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This Old Mac Pro, Part 1: Evaluate what you've got, and what you want
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NewsPoster
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Jun 2, 2016, 10:30 AM
 
So, we've got these Mac Pros, one because we've had it, and the second we purchased for a song, since we were doing this column. We're doing the upgrades because we want to write about them -- but in this, the official first week of the This Old Mac Pro column, we're going to discuss why you'd want to boost an old Mac Pro to maximum speed -- and why you shouldn't.

First, the 2006 Mac Pro

In its heyday, the 2006 (1,1) Mac Pro absolutely crushed the G5 towers it replaced. Better in every regard, the new tower brought speed, room for more 5.25 and 3.5-inch drives than its predecessor, and most importantly, they were quieter than the G5 howlers. The standard four 2.66GHz processors blazed through anything that was tossed at it, even if it was old PowerPC code running under Rosetta.

Then, OS X 10.8 came along. Lacking a 64-bit EFI, the 1,1 Mac Pro was left behind, along with the rest of the first-generation Intel Macs. All of a sudden, the tower was presumably and officially stuck running an out-of-date operating system.

Here's the thing with the 1,1 -- it took until 2010 for the MacBook Pro line to have a machine that approached the machine's multiple-core performance, 2009 for an iMac, and the absolutely maxed-out MacBook Air 2015 with an i7 processor beats that machine for multiple-core speed. So, as far as utility for the dollar goes, a 1,1 purchased in 2006 for $2,500 has done very well for itself.

However, bringing it up to OS X 10.11 El Capitan takes a little bit of money. At a minimum, the machine demands a new video card, and more RAM, assuming it hasn't been purchased along the way. It's not going to be a burly workstation, nor will it be particularly power efficient, as it demands the most power out of the entire Mac Pro run, even before we swap out video cards and pack it full of drives.

So, here's the deal -- if you have a 1,1, and want to give it a boost, fine -- we'll help you out, and we outlined our path on Monday of this week. Together, we can get it up to El Capitan with good performance, and you don't even have to spend the $400 we've got budgeted for this project. It makes a very good home server, as four SATA drives can be jammed in it if you're not concerned about power demands. On the other hand, unless you can get one for $100 or less, don't bother buying one to follow along unless you've got some time on your hands, and money to burn. Consider this, though -- a $40 pair of processors brings the multiple core speed up past the vaunted 2012 i7 Mac mini.

We know this, because this isn't the first time we've done this with a 1,1.

Second, the 2010 Mac Pro

As it stands, the stock 2010 Mac Pro 2.4 eight-core machine is a very usable machine. A maxed-out 2015 Retina i7 4.0GHz iMac has about 10 percent more speed in multi-core benchmarks, and costs $2,500. Assuming you bought the machine new for $3,500, another $1,000 to bring the old machine up to very near the specs of the $6,500 2013 Mac Pro is still a pretty good deal.

We've budgeted $1,000 to fully boost the 2.4. However, depending on your needs, you can stop at any time. A SSD makes a giant difference in I/O speeds, a new video card will help out video editing -- much more on your choices about that next week. RAM is relatively inexpensive now, considering what it cost in 2010.

Consider, though, that you don't have to do a thing to the 2010 in any configuration to have a very capable, very fast computer compared to modern high-end consumer-grade machines. You should still get a SSD though.

The future for both machines

Operating systems march on. The hack to get El Capitan on the 1,1 is just that -- a hack. Even a point update can break everything, so if you do decide to boost the 1,1 it may be best left in the corner, quietly hosting iTunes and files to your family or roommates. With a 64-bit EFI, the 4,1 Mac Pro will likely survive Apple's next update which may not even be called OS X anymore. There's a strong rumor Apple will change the name back to MacOS going forward as in days of yore.

This is realistically the end of the line for the 1,1, even if we update it to its maximum potential with a pair of 3GHz quad-core processors, El Capitan, and a new video card. That's not saying that there aren't some amazing things we can do to it even past a re-core, and further glories to be had using it, but just consider if upgrades to the decade-old hardware are personally worth it for you in time or money.

The risks

As with any upgrade, there are massive perils -- but the escape of the magic blue smoke can be mitigated! While the first series of upgrades we're going to do are very basic, there are always chances of catastrophic static discharge or data loss. If you're in the middle of a project, or this is your only computer, you are making a mistake if you start doing this now. These articles will still be here when you return, and the entire series may be complete.

So, before we undertake the project:

1) Back up your data. Time Machine isn't enough. Store the backup safely.
2) Read up on anti-static precautions, and take them as appropriate. No kidding. I know you've put in RAM in the past without taking this step, but do not handle processors without taking precautions!
3) Budget some time, put the kids to bed, pre-read the relevant procedures, and then dive in.

We start turning screws next Thursday. Coming up next week, getting El Capitan on all three machines, selecting a video card upgrade (or if you even need one), the perils of a SATA-3 SSD on a SATA-2 bus, and you get what you pay for with USB 3.0 PCI-e cards.


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: You are here!
Fidgety upgrade details and discussion points.
Part 2: RAM, SSDs, and El Capitan
( Last edited by NewsPoster; Jun 9, 2016 at 11:04 AM. )
     
pottymouth
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Jun 2, 2016, 01:06 PM
 
HA! This series is ridiculously relevant to me! Maybe I'll be following along with my own 1.1 that I thought was a lost cause.
     
Mike Wuerthele
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Jun 2, 2016, 01:25 PM
 
I've got an utterly WICKED soft spot for the 1,1. I couldn't possibly not do it alongside the other machine - and now machineS. A local vendor has supplied me with a 3,1 Mac Pro as well.

If you like the series, share it amongst your like-minded. There's information scattered all across the web. I'm going to consolidate it here, and preserve it for posterity.
     
noradninja
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Jun 2, 2016, 01:36 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 7990 3GB GDDR56 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.

Mama, 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.
     
panjandrum
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Jun 2, 2016, 02:18 PM
 
Very cool article. Can't wait to see more. Still on a 1,1 myself as my powerhouse workhorse (upgraded video card, SSD, internal raid array, etc) and have postponed upgrades to El Capitan anyway due to the whole no more RAID debacle. Anyway, it's great to see this getting a good write-up. Maybe I'll eventually move to Soft Raid, although with the amount of storage I have I'll probably just keep an old partition around on one of the drives that I can boot to and run old copies of Disk Utility from there).

The key to surviving updates with the "hack" method we need to use is to use CCC or a similar program to make a clone to a separate partition, internal drive, or even external drive. Boot to that clone and do all the updating there. Only after you make sure you have everything working properly should you clone it back to your preferred boot drive / partition (and set your Startup Disk back of course). (And, take note, modern versions of the MacOS work perfectly well on these units with nothing other than a video card upgrade. Meaning that Apple's programmers either lack the skill to properly write code for their own equipment, or that they quite simply abandoned those system to boost short-term profits a tiny amount as people with older MacPros replace them to "be compatible" with the latest OS. Either way it speaks ill of Apple).
     
Mike Wuerthele
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Jun 2, 2016, 02:33 PM
 
It's less the OS, and more the EFI. As far as I can tell, the only reason that the 1,1 isn't a blessed machine with El Cap is the 32-bit EFI on the 1,1. Do keep in mind that the 1,1 is a decade old.

I'm speaking with a programmer on why that choice may have been made, we'll see what answers I get. I suspect the reason is so Core Duo owners with a 32-bit EFI don't go to El Cap, and have a terrible, terrible user experience, and the Pro got lost as acceptable casualties.
     
emlitu
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Jun 2, 2016, 09:42 PM
 
I have a 4-core 2009 Mac Pro at home that I have upgraded with an SSD, USB 3.0 card, ESATA card and ram. Next step is a Blu-Ray recorder and GPU and possible CPU upgrades.

at work I have several 2006 through 2010 Mac pros that I have purchased for myself and staff new and used. I have been upgrading them for years. My personal machine is a 2009 Mac Pro with 22 GB of ram, a Seritek ESATA SSD pcie card with a Samsung 512 GB EVO Pro, Orico USB 3.0 card and an M-disc compatible blu-Ray writer for archiving large media files.

I'm currently in the process of upgrading an additional 8-core 2009 Mac Pro for video editing with a sonnet pci-e Dual SSD card with a Samsung 256 Gb SSD for boot and a 1 TB Samsung Evo Pro For scratch space and two External ESATA ports for external ESATA storage. The next upgrade will be either an EFI Modded Nvidia 980, 1070 or 1080 GPU from macvidcards.com and possibly hitachi 4 or 6 TB drives in the drive bays for nightly backup of media projects.

This topic is so important to me. Thank you for writing on it. I am anxious to hear all about the additional upgrades to both software and hardware that I am not aware of and will happily share what I have learned also.
     
panjandrum
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Jun 3, 2016, 10:40 AM
 
While I do understand that it's the 32bit EFI, there are plenty of other ways Apple can prevent whichever OS versions they wish from being (easily) installed. Regardless, the fact that this can be patched so very easily clearly shows that either Apple's programmers are incompetent (something I'm perfectly willing to believe considering downward-spiral Apple software has been taking recently) or that Apple's policy is one of planned *unnecessary* obsolesce. Either way, not something Apple should be proud of, or something Apple customers should sit back and take. (Interestingly, at least one report https://www.google.com/search?q=is+the+macbook+obsolete+youtube&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8 looks at the even older MacBook with CoreDuo and how it performs under various Operating Systems. The result, Win7 runs absolutely perfectly. (I would guess Win10 will also do so.) It should be extremely distressing to Apple owners that Microsoft products support old Apple hardware better than Apple is capable of doing or willing to do.)
     
Steve Wilkinson
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Jun 3, 2016, 01:32 PM
 
@panjandrum - I'm not sure we've seen any performance gains on the OS side of things for many years now... it's mostly coming from the hardware (mainly SSDs). If anything, yea, maybe things have slipped some (in performance, I think the QC slips are obvious and well protested already.)

That's a bit sad, as I fondly remember new OS releases often being something you could actually feel in terms of performance (which was always a reason to consider the trade-off of early adoption vs the bugs... now I'm more inclined to just wait for most of the bugs to get worked out before even caring about upgrading). Did I hear we might see a new file-system sometime in the near future though?
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Halfloaf
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Jun 4, 2016, 03:13 AM
 
I remember going and buying Snow Leopard for £19 in the days they still sold OS updates. It was so much better than 10.5 under the hood and SL's memory management was a breath of fresh air.

It was probably my favourite version on OSX, however, Yosemite has been running on my 2012 13" mbp without a hitch and it's really good.

Onto the topic of cMP's, are current lidded Xeons still a straight swap for delidded versions? I'm about to jump in and get a dual 2.93 Ghz 6 core MP, been wanting one since I stupidly sold my 2008 3,1 in 2012. I'm just thinking of possible future CPU upgrades...
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 4, 2016, 09:26 AM
 
We're going to talk about lidded versus non-lidded and some extra steps to take for safety's sake so something doesn't get broken during the installation process. Technically, they are a straight swap, as the processors are the same - you just have to be careful.

We just got a 3,1 from a local supplier, so we're extending the series to the 1,1, the 4,1, and now the 3,1. I've already found some interesting gotchas on the 3,1 that we'll talk about in the coming weeks.
     
[email protected]
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Jun 4, 2016, 10:38 AM
 
emlitu,
I'd love to hear more about your 2009 8-core project. I'd like to do something similar. I have the 09 Nehalem (sp) 8-core. Sounds like a great summer project. I'd already upgraded to a 512 gb SSD and USB 3.0 pci card but the usb 3.0 card would give my computer fits and sometimes lockdowns when certain peripherals were attached.
( Last edited by [email protected]; Jun 4, 2016 at 10:40 AM. Reason: reference correct post)
     
emlitu
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Jun 4, 2016, 03:50 PM
 
Originally Posted by [email protected] View Post
emlitu,
I'd love to hear more about your 2009 8-core project. I'd like to do something similar. I have the 09 Nehalem (sp) 8-core. Sounds like a great summer project. I'd already upgraded to a 512 gb SSD and USB 3.0 pci card but the usb 3.0 card would give my computer fits and sometimes lockdowns when certain peripherals were attached.
Hi [email protected]

I think it all depends on which peripherals, how many and additional factors.

What kind of USB card are using? If it is an Orico, here is my experience:

I'm using the 4-port Orico card in my 2009 mac pro at home running 10.9.5. It is connected to an IDSonix 9-port usb hub. I've got both USB 2.0 and 3.0 devices connected to it, but I don't really push the USB 3.0 devices hard or regularly. It's installed in Slot #3 and I am using the first port on the left side of the card and the System System Profiler does recognize it as a pci1b73,1100 USB extensible Host Controller device running at 5.0 GT/s device. I did a quick test and just plugged in Monster Digital 64 GB Colors Series USB 3.0 Flash drive and ran a Blackmagic disk test on it. I was getting initial burst speeds of up to 70 MB per second write and 130 MB per second read. That eventually leveled off to about 25 MB per second write and 125 MB read.

I know some people have had problems with these cards because of the power, driver and device issues.

https://discussions.apple.com/thread/5007158?tstart=0

For some the answer has been giving it the additional power using the 4-pin provided cable (if yours came with a cable). Others had to find their own cables as the card either did not ship with one or it was too short.

for others a generic GenericUSBXHCI driver worked. A guy named Russell Tilly on the thread above provided details about another guy named jack that provided the open source driver solution. I found that driver on SoundForge but I have not needed to use it:

https://sourceforge.net/projects/gen...urce=directory

Same thread provided another set of solutions about using the 5V power from the secondaary Optical drive bay using a custom cable:
BoffinBlogger: USB3 on MacPro Hackintosh

While others got power from an unused drive bay and the standard provided cable. I did not use the power cable as the instructions said I did not need one. Also, I am providing power from my powered USB hub.

I am currently in the process of setting up a separate drive running El Capitan and have been slowly getting the OS and apps installed. I have not really tested the Card under any heavy load but I can tell you that it still worked when I printed documents to my printer so even without the Orico or Generic drivers it does work as far as I can tell.

I have read reports that the generic driver does not work in 10.11 as it has not been updated. The driver above states that it works up to 10.10.

As I said I have used it successfully at home and just did this initial research to learn more myself. If I am incorrect please let me and everyone know.

Hope that helps.
     
   
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