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The Mac Pro Cheese Upgrader Thread
#3041130 04/29/20 01:58 AM
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But who is number 1 ? ...
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Hi all,

Having been recently upbraided by the esteemed Dr. Mike for not posting enough in this forum, I figured I'd start a thread about a topic I've been researching, though my knowledge on it is a relative noob's.

There is a veritable cult of folks out there still getting high performance out of their legacy "cheese grater" Mac Pros. The mid-2010 (a.k.a. 5,1) is widely considered the most expandable and upgrade-friendly model. SSDs, graphics cards that can handle 4k video editing, and more. Careful selection of parts and, in some cases, hacking using tools like OpenCore is often involved, but the result is performance on par with a current Core i9-based iMac and better in some cases.
There are also resellers who still build quite a nice business around selling fully configured and pre-tested machines. New Mac Pros are prohibitively expensive, and some people prefer not to go with a laptop or all-in-one iMac.

Impossible dreams still seem to be Thunderbolt (although I've heard it can be done by people willing to risk flashing the firmware of a TB card), and super fast NVMe storage on a PCIe card. But again, I'm a noob.

Sooooo ... Are you one of these folks? If so, please share your configuration. What did you start with, how did you upgrade it, what obstacles did you encounter along the way, and how did you overcome them? FWIW I was inspired to start this topic because all though I've seen many disparate FB groups and forums, there really isn't a definitive knowledge base for musicians and media creators.

Note: I have a honkin' 16-core Xeon PC as well, but this is a Mac thread. Posts about how migrating to Windows is the real solution will tempt me to use what little toilet paper I have left on the exterior of your house. Start in on Linux, and I'll use the TP first. laugh


"I'm just a confused musician who got sidetracked into this damned word business..." -Hunter S. Thompson

Stephen Fortner
Principal, Fortner Media
Senior Editor, Music Player Network
Former Editor in Chief, Keyboard Magazine

Re: The Mac Pro Cheese Upgrader Thread
Stephen Fortner #3041143 04/29/20 02:53 AM
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I had a 2008 Mac Pro and looked into hot-rodding it.

OWC has a kit for putting in 128 gigs of RAM for $420 bucks, my Mac did not qualify. I could have gone to 32 gigs which is plenty and affordable.
https://eshop.macsales.com/shop/memory/owc/apple-mac-pro/2010-2012

In the end, I wanted Thunderbolt and portablility and got a 2014 MacBook Pro with 16 gigs of RAM. Added a big montor for at home, a mouse and a USB hub.
My Presonus Quantum has a Thunderbolt drive connected to the second port.

It rocks, I'm happy. The Mac Pro is gone.

I'll be checking in though, somebody will figure out the Thunderbolt thing and make it fairly easy.
Plus, I Mac'ed so you don't have to wipe with moss! There's nowhere to hang TP around here anway. Cheers, Kuru

Last edited by KuruPrionz; 04/29/20 02:53 AM. Reason: Add link

There is never enough time to be in a hurry...
Re: The Mac Pro Cheese Upgrader Thread
Stephen Fortner #3041197 04/29/20 01:36 PM
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Kuru, I have both a 4-core and 8-core and they’re both 2008 a.k.a. Model 3,1. They are the weirdest and most difficult of the bunch to upgrade, even compared to earlier ones. Not a lot can be done and lots of pitfalls for what can.


"I'm just a confused musician who got sidetracked into this damned word business..." -Hunter S. Thompson

Stephen Fortner
Principal, Fortner Media
Senior Editor, Music Player Network
Former Editor in Chief, Keyboard Magazine

Re: The Mac Pro Cheese Upgrader Thread
Stephen Fortner #3041218 04/29/20 03:22 PM
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Originally Posted by Stephen Fortner
Kuru, I have both a 4-core and 8-core and they’re both 2008 a.k.a. Model 3,1. They are the weirdest and most difficult of the bunch to upgrade, even compared to earlier ones. Not a lot can be done and lots of pitfalls for what can.


Sounds like I've used personal ignorance to dodge a bullet!!!!

There is a local computer repair shop nearby that has a decorative "wall" made of cheese grater Macs.
Figured there was a reason for it and bailed.


There is never enough time to be in a hurry...
Re: The Mac Pro Cheese Upgrader Thread
Stephen Fortner #3043635 05/14/20 12:14 AM
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Originally Posted by Stephen Fortner
Having been recently upbraided by the esteemed Dr. Mike for not posting enough in this forum

Now I feel like a heel. Sorry, Dr. Steve.

To address this somewhat:

I had a 3,1 which was in fact a freaking nightmare to do anything with. There's something about the bus structure that makes it difficult to get peripherals working. The 5,1 attracts a lot of attention because you can actually drop a pretty high-powered GPU card into it and not only have it work, but have it run Mojave reliably. I have been looking into adding one of those to my studio if I can do so cheaply enough. (That's primarily because so much of my online streaming music is done on Second Life, which is lovely to look at but very, very badly optimized for graphics hardware, so running it on any computer with on-chip graphics and not much in the way of fan cooling is essentially asking to turn said computer into a boat anchor.)

I agree that veering off into Windows/Linux discussion on a Mac thread is a bad idea (and I say so in the forum rules), but those DIY machines have one advantage that seems obvious to the newcomer but is full of pitfalls to the more experienced user: namely, the basic idea of having a big box with a big power supply that you can stuff a lot of stuff into with few problems. A lot of people have real issues with the idea of a computer as a disposable appliance that needs to be completely recycled and replaced when something (anything!) breaks, and even though it can be hard to find PCI cards for certain things, having six SATA drive bays and a ton of USB 2 ports and dual monitor support right in the box is incredibly tempting.

My personal breaking point for Macs is how they are doing internal storage nowadays. A generation or so before they started putting the T2 encryption chip on every motherboard, thereby guaranteeing that lost data on a bad SSD would stay lost, Apple removed a little-known but incredibly handy item from the main logic board: a tiny hidden port that allowed for a direct connection to the internal SSD with no other hardware in the way. This could be used to pull the SSD's data off if the computer were to be made otherwise inoperable; you could even pull your data from a machine whose logic board was totally kaput. When this went away and T2 came in, the reliance became entirely on cloud and external backup, with the SSD being impossible to change out, upgrade, remove for security purposes, wipe when the Mac dies, or recover data from. Basically an iPad with a keyboard and trackpad.

This makes me itch. So much so that I bought a 2014 Mac mini specifically because that one generation had the ability to put in a SATA hard drive or SSD in addition to the existing SSD PCIe card (which of course was one generation before the commonly used and easily available SSD PCIe cards that fit nearly every other computer out there, and is expensive to replace if you can find one at all). Now, of course, it's acting flaky, apparently because the original PCIe SSD is starting to fail. Of course.

The Mac Pro can be a great solution for people who want to have a big box of STUFF, and how well it works for your applications depends on what you want to do and what you put into it. If I do go ahead and try to get one working with a proper GPU and Mojave, I will write it up here.

By the way, I have yet to see any hard practical use-case evidence that Thunderbolt on a Mac Pro of that vintage is anything but a bogus "upgrade" that's mainly done by hardware hackers to show off that they can do it at all. The internal bus speed of those Mac Pros is only the same speed as Thunderbolt 1, and all you're really doing is figuring out how to add shiny new boxes to a beat up old box, which rarely makes a lot of sense.


Dr. Mike Metlay (PhD in nuclear physics, golly gosh) grin
Janitor and Hall Monitor, Dr. Mike's Studio Workshop

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