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You are here: MacNN Forums > News > Mac News > This Old Mac Pro Part 2: RAM, SSDs, and El Capitan

This Old Mac Pro Part 2: RAM, SSDs, and El Capitan
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Jun 9, 2016, 11:00 AM
 
This is where we really start. Right now, in this article, we stop just talking about boosting that Mac Pro in the back of the closet to something you're happy to use again. This week, we break out the screwdrivers, the terminal, and get to work! Sure, we're starting slow, especially for Mac Pro 3,1 (2008) and 4,1 (2009) owners -- but you 1,1 (2006) owners? This week is where you reclaim your aluminum slab from the back of the closet. Onward!

Here's what you'll need this week

For everybody: RAM, a SSD, the proper mounting bracket, and a Philips-head screwdriver.
Extra stuff for the Mac Pro 1,1 owners (maybe): A computer that is currently running OS X El Capitan, and has Mac App Store access, a bootable 8GB flash drive, a 2.5-inch drive case, and an upgraded video card -- more on that in a bit.

Some assumptions: You're not an utterly beginner user, and you know some basic terminology and procedures. Also, your machine works fine, and has a fully updated OS 10.6.8 or better on it.

This is the core to updating both the 3,1 and newer, as well as the 1,1 to El Capitan. There are other methods to use for upgrading the more complex 1,1 to El Capitan, but this is the method we've chosen both for simplicity, and the least chance of apocalyptic disaster.

There are other guides on how do do all these upgrades, and many of them have you performing all the upgrades simultaneously. Don't do that. If something goes wrong -- and it always does -- and you've done everything at once, and you're out of luck from a troubleshooting standpoint.

Instead, do this: do the first upgrade, then stop. Make sure it works fine for more than one boot, and once you're comfortable that it all went well, then move on to the next thing.

On with the upgrades -- first, RAM

RAM is by far the easiest and quickest thing to do to boost performance. The 1,1 and 2,1 Mac Pro can take a total of 32 GB of ECC DDR2 667 FB-DIMM RAM across their eight slots, and it must be upgraded in matched pairs. The Apple-suggested RAM has these massively comical heat sinks on them, and while we don't recommend taking them off, we've used RAM from other vendors for years with no problem with a slightly less massive heat dissipator. We got the full 32GB in eight 4GB chips for $33 off eBay; you might find them a bit cheaper or a touch more, but that's the right price range.

Starting with the 3,1, the RAM shifted to 800MHz DDR2 ECC FB-DIMM (FB-DIMM) memory, which is a bit more expensive -- but it can go to 64GB of RAM, also in matched pairs. To stick with our $400 target "remodeling budget," we stuck with 16GB (which is plenty for typical use). The 3,1 can use the cheaper 667MHz RAM as found in the 1,1 and 2,1 with a notable penalty to speed. We tried it, and we found a reproducible eight percent speed hit -- and who wants that? So, we got 16GB in four chips for $70, and we'll re-use the four 1GB chips in the machine now for a total of 20GB of RAM.

The 4,1 eschews the FB-DIMM, and utilizes DDR3 PC3-10600 ECC 1333MHZ, or PC-8500 ECC 1066MHz chips. It can use up to 128GB of RAM. Since we've got the higher budget on this one, we got 64GB of RAM for $122, but we were considering 32GB for $76. The guidance for the machine suggests that there is a performance boost for RAM installed in threes (not pairs), but testing of our completely populated upgrade machine hasn't shown an appreciable one -- less than two percent. So, we vote for more RAM.

I don't think that we need a video, or tutorial on how to install RAM in the Mac Pro, do you?

You've made the hard decisions, right?

First of all, you've read the first three parts of this series, right? You know what you're going to do with the machine once it's upgraded, correct?

If you haven't, here's the first divergent point. Go back and read our introduction to this series, and then parts one and two.

Pay attention 1,1 owners -- 3,1 and newer owners can skip ahead four paragraphs

Is your project machine going to be a home server, quietly sitting in a corner, serving iTunes and similar to the house, or is it going to be a workstation? Yes, even the 1,1 will make an excellent workstation when we're through with it. If you're going to make it a home server, all you really need to do is get the SSD in, an OS on, and files moved. If the machine works, update your OS to OS X 10.7.x Lion (while you still can) from the Mac App Store. If the drive is dead, you'll need a functional Mac to make an install disk.

First, however, a word: If you're going to install OS X on the 1,1, be sure that your USB flash drive or external drive can boot OS X, by installing El Capitan from any computer and actually booting into it from the computer you installed from. Some of the cheap drives can't be used as a boot disk, and there's no good way to tell before it doesn't actually boot. For sure, the inexpensive flash drives sold at the registers at Microcenter can't be used this way, nor can a large amount of the ones stamped and given away for advertising purposes. Once you've got one that boots, hang on to this drive with the bootable El Capitan on it -- you'll need it later. We're going to call this one the "bootable El Capitan flash drive."

Sticking with Lion on the 1,1

However, if you're sticking with Lion, and the hardware has been idle for a while, you may not have an installer handy -- and your boot drive might be dead. If you bought Lion from the Mac App Store, you've got it in your purchase history, and you can make an installer on a second flash drive or available hard drive using DiskMaker X on a functional computer, and boot from that when the time comes.

It is possible you didn't buy Lion from the Mac App Store, and instead had it on physical media. Its also possible that this media has been lost, destroyed, or no longer works, either because it was a Lion disk from a different model, or because of a certificate change earlier this year. No problem -- Apple still has a way you can buy it, and assign it to your Mac App Store Account, for $20. Even if you have it on optical media, and through some miracle, it still boots, its still a good idea to have a reliable source of the OS for troubleshooting purposes anyhow.

Now, on to the SSD.

SSD time -- everybody pay attention now

We talked about SSD acquisition a little last week. We got 240GB Crucial drives for all of our upgrades, at $60 each. However, in the Mac Pro, there's something else that has to be acquired to mount the SSD. Yes, there are those great hard drive trays that the Mac Pro has, but the SSD is a 2.5-inch form factor drive, where the trays accommodate a 3.5-inch drive.

Several companies sell mounting brackets compatible with the Mac Pro. OWC sells the NewerTech AdaptaDrive, which you screw the SSD into, and then the bracket to the sled. The AdaptaDrive generally sells for around $15. A one-step solution, also from OWC, is the $19 Mount Pro, which replaces the stock bracket with one that holds a 2.5-inch drive to the 4,1 and 5,1 Mac Pro -- but not the 1,1 through 3,1. We're using the Sabrent equivalent of the Adaptadrive.

Shut everything down, unplug it, and get the drive in the machine. By convention, I've always put my boot drive in bay one, but it really doesn't matter. We're going to recommend a clean install of the OS to eliminate any troubleshooting variables later -- you can either use Apple's migration assistant to move over files in a user account that was on the machine prior, or start fresh.

Once the lid is back on, stick in the Lion (or El Capitan) boot disk or drive you made earlier. If you're not sticking with your old OS, you can update to Lion over your existing install -- and you should do this if you're a 1,1 user going to El Capitan.

Otherwise, format the SSD with the Disk Utility on the install disk, and select it for the install of either Lion for the 1,1, or El Capitan for the 3,1 or newer. During the installation process, the installer will give you the option of using the Migration Assistant to move data to the new SSD -- you can do this if you desire. However, data management is a peculiar topic.

Everybody has their own way to do things, and Apple expects some things to be done their way. To keep costs down, we've selected a relatively small SSD (256GB) for all the upgrades we're performing, which gives enough overhead for apps, but not a large media library. We're not going to lecture you on best practices here, as the differences between where files are kept are less significant now than they've been for a while. Just remember where you keep things, so backups can be done later efficiently, okay?

You 3,1 and newer Mac Pro owners? You're done this week, unless you want to go over the procedure to shoe-horn El Capitan on the 1,1. See you next week, where we'll talk in excruciating detail about video card upgrades for you!

Stick with me, 1,1 owners. Nearly there.

El Capitan on the 1,1

Unless you've upgraded your video card on the 1,1 already, you're going to need something zippier than the 7300GT that came with your machine.

We strongly recommend the 8800GT that was either made for the 1,1 or 2,1 (and are long gone at retail), or a flashed GT 120 (what Apple called the Nvidia 9500GT). Either card can be procured from Macvidcards, or other similar sources. There are other, faster video cards available as well -- but 1,1 support is crucial for the process. Plus, both the $150 8800GT and $85 GT120 have drivers for Snow Leopard. To make things simpler later, install the card, install all the relevant drivers for Lion, and make sure it works fine. Despite the numerical inferiority, the 8800GT is a much higher-performing card than the 9500GT/GT120.

Now, on with the El Capitan install

In short, here's what we're going to do: we're going to boot from the original hard drive running Lion. We're then going to restore the bootable El Capitan Flash Drive (the first flash drive we made earlier) onto the SSD. Following that, we're going to replace a system file with one that will allow the boot of El Capitan in the terminal.

As we mentioned before, we're not going to reinvent the wheel. While we've diverged a bit from the procedure, this video made by Frank Dai sums up a great deal of work by users at the MacRumors forums, and narrates what we're going to do -- but we're not going to make an image of the bootable El Capitan Flash Drive like they have in the video.



The only change in our procedure from the video is the source of the restore. In our case, its our bootable El Capitan Flash Drive that we made in the very start, rather than the image that the video uses. The remainder of the procedure remains the same. As a reminder, all Terminal commands in quotes, do not include the quotes. Enter Terminal commands verbatim, including spaces.

So, booted into the Mac Pro's hard drive with Lion on it, and following along with the video:

1) Download the Piker's boot.efi"
2) Go to Utilities/Disk Utility, and choose restore.
3) Instead of opening up the image file location as shown in the video, select the bootable El Capitan Flash Drive as the source.
4) Drag the SSD in Disk Utility onto Destination.
5) Click "restore" acknowledge that you want to restore and have the target and destination right, authenticate, and wait.
6) Close disk utility.
7) Open a new Finder window, and select the SSD.
8) Navigate to System/Library/CoreServices/ and find boot.efi on the SSD.
9) Open a Terminal window.
10) Enter "sudo chflags nouchg " with the space at the end of the command intact, and drag the boot.efi from the SSD into the Terminal window. Hit return.
11) Drag the boot.efi that you downloaded into the still-open System/Library/CoreServices/ window and authenticate.
12) In the Terminal, enter "defaults write com.apple.Finder AppleShowAllFiles YES" and hit return.
13) In the Terminal, enter "killall Finder" and hit return.
14) In the Finder, navigate to usr/standalone/i386/and find boot.efi on the SSD.
15) Drag the boot.efi that you downloaded into this window, replace the one that's there, and authenticate.
16) From System Preferences, select the SSD as the boot disk, and reboot.

In summary

So, depending on where you started, and where you wanted to finish, we've now got a machine with loads of RAM, and with the OS of your choice, be it Lion or El Capitan, on a very fast SSD. You 1,1 owners also have a new video card! We're effectively done with the mandatory upgrades for the 1,1, and have spent $260 for RAM, a SSD, and a new video card. That leaves $140 to get a faster video card that the $150 one we used today, or any one of a host of other upgrade options, which we will delve into in future weeks.

If something goes wrong...

There seem to be a lot of asides and conversational bits here, but that's the nature of the beast. MacNN staffers are good at what we do, but we aren't support people -- at least, not any more. If you've followed the directions to the letter, you're up and running. If you didn't? Well, that's a different issue. I'll hit the forums and help as best as I can, but the best advice I have is reboot from the hard drive with Lion on it, and try the entire procedure again -- you probably skipped a step. Otherwise, hit the forums, and see if somebody can help.

Next Thursday, we're delving heavily into video card upgrades. Yes, you 1,1 people will be included, even though you did an upgrade this week. We'll do more questions and answers on Monday, if need be.


Previously, on This Old Mac Pro

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, SSD, and El Capitan: you are here!
( Last edited by NewsPoster; Jun 11, 2016 at 07:45 PM. )
     
panjandrum
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Jun 9, 2016, 02:11 PM
 
Thanks again for this. It's great to see this on a prominent Mac news site. (For those trying this on the 1,1; it's not a terribly difficult process, but it requires patience. Even then, sometimes things just go wrong and you have to start over. But in the end, you'll find your 1,1 more than capable of running Apple's most recent operating systems very well.)
     
thinkman
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Jun 9, 2016, 04:34 PM
 
This might have been of interest, but of all the PowerMac G5s I've had, I still maintain one for 2 good reasons. There are actually devices that I need Firewire to charge, and since I'm running the final version of OS9 on it, it still supports legacy programs that either won't run on an Intel based Mac, or would cost literally thousands to upgrade to. And as a bonus, it's a hunk of gorgeous metal!
     
Mike Wuerthele
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Jun 9, 2016, 05:11 PM
 
I'm pretty sure you're aware of this, thinkman, but to be clear, these instructions are for the Intel-based Mac Pro, not the PowerMac G5.
     
DiabloConQueso
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Jun 9, 2016, 06:12 PM
 
No PowerMac G5 can boot natively into OS 9 -- do you mean you're running OS X and using OS 9 through the Classic Environment?
     
eddieb187
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Jun 11, 2016, 03:09 PM
 
I believe number "11" should be:
11. Drag the boot.efi that you downloaded into the still-open System/Library/CoreServices/ window and authenticate.
No?
     
Mike Wuerthele
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Jun 11, 2016, 07:39 PM
 
Yes, yes it should. And this goes to show -- no matter how many times you run through it to make sure its exactly right, make sure you do the idiot check..

Thanks, eddie.
     
Halfloaf
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Jun 13, 2016, 03:55 PM
 
I do hope there will be a way for 1,1 - 4,1 Mac Pros to boot into the new macOS. Seriously hope a way can be found to extend the life of these machines even further.
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 13, 2016, 04:21 PM
 
It took about three months after the El Cap release to have a reliable routine for the 1,1 and the 2,1 (and now, the 3,1 will need it as well). Now, as far as the 4,1 goes, the normal firmware update to the 5,1 will probably do the trick without further hackery -- but more on that this and next week.
     
chimaera
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Jun 13, 2016, 05:54 PM
 
It's distinctly possible the 4,1 is omitted only because the original GPUs (GT120 or R4870) aren't up to snuff. If so, anyone with a graphics upgrade could be OK with little or no hacking.
     
Halfloaf
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Jun 14, 2016, 08:52 AM
 
* rant * What bugs me is the throw-away culture of just about all tech companies today. Obsolescence is built into software to force hardware upgrades on the premise of security and things being better, bigger and faster.

Somebody asked me today why I didn't buy a new iMac? Answer - It will be obsolete in a year or two (the processor is already outdated) with an outdated graphics card that I cannot upgrade. Rather than just upgrading you have to replace the whole machine, what a waste of natural resources. But that is how they make money, buy turning over products...there is no money in supporting 1 year old hardware, let alone 6 year old hardware. * rant over *

Out of interest, what is the support period for OS X (or macOS to come)? And while on the topic of Mac Pro upgrades, ATI or NVidia? Couldn't care a dingle about Open CL, just need fast OpenGL.
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 14, 2016, 12:59 PM
 
Support period for OS X/macOS -- no idea yet. This is the first dropping of machines that Apple has done since Mountain Lion a few years ago.

Re: graphics cards, AMD does better with OpenCL. Nvidia has better drivers, overall. Stay tuned for Thursday -- that is the only thing we're talking about this week.
     
   
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