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MacNN Summer Project: This Old Mac Pro
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NewsPoster
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May 30, 2016, 09:30 AM
 
There's been an awful lot of debate around here about Apple's mobile focus, and leaving high performance computing behind. What if we told you, that because of Intel's roadmap for the last four or so years, that you could take a 2009 aluminum slab-side Mac Pro, and get it almost all the way to the 12-core "coke can" Mac Pro's multiprocessor speed? How about boosting the first Mac Pro all the way up to modern spec? We're going to do both over the next month, for the MacNN Summer Project.

Here's what we've got:

We've locally sourced a stock 4,1 eight-core 2.26GHz Mac Pro, and a stock quad-core 2.66GHz 1,1 Mac Pro from 2006. We've done the basics already -- booted them from the installed operating systems, hammered the processors with some video transcoding, and run some memory tests to make sure that we've got solidly operating machines, and we do. We're not keeping the stock hard drives, one of which is over a decade old, so we're not too concerned about them.

Before we talk about where we're going, at the end of this week we're going to talk about potential uses for the boosted Mac Pros. Sure, you can use either for a very nice desktop workstation, but why limit yourself to just that?

Here's where we're going:

Based on the age and potential of the machines, we're limiting ourselves to a $1000 refurb budget for the newer 4,1, and $400 for the 1,1. We're going to start simply in week one, with RAM upgrades and SSDs for both. Following that in week two, we're headed for a new video card, and El Capitan on both -- a simple exercise on the new machine, but significant hoops to hurdle through for the 1,1.

In week three, we'll discuss non-video card PCI-E options for expansion. We'll talk about name-brand cards versus cheaper, compatible cards and the pitfalls of both. While we aren't going to add Thunderbolt, there are some fun options, and some very compelling UASP USB 3.0 cards. There's even some USB-C options.

Week four is the perilous week. In week four, we're going to discuss upgrading the processor on both machines. While we feel that this procedure is mandatory for the decade-old 1,1 we're also going to talk about it at some length on the 4,1 before we advise you to do it. There are some definite perils in doing so on both machines, and we'll discuss risk mitigation. We're not writing our own procedures here, as there's no point in reinventing the wheel. We'll link you to what we've found as the best sources for the step-by-step guides, as well as spelling out what you must have on hand before you proceed. If you just don't feel like you can do the processor swap, we'll also link to places that will do it for you.

To wrap things up, we'll talk about optional upgrades that will exceed the budgets we've set. In week five, we'll talk about cramming more drives in both Mac Pros than the laws of thermodynamics should technically allow. We'll also delve more into good wireless connectivity upgrades, and other optional expansions.

Here's where you come in:

We know you've got some older Mac Pros lurking in your computing closet (William, I'm looking at you). Many of you are still working on them. If there's something you're curious about, or you want to talk about something related to the hardware in the Mac Pros, let us know!

Now that the dust bunnies have been shaken out of this old gear, lets get to work.


Previously, on This Old Mac Pro

Introduction to MacNN's Summer Project: This Old Mac Pro - You are here!
Part 1: Evaluate what you've got, and what you want
Fidgety upgrade details and discussion points.
Part 2: RAM, SSDs, and El Capitan
( Last edited by NewsPoster; Jun 9, 2016 at 11:03 AM. )
     
bdmarsh
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May 30, 2016, 10:43 AM
 
Looking forward to this project:
I've given up on my 2006 model year Mac Pro, ram is too expensive, PCIe is too old, and it uses way too much power (double the later models at idle - something like 150 watts more power)
But I had seriously considered buying a 2009 or 2010 model and upgrading one of them to SSD boot drive - either SATA or PCIe, GeForce 980 series GPU, USB 3 card etc...
(we've done all of these on 2010 Mac Pro's here at work rather than buying the 2013 model, maybe we'll finally replace them when the next Mac Pro model is released)
     
Mike Wuerthele
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May 30, 2016, 11:02 AM
 
The consumed power is an issue on the 1,1, yes, but the street price of around $100 for a stock one is pretty compelling, versus $600-$1000ish for a 2009 or 2010. The PCI-E overall speed depends on the use case for the machine, too.

Also, as far as the RAM for the 1,1 goes... well. We'll talk about that next week.
     
I-ku-u
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May 30, 2016, 11:06 AM
 
Color me intrigued, as I have a 2004 Mac Pro sitting around while I type this using my 2009 Mac Pro that likely already has many of your planned upgrades...
     
Mike Wuerthele
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May 30, 2016, 11:32 AM
 
A 2004 G5? Do you still use it with any frequency?

Yeah- the concept of Mac Pro upgrades isn't new, for sure. I've been doing it since about 2009 too -- it'll just be good to get it all down, as the cost of the hardware is now low enough for even the casual tinkerer to jump in, and end up with a very, very nice computer at the end of it for not a lot of money, by Cupertino standards.
     
mr_strat
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May 30, 2016, 03:46 PM
 
Working right now on a 2010 - quad Xeon 2.8GHz with 16GB. The only thing that would improve performance is an SSD, and I can't really afford/justify the expense of a large one.
     
Mike Wuerthele
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May 30, 2016, 04:08 PM
 
Originally Posted by mr_strat View Post
Working right now on a 2010 - quad Xeon 2.8GHz with 16GB. The only thing that would improve performance is an SSD, and I can't really afford/justify the expense of a large one.
Don't get a giant one, then. Put the OS and the applications on a 256GB SSD (or even smaller), and keep your data on a drive.

We'll talk about management of that during the series too.
     
chelidon
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May 30, 2016, 06:30 PM
 
I've significantly upgraded an original Mac Pro 1,1 (which my son has now inherited), and then a 3,1 I picked up on eBay for a few hundred $$ -- SSDs (quick and easy), RAM (actually affordable, if you shop around), USB 3.0, new WiFi/Bluetooth for use with Continuity, 4x MSATA carrier card, an NVIDIA GTX 970, both running El Capitan. It was comparatively cheap, easy, and well worth it for the performance per $ (okay, dealing with the 32-bit EFI on the 1,1 was initially a pain, but by now is dirt-simple). One of the more challenging additions was a very simple one -- getting full support for an ultra-wide HDMI monitor as a third screen off of the GTX 970, but that's finally now working as it should.
     
Red Jacket Mike
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May 30, 2016, 06:50 PM
 
I was pleased to see this article; I have a Mac Pro 1,1 that I haven't used for awhile, and I'm anxious to try upgrading it. I'd love to have a Mac that could run El Capitan, but that I could also boot into Snow Leopard occasionally--now and then I still need to use DVD Studio Pro to make disc menus.
     
TimeStamp
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May 30, 2016, 07:19 PM
 
The timing of this article is frustrating. I just upgraded my 4.1 two weeks ago! I am still interested in the processor upgrades and what you have to say about the add in cards, video cards and price/performance RAM cap.

I have always had 12GB RAM ([email protected] RAM). A few years ago I upgraded to a 360GB SSD (Well worth the $600 at the time! though now they are 1/5 the price). Looking at new machines I decided to upgrade this one for under $500. I just upgraded the video card to a used ATI 5870 [$205] from the original ATI 4870 I had. Also upgraded to a new USB 3.0/FW800 Combo [$78] (I can use it on a PC in the future with my Firewire devices). Still looking at a Blu-ray drive, yes I would use it, and possibly more RAM.

Thanks!
     
Steve Wilkinson
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May 31, 2016, 02:15 AM
 
Originally Posted by NewsPoster View Post
Following that in week two, we're headed for a new video card, and El Capitan on both -- a simple exercise on the new machine, but significant hoops to hurdle through for the 1,1.
This is my main concern. After dumping a bunch of money into upgrading one, how long will it be supported by future OS X updates? I guess we'll know a bit more (hopefully) after WWDC, if they announce what will be supported in the next OS X release.

The other issues, as has been mentioned, is the power usage. I guess with the money saved, that's easily covered, but it's more about not having a space heater sitting there and environmental concerns, I suppose. I'm curious to see how far the CPUs can go, as if new ones can be put in, I guess that would solve this issue.

Thanks!
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Mike Wuerthele
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May 31, 2016, 07:07 AM
 
"New" is all relative. The newest processor that can go in the 4,1 is still three years old. Power concerns are alleviated somewhat in the 4,1, with the big drain in both update paths being a beefy updated video card.

A single Mac Pro, stuffed to the gills with drives, still consumes less power than two or three external cases with drives and attendant computer.

As far as the future goes, I'm not concerned about the 4,1 as there's less true hackery involved in the upgrade. We'll talk more about this later this week.
     
MitchIves
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May 31, 2016, 11:40 AM
 
Interesting concept. I've got a 2008 Mac Pro sitting around here with an upgraded video card in it. Might be something to consider once you've enlightened us. Meanwhile, I'll use the 2013 maxed out 8-core...
     
pottymouth
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May 31, 2016, 12:53 PM
 
I've got a 1,1 sitting here collecting dust. I tried to put it back into service a few times and the limiting factor is always the OS. It's stuck at 10.7, unless there are new tricks I haven't tried. Besides that, the power consumption is almost comical when compared to my nearly 5 year old MacMini that blows it out of the water in every measure of performance. I'd buy another MacMini before I'd put a dime into upgrading this giant doorstop.
     
Mike Wuerthele
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May 31, 2016, 01:37 PM
 
Originally Posted by pottymouth View Post
I've got a 1,1 sitting here collecting dust. I tried to put it back into service a few times and the limiting factor is always the OS. It's stuck at 10.7, unless there are new tricks I haven't tried.
There are.

Besides that, the power consumption is almost comical when compared to my nearly 5 year old MacMini that blows it out of the water in every measure of performance. I'd buy another MacMini before I'd put a dime into upgrading this giant doorstop.
A low-end dual-quad replacement for the 1,1, that sells for $50 or less, brings the multiprocessing performance up to the 2012 i7 Mac mini. Higher end core replacements, not spending more than $175 beat it handily. More on this during processor replacement week.

Part of this week's discussion is the whys and the hows and the whens of upgrading, so more on that later this week.

I like my 1,1, my 4,1, and my i7 2012 very much. They all suit different tasks.
     
OldMacGeek
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Jun 1, 2016, 12:09 AM
 
Red Jacket Mike, I use my new Retina iMac to make discs from DVD Studio Pro (using Final Cut Pro X and Compressor 4). Sure, I have to use an external burner, but it works.

My 8-core high-end Mac pro is gathering dust, as is my liquid-cooled Mac pro. Maybe I'll be interested in upgrading them both to sell . . .
     
Mike Wuerthele
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Jun 1, 2016, 06:51 AM
 
Originally Posted by OldMacGeek View Post
My 8-core high-end Mac pro is gathering dust, as is my liquid-cooled Mac pro. Maybe I'll be interested in upgrading them both to sell . . .
I'm assuming by liquid cooled, you mean the G5. We're not doing anything with those, I'm afraid. Just Intel.
     
noradninja
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Jun 2, 2016, 01:59 PM
 
I personally own two Mac Pro 1,1's I have done this to. The Guillotine, my main workstation, is board flashed to a 2,1 (so it properly identifies the CPU's), with 32GB ECC DDR2 ($45, eBay), 2x 3.0GHz quad core Xeon X5365 ($70, eBay), and a Radeon HD 7950 3GB GDDR5 GPU ($400, eBay, probably cheaper now). Running El Capitan 10.11.5, I use it as a Maya workstation, as well as Photoshop CS6 and Unity3D, and it FLIES. The $2600 I paid for this computer back in 2006 when it was brand new has turned out to be the best investment I have ever made in a computer, it has kept up with me and then some.

Mima, the server machine, is also board flashed to a 2,1, it has 24GB ECC DDR2 ($30, eBay), 2x1.8GHz ULV Xeon 5320 OC'd to 2.33GHz/1333FSB using the BSEL mod (cover one pad on the cpu with insulating tape to tell the board to run at 1333FSB, thus clocking up, paid $50, eBay), and a Radeon HD 2600 256MB GPU (came with the machine). It is running Mac OS X Server 10.6.8 (as I prefer the old Server Admin tools to the newer versions of Server) providing NAT, DNS/DHCP, FTP, VPN, and Web hosting. I use it as a secondary render node for Maya on my network, or a secondary workstation for when I have friends visit. This machine I got for absolutely nothing, it came from a repair shop I used to work for that could not figure out why it was not functional. Turned out to be bad RAM. Both machines boot from SSD's installed in the optical bay, connected to the two unused SATA headers on the front edge of the 1,1 board underneath the front fan assembly. The Mac Pro 1,1 and 2,1 are absolutely the most upgradeable machines Apple has made IMO, and, since they can be brought up to modern OS's very easily (I even have a daemon running on mine that automatically replaces the boot.efi file with the one needed to boot the system on the 32-bit EFI if a point update replaces it, so I don't even have to tinker anymore, its just like updating any 'supported' Mac) and to get one that is just the base machine (on eBay right now is a listing for $175 shipped) is dirt cheap, the upgrades (aside from the GPU if you want a screamer like I did because of what my use case is) are also dirt cheap, there is a glut of bare 5300 series CPU's and ECC DDR2 RAM on the market due to large numbers of leased machines flooding the market, so IMO basically unless you just HAVE to have the latest, or have a use case for 12 cores in a single box, they are a fantastic way to get a very, very powerful workstation on the super cheap.

     
Halfloaf
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Jun 2, 2016, 04:45 PM
 
Originally Posted by noradninja View Post
I...Running El Capitan 10.11.5, I use it as a Maya workstation, as well as Photoshop CS6 and Unity3D, and it FLIES.
Sir (or mam), I would like to pick your brain on Maya performance on the older Mac Pros. I'm considering getting a 2010 MP with 2x 2.93 Ghz procs (or 3.42 ghz if I can stomach the cost) and run either an unflashed 970 or 280x. Would appreciate your views on viewport speed, (does VP2.0 work?), PS speed etc.

Happy to converse via e-mail or new thread somewhere...

Looking forward to the rest of the article though.
2012 Macbook Pro 13" 8GB Ram 250GB SSD
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Mike Wuerthele
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Jun 2, 2016, 04:57 PM
 
Halfloaf, et al, part one is here:

This Old Mac Pro, Part 1: Evaluate what you've got, and what you want | MacNN

Feel free to have the Maya conversation here!
     
noradninja
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Jun 2, 2016, 05:14 PM
 
Originally Posted by Halfloaf View Post
Sir (or mam), I would like to pick your brain on Maya performance

Happy to converse via e-mail or new thread somewhere...

Looking forward to the rest of the article though.
Check your PM's.
     
Steve Wilkinson
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Jun 3, 2016, 03:32 AM
 
Originally Posted by Mike Wuerthele View Post
Feel free to have the Maya conversation here!
Hehe... yes, please! While I'm old-school and use Electric Image (and actually do more video encoding and [email protected] these days), I'm sure I could glean some good info from such a discussion.
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Halfloaf
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Jun 3, 2016, 03:52 AM
 
Well, if noradninja is happy for me to post his pm response on the maya bits I'd happily do so.
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noradninja
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Jun 3, 2016, 06:45 AM
 
Here's what I stated:

'I use Maya 2015 and Adobe CS6 myself. As for stability, the machine is solid as a rock. If you want full boot support you will need a flashed card and additionally, if you want to see the boot loader, you will need to convert the signal to VGA. I personally recommend AMD/ATI cards, they seem to be far more stable in general in Mac OS X. As for speeds in Maya, I have yet to run across any issues, excepting that depth peeling in VP2.0 is wonky if you are using PSD textures (as I am, I like to check changes I make on the model while I am painting, and because I am developing mostly for mobile I use the Legacy VP most of the time, since I can just drop into Substance to preview the model with the Unity Renderer without importing it to the project), but if you bake your maps down to PNG it works fine. Speed is not an issue, I have things like SSAO and Antialiasing maxed and it doesn’t matter. I am not an animator (I model environments and prop models for games), so I cannot speak to scrubbing the timeline but I don’t expect you’d have issues given enough RAM and VRAM. Hyper shade works a treat; again as long as your VRAM is good enough to handle the texture load, I would think you’ll do fine. As a workstation I couldn’t be happier; The Guillotine has been my workhorse for e decade (!) now, and has moved with me from Maya 2007/CS2 all the way up. The one thing I would say is, if you can get an eBay deal, do it. 12GB seems like a lot, but trust me, when you are running Maya, load up PS with a few 100+ layer 2048x2048 textures, and run a browser with multiple tabs, iTunes, Mail, Chat you’ll be glad. See my attached image, you can see right now with a single 2048x2048 I am hitting just under 10GB app usage- when I really get going with multiple additional images open for pulling content into my textures, that number will skyrocket into the 20GB range. That is totally ignoring the 6.5GB cached data that is there for things I am opening or accessing frequently. You can never have too much, and hell if you get a deal for cheap, why not max it? One day you will need it, especially if you do a lot of offline rendering (I don’t, but I do do a lot of normal map/ambient occlusion/cavity map bakes via TURTLE, so same same). In fact,

32GB 8X4GB DDR2 Memory RAM PC2 5300 ECC Fully Buffered FBDIMM DIMM | eBay

has a kit for $40. If you don’t mind waiting on China, you can get it for even less. OS X is designed to use as much RAM as possible to keep your system snappy, so feed it as much as you can afford.

As for it chugging, well 10 years is a good long time for a solid machine, and I expect that when I finally replace it it will be because I want to, not because I need to. And unless Apple starts making full towers again (I doubt it, but maybe they will see the light like they did with the PM G4 Cube)- it’s just going to be with a 12 core MP, thats the last option I have available to me at this point, and I will wait for them to drop to $1000 before I even consider it. As I said, I have two of these beasts now, it’s not like I am short on compute or rendering power

I hope this helps, if you need any more detail, let me know.'
     
Steve Wilkinson
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Jun 3, 2016, 01:17 PM
 
Originally Posted by noradninja View Post
12GB seems like a lot, but trust me, when you are running Maya, load up PS with a few 100+ layer 2048x2048 textures, and run a browser with multiple tabs, iTunes, Mail, Chat you’ll be glad.
For sure... as much RAM as you can get! I suppose there's some point at which it tops out, but I never found it with Electric Image. The more RAM I'd give it, the faster it would spit out the render job. Also, I'm not sure how Maya's network rendering works, but with Electric Image's Renderama, it can use as many cores, and actually machines, as you can give it. I found an interesting thread though, which might make me question how much hardware is needed in-house these days:
Amazon EC2 render farm for EIAS - EIAS General Forum - EIAS3D Forums
(It's basically a little tutorial on spinning up an Amazon EC2 render-farm on demand. Not sure if that could be applied to Maya or not.)

I'd also be curious if anyone in these threads has experience with hackintoshes. Once you're modifying the EFI and such, is there that much difference between working off of an older Mac Pro vs building up something from scratch? I suppose you gain the excellent robust design/cooling and such from Apple right from the get-go, rather than experimenting. But, you might also eliminate some bottlenecks.

One of my friends built a couple of pretty insane hackintoshes several years ago, and they are still in use and pretty fast. But, each software update can be a bit of a harrowing experience. But, I think he was saying that the new Mac Pros aren't a match for them. (And, since time is flying, 'years ago' might be a decade... it was a good while before the new Mac Pros were introduced... I'm thinking like mid-late 2000s.)
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Mike Wuerthele
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Jun 3, 2016, 01:38 PM
 
Originally Posted by Steve Wilkinson View Post
I'd also be curious if anyone in these threads has experience with hackintoshes. Once you're modifying the EFI and such, is there that much difference between working off of an older Mac Pro vs building up something from scratch?
I do -- but I suspect you knew that already. There are pretty significant legal issues for the site if I went on record about it, but as with any "build your own" situation, there are drivers to work out, and things to deal with along the way.

With the EFI hackery for the 1,1, that's the only thing you really have to worry about. There are issues with Messages, and iTunes on the Hackintosh side that you don't have to deal with when goosing a 1,1 -- after you call Apple, that is. We'll talk about that too.
     
Steve Wilkinson
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Jun 3, 2016, 03:05 PM
 
Interesting Mike... and no, I didn't know that.

The driver thing makes sense, and I recall my friend doing a *LOT* of work at points to get things going. But, if you add non-standard components into a Mac Pro, doesn't that raise the same issues? I guess being mostly stock, it would be less issues, for sure.

(Sorry, all the stuff I've heard is from my friend and a few articles I've seen... I've never tried it myself. I spent years struggling with a MythTV system that probably had more down-time than up-time, and kind of gave up to go with off-the-shelf at a higher cost. I also lived through the years in IT when companies decided to build servers and systems from scratch.... *NEVER* want to go there again.)
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Halfloaf
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Jun 25, 2016, 04:14 AM
 
It seems this MacNN project has died down with the announcement of the demise of MacNN, what a pity

I've brought my Mac Pro 5,1 up to scratch now with the following

2x 2.93 Ghz 6 core Xeons
48gb ram - from 12gb - Installed in sets of three (£48)
250gb Samsung 850 EVO SSD in a OWC caddy (caddy £12 new)
2x new 1Tb WD blue drives for data, TimeMachine and a older 320gb drive for itunes and photos
GTX 970 KFA2 black edition I pulled from my gaming machine with nvidia web drivers. As standard it draws around 140W-160W doing some light WoW gaming. My card has to go in slot two due to the custom backplate.
Running OS X 10.11.5

Future additions

USB 3.0 Inateck 4 port PCIe card
Some form of SATA III PCIe card for the SSD + HD's.

Overall, the machine feels extremely responsive, on a par with my 4Ghz i7 windows machine. I only really notice slowdowns with disk IO and USB 2 transfers, but these can be rectified. What the MP looses in straight line speed it more than outshines the i7 with running multiple tasks, I can just keep throwing stuff at it and it eats it all up.

I doubt I'll take the machine to 3.42Ghz due to the cost of the CPU's in the UK. With the way macOS is going I think this machine will officially be support for MacOS Sierra, I doubt it will get support for ones after. I may move my MP to Linux after that as I intend to keep using it for a good few years to come.

Very happy
2012 Macbook Pro 13" 8GB Ram 250GB SSD
2010 5,1 Dual 2.93 Ghz 6 core Mac Pro 48GB Ram 250GB SD, 2x 1Tb HD, 1x 320GB HD, GTX970 Black Edition
     
Mike Wuerthele
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Jun 25, 2016, 08:25 AM
 
Originally Posted by Halfloaf View Post
It seems this MacNN project has died down with the announcement of the demise of MacNN, what a pity
Nope, not dead. A new home has been found, and it'll start up again soon.
     
Halfloaf
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Jun 25, 2016, 12:18 PM
 
Originally Posted by Mike Wuerthele View Post
Nope, not dead. A new home has been found, and it'll start up again soon.
Good news Mike!
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