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You are here: MacNN Forums > Hardware - Troubleshooting and Discussion > Mac Desktops > Is upgrading my MacPro with a HD7950 Video Card worth it in 2018 ?

Is upgrading my MacPro with a HD7950 Video Card worth it in 2018 ?
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Anto39x
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Sep 21, 2018, 07:50 AM
 
Hi all...

I have a MacPro 12 Core (2 x 2.93 GHz 6-Core Intel Xeon) Mid 2010, with 64GB RAM, 520GB SSD and
ATI Radeon HD 5870.

Attached to that computer I have a 27" Apple Cinema Display (Non-Thunderbolt) using the mini DV port plus a 30" Apple Cinema Display using the DVI port.

I want to upgrade to macOS Mojave (with Metal) and keep these two monitors in my workflow.. plus also, possibly gain the option of running a fully 4K monitor using HDMI.

My original research all pointed towards the Sapphire RX580, but that doesn't support the mini DV ports and it also doesn't have a boot screen.

I then came across a recommend on live chat with OWC to go with a HD 7950. It's an old card with only 3GB of video RAM. Is this too old a spec card to get me Metal compatible and squeeze another year or so out of my old MacPro until the new version arrived in late 2019..?

What would you guys recommend and advise... all comments and suggestions most welcome.


Regards,
Anthony
     
reader50
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Sep 21, 2018, 01:46 PM
 
I have a MacPro 2009 (upgraded to 2010 firmware) with Radeon 7970, hooked up to 4K displays. Formerly had 5870.

The 7970 is slightly higher-clocked, otherwise identical to the 7950. It works as an eGPU, and will work in Mojave.

I tried my old 5870 on 4K before switching - the R-5xxx drivers do not properly support Retina. They'll only go up to perfect 1/2 Retina. ie - a 1920x1080 display could be used for retina up to 960x540. I wanted to go higher than 50%. The 5870 is capable, and could probably do everything if it got a driver update. That will never happen - AMD has stopped updating even the Windows drivers.

If you can get a good deal, grab a 7950 or 7970. 8950 or 8970 is OK too - they're identical to their 7xxx counterparts, with tiny clockspeed bumps. The speed bumps are small enough you probably won't notice a difference, even going from the 7950 to 8970. All four have a switch to choose between PC and Mac firmware, allowing boot screens. The switch is small, on the upper edge, near the mounting brackets. Just past the card-edge headers. You can see pics here.

A boot screen on 4K is a little tricky - it works if you come off the DVI or HDMI ports on the card, but that limits you to 30Hz. If you want 4K/60Hz, you can do it from the displayport jacks, but leaving those connected to a 4K monitor will hang the boot. You have to power up the monitors after the boot chime, and go without a boot screen until the desktop loads. This appears to be a bug in the basic macOS drivers, which are used before the real drivers load.

A Mac nVidia GTX-680 also has boot screens, except 4K/60Hz displayport connections - same story as the R-7000/8000. Or you can get later nVidia cards from MacVidCards, which have custom Mac firmwares. Including boot screens (except 4K/60). If you buy a card with their v2 firmware, they finally have 4K/60 boot screens too. I suspect they do it by limiting 4K/60Hz DP connections to 30Hz until after boot to work around the macOS driver bug.

However, they charge extra for developing their custom firmwares. Their cards are pricey. And everything from the GTX-9xx and up require nVidia's web drivers to work. Apple has been feuding with nVidia for a few years now, and stopped including later drivers. macOS includes driver support only up to the GTX-6xx and 7xx series. nVidia continued driver development, but you have to install their driver updates before every single macOS point update.

The 3GB limitation ... I haven't noticed any issues. But I haven't tried recent high-end games either. I've considered upgrading, but significantly faster cards cost at least $500 today in PC versions, MVC versions cost like $700+. I'm trying to hold off until another official card comes out with Mac firmware.

Assuming you get a card with Mac firmware, you can temporarily switch to a DVI or HDMI connection to solve boot issues. Or you can work around missing boot screens by keeping a 2nd vid card on standby. Get a Mac single-slot card that won't fill your slots. Mac version of GT120. Or MacVidCards version of GT-630 or GT-640. Hook up to it when needed, for diagnosing boot issues.

GT-630/640 has Metal / Mojave support. But requires 10.8.3 as minimum OS. GT120 is quite weak today, but has driver support back to 10.5. If you still have some PPC apps requiring Rosetta (AppleWorks, older games), a GT120 will restore access.

note: Radeon 7xxx / 8xxx will work in 10.5 and 10.6, but only over DVI, and driverless. Software rendering only, at native monitor resolution. Imperfect driver support in 10.7 and 10.8, works over DVI connections but may be dodgy over other ports. Especially using a 4K monitor. From 10.9 onwards, all ports work as expected.
( Last edited by reader50; Sep 28, 2018 at 08:46 PM. )
     
P
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Sep 26, 2018, 10:15 AM
 
Originally Posted by reader50 View Post
The 7970 is slightly higher-clocked, otherwise identical to the 7950. It works as an eGPU, and will work in Mojave.
ObNitpick: the 7950 is a cut-down version of the "Tahiti" chip, while the 7970 is the full chip. 7970 has 32 shader clusters, 7950 has 28. Apple called the 7970 "D700" when used in the Mac Pro, so it has full support. The 7950 is inbetween the D500 and the D700.

I tried my old 5870 on 4K before switching - the R-5xxx drivers do not properly support Retina. They'll only go up to perfect 1/2 Retina. ie - a 1920x1080 display could be used for retina up to 960x540. I wanted to go higher than 50%. The 5870 is capable, and could probably do everything if it got a driver update. That will never happen - AMD has stopped updating even the Windows drivers.
5870 has a max resolution of 2560*1600, so it will never support 4K - no matter what driver update you have. The design of those old cards is very different from the newer ones, so there is no way to use the new driver builds on old hardware.

The 3GB limitation ... I haven't noticed any issues. But I haven't tried recent high-end games either. I've considered upgrading, but significantly faster cards cost at least $500 today in PC versions, MVC versions cost like $700+. I'm trying to hold off until another official card comes out with Mac firmware.
3GB VRAM is the least of your problems. You will bottleneck of raw shader capacity long before memory capacity. GPU prices have been crazy for a while due to cryptocoin mining, but they are stabilizing finally. A Radeon 570 or 580 (what Apple puts in the iMac these days) is a real update over a 7970. The 570 has an MSRP of $169 if prices get back to that.

Real updates of GPUs in that market segment are likely to be a year away, for various reasons. There may be a "680" refresh soon, but if so, it is only a minor thing.
The new Mac Pro has up to 30 MB of cache inside the processor itself. That's more than the HD in my first Mac. Somehow I'm still running out of space.
     
reader50
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Sep 26, 2018, 01:05 PM
 
Originally Posted by P View Post
5870 has a max resolution of 2560*1600, so it will never support 4K - no matter what driver update you have.
That is the official limit. However, I tried my 5870 with my 4K monitors before switching to the 7970. It worked, normal selection of resolutions up to (and including) 3840 x 2160. Retina resolutions up to 1920 x 1080 (HiDPI). The old drivers would not allow a display buffer larger than the physical display, hence why Retina resolutions above the 1/2 mark were unavailable.

A Radeon 570 or 580 (what Apple puts in the iMac these days) is a real update over a 7970.
I use the Tom's Hardware GPU Hierarchy table. Scroll down to the long table that takes up 2/3 of the page.

The RX 570 and RX 580 are both listed one performance tier above the HD 7970 GHz Edition. Though I think the Mac versions are based on the non-GHz version (not listed in table). A single tier jump may not be enough of a performance bump to notice.

I agree the later designs will give feature improvements, likely to make them more compatible with later OSes. But on straight performance, it appears even the 580 would only be a modest improvement. And to my knowledge, a PC 570/580 card has no boot screens on a Mac, due to the PC firmware. I'd love to be wrong on that.
( Last edited by reader50; Sep 26, 2018 at 01:38 PM. )
     
P
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Sep 26, 2018, 05:40 PM
 
Originally Posted by reader50 View Post
That is the official limit. However, I tried my 5870 with my 4K monitors before switching to the 7970. It worked, normal selection of resolutions up to (and including) 3840 x 2160. Retina resolutions up to 1920 x 1080 (HiDPI). The old drivers would not allow a display buffer larger than the physical display, hence why Retina resolutions above the 1/2 mark were unavailable.
Really? Because Radeon 5870 doesn’t support DisplayPort 1.2, which is necessary for higher resolutions, and AMD were super proud when the 6870 launched as the first card with that support. Or was it 4K@30Hz, perhaps?

I use the Tom's Hardware GPU Hierarchy table. Scroll down to the long table that takes up 2/3 of the page.

The RX 570 and RX 580 are both listed one performance tier above the HD 7970 GHz Edition. Though I think the Mac versions are based on the non-GHz version (not listed in table). A single tier jump may not be enough of a performance bump to notice.

I agree the later designs will give feature improvements, likely to make them more compatible with later OSes. But on straight performance, it appears even the 580 would only be a modest improvement. And to my knowledge, a PC 570/580 card has no boot screens on a Mac, due to the PC firmware. I'd love to be wrong on that.
I am familiar with the table, but in this case I disagree with it. In particular, the 7970 only has two geometry engines, and they’re pretty poor. Everything newer has four, and the Polaris generation (Radeon 480 and newer) also have some cleverness in how it can discard obviously hidden triangles. This means that the 7970 will stutter a bit when the geometry gets complex, like after an explosion in a game, while newer models will just take it in stride. Even if you just look at shader and ROP power, the 7970 is outclassed. The 580 is more than 50% faster on clocks and shader count alone, even ignoring improved design.

(The table also has the R9 285 and the 380 on different tiers. These two are the exact same card - a straight rebadge. Someone done f’ed up )
The new Mac Pro has up to 30 MB of cache inside the processor itself. That's more than the HD in my first Mac. Somehow I'm still running out of space.
     
reader50
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Sep 26, 2018, 07:20 PM
 
Yes, any res above 2.5K dropped to 30Hz on the 5870. If I recall correctly, when I ordered the 4K monitors, I took a chance on the 5870. After a couple days of testing, I ordered a 7970. I think I used the 5870 with dual 4Ks for about a week.
     
   
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