Mac Pro Face



Contents




The Cheese Grater's last stand

Apple finally announced a new Mac Pro after the failed 2013 Mac Pro. Little did we know, the trashcan design was a multiplane metaphor, not only as an ode to planned obsolescence but to Apple's opinion of Pro users as it even failed to capitalize on providing modest updates, the computer that was meant to be replaced without replacements.

The cMac Pro (Classic Mac Pro) remains as the high water mark of Apple professional computers, easily besting even the G3/G4 era computers which made for very upgradable CPUs, GPUs and RAM (thanks to the famed folding door design and CPU daughter cards). Regardless of what the new Mac Pro looks like, we're nearly at the end of the road for the classic Mac Pro. Apple officially dropped the 1.1 - 3.1 Mac Pro support, although the Mac Pros can be hacked to run current OSes. Thunderbolt PCIe chassis finally (sorta) officially support external GPUs. The iMac Pro single core performance is double that of a Mac Pro 5.1 even with a Xeon X5690. This level of performance is bound to trickle down in the next few years to more modest Mac configurations. If the Mac Mini ever received an update to an LGA-1151 let alone an LGA 2066 and ThunderBolt 3, it'd challenge the Mac Pro 5.1.

Then there's rumor of ARM Macintoshes in the future, in the darkest of timelines where the modular computer is killed as SOC computing takes over. Computers are locked out of OS upgrades as quickly as a phone. In this dystopian future, Google has its way, relegating us to a hellscape of thin clients and subscription services and our own data held as bounty behind a paywall even as every bit is mined deeper like a Pennsylvanian quarry. Lastly, there's phoenix act where the Mac Pro 7.1 (2019?) is a triumphant return to a user serviceable, upgradable box replete with PCIe slots. The Mac Pro in this scenario becomes the vanguard of current community of solder-iron wielding outcasts, cantankerous power users and cranky creative professionals, people disaffected in the era of iOS. It'd be the unity of rejects who cling to past, not out of nostalgia but out of practicality, a mob completely ready to abandon their aging hardware. More than likely, we'll get a Mac Pro that's a middling mess, an attempt to appease Johnny Ive's ego over the requirements of its target audience.

Whatever the future holds, the Mac Pro Cheesegraters are long-in-tooth, and the viability of using one as a daily driver is fading but with right upgrades has still life left.

– Greg

A quick aside for self-indulgence: I originally wrote in 2013 an upgrade guide for the Mac Pro, back in my earliest years of blogging (when this blog was hosted on Tumblr, mistaking Tumblr a utility for blogging). It was talky, anecdotal and amateurish, mostly upgrades I had done myself at various points, but also one of the first attempts at an all-encompassing guide for upgrading Mac Pros. I updated the blog post infrequently over the years, and it became a briar patch of disparate rambling, thorned with tangents and asides. I felt it reflected poorly as I've become a marginally better writer... at least that of am HS sophomore. I decided to clean up, update and rework my blog post but it became very apparent I should start from anew as I was already committing a wholesale field burn. The result is this guide: a roadmap to upgrades with all the relevant info and primary sources (and 7000+ words and a bit of ego-death for the sake of continuity).

A hearty thanks to all the communities and websites where Mac power users still exist: MacRumors, Netkas, XL8yourmac, TonyMacx86, EveryMac, Ars Technica and to The Mac Pro Upgrade group on FB (users Gianluca M, Jean-Paul R., John C) and Mac Pro Users on FB, (Eric Z.) for providing feedback, and many users who've taken the time to email me to correct any errors.




Note: The Mac Pro 2006 - 2012 cannot and will not support ThunderBolt, PCIe Thunderbolt cards are exclusively for PCs that have compatible motherboards with specialized chipsets, generally requiring a pass-through cable for internal video.




Know your Mac Pro's Model

A good portion of this guide (and others) uses terminology such as "Mac Pro 2008" or Mac Pro 4.1 when referring to what upgrades are feasible. The classic Mac Pros come in five iterations. You can find out a Mac Pro's version by going to "About this Mac" under the Apple menu. All classic Mac Pros share a base level of specifications: Four full length PCIe Slots, 1 mini PCIe slot for an Airport/Bluetooth card, SATA2 3.5 drive bays, two 5.25 inch Optical drive bays (ATA on 3.1 and lower Mac Pros, SATA2 on Mac Pro 4.1+) dual Gigabit Ethernet, five USB 2.0 ports, two Firewire 400 ports, two Firewire 800 ports, and optical digital audio in/out. The differences pertain to the bus/RAM/CPUs and tray designs for RAM and CPUs. Visually from the exterior, these computers are visually the same. Internally since the 1.1/2.1s, and 4.1/5.1s are essentially the same, the best way to verify what the original computer's version was, is via using its model number (or serial number). For more info see EveryMac's Mac Pro specification section and EveryMac.com's Ultimate Mac Lookup.

  • Mac Pro 1.1 aka 2006 aka Woodcrest (CPUs) - the first iteration of Mac Pros. The firmware can be upgraded to 2.1, uses 32 Bit EFI. Can run macOS 10.11.6 with hacks.
  • Mac Pro 2.1 aka 2007 aka Clovertown (CPUs)- The 2.1s were released only in dual quad-core CPU configurations, 2006 dual 2x Core Mac Pros sold used the 1.1 firmware whereas the 2.1s use a slightly updated firmware. Like the 1.1 before, uses 32 Bit EFI. Can run macOS 10.11.6 with hacks.
  • Mac Pro 3.1 aka 2008 aka Harpertown/Penryn (CPUs) - The Mac Pro 2008s are the odd man out as there are little CPU options compared to the 1.1/2.1 Mac Pros and the 4.1/5.1 Mac Pros, 64 Bit EFI, can use modern macOS with minimal hacking.
  • Mac Pro 4.1 aka 2009 aka Nehalem (CPUs) - The firmware can be upgraded to 5.1, uses 64 Bit EFI. When flashed, natively supported for Mojave 10.14, depending on GPU. 4.1s tend to be the upgraders choice.
  • Mac Pro 5.1 aka 2010/2012 aka Westermere (CPUs)- natively supported for Mojave 10.14, depending on GPU The Westermere CPUs are the highest end CPUs supported by LGA 771 Sockets. *Note, there were 2012 Mac Pros sold with a single Nehalem CPU, although somewhat uncommon.



Firmware upgrades/hacks

The Mac Pro 2006s (1.1) and 2009s (4.1) occupy a special place as both can be updated to later firmware. The Mac Pro 1.1 to 2.1 enables later CPU (Clovertown) support. The 4.1 gets the bigger boost the firmware update enables Westmere Xeon CPUs, faster bus/RAM. This is one of those times where a software upgrade makes all the difference. See the CPU upgrades section for more details.

Note: Sometimes it is incorrectly reported that the 1.1/2.1 Mac Pro cannot run 64-bit applications (such as Pindelski's upgrade guide) which is untrue, they are limited to a 32 Bit EFI ROM. 64-bit Applications run natively as this is independent of the EFI ROM.

Ars Technica reported on the success of the 2009 Mac Pros being flashed by Netkas forum members.

2006 1.1 Mac Pro

2009 4.1 Mac Pro

Mac Pro 5.1 Update for 10.13 & 10.13.5

Mac OS 10.13 (High Sierra), comes bundled with a new EFI update for AFPS bootablility and works with any 5.1 Mac Pros (including previously upgraded 4.1) Mac Pros but requires an EFI bootable graphics card as reported by MacRumors forum posters.

Mac Pro bootable NVMe guide

Clever hardware hackers discovered how to enable bootable NVMe on Mac Pro, it requires making a custom firmware using ROMtool and EXEinject. It's reported that this upgrade works on not only the 5.1, 4.1, but the 3.1 too. Note: The latest firmware upgrade for the Mac Pro 5.1 appears no longer allow this modification.




OS upgrades

High Sierra Logo

OS upgrades might seem obvious but the 2006-2007 (1.1 - 2.1) Mac Pros only have 32 Bit EFI and the 2008 (3.1) Mac Pros are officially unsupported. The 2009 Mac Pros can be firmware flashed to become 5.1 Mac Pros. The 2010-2012 can run modern OS X natively without nearly the hacking. The 2008 Mac Pros are easier to upgrade although (and this is important), the airport card that the Mac Pro 2008 shipped with is unsupported. You can upgrade the wireless chipset or use PCIe or USB solutions.

2006-2007 Mac Pro

The Mac Pro 2006s can run 10.11.6 but there are some hoops to jump through, notably a video card with at least 512 MB of VRAM and you'll need Captain Pike's Script which takes a lot of the leg work out. Also, wifi will be unsupported with the old chipset, but the Airport can be upgraded.

2008 Mac Pro

The Mac Pro 3.1s do not need the 32 bit EFI workaround which means mostly a native experience. Again, the default wifi chipset isn't supported, but the Airport cards can be replaced.

Upgrade to High Sierra without APFS

For many pros using legacy apps, High Sierra can wreak havoc on support. Many users have chosen to continue using HFS+ as it ensures compatibility with some legacy applications.




CPU Upgrades

xeon 5690

I sourced the information from MacRumors, so all credit goes to the community there and forum member ActionableMango for compiling this list, this is truncated to the most important bits of information. Also, 4.1/5.1 Mac Pro 1x to 2x CPU upgrades require a CPU tray capable of housing two CPUs which often cost as much as the computer itself.

Mac Pro 2009 / 2010 / Mac Pro 2012 (4.1, 5.1)

Mac Pros maximum RAM depends on the CPU configuration in a Mac Pro. Dual CPUs enable more than 2x the maximum RAM. Not all Xeons sold are dual CPU compatible thus cannot be pair with another CPU. i7 CPUs cannot be paired together. The CPUs must be the same, and installing a single CPU causes an error state. Also, go to the original thread to read up on 4.1 Mac Pro dual CPU upgrades.

  • 56GB in a single-processor Mac Pro using a single-processor-compatible Xeon
  • 64GB in a single-processor Mac Pro using a dual-processor-compatible Xeon
  • 160GB in a dual-processor Mac Pro

✔️* = Requires Mac Pro 4.1 -> 5.1 firmware upgrade. 4.1 dual CPU -> 5.1 Dual CPU upgrades require the process of delidding the CPUs to deal with the height difference. 5.1 Mac Pros use regular CPUs. The process of delidding can be performed manually or bought pre-delidded. Most users elect to delid the CPUs themselves based on forums.

Architecture Cores Grade CPU-Model GHz Turbo RAM Watt MP4,1 MP5,1
Westmere 6 core Dual Xeon X5690 3.46 3.73 1333 130W ✔️* ✔️
Westmere 6 core Dual Xeon X5680 3.33 3.60 1333 130W ✔️* ✔️
Westmere 6 core Dual Xeon X5679 3.20 3.60 1066 115W ✔️* ✔️
Westmere 6 core Dual Xeon X5675 3.06 3.46 1333 95W ✔️*
Westmere 6 core Dual Xeon X5670 2.93 3.33 1333 95W ✔️* ✔️
Westmere 6 core Dual Xeon X5660 2.80 3.20 1333 95W ✔️* ✔️
Westmere 6 core Dual Xeon X5650 2.66 3.06 1333 95W ✔️* ✔️
Westmere 6 core Dual Xeon E5659 2.53 2.80 1333 80W ✔️* ✔️
Westmere 6 core Dual Xeon E5645 2.40 2.67 1333 80W ✔️* ✔️
Westmere 6 core Dual Xeon L5639 2.13 2.67 1333 60W ✔️* ✔️
Gulftown 6 core Xeon W3690 3.46 3.73 1333 130W ✔️* ✔️
Westmere 6 core Xeon W3680 3.33 3.60 1333 130W ✔️* ✔️
Westmere 6 core Xeon W3670 3.20 3.46 1066 130W ✔️* ✔️
Gulftown 6 core Consumer i7 990X 3.46 3.73 1066 130W ✔️* ✔️
Gulftown 6 core Consumer i7 980X 3.33 3.60 1066 130W ✔️* ✔️
Gulftown 6 core Consumer i7 970 3.20 3.46 1066 130W ✔️* ✔️
Westmere 4 core Dual Xeon X5687 3.60 3.86 1333 130W 🚫 🚫
Westmere 4 core Dual Xeon X5677 3.46 3.73 1333 130W ✔️* ✔️
Westmere 4 core Dual Xeon X5672 3.20 3.60 1333 95W ✔️* ✔️
Westmere 4 core Dual Xeon X5667 3.06 3.46 1333 95W ✔️* ✔️
Westmere 4 core Dual Xeon X5647 2.93 3.20 1066 130W ✔️* ✔️
Westmere 4 core Dual Xeon E5640 2.66 2.93 1066 80W ✔️* ✔️
Westmere 4 core Dual Xeon E5630 2.53 2.80 1066 80W ✔️* ✔️
Westmere 4 core Dual Xeon E5620 2.40 2.66 1066 80W ✔️* ✔️
Westmere 2 core Dual Xeon X5698 4.40 4.54 1333 130W 🚫 🚫
Nehalem 4 core Dual Xeon W5590 3.33 3.60 1333 130W ✔️ ✔️
Nehalem 4 core Dual Xeon W5580 3.20 3.46 1333 130W ✔️ ✔️
Nehalem 4 core Dual Xeon X5570 2.93 3.33 1333 95W ✔️ ✔️
Nehalem 4 core Dual Xeon X5560 2.80 3.20 1333 95W ✔️ ✔️
Nehalem 4 core Dual Xeon X5550 2.66 3.06 1333 95W ✔️ ✔️
Nehalem 4 core Dual Xeon E5540 2.53 2.80 1066 80W ✔️ ✔️
Nehalem 4 core Dual Xeon E5530 2.40 2.66 1066 80W ✔️ ✔️
Nehalem 4 core Dual Xeon E5520 2.26 2.53 1066 80W ✔️ ✔️
Nehalem 4 core Xeon W3580 3.33 3.60 1333 130W ✔️ ✔️
Nehalem 4 core Xeon W3570 3.20 3.46 1333 130W ✔️ ✔️
Nehalem 4 core Xeon W3565 3.20 3.46 1066 130W ✔️ ✔️
Nehalem 4 core Xeon W3540 2.93 3.20 1066 130W ✔️ ✔️
Nehalem 4 core Xeon W3530 2.80 3.06 1066 130W ✔️ ✔️
Nehalem 4 core Xeon W3520 2.66 2.93 1066 130W ✔️ ✔️
Nehalem 4 core Consumer i7 975 3.33 3.60 1066 130W ✔️ ✔️
Nehalem 4 core Consumer i7 965 3.20 3.46 1066 130W ✔️ ✔️
Nehalem 4 core Consumer i7 960 3.20 3.46 1066 130W ✔️ ✔️
Nehalem 4 core Consumer i7 950 3.06 3.33 1066 130W ✔️ ✔️
Nehalem 4 core Consumer i7 940 2.93 3.20 1066 130W ✔️ ✔️
Nehalem 4 core Consumer i7 930 2.80 3.06 1066 130W ✔️ ✔️
Nehalem 4 core Consumer i7 920 2.66 2.93 1066 130W ✔️ ✔️

Mac Pro 2008 (3.1)

The 2008 Mac Pros have the least CPU options, and with the base CPU configuration from Apple, the 2x quad core 2.8 GHz Mac Pro makes for exceptionally modest gains in the benchmark department.

Architecture Cores Grade CPU-Model GHz RAM Watt MP3,1
Harpertown 4 core Dual Xeon X5482 3.2 800 150W ✔️
Harpertown 4 core Dual Xeon X5460 3.16 667 120W ✔️
Harpertown 4 core Dual Xeon E5472 3.0 800 80W ✔️
Harpertown 4 core Dual Xeon X5472 3.0 800 120W ✔️
Harpertown 4 core Dual Xeon X5450 3.0 667 120W ✔️
Harpertown 4 core Dual Xeon E5450 3.0 667 80W ✔️
Harpertown 4 core Dual Xeon E5440 2.83 667 80W ✔️
Harpertown 4 core Dual Xeon E5462 2.8 800 80W ✔️
Wolfdale 2 core Dual Xeon X5272 3.40 800 80W ✔️
Wolfdale 2 core Dual Xeon X5260 3.33 667 80W ✔️

Mac Pro 2006-2007 (1.1, 2.1)

The Mac Pro 1.1s with a firmware upgrade can use a wide array of CPUs, making it the second most upgradable in the series of Mac Pros.

Architecture Cores Grade CPU-Model GHz RAM Watt Min
Firm-
ware
Clovertown 4 core Dual Xeon X5365 3.0 667 150W 2.1
Clovertown 4 core Dual Xeon X5365 3.0 667 120W 2.1
Clovertown 4 core Dual Xeon X5355 2.66 667 120W 2.1
Clovertown 4 core Dual Xeon X5355 2.66 667 120W 2.1
Clovertown 4 core Dual Xeon X5355 2.66 667 120W 2.1
Clovertown 4 core Dual Xeon E5345 2.33 667 80W 2.1
Clovertown 4 core Dual Xeon E5345 2.33 667 80W 2.1
Clovertown 4 core Dual Xeon E5345 2.33 667 80W 2.1
Clovertown 4 core Dual Xeon E5340 2.4 533 80W 2.1
Clovertown 4 core Dual Xeon E5340 2.4 667 80W 2.1
Clovertown 4 core Dual Xeon L5335 2.0 667 50W 2.1
Clovertown 4 core Dual Xeon L5320 1.86 533 50W 2.1
Clovertown 4 core Dual Xeon L5320 1.86 533 50W 2.1
Clovertown 4 core Dual Xeon L5320 1.86 533 50W 2.1
Clovertown 4 core Dual Xeon E5320 1.86 533 80W 2.1
Clovertown 4 core Dual Xeon E5320 1.86 533 80W 2.1
Clovertown 4 core Dual Xeon E5320 1.86 533 80W 2.1
Woodcrest 2 core Dual Xeon 5160 3.0 667 80W 1.1
Woodcrest 2 core Dual Xeon 5160 3.0 667 80W 1.1
Woodcrest 2 core Dual Xeon 5160 3.0 667 65W 1.1
Woodcrest 2 core Dual Xeon 5150 2.66 667 65W 1.1
Woodcrest 2 core Dual Xeon 5150 2.66 667 65W 1.1
Woodcrest 2 core Dual Xeon 5150 2.66 667 65W 1.1
Woodcrest 2 core Dual Xeon 5130 2.0 667 65W 1.1
Woodcrest 2 core Dual Xeon 5130 2.0 667 65W 1.1
Woodcrest 2 core Dual Xeon 5130 2.0 667 65W 1.1

Guides on Upgrading CPUs




GPU upgrades

GeForce GTX 1080

When I originally wrote this guide four years ago, it was surprising that users could use off-the-shelf Nvidia cards. I tested a GeForce 760 Hackintosh vs. my Mac Pro, outlined the installation process 2008 Mac Pro Full Instructions and benchmarks here, I've since upgraded to a GeForce 1060.

GPUs are routinely one of the most common upgrades to Mac Pros. There are roughly three classes of GPUs:

  • GPUs that are Mac Native - GPUs that out-of-the-box will display the Mac OS boot screen and do not require additional drivers if the minimum OS is met.
  • GPUs that can be flashed to Apple EFI - these are graphics cards that shipped as a PC graphics card but require a ROM flash to display the EFI Boot screen
  • Graphics cards that can be used in macOS but will not display the boot screen and may require (in the case of Nvidia) additional drivers to output video

There's some overlap between the last two types of cards. Generally, anyone running a non-EFI compatible boot screen will want to keep an EFI compatible card around for OS upgrades as OS upgrades can stop an NVidia card that isn't Mac OS native from displaying video until the proper drivers are installed. This might sound undesirable but, with the gains of the nVidia cards, most users are willing to forgo the inconvenience, self-included. I've been in all camps, originally using a GeForce GTX 8800, flashing an ATI Radeon HD 6870 to Mac Native EFI and then landing on the GeForce 760 and 1060.

Lastly, the superpower hungry GPUs (the GeForce 1080 Ti) can be powered by the Mac Pro PSU but require the Mac Pro Pixlas Mod (also covered in the Other mods section of this guide). Users have successfully powered two GeForce 1080 Tis using the Pixlas mod and (possibly upgraded) internal PSU.

OEM EFI Bootable Cards / Aftermarket EFI Bootable

EFI compatible cards that have a native Mac version: Mostly OEM cards although with a few notable aftermarket cards.

DL DIV - Dual Link DVI
SL DIV - Single Link DVI
DP - Display Port
* Pirated Mac Vid Cards ROM, see changelog for details

NVidia
NVIDIA GeForce 7300 GT 256 MB GDDR2 1 SL DVI 1 DL DVI
NVIDIA GeForce GT 120 512 MB GDDR3 1 Mini DP 1 DL DVI
NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GT 512 MB GDDR3 2 DL DVI
NVIDIA Quadro FX 4800 1.5 GB GDDR5 2 DL DVI
NVIDIA Quadro 4000 3 GB GDDR5 1 DL DVI 1 DP
NVIDIA Quadro FX 5600 1.5 GB GDDR3 2 DL DVI Stereo 3D
EVGA GeForce GTX 680 2 GB GDDR5 1 HDMI 1 DP 1 DVI-I 1 DVI-D
PNY NVIDIA Quadro K5000 4 GB GDDR5 2 DVI 2 DP
NVIDIA GeForce GTX 780 * 3 GB / 6 GB GDDR5 1 DL DVI, 1 HDMI, 1 DP
NVIDIA GeForce GTX Titan * 6 GB GDDR5 1 DL DVI 1 HDMI 1 DP
NVIDIA GeForce GTX Titan X * 12 GB GDDR5 1 DVI 1 HDMI 1 Triple DP
ATI/AMD
ATI Radeon HD 2600 XT 256 MB GDDR2 1 SL DVI 1 DL DV
ATI Radeon X1900 XT 512 MB GDDR3 2 DL DVI
ATI Radeon HD 4870 512 MB GDDR5 1 Mini DP 1 DL DVI
ATI Radeon HD 5770 1 GB GDDR5 2 Mini DP 1 DL DVI
ATI Radeon HD 5870 1 GB GDDR5 2 Mini DP 1 DL DVI

Flashable to EFI compatible cards

The most commonly flashable video cards are ones that have a Mac equivalent that was either sold by Apple as OEM or aftermarket, and the ROMs then were distributed on the open market, a few cards require physical modification. The advantage is once the ROM is installed, the card acts/behaves like a native card, but means some additional functionality might be lost (cards that have extra video output ports may not work). Below are software-only flashable cards. I used for years an ATI Radeon 6870.

Non-EFI Bootable Cards

nVidia has chosen to write drivers (labeled "web drivers" as macOS is distributed with nVidia drivers for Mac EFI cards) for their video cards so that off the shelf cards can be used in Mac Pros. However, without a Mac compatible EFI ROM, they cannot display video at boot and do not output video until the driver has loaded. Some of the ATI cards are plug and play, specifically the Sapphire RX PULSE series, meaning that even after OS updates, the cards will output video without any driver updates, unlike Nvidia cards. However, neither AMD or NVidia cards will output video at the EFI boot screen, and video will not start until the drivers have loaded (roughly right before the login screen). With the NVidia video cards, even security updates can require a web driver update, meaning if you update, next boot will not output video until the driver has been updated. Note: To my knowledge, all the GTX 700-1000 series are supported by web drivers. There seems to be a little less consistency in the GT series so research before buying a GT series. For example, the GT610 works under Mojave.

image

Photo Credit: Amazon.com

Custom Flashed Cards: Depending on how much time you've spent researching upgrades, you may have read about the website/business, MacVidCards. MacVidCards sells custom flashed EFI NVidia cards (the 1000 series), but I hesitate to link directly to their site as several FaceBook/MacRumors posts have been lukewarm. The cards do work but the turn-around times are long, communication infrequent and the prices are high, but they appear to be legitimate, with many testimonials floating around message boards from longtime members that they do indeed work as promised. MacVidCards claims to have written a custom EFI ROM. Rather than collaboratively explain how said hack was done (Unlike previous releases TonyMacX86 / MacRumors / Netkas), MacVidCards chooses to be a monopoly. (Note: Dave of MacVidCards notes he did contribute on previous AMD card hacks) I'd rather not weigh too much on the ethics on it, but software developers do deserve compensation and depending on the actual work performed on the EFI ROM, it may very well be truly custom. As of writing this, they are the only game in town when it comes to making the NVidia 1000 series cards Mac EFI compatible. I suggest googling for them, and let you be the judge if its worth the cost. Update: Also, I have to note that, after reading the previous statement, Dave of MacVidCards reached out to me and also corrected on errors found on this page. So if nothing else, my experience with MacVidCards has been fair in my limited dealings with them considering my hesitation to recommend them.

NVidia Webdriver Manual Installation

TonyMacX86 forums do an excellent job of direct linking to the NVidia installers for driver version number by OS version. Note: my list may not be 100% up-to-date depending on when I've last updated this guide.

Note about SLI: Currently, there isn't any SLI support under macOS, and this seems unlikely to change. Windows, however, will support SLI in a Mac Pro.

NVidia Driver Automatic Installation

Seeing the above mess of links and the corrosponding versions of drivers, Benjamin Dobell wrote a CLI utility to install the Mac NVidia drivers that work for your system, as described as "This script installs the best (not necessarily the latest) official nVidia web drivers for your system." Go to github: NVidia Update.

Useful Links

Which card should buy?

There isn't a "best card" for any computer, rather how much money you're willing to spend and if the money could be better spent elsewhere. This is an arbitrary metric as even a 2.1 Mac Pro will see significant gains in GPU tasks, with a GeForce 1080 Ti over lesser cards (for example, a GeForce 1070). Consider this: GeForce 1080 Ti sells for many times more than a Mac Pro 2.1 itself (as of writing this in May 2018, a factor of 3x times the price). Commonly, forums and groups will mention "pairs well," or "bottleneck" but any high-end GPU will "pair well," the question is more about where a user can see more performance gains. I'd argue buying a 4.1 Mac Pro, and mid-range GPU would be better money spent as it'd feel faster for many day-to-day experiences and is very upgradable, but that's just my personal opinion.

The next question is, do you want an EFI native card? Many users, self-included, I elected to go the route of NVidia and to use a secondary graphics cards to protect me against OS upgrades. Some users may find this too cumbersome, whereas some users go as far as to operate without a backup card, and prep their computer for OS upgrades by preinstalling drivers and executing a few commands. The AMD Saphire RX 580x Pulse tends to be loved by more everyday users as OS updates will not break the ability to display video, thus not requiring any workaround such as using a backup graphics card or using a boot manager to select which OS they're booting instead of Option key booting.

Lastly, consider 4k and 10-bit support of the card you are interested in. Pretty much all the current roster of cards will drive multiple monitors at 60 Hz 4k whereas older cards may only support one display at 60 Hz or worse, only one display at 30 Hz 4k.

HDMI (and Display Port) Audio

Many modern graphics cards have HDMI and thus capable of outputting audio. There's a very long thread of intrepid hackers at Mac Rumors.




I/O Upgrades

USB 3.0 Card

The Mac Pros can support many more cards than listed here but these are all common cards, NewerTech and Sonnet are reliable. Not all cards are equal, some are more performant, in the case of USB 3.0/3.1 offering full duplex per port instead of shared bandwidth. Also, some non-listed cards have issues. I had an off-brand Inateck PCI-E to USB 3.0 which worked but also caused a reboot loop when trying to shut down. The only way to turn off my Mac Pro was to hold down the power key forcibly. I personally use an SYBA SY-PEX40039 SATA card as my bootable SSD for my Samsung Evo. I've elected not to include USB 2.0 only or Gigabit Ethernet-only or SATA II only cards as all are found natively on all versions of the classic Mac Pros.

USB 3.0

  • Sonnet Allegro USB 3.0 / Sonnet Allegro Pro
  • Inateck KT4004
  • RocketU 1144D / HighPoint RocketU 1144C
  • HighPoint RocketU 1144E
  • CalDigit FASTA-6GU3 Pro (Discontinued)
  • HighPoint RocketU 1144CM -
  • Inateck PCI-E to USB 3.0 - (Caused Reboot loop in 2008 Mac Pro)
  • Sonnet Technologies Tempo Duo PCIe (2x eSATA / 2x USB 3.0) - (discontinued)
  • Newer Technology MAXPower 2 port eSATA 6/GBs & 2 Port USB 3.0

SATA/eSATA

Note: Not all SATA cards are bootable on OS X. Currently, the list is expanding, non-bootable cards will be listed as such. Known bootable cards will be listed as such. If no notes appear, it's because I haven't researched this yet.

  • NewerTech MAXPower PCIe eSATA 6G Controller - Bootable
  • MAXPower 4-port eSATA 6G PCIe 2.0 - (bootable)
  • MAXPowereSATA 6G PCIe 2.0 RAID 0/1/5/10
  • MAXPower RAID mini-SAS 6G-2e2i
  • Sonnet Technologies Tempo SATA Pro - Bootable
  • Sonnet Technologies Tempo SATA E2P
  • Sonnet Technologies Tempo SATA 6Gb/s PCIe 2.0 - (discontinued)
  • Sonnet Technologies Tempo SATA Pro 6Gb PCIe 2.0 - (discontinued)
  • SYBA SY-PEX40039 SATA III
  • HighPoint Rocket 620 2 SATA
  • ORICO PFU3-4P 3 Port
  • ATTO ExpressSAS H680 Low-Profile x8-External Port
  • ATTO ExpressSAS H644 Low-Profile 4-Internal/4-External Port
  • ATTO ExpressSAS H6F0 16-External

Firewire

  • Sonnet Technologies Tango Express Combo FireWire 400/USB 2.0 Card
  • Sonnet Technologies Allegro FireWire 800 PCIe
  • Sonnet Technologies Allegro FW400 PCIe - (discontinued)

USB 3.1

  • MAXPower 4-Port USB 3.1 Gen 1
  • Sonnet Technologies Allegro USB-C
  • StarTech 4-Port USB 3.1 (10Gbps) Card PEXUSB314A2V
  • Aukey B01AAETL6Y 2 port USB 3.1
  • CalDigit FASTA-6GU3 Plus (USB 3.1 / 2x eSATA)

Ethernet (10 Gigabit)

Useful Links




Storage Upgrades

The classic Mac Pros carried onboard only SATA 2 and (ATA for 1.1-3.1) which has a limit of 300 MB/s, which far less than what modern SSDs can tap. The Mac Pros can use SATA SSDs without any special modifications, with the caveat that read/write speeds are significantly lower than their potential max speeds. The most popular upgrade, as of writing this, are PCIe sleds for SATA SSDs, which often feature two trays for RAID0 configurations, bringing up the speeds to the 1.2 GB/s range.

SATA2 still won't be fully saturated even by performant 3.5 spinning disk drives (as of writing this) the current gen 3.5 drives like Western Digital Black drives. For those looking to sacrifice ports, OWC made a series of multi-mounts to go inside the dual 5.25 drive bays for 3.5 and 2.5-inch drives.

The 1.1, 2.1 and 3.1 Mac Pros also have two extra SATA ports hidden on the motherboards, which while a royal pain in the ass to access, can be routed up to the optical bay for modders looking for more SATA storage or replace optical bays with SATA variants. 4.1/5.1 Mac Pros removed ATA and thus have SATA accessible. Newer Technology made an eSATA Extender Cable Adapter specifically for users looking to make eSATA ports out of the hidden ports, but blocking off a PCIe port in the process.

Also worth noting both OWC and Newer Technology make 2.5 -> 3.5 speeds for the drive bays found in Mac Pros although I can attest for two years of not using a sled that they are optional if you rarely move your Mac Pro.

OS X can boot AHCI SSDs which faster than the standard SATA drives via PCIe sleds offering significantly faster speeds, often double that of SATA SSDs but tend to cap out at 1500 MB/s.

NVMe (NVM express) is also now supported with the appropriate PCIe sleds under 10.13 with the glaring issue of only being read/writable but not bootable. It appears that AHCI is only bootable... however, clever users have discovered that creating a Fusion Drive with NVMe, with only the boot record on the AHCI storage (it can be a thumb drive) allows for NVMe boots allowing Mac Pros attain the incredible speeds of NVMe. The 960 Evo by Samsung attains incredible 2237 MB/s reads, and 1405 MB/s writes, roughly double to triple the read/writes of SATA, and NVMe tends to sport faster 4k Random read/write times.

NVMe bootablility can now be obtained by using a firmware hack upgrade. See the entire thread here. Notably, this firmware hack appears to work for 3.1/4.1/5.1 Mac Pros.

PCIe SATA sleds

  • Sonnet Technologies Tempo SSD (2x 2.5 SSD) - bootable
  • OWC Accelsior series - bootable

PCIe AHCI sleds

  • Angelbird Wings PX1 PCIe - (Bootable only with AHCI or Fusion drive if using NVMe)
  • Lycom DT-120 (bootable, not AHCI specific)
  • Sintech Apple PCIe
  • Kingstone Predator Ahci SSD
  • Amfeltec SQUID series (4x AHCI or NVMe M.2) - Must be Gen2
  • Highpoint 7101a (M.2)

PCIe NVMe sleds

  • Researching...

AHCI SSD PCIe sled Host adapters

Sled adapters are popular as they simplify SSD upgrades but functionally are the same as SATA cards for speed. The Sonnet Tempo SSD allows for two drives, making it the better of the products on this list. All products in this list are bootable.

  • OWC Accelsior S: PCIe to 2.5" 6Gb/s SATA SSD Host Adapter
  • Sonnet Technologies Tempo SSD 6Gb/s SATA PCIe 2.5" SSD Host Adapter
  • Sonnet Technologies Tempo SSD Pro Plus 6Gb/s eSATA / SATA PCIe 2.5" SSD Host Adapter

Useful Links




Fusion Drives

The Fusion Drive once was Apple's solution to mitigating the high cost/low storage space of SSD. The Fusion drive was an OS level pairing between a standard spinning disk SATA drive and an SSD. These days the idea of creating a Fusion drive might seem strange with SSD prices continuing to drop, where the economics of TB sized SSDs are much more attainable.

Fusion Drives have become en vogue once again thanks to the partial support that macOS appears to have regarding NVMe. NVMe isn't bootable, but Fusion drives are.

The hack goes as follows: Disable SIP / Install the hacked NVMe driver for 10.12, (you may still need it for specific brands in 10.13), then a string of installation commands... Rather than re-outline them, the following links are useful.

Useful Links




Display Upgrades

The Mac Pro's display limitations are a factor of graphics cards and whatever monitor you can afford. There's a minor caveat that flashed 7950s and 7970s booting with 60 Hz 4k displays will hang, thus must run at 30 Hz at the boot screen. Most 79xx cards have dual ROM so day-to-day the UEFI ROM can function as the cards default which bypasses the boot-screen video output. Also, 4k supported wasn't official until 10.9.3. Forum members at MacRumors have confirmed that 144 Hz 4k displays do work. Notably, older NVidia GPUs with the web drivers will not support 10-bit color but the latest GPUs do, and the same goes for AMD's. Most displays (especially budget) use Frame Rate Control (FRC) to achieve simulated 10-bit instead of true 10-bit panels, by parsing the 10-bit color stream, and for colors that fall outside the 8-bit range, cycling between near shades of colors within the 8-bit spectrum. This visually creates a simulated 10-bit experience. This is acceptable for many purposes, but film editors and graphic designers may require the accuracy of true 10-bit color.

Depending on setup 4k @ 60 Hz via HDMI may require workarounds whereas DisplayPort tends to be far more reliable.




Bluetooth / Wireless Upgrades

The Mac Pros 1.1 - 5.1 all include one mini PCIe slot for Airport cards. The advantage is that you do not have to sacrifice a PCIe slot and upgrade Bluetooth and 802.11 in one upgrade. Any Mac Pro can be upgraded to 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac + Bluetooth 4.0+. I personally bought a card from osxwifi.com and outlined my experiences here.

Vendors like OSXWifi sell a mini PCIe to Apple Airport adapter + the Apple Airport BCM94360CD. Each can be bought separately or packaged together.

Installing the cards isn't much harder than regular PCIe cards.

Mac Pro 1.1-3.1s looking to keep wifi support for unsupported OSes can keep native wifi / Bluetooth with the BCM94360CD.

  • Apple Broadcom BCM94360CD - 1.1 / 5.1 Mac Pros (The Mac 1.1-3.1s have a Bluetooth antenna that's attachable via USB data lines, the 4.1/5.1s antennas are located off the logic board thus an extension cable is needed)

Useful Links




Ram Upgrades (Memory)

As many users probably are already aware, the Mac Pros can address more RAM than Apple officially lists and depends on the CPU configuration. If for some reason you intend to run pre-10.9, OS X pre-Mavericks had a maximum of 96 GB of RAM.

Mac Pro 5.1 (2010/2012)

The 5.1 Mac Pro depending on CPU config may run 1333 MHz ram at 1066 MHz. Any CPU config can use the slower clocked memory; there is some debate on performance effects Mac Performance Guide tests for information. Users also report mixed ECC/non-ECC ram bootable on the Mac Pro 5.1. Lastly, OWC and EveryMac generally report the maximum ram on the 5.1 as 128 GB, but users have confirmed that 160 GB is possible. The Mac Pro will not boot with more than 160 GB of RAM.

The Mac Pro 5.1 can run in both Dual and Triple channel memory modes, this is dependent on how many matched pairs of RAM is placed into the Mac Pro. A Mac Pro can 5.1 can run in triple channel mode with six paired DIMMs, whereas if 2,4 or 8 DIMMs are used, the Mac Pro will run in dual channel mode. Notably, memory performance is increased roughly 50% by running a Mac Pro in triple channel mode but result in small real-world performance tests equate to 3% speed increase in. Also, see "Is Tri Channel functionality maintained when 4th memory stick used?" for further info.

Maximum DIMM size: 32 GB

Maximum RAM:

  • Single Processor Xeon: 56 GB
  • Dual Processor Capable Single Xeon: 64 GB
  • Dual Processor Xeon: 128 (8x16) 160 GB (5x32)
  • Dual Channel configuration: 2, 3, 4, 5 or 8 DIMMs
  • Triple Channel: 6 DIMMs

Apple's Recommended DIMM type:

  • PC3-10600E, 1333 MHz, DDR3 SDRAM UDIMMs
  • 72-bit wide, 240-pin ECC modules
  • 36 ICs maximum per ECC UDIMM
  • Error-correcting code (ECC)

Mac Pro 4.1 (2009)

Maximum DIMM size: 16 GB

The 4.1 Mac Pros can be firmware upgraded to 5.1, which changes the RAM support and maximum RAM. Like the Mac Pro 5.1, it can run in dual and triple channel modes.

Maximum RAM:

  • Single Processor Xeon: 48 GB
  • Dual Processor Capable Single Xeon: 64 GB
  • Dual Processor Xeon: 128 GB

Apple's Recommended DIMM type:

  • PC3-8500, 1066 MHz, DDR3 SDRAM UDIMMs
  • 72-bit wide, 240-pin ECC modules
  • 36 ICs maximum per ECC UDIMM
  • Error-correcting code (ECC)

Mac Pro 3.1 (2008)

Maximum RAM: 64 GB

Maximum DIMM size: 8 GB

RAM must be installed in pairs, and Apple recommends Apple approved heatsinks to keep fans at a minimum. Can use 667 MHz FB-DIMMs as found in the 1.1/2.1 but with a speed penalty. Also, XLR8yourmac's mixed speed pairing tests.

Apple's Recommended DIMM type:

  • 800 MHz, DDR2, FB-DIMMs
  • 72-bit wide, 240-pin modules
  • 36 memory ICs maximum per DIMM
  • Error-correcting code (ECC)

Mac Pro 1.1/2.1 (2006/2007)

The Mac Pro 1.1/2.1s Mac RAM depends on the firmware. OWC/Everymac reports the 2.1 Mac Pro with a maximum of 32 GB which is incorrect. Users have confirmed using 8 GB DIMMs in 2.1s.

RAM must be installed in pairs, and Apple recommends Apple approved heatsinks to keep fans at a minimum.

Maximum RAM:

  • Mac Pro 1.1: 32 GB
  • Mac Pro 2.1: 64 GB

Maximum DIMM size:

  • Mac Pro 1.1: 4 GB
  • Mac Pro 2.1: 8 GB

Apple's Recommended DIMM type:

  • 667 MHz, FB-DIMMs
  • 72-bit wide, 240-pin modules
  • 36 devices maximum per DIMM
  • Error-correcting code (ECC)

Useful Links




Other Upgrades

Blu Ray / Blu Ray Writer

The Mac Pro can use any SATA or USB 3.0 Blu-Ray Drive as Blu-Ray is ISO compliant, thus no special drivers are needed, but macOS does not have native support for Blu-Ray disc creation or watching Blu-Ray movies. VLC supports Blu-Ray playback in all its HD glory, and Roxio Toast can burn Blu-Ray disks. There's also plenty of software for ripping Blu-Rays for macOS.

Fan Control

Macs Fan Control takes the champion of the best fan control software, allowing users to use different thermal sensors to control fan clusters or other values. The best parts are the application is free, and there's both a Mac and Windows port.

Macs Fan Control

PCIe expansion

While the classic Mac Pros do not have Thunderbolt, they do support PCIe expansion chassis. Specialty companies like Cubix and Dynapower USA Netstor series make macOS compatible PCIe expanders, generally taking a 16x PCIe slot as a host and dividing its bandwidth into more PCIe slots. These do not come cheap as they're uncommon.

Mac Pro Pixlas PSU Mod

The Pixlas mod is a power supply specific modification to draw taps directly from the PSU as opposed to using the standard PCIe power cables, which are only six pins instead of 8 pins thus unable to make the full power draw needed for the 250 watts required for extreme-end GPUs. Mac-build specialist, Big Little Frank has run 2x GeForce 1080 Ti + NVMe successfully using the Pixlas modification with a possibly upgraded PSU.

External Power Supplies

To mitigate the stress on the Mac Pro's power supply (tallying in at 980w of power), some users use external PSUs for their GPUs, especially if they have two high-end GPUs such as the GeForce GTX 1080 as they peak at 250w power.

Replacing the Battery

Over the years, batteries can go bad and cause errant behaviors (generally resolved temporarily by zapping the PRAM, holding down command-shift-p-r). The Mac Pro uses a 3 volt, BR2032, located on most models above the bottom PCIe slot.

NorthBridge High0Temperature fix

The NorthBridge chipset runs typically hot, to begin with, around 65C/150F but there have been a few owners who've had extraordinarily high temps (120C/250F). Fortunately, users have tips for fixes.

Fan / Heat Sink / other case part Replacement

Shops like dvwarehoues, wellovemacs, and macpartsonline carry parts for classic Mac Pros. eBay also tends to be a popular grounds for classic Mac Pro replacement pieces.

Look up serial Number

This may seem like an odd thing to do, but if you're buying a used Mac Pro 5.1, you may want to see a computer's stock information to see if the Mac was originally a 4.1 Mac Pro. This can be done at sites like appleserialnumberinfo.com.

Linux on 2006 Mac Pros

Running Linux on 32-bit EFI Macs takes more effort than 64-bit EFI Macs to run the 64-bit distros. Below are guides on running Linux on older Macs.

Windows 10 on Mac Pros

Officially Apple does not support Bootcamp with Window 10, but that shouldn't stop anyone. I've personally used Windows 10 on both a 3.1 and 5.1 Mac Pro, albeit at one consession: it was on a seperate drive.




Service Manuals

All the support manuals can be found at Apple.com - Manuals - Mac Pro, but for ease of use, I've organized them in this section. Notably, the 4.1/5.1 Mac Pros (2009, 2010-2012) are very similar internally thus any 2009/2010 manual works for the 2012.

Note: All the manuals are linked are PDFs.

User Guide Manuals

Instruction Manuals




Buying Used Mac Pros on eBay

Seeing as the Mac Pros are no longer made, used markets are the only places to find Mac Pros. I bought my 2008 Mac Pro from Apple but bought my 2010 from eBay.

If you're here, I assume you already know this, but it bears repeating. Used iMac 5ks 2017 iMacs often go for prices similar to Mac Pro 5.1s, have upgradable ram (up to 64 GB) and have Thunderbolt 3 making it eGPU viable. The single core score of an iMac 5k 2017 i5 is nearly double the best Mac Pro 2012. With the 5k monitor built in and support for years to come and the ability to drop in an i7-7700k (for the adventurous) which bests all but the 12-Core Mac Pros in multi-core performance, I'd suggest considering an iMac as in most tasks it'd be noticeably faster.

  • If considering a single CPU Mac Pro, Dual CPU trays for Mac Pro 4.1/5.1s cost nearly as much as the computer itself (sometimes more).
  • The Dual CPU 2009 (4.1) Mac Pro is considered the upgraders choice as they're very hackable, as it only takes a firmware flash to convert them to a Mac Pro 5.1. The only caveat is upgrading the CPUs requires delidding.
  • Used CPUs can be found on quite a few sites for reasonable deals. I've read a few people buying used X5690s (the highest tier CPU that the 5.1 Mac Pro can accept) for about $50 a pop from Alibaba.
  • Some sellers sell 5.1 Mac Pros that are formerly 4.1s upgraded. If you're unsure or the seller is, the serial number can tell you when the computer was manufactured and its model type.
  • Mac Pro 1.1/2.1s so far haven't been able to run later than OS X 10.11, which limits their longevity
  • The Mac Pro 3.1 can run the latest OS X with minor hacks, making them bargains but are limited in upgrades and performance.
  • 2010 and 2012 Mac Pros are virtually the same, there are no performance differences other than the base configurations.



Collected Articles on classic Mac Pro and the 2019 Mac Pro




Changelog

Making and maintaining this guide takes a fair amount of work, and feedback from users is greatly appreciated to make this the most accurate/best guide possible. If you have suggestions or edits, please feel free to contact me at: blog@greggant.com.

9/19/18 - Added link to After Effects GeForce 1080 vs Radeon 580

9/04/18 - Mild copy edit + driver downloader.

8/27/18 - Added note about DynaPower USA to PCIe expanders, full list of AMD cards and some minor copy editing.

8/3/18 - Added eBay purchasing notes, Minor copy editing to new content

8/2/18 - Special thanks to reader Geo B. for sending me info about the FASTA-6GU3 and Amfeltec SQUID. Added notes on Triple channel memory. Also, Big list of corrections (typo spot, correction about language around UEFI, 2006 Mac Pro OS compatibility, and other bullet points), thanks in part to Dave @ MacVidCards for his very-direct but informative e-mail (Dont'worry, we're cool, or at least I assume we are). As per request, any reference was changed to from "Mac Vid Cards" to "MacVidCards." Notably, Dave mentions that the Mac 780/Titan/Titan X EFI compatible cards use a pirated version of his custom/hacked ROM. While I haven't verified this, as I don't really have means or time to do so (this page is for fun and to help other people like me), I see no reason to doubt this claim.

6/13/18 - Added Know Your Mac Pro, link to Pixlas dual GPU mod by Big Little Frank, added HDMI Volume control lifehacker link.

6/12/18 - Minor update to GPUs list, added also firmware update info, finally added a blur about delidding, xlr8yourmac fixed.

6/1/18 - NVMe is now bootable with firmware hacks, added info in NVMe and firmware sections.

5/27/18 - Added link to Netkas Mac Pro 1.1 -> 2.1 firmware utility and StarTech 4-Port card to USB list.

5/23/18 - Added link to wifi install guide for 5.1 Mac Pros, link cleanup so links consistently open blank page, minor proofing.

5/22/18 - Added HDMI Audio links, Mac Pro 5.1 Update for 10.13, Also, time for some proofing: Fixed quite a few typos, grammar blunders, and punctuation.

5/21/18 - Added Mac Pro manuals from Apple.com

5/17/18 - Added Linux on 2006 Mac Pros links

5/16/18 - 5770 Error correction info

5/15/18 - Minor copy editing, fixed bad link to anchor tag for CPU upgrades, a note about SLI.

5/14/18 - Reworked the intro, it's wordy now. Minor copy editing, more PCIe sled info, more 4.1 firmware upgrade links.

5/13/18 - Added Pixlas mod info, Classic Mac Pro gone but certainly not forgotten.

5/11/18 - Added Upgrade to High Sierra without APFS, added NVIDIA Quadro FX 5600, AMD FirePro W7000 to flashable cards, AMD Radeon 770/5780 Roms link, mac-pixel-clock-patch-V2 link, How to Boot to Windows without a Boot Screen link, NVMe links, Disable internal Bluetooth (for USB dongles), note about pre-10.9 RAM, serial number lookup, note about 64-bit on 1.1/2.1 mac pros.

5/10/18 - Links to EveryMac for RAM instructions, quick thoughts on graphics cards purchases and links to NVidia web drivers.

5/9/18 - Copy Editing + Responsive CPU tables + links open new windows.

5/8/18 - Images + feedback from users (added Replacing battery + memory) + restructure so contents supercedes intro.

5/7/18 - Guide launch, first published