Years ago, I posted a guide on how to install a GeForce 760 or 770 into a 2008 Mac Pro. I included a fair amount of benchmarks to boot. It's lasted me well over three years and made the jump to a 2010 Mac Pro but I finally pulled the trigger on a 1060. You can install a 10x0 series into a 2008 Mac Pro as well, but this guide specifically focuses on the 201x Mac Pros. The main differences between the two are the PCIe power port positions and the lack of the annoying PCIe bar hanger latch. Upgrading only took me a few short minutes, the longest part of the process was plugging/unplugging all my connected devices. There's hardly any special skills or knowledge needed.

Lastly, I've created the Definitive Mac Pro upgrade guide, which includes a lot of information about GPUs (and plenty more) not covered in this article. I suggest taking a look at the GPU section as it covers AMD chipset cards and flashable cards.

Before you get started, there are a few things one should be aware of:

MSI GeForce GTX 1060 6 GB

  1. Both AMD and nVidia make EFI compatible graphics cards that will work on OS X. nVidia cards (GeForce 700 through 1000 series) only require installing the web drivers whereas the Sapphire PULSE Radeon RX 580 8GB is (so far) is the only RX 580 that works without any hacking/flashing.
  2. The nVidia drivers currently require 10.12 Sierra or above to use the 1000 series cards.
  3. The nVidia (nor the AMD RX 580) card will not allow you to see the EFI boot screen with the card plugged in (the screen you see if you hold down the option key and the Apple logo). If this is important, I highly recommend keeping an original card around (or flashed). I personally use an ATI Radeon HD 2600 XT (so old that it's not AMD) that shipped with my 2008 Mac Pro computer since its modified to be fanless but any will do, flashed or factory as long as it can display the Apple logo on boot. You can operate the computer without a card capable of displaying the EFI boot screen. However, you’ll have to manage booting using Start Up Disk in OS X and use the bootcamp tools in Windows to switch boot drives and you will not see any picture until the login screen.
  4. The RX 580 and GTX 1060 are fairly evenly performant but as of writing this, the 1060 is cheaper since any model will suffice, and requires less power and can be found to be significantly quieter in some models.
  5. Modern graphics cards require additional cabling and rarely do the graphics card ship with additional power cables. You'll need to purchase the power cables separately, also, the Mac Pros require mini PCIe to PCIe power cables.
  6. Modern GPUs are quite performant (still) on Mac Pros. A 2010 Mac Pro with a GeForce 1080 eats an iMac 5k alive in GPU tests (unsurprisingly).
  7. Not every GPU port may work with the nVidia drivers depending on the card config. In the case of my GeForce GTX 760, all ports worked sans one of the DVI ports. As a general rule, count on most but not all ports working and do diligent research. The best places to check are MacRumors and TonyMacX86 forums.

Step 1:

If you're upgrading from a stock card, you may be unaware that the PCIe bus doesn't deliver enough power thus PCIe power additional cables are required. The Mac Pros include two power ports for PCIe power but use special low profile cabling often referred to "Mini PCIe".

The Geforce 1060 / 1070 / 1080 require external power. Also, the 1060 requires an 8 pin power cable, the Mac Pro defaults are 6. You'll need a 6 to 8 pin power adapter. I ordered the following: two of the mini PCIe to PCI-e Power Cable (disregard the G5 mislabeling) and a 6 to 8 pin PCIe power adapter, which are much more easily found.

Cable requirements

This may differ between card manufacturer, but the following is true for the base models.

  • GTX 1060: 2x mini PCIe to PCI cables, 1x PCIe 6 to 8 pin adapter
  • GTX 1070: 2x mini PCIe to PCI cables, 1x PCIe 6 to 8 pin adapter
  • GTX 1060: 2x mini PCIe to PCI cables, 2x PCIe 6 to 8 pin adapter

MSI GeForce GTX 1060 6 GB in handThe MSI GTX 1060 is massive, roughly 11 in x 5.5 in x 1.5 in thanks to the oversized cooler.

Next any off the shelf GeForce GTX 1060 or GTX 1070 or GTX 1080 will do. Personally, I picked up the GTX 1060 MSI Gaming X 6 GB, which is regarded as one of the least noisy cards on the market. With bitty coins wrecking pricing, I just wasn't willing to pay for the 1070. I hope all crypto currency fails so we can go back to normal pricing, but I digress. I paid $355, which isn't great but many of GTX 1060s makes are going for more.

Step 2:

Pre-install the nVidia drivers, especially if you do not have a Mac EFI card. TonyMacX86 has a nice handy guide to what version based on OS 10.13 High Sierra or 10.12 Sierra or alternately.

Plug in your power cables first! The GeForce 1060 is big; it dwarfs my 760. Fortunately, the Mac Pro 2010 / 2012 ports are much easier to access than in a 2008 Mac Pro.

Mac Pro 2010 PCIe Power cables with PCIe cards

The low profile mini PCIe power cables are located in the bottom back of the PCIe chamber.

Step 3:

Do the usual remove slot thumb screws, remove/move old GPU etc. The Mac Pro 2010/2012s have a PCIe rail hanger, originally when I installed this I didn't realize the latch sets and unsets the hanger as it was my first time installing a card into a Mac Pro 5.1. I originally was able to install the card without it using a bit of muscle then shortly thereafter, I discovered the latch but didn't bother updating the guide. Later, Several readers took time to point out that the latch for the PCIe chamber (a few with a bit of a condensing tone, as nothing seems to make some people happier than telling other they're wrong). Rather than save face, here's how you avoid being a dumb dumb like I was. If you're finding it difficult to install the card, the PCIe chamber latch is located on the grey plastic assembly. Press the button the assembly and slide it back. Use the bottom-most slot as the card is dual height.

If you're looking for more information on how to install a PCIe card in a Mac Pro, everymac.com has plenty of information including videos.

 GeForce GTX 1060 6 GB running in Mac OS X Sierra

Benchmarks

I haven't spent much time with the card, but I did fire up on OS X Tomb Raider (2013) via Steam. At 2560 x 1440 with all settings maxed (16x Anisotropic filter etc), I managed an average frame rate of 57.6 FPS on a 12x 2.9 GHz 2010 Mac Pro with 32 GB of RAM.

It's no secret that there's always been a gaming performance gap, macOS sadly scores quite badly compared to its Windows counterpart, so it's only fair to compare Mac to Mac or Windows to Windows and not Mac to Windows when considering the gains. Rather than benchmarking Windows, which isn't my daily driver, I'm more interested in how the GPU affects macOS. Below are my Uniengine v4 benchmarks vs when I ran them against my 2008 Mac Pro. Despite the low marks when compared to running Uniengine in Windows, The Mac Pro 2010 is twice as fast by the benchmarks as my previous setup of a 2008 Mac Pro running a GeForce 760. One of the more fascinating things I learned when trying my hand at a Hackintosh was that the 3rd generation 3770k i7 wasn't quite enough to completely best the over-engineered Mac Pro despite having a faster bus / CPU, but merely matched it. If/when I have more time, I may swap the GPUs to see if the scores are as GPU dependent as they seem.

Uningine Benchmarks

OpenGL 2560 x 1440 8xAA FullScreen Quality:Ultra Tessellation: Extreme

Mac Pro 2010 (Xeon X5670 2x 2.93Ghz) + GeForce GTX 1060 + 32 GB RAM + Samsung 840 750 GB SSD

FPS: 33.2

Score: 837

Min FPS: 7.4

Max FPS: 72.1

 

Mac Pro 2008 (Xeon E5462 2x 2.8 Ghz) + GeForce GTX 760 + 14 GB RAM + Samsung 840 750 GB SSD

FPS: 16.1

Score: 405

Min FPS: 5.8

Max FPS: 37.4

 

Hackintosh (i7 3770k 3.5 GHz) + GeForce GTX 760 + 16 GB RAM + Samsung 840 750 GB SSD

FPS: 15.7

Score: 396

Min FPS: 6.9

Max FPS: 37.3

 

Hackintosh (i7 3770k 3.5 GHz) + GeForce GTX 770 + 16 GB RAM + Samsung 840 750 GB SSD

FPS: 18.8

Score: 474

Min FPS: 7.6

Max FPS: 47.5

Mac Pro 2010 GeForce 1060 vs eGPU setups

I used benchmarks provided by a thread on eGPU.io, credit goes to the forum posters for the comparisons. There aren't any perfect comparisons so here's a run of the GTX 1060 in my Mac Pro 2010 vs Thunderbolt 3 Mac running the considerably better 1070 and an iMac 2011 running a 1060. Depending on perspectives, the eGPUs do quiet well or the Mac Pro 2010 is fairly viable. The big difference in eGPU vs internal.

OpenGL  1920 x 1080 8xAA FullScreen Quality:Ultra Tessellation: Extreme

Mac Pro 2010 (Xeon X5670 2x 2.93Ghz) + GeForce GTX 1060 + 32 GB RAM + Samsung 840 750 GB SSD

Score: 1306

FPS: 51.5

Min FPS: 19.3

Max FPS: 106.5

 

iMac 2011 27 inch (3.4 GHz) + GTX 1060 6GB

Score: 1226

FPS: 48.7

Min FPS: 8.4

Max FPS: 96.9

 

MacBook Pro late 2016 13 inch (2.9 GHz) + MSI GTX 1070 6GB Aero OC

Score: 1825

FPS: 72.4

Min FPS: 9.8

Max FPS: 138.8

 

macOS vs Windows

As previously mentioned, this shouldn't come as any sort of surprise but Windows 10 gaming is still quite a bit of ahead of Apple, although Metal shows promise. As of right now, DX11 is the king regardless of your opinion on it in performance. Windows performs a full 10 FPS faster, or about 24% faster. in the same benchmark with the same settings.

OpenGL  1920 x 1080 8xAA FullScreen Quality:Ultra Tessellation: Extreme

macOS 10.12.6

Score: 1306

FPS: 51.5

Min FPS: 19.3

Max FPS: 106.5

 

Windows 10, 64 bit, Direct 3D 11

Score: 1609

FPS: 63.9

Min FPS: 21.7

Max FPS: 135.3

 

I plan to update the benchmarks in time. I may bring in the GeForce 760 for a reference when I have more time and possibly test in a 2008 Mac Pro in the future.

Troubleshooting

It's a good idea for the first boot to keep around an EFI card, as you may have to enable the web drivers. Also, I encountered the error of "Mac nVidia Web Drivers fail to update or cannot remove Kext files" when updating my OS recently; you'll want to follow the instructions I posted to deinstall the drivers if this happens to you.

Final Thoughts

Upgrading GPus isn't something I'd normally wax philosophical on, but we're post-golden era for OS X, and the Mac Pro is a relic.

Ever since nVidia has shipped it's web drivers, gone are the sketchy days of flashing a 6970 and using a rom creator. Installing off-the-shelf GPUs has gone from tribal knowledge to common knowledge for the Mac Pro user since I wrote my "how to" guide for the 760. Ironically, it wasn't until Apple killed upgradability that the dream of off-the-shelf GPUs could be bought without the infamous Apple-tax. I debated even not calling this article a "how to". The down side is despite the EFI compatible ROMs preloaded on the 700+ GeForce cards; they're not EFI boot screen compatible on OSX sadly. The only game in town is macvidcards.com which according to all accounts on MacRumors is a legit source, but I find the idea of hoarding an EFI hack a little irksome. It's hard to complain too much as nVidia has quietly kept the Mac Pro and Hackintosh community happy, self-included. There's no specialized knowledge needed to upgrade your GPU or abnormal risks of a bad firmware flash. The only caveat is you'll want to keep an EFI card around for major OS updates.

Upgrading the GPU is probably second best thing outside of an SSD to make an old Mac Pro feel young if you desire to run 4k and/or use any sort of motion graphics software, play games etc. It's hard not to recommend upgrading as there's a strong case to be made for removable GPUs. A Mac Pro with armed with a higher end GPU will best even the mighty iMac Pro handedly in GPU related benchmarks.

eGPUs are viable but not as performant. There's just simply no topping a PCIe card slots although we're probably coming to the end of the Mac Pro era if/when Thunderbolt gets an update. Thunderbolt 3 is fast but still has a lot of room for improvement. It's 40 gigabits 5.1 GB/ is approximately the speed of a PCIe 3.0 4x slot. If/when Thunderbolt gets an upgrade (Thunderbolt 4?) Bumping it up two-fold would bring it to roughly 8x PCIe 3.0 or shy of a 4x PCI 4.0. 8x PCIe currently offers roughly 95-99% of the performance for gaming, even with a GeForce GTX 1080. That said, PCIe 4.0 coming out very soon, and PCIe 5.0 may be only a year and change out, boosting PCIe 16x to a truly mind-boggling 63 GB/s a sec (504 gigabits per second). Thunderbolt won't be catching up PCIe any time soon, but it could be for practical purposes concerning consumer GPUs.

Also to add to the end of the cheese-grater era is the ever-looming Mac Pro. The word "modular" has been tossed around recently quite a bit to describe the next iteration. The Mac Pro flames have been stoked yet again with the very curious mention in Bloomberg's rumor-filled article Apple is said to plan to move from Intel to own Mac chips. It's highly unlikely Apple has anything in the pipeline that's even near the iMac's i9 configurations but will sport the same Bridge2,1 ARM A10 CPU that's found in the iMac Pro. Also, the new Mac Pros are at least out to 2019 and will be shaped by workflows.

The Bridge chipsets allow for some truly unexciting features like "Hey Siri" to be always on even when the computer shut down and/or to manage graphical keyboards like the one found in the MacBook Pros.

My gut feeling is if the iMac Pro is any sort of indicator, the next Mac Pro will be absurdly expensive and my guess is it'll sport less upgradability than the 2006-2012 "Cheese grater" Mac Pros but more than the abysmal 2013 "trash can" Mac Pro. Floating rumors around ARM CPUs seems a step away from modularity but a step closer to iOSifying Macs to annual upgrades, stopping the Hackintosh community and locking users out of OS upgrades after 5 years. I am not optimistic about the future of the Mac Pro or the Macintosh.

The Mac Pro has been a bit of an outlier. I used a 2008 Mac Pro for 10 years. When I bought it, I was still in a 3-year upgrade cycle, going from G3 -> G4 -> G5. I used my Mac Pro 2008 longer than all three computers combined, and only did I recently replace it with a 2010 Mac Pro. That's a significant reduction in computer sales Apple, to engineer a computer that can be used viably for 10 years and I worry they understand that too well. All for the cash, man...

For now, Mac users have only three choices: eGPUs, old Mac Pros, and the elusive Hackintosh. Any path will get you serious gains. My guess is the 1000 series is likely the last stop for most cheese grater users as we're at a crossroads: Thunderbolt is almost fast enough for GPUs (and PCIe enclosure are becoming more popular), and Apple may yet give us a modular computer.

4/2/18 Update

Some minor proofing and added in a lot more benchmarks. Kids love benchmarks.

4/5/18 Update

Final Thoughts ended up long-winded.