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 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). 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 a LGA-1151 let alone a 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 quick 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 repleat with PCIe slots. The Mac Pro becomes the vanguard of solder-iron wielding outcasts, cantankerous power users and wiley creative professionals, a community of the 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 viablity of using one as a daily driver is fading.

– 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 that could have doubled as a cipher for more nefarious occupations. I felt it reflected poorly as I've become a marginally better writer, at least that of am HS sophomore, sans obligitory doodles in the margins. I decided to cleanup, update and rework my blog post but it became apparent I should start from anew as I was already commiting a wholesale field burn. The end result is this guide: a roadmap to upgrades with all the relevant info and primary sources (and 5500+ 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.




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, requiring generally a pass-through cable for internal video.




Firmware upgrades/hacks

The Mac Pro 2006s (1.1) and 2009s (4.1) occupy a special place as both can be updated to later firmwares. 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




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 10.13 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 carn 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.

Mac Pro 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

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 it 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
  • UEFI 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 a ATI Radeon HD 6870 to Mac Native EFI and then landing on the GeForce 760 and 1060.

Lastly the super power 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).

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

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 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 were either sold by Apple as OEM or after market, 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

Ever since UEFI BIOS became standard on NVidia cards, off the shelf cards can be used in Mac Pros. 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.

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, Mac Vid Cards. Mac Vid Cards 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 long time members. Mac Vid Cards claims to have written a custom EFI ROM. Rather than collaboratively explain how said hack was done (Unlike TonyMacX86 / MacRumors / Netkas forum members), Mac Vid Cards chooses to be a monopoly. 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.

NVida Webdriver Links

TonyMacX86 forums do a wonderful 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.

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. 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," 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 sort of workaround using a backup graphics card and 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 modern 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.




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 forcibly hold down the power key. 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
  • 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

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 2 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. Lastly, as of writing this, 1 TB NVMe appears to be cheaper than AHCI as the industry has begun to favor NVMe for its incredifast speeds.

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 (M.2)
  • 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 certain 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 latest GPUs do, and 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 terribly much harder than normal 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, 4.1/5.1s need either a separate antenna or a custom USB adapter to connect to the Bluetooth data cable)

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.

Maximum DIMM size: 32 GB

Maximum RAM:

  • Single Processor Xeon: 56 GB
  • Dual Processor Capable Single Xeon: 64 GB
  • Dual Processor Xeon: 160 GB (5x32)

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.

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

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 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 complaint, 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 rippping 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 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 6 pins instead of 8 pin thus unable to make the full power draw needed for the 250 watts needed for extreme-end GPUs.

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.

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.




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




Collected Articles on classic Mac Pro and the 2019 Mac Pro




Change log

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

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, note about SLI.

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