many software developers only develop software that will only run on the latest OS. So these older macs will not be able to run many new or updated software.
     
   
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