Mac Pro Face
v060319



Contents




The Cheese Grater's last stand

Sometimes it feels good to be wrong. My old intro was a world-weary, cynical outlook, standing on the edge of a precipice of planned obsolescence. I felt, perhaps better worded, we (the community of professionals) felt that modular computing being killed-off despite endless temper-tantrums that it was still necessary. I was convinced Apple's next Mac Pro would be some bizarre conceptual piece, made to wow journalists and not users. I was wrong. Apple's presentation was filled with numbers, big numbers, lots of numbers, the kind of numbers that make average-people glaze over in boredom: 8k, 6k, 3.0 16x PCI-e, billions of pixels, 2000 audio tracks. It's enough to make someone throw up their hands and rhetorically ask: Who cares? But we care. We always have. There was a surreal moment when Apple showed how the case opened. They invited you inside, and look. There are slots! So many slots. What-in-the-name-of-Ives was going on?

The success of this guide has been the failure of Apple, and it'll remain that way. The Mac Pro 2019 is the computer we dreamed of... but at a price? I imagine we'll be using our cMPs for a while longer. The future looks good, albeit expensive. I'm leaving my old intro below up for now until I can think of a better way to preserve it and perhaps a better intro than this.

There's too much to say about the 2019 Mac Pro in here. If you want my personal take, read it here.

Old intro:

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 but 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 (some) of the Mac Pros can be hacked to run current OSes. Thunderbolt PCIe chassis finally (sorta) officially support external GPUs making the Mac Pro a little less necessary. 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. Edit: there's now an updated Mac Mini and despite the fixed CPU, its an improvement.

Then there's the 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, Apple has its way and we're on forever hardware upgrades, tossing working machines in landfills or worse 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 the 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. This guide is an ode to the best computer ever made, the classic Mac Pro an engineering marvel marking the high-water mark of performance, ease-of-use and user-serviceability.

– 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 an 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. Even MacVidCards chimed in to correct this guide.




Special Announcements

The Microarchitectural Data Sampling (MDS) vulnerability affecting Intel CPUs was revealed to the world on May 14th, 2019. Intel issued Microcode fixes for CPUs from 2013 and up leaving out the Mac Pro. Apple has updated Safari to be more secure from the MDS attacks. Read more in the CPU section of this guide.

I've written a follow-up article, The Definitive Trashcan Mac Pro (2013) Upgrade Guide to commemorate the one year anniversary of this blog post on April 7th of 2018!

Support Right To Repair!: Since you are here, it's probably a safe bet you believe in the right to repair your computer (and phone, car, etc.). CBC had a great piece on Apple, and I suggest checking out my take Right To Repair Law Should Be The Rally Call Every Mac / iPhone User, replete with the original report and links to organizations supporting the right to repair.




Mini-Glossary of Terms / About this guide

Jumping into the world of Mac OS can be daunting as there's a lot assumed tribal knowledge and history. I try to avoid unnecessary shorthand, but there are a few unavoidable terms. I like to write for as many people as possible and to remain accessible. For sanity sake, there is a base assumption for understanding but hopefully a low-enough bar that novice users can follow along and learn. Examples of assumed knowledge would be like the fundamental difference between an SSD and Hard Drive is or what CPU cores are. I try to provide links to anything more complicated than installing a PCIe card. If you feel that something is unclear or never adequately explained, please reach out to me and let me know as my readers are a global audience and of all walks of life. If I can doSee the Changelog for more details on how to reach out to me. We all start somewhere, and I frequently question my own aptitude when I see how much heavy lifting others have done to make this guide a reality. For my more technical users, I depend on you for accuracy. This is truly a community effort.

APFS - Short for Apple File System, a proprietary file system used on Mac OS and iOS. File systems define how data is stored and retrieved in an operating system. File Systems, like all software, has limitations, and APFS was used to fix many of the shortcomings of HFS+. The transition to APFS was (relatively) smooth, but Apple chose not to support certain older hardware when it moved to APFS.

Cheesegrater - Slang for the classic Mac Pros. I did not invent this term, but this arose to describe the billet metal on the front/back of the Mac Pros that resembles a "cheesegrater" although functionally it'd be more appropriate to use it with a pasta press.

EFI - Short for Extensible Firmware Interface, a specification designed by Intel to replace BIOS as the method to interface between an operating system and the platform firmware. This former isn't important to understand as much as the following: Apple adopted EFI on Intel Macs, and this is the interface that allows selecting a boot drive before OS X begins booting (by holding down the option), among other pre-OS loading functionality. I use the term EFI slightly loosely as I'll refer to the boot screen as the EFI even though this isn't all that EFI is providing for the Mac. Also, it is important to understand that the UEFI (Universal Extensible Firmware Interface) which is now industry standard for PCs isn't the same as Apple's EFI. They are similar, but Apple's implementation varies partly due to age and partly due to the closed nature of Mac OS.

32 Bit EFI - It's a common mistake on the internet to refer to certain Macs as "32 Bit" as most Intel Macs (sans the Core Duo Models) have had 64-bit CPUs. However, some of the older Macs, like the 2006-2007 Mac Pros used 32 Bit EFI. Apple dropped support for 32 Bit EFI with Mac OS 10.12.

Firmware - a term you probably have heard and have some understanding of, the standard definition is a program that is written into Read Only Memory (ROMs), and requires a specialized process to change (if it can be changed at all) called Flashing.

Flash/Flashing - The act of writing over data that exists in an otherwise in Read Only Memory (ROM) or space (Firmware).

Hackintosh - Any non-Apple hardware that is running any version of Mac OS, generally standard PCs using a lot of workarounds.

HFS+ - Short for Hierarchical File System but also referred to as "Mac OS Extended" a proprietary file system used on Mac OS, released with Mac OS 8.1 in 1998. It remained the default file system for Apple for nearly two decades, used on Mac OS 8/9, OS X, the iPod, early versions of iOS but lacked some core features found on file systems developed later.

Mac OS / OS X - Mac OS X was rebranded to Mac OS, I use these interchangeably as I have a tough time accepting Mac OS as OS X is still OS X to me. Generally, Apple writes macOS, but I find this annoying, so you’ll see Mac OS littered through this guide. Mac OS is not to be confused with Mac OS classic (Mac OS 7.x - 9.x).

Metal - Previously, Apple's default graphics library for graphics acceleration was OpenGL (Open Graphics Library), used on iOS and Mac OS. Over time, OpenGL fell behind in performance and features when compared to a library like Microsoft's DirectX. Without an ideal candidate to replace it (OpenGL's successor, Vulkan, was not out yet), Apple created it's own graphics library called Metal and shipped it in 2014 on iOS 8 first. Mac OS 10.14 Mojave uses Metal to now power Mac OS. The new API does not support many old GPUs as their drivers were not updated.

SIP - System integrity protection, a feature of later Mac OS introduced in OS X El Capitan, that walls off portions low-level features of Mac OS in order to protect it from malware. However, sometimes, when performing certain hacks, it requires disabling during installation and then can be re-enabled.

Trashcan - While Mac OS has a trash can for deleting files, in the context of this guide, this used to poke fun of the Mac Pro 2013 for its looks and lack of functionality compared to the almighty classic Mac Pro.




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 or Mac Pro 6,1 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, four 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 the same and difficult to identify from each other without opening them up. Internally the 1.1/2.1s, and 4.1/5.1s are nearly identical. A 1.1 Mac Pro can be firmware flashed to a 2.1 Mac Pro, and a 4.1 can be flashed to a 5.1 Mac Pro. 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, they are natively supported for Mojave 10.14, depending on GPU. 4.1s tend to be the upgrader's choice (as they can be had for cheaper than a 5.1 Mac Pro). There is no performance difference between a flashed 4.1 -> 5.1 and a computer that shipped with the 5.1 firmware. However, the Mac Pro 4.1 requires delidded CPUs (see the CPU section).
  • 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 1366 Sockets. *Note, there were 2012 Mac Pros sold with a single Nehalem CPU, although somewhat uncommon. There is no difference between 2010 and 2012 Mac Pros beyond the CPUs and GPUs options Apple offered at the time of the sale.
  • Mac Pro 6,1 2013, also known as the "Cylinder" or "Trash can." These are radically different than the classic Mac Pro models and will not be covered in this guide. For information about this model, please visit The Definitive Trashcan Mac Pro (2013) Upgrade Guide.

PCIe and you

Mac pro 1.1/2.1- PCIe layout (uses PCIe 1.0)

PCI Express Slot Slot Speed
4 x4
3 x4
2 x1
1 x16

Note: The Mac Pro 1.1/2.1 allowed for lane configuration using Expansion Slot Utility


Mac pro 3.1/4.1/5.1 - PCIe layout (uses PCIe 2.0)

PCI Express Slot Slot Speed
4 x4
3 x4
2 x16
1 x16

Not all PCIe slots are the same, since its inception, PCIe 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0 have been released with the very first 4.0 PC motherboards demoed in 2018. Each iteration of PCIe radically increases the speed. Also to add a minor bit of confusion different chipsets a have different amount of total "lanes," the measurement of speed for a PCIe slot. In the case of the Mac Pros, all have a maximum of 40 lanes and, thus, the lanes are distributed among the PCIe slots. Not all PCIe slots have the same amount of lanes; thus, not all are the same speed. The amount of lanes a PCIe slot has access to is expressed numerically as follows: 1x (1 lane), 2x, (2 lanes), 4x (4 lanes), 8x (8 lanes) and 16x (16 lanes). The maximum speed of each lane depends on the version of PCIe a computer has. A 1.x PCIe 1x slot has access 250 MB/s. Thus a 4x has a maximum of 1 GB/s and 8x has a maximum of 2 GB/s and so on. Each generation of PCIe effectively doubles the speed of a lane. A PCIe 2.0 lane is 500 MB/s and PCIe 3.0 lane is 1 GB/s. Generally, PCIe speeds are expressed in bytes, not bits. A PCIe 2.0 16x speed (8 GB/s) would be 64 Gbps (64000 Mbps).

To reiterate the dramatic speed increases of PCIe based on generation: A 16x port in PCIe 1.x has a maximum of 4 GB/s, whereas a 2.x 16x port can handle 8 GB/s, 3.x is almost 16 GB/s. All PCIe slots are backward compatible however the caveat is that PCIe cards may not be (this is not common). Also, not all PCIe cards will operate at the maximum speed of the port, and will work in any PCIe slot but will be limited by the port's maximum speed. For example, you could use a GeForce 1080 Ti in the Mac Pro's 4x slot but with a bit of a performance penalty. Also, the port will be limited by the card's maximum speed as well. The Mac Pros support PCIe expansion but do not support bifurcation. This is important when considering PCIe NVMe cards, see the PCIe NVMe sleds/blades portion of this guide for more info on bifurcation.

Lastly, all Mac Pros sport a dual height PCIe 16x slot meant for a graphics card. This is still uncommon on PC motherboards.

For more information on the Mac Pro's PCIe slots, see EveryMac's guide and the archived article from developer.apple.com: PCI Product-Specific Details.

Identifying a Mac Pro visually

Mac Pro 1.1 vs. 3.1 vs. 4.1/5.1

The easiest way to distinguish a powered off Mac Pro is taking the side panel off. The Mac Pros, note the RAM configurations on the right-hand corner. The other sure-fire method is looking up the Serial Number.




Firmware upgrades/hacks

The Mac Pro line has had a history of Firmware updates, depending on model, there's quite a wide gamut of potential upgrades or hacks for your Mac Pro.

The Mac Pro 2006s (1.1) and 2009s (4.1) occupy a special place as both can be updated to enable a wider range of CPU configurations with a software update. 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 and allows the 4.1s to use the 5.1 firmware updates that enable quite a few goodies like APFS booting, native NVMe support and such. This is one of those times where a software upgrade makes all the difference. See the CPU upgrades section for more details on CPU configurations. There is no performance difference between a flashed firmware Mac Pro vs. a Mac Pro that shipped with later firmware assuming the hardware configurations are the same.

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

2006 1.1 Mac Pro

The Mac Pro 1.1 flash allows for later CPU models to be used.

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.

2008 3.1 Mac Pro

The Mac Pro 2008 remains a bit of the odd man out when it comes to firmware. With the DOSdude1 High Sierra patcher, this computer can boot AFPS volumes but not from encrypted AFPS volumes.

Clever hardware hackers discovered how to enable bootable NVMe on Mac Pro, it requires making a custom firmware using ROMtool and EXEinject on the 3.1.

Note: this hack was originally performed on Mac Pro 5,1s but is unnecessary as Apple has released NVMe compatible bootROMs for them. Below is a collection of links related to the bootROM procedure.

2009 4.1 Mac Pro

2010-2012 5.1 Mac Pro Firmware

Despite the obvious age of the Mac Pro 5.1s, someone or at least a group of someones are/is still throwing bones to the community at large by providing updates for the Mac Pros 8 years after their release, an unprecedented olive branch. Developer Previews often carry updates both good and bad, so I recommend most users not use the Developer Previews of Mojave. Both 10.13 and 10.14 have been welcome surprises for Mac Pro 5.1 users including firmware updates to enable APFS support, and later NVMe booting. Forum member, Tsialex of MacRumors (one of the experts on Mac Pros on the interwebs) has compiled and maintained a list of Firmware versions for the Mac Pro 5.1. I highly recommend this blog post as I've directly lifted his notes from it, but there's more info at his original blog post. I credit his work below. The BootROMs are distributed as part of the Mac OS upgrades.

* 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.

Clever hardware hackers discovered how to enable bootable NVMe on Mac Pro, it requires making a custom firmware using ROMtool and EXEinject on the 3.1.

Note: this hack was originally performed on Mac Pro 5,1s but is unnecessary as Apple has released NVMe compatible bootROMs for them. Below is a collection of links related to the bootROM procedure. However, this hack falls into adventure territory, see the Mac Pro 3.1 NVME Drive Natively Booting post below. It’s highly recommended to stay with AHCI SSDs with the Mac Pro 3,1s.

*** The Mac Pro Firmware upgrade v142.0.0.0 included in the developer preview 4 of MacOS Mojave 10.14.4 (20190304) and 10.14.5 DP1 included a bad BootROM which not part of the regular releases. Users at MacRumors are reporting that the update bricks Mac Pro 5.1s with W3xxx Xeon CPUs. See check your CPU model.

Useful Links




OS upgrades

macOS Mojave Logo

OS upgrades might seem obvious but the 2006-2007 (1.1 - 2.1) Mac Pros only have 32 Bit EFI and 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 relatively easy 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 3.1s And 10.13/10.14

The Mac Pro 3.1s do not need the 32 bit EFI workaround which means mostly a native experience. The default wifi chipset isn't supported, but the Airport cards can be replaced, see Bluetooth/Wireless upgrades for details.,/p>

10.14 Mojave: The AMD drivers for off-the-shelf cards (like the Vega and Radeon 5xx series) do not support the Mac Pro 3.1 in Mojave. Off-the-shelf NVidia cards also aren't supported in Mojave. Thus the Mac Pro 3.1 means tracking down a Metal compatible GPU but not a modern AMD GPU. The current favorite GPU for Mojave and Mac Pro 3.1s is a GeForce GTX 680, which has native Mojave support and works with the Mac Pro 3.1

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. Note: for Mac Pro 5,1 users, this can interfer with later firmware updates, MacProUpgrade group members for instance, report that Updating to 10.4.5 firmware won't install with HFS+ on the boot drive.

2010-2012 Mac Pro 5.1s And Mojave

The Mac Pro 5.1s (including 2009 Mac Pros updated to a 5.1) can install 10.14 Mojave with one major caveat, they require a Metal compatible GPU and strangely will not allow installation to occur if there are any GPUs that aren't Metal compatible, like the GT120. Updating requires pulling non-Metal accelerated GPUs (they can be installed after the update and will still output video). Apple published a partial list Metal-Capable Cards Compatible With macOS Mojave on 2010 and 2012 Mac Pro Models, but this does not include the NVidia cards that work with web drivers. Currently, NVidia users are waiting for NVidia to release official drivers, but we're currently at statemate with NVidia suggesting the lack of driver updates is (unsurprisingly) Apple's fault. See Apple's official, Install macOS 10.14 Mojave on Mac Pro (Mid 2010) and Mac Pro (Mid 2012) article for more info.

It's worth mentioning there is a petition for Apple to allow NVidia release drivers for Mac OS 10.14 Mojave. I signed it, but I can't say I'm hopeful.

Warning About Developer Previews in 10.14.x: Firmware updates are distributed with Developer previews for the Mac Pro 5.1s, one version of the firmware bricked Mac Pros running a fairly uncommon CPU configuration. See the Firmware Upgrades section for more info.

Stop the "Upgrade to MacOS..." banners

Apple in the past few years have moved to nagware for OS updates, often pestering users running non-compatible configurations to upgrade (such as running a non-Mojave compatible GPU). You can disable the notifacations following osxdaily's handy guide.




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 requires 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.

🚫 = The X5687 despite being socket compatible does not work with the Mac Pro 4.1/5.1. Recently there's been interest in a few Mac Pro communities, but it's already been confirmed by a bold Mac Rumors poster. There's some misinformation on a few other sites like pindelski.org's guide (a dated early attempt at a comprehensive Mac Pro upgrade guide) so be careful.

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

Check your Exact CPU Model

You can check your CPU Model number using the terminal command:

sysctl -n machdep.cpu.brand_string  

Guides on Upgrading CPUs

Microarchitectural Data Sampling (MDS) vulnerabilities

A vulnerability Intel CPUs was discovered, called MDS which targets hyperthreading (the ability to address two instructions in a single CPU cycle under stress loads). It affects CPUs from 2008+. Intel issued a microcode fix for CPUs designed in 2013 and up, leaving out the classic Mac Pros. Apple has updated Safari to prevent drive-by Javascript attacks. Using general safe browsing habits, makes it not very likely that this exploit will affect users despite very sensational headlines like Wired's Meltdown Redux: Intel flaw lets hackers siphon secrets from millions of PCs.The only way to ensure total safety is to disable Hyper Threading (a significant performance hit) and Apple issued the article How to enable full mitigation for Microarchitectural Data Sampling (MDS) vulnerabilities.




GPU upgrades

GeForce GTX 1080

Thanks to PCIe, the Mac Pros have remained relevant as GPUs can be swapped out with ease. GPUs are probably the most annoying of the upgrades (due to the required research) yet one of the most commonly performed. There's no modern GPU you can buy for macOS that supports an EFI boot screen (the screen you see when you turn on the computer with the Apple logo or boot manager before the login screen) and macOS Mojave that is aftermarket. This could change but has not yet. When I originally wrote my first Mac Pro Upgrade guide four years ago, readers found it surprising that one 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, and an update guide outlining how to install a GeForce 1060 into a Mac Pro 5.1. This, in the long run, has been a mistake, now that the only off the shelf cards supported in 10.14.x are AMD.

Dividing Up The GPU landscape

GPUs are routinely one of the most common upgrades to Mac Pros. There are roughly three classes of GPUs. Thus I've divided the bulk of the GPU Guide to discussing GPUs based on the following distinctions.

  • OEM EFI Bootable Cards / Aftermarket EFI Bootable: 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.*
  • Flashable to EFI compatible cards: These are graphics cards that shipped as a PC graphics card but require a ROM flash to display the EFI Boot screen, some may not work at all without first installing the Mac compatible ROM on them.
  • Non-EFI Bootable Cards: 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

After that, we have two more sub-classes of GPU based on support for Metal, Apple's replacement for OpenGL.

  • GPUs with Metal drivers for 10.14.x+
  • GPUs that do not support Metal

To summarize, a GPU can be, OEM EFI compatible, flashable to EFI compatible or not EFI compatible but still work under Mac OS, and it may or may not be Mojave compatible.

*The NVidia RTX series will output the EFI bootscreen but do not have drivers. If this ever is sorted, we might have an aftermarket EFI bootscreen card.

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, AMD Vega 64) 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 that included EFI Roms on the cards. The PC versions do not have EFI support.

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 4500 512 MB 1 DL DVI 1 DP
NVIDIA Quadro FX 4800 1.5 GB GDDR5 2 DL DVI
NVIDIA Quadro 4000 2 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 Quadro K4200 (Mac Edition) 8 GB GDDR5 2 DVI 2 DP?
NVIDIA Quadro K5200 (Mac Edition) 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 was purchased by AMD in 2006 and in 2010 retired the ATI name.

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
Amd Firepro S10000 6 GB GDDR5 1 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. 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. All the GTX 700-1000 series are supported by web drivers but are limited to 10.13.x as NVidia has stated Apple is refusing to sign its drivers. Also, some of the AMD 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).

image

Photo Credit: Amazon.com

For the best info on recommended versions of AMD cards, visit AMD Polaris & Vega GPU macOS Support.

Recently in Mojave, updates have enabled hardware acceleration for video codecs on the RX580. You can read about it here and find full instructions to Activate AMD hardware acceleration. (Thanks for Martin L. aka h9826790).

Petitioning for drivers

With the advent of 10.14 Mojave, OpenGL has been depreciated and replaced with Apple's Metal library for GPU acceleration. This now means Mojave requires (to some degree), Metal compatible GPUs, AMD's modern Radeons and select NVidia cards both make the cut. Apple published an official list but did not list all compatible GPUs for Mojave. Notably, NVidia's line up of GTX 700-1000 and RTX series aren't Mojave compatible.

Currently, NVidia blames Apple for not approving its drivers for Mojave.

As an act of desperation, fans have created a petition for Apple to allow NVidia to release drivers for Mac OS 10.14 Mojave. I've signed it, and I suggest others do too, even if non-NVidia users as options matter. I doubt it'll shift the tide, but a long-shot is better than no-shot. One of the rumors was that this was fought is over the Volta GPU drivers. This rumor gained a lot of traction since the last released version of the NVidia drivers, 387.10.10.15.15.108 were pulled (for 10.13), and on December 10th, NVidia posted an update for 10.13 (not Mojave) for the last release of 10.13 marked version 387.10.10.10.40.113 that MacRumors readers are confirming do not contain the Volta drivers.

NVidia RTX series: as of writing this, users are reporting that the RTX NVidia cards are displaying bootscreens in macOS. That said, without Mojave support for off-the-self NVidia cards, this severely limits the impact and do not currently have drivers for the macOS. (They will show up as a generic VGA output) and the RTX.

NVidia Webdriver Manual Installation

NVidia driver installation is a little more tricky than one would expect, first off NVidia does not list what cards are currently supported on its web pages. Secondly, you need to download the correct version of the drivers for whatever version of Mac OS you have.

TonyMacX86 forums do an excellent job of direct linking to the NVidia installers for driver version number by OS version. Currently, 10.14.x (Mojave) is not supported. The NVidia RTX series is also currently unsupported.

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 infomration and the corresponding 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

AMD GPUs and Mac Pro 3.1s and below

Several MacRumors forum members have found that Mac Pro 3.1s cannot use the AMD RX580 due to the drivers requiring SSE4.2 instruction set requirements for Mojave. However, and this is a big one, Netkas has been able to get the RX560 working in a Mac Pro 3.1 by adding in inline emulation for the SSE4.2 instruction for the drivers. This very likely means all of the modern AMD cards are now Mac Pro 3,1 compatible.

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.

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 in recommending them.

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 3.1 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 3.1 itself. 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 and requires less hacks to run later OSes, but that's just my personal opinion.

The next question is, do you want an EFI native card? There are few cards that support the EFI boot screen, and they are all older generation cards. Most users elect to hold onto an older card as a backup, for the EFI screen. I personally have a GT120 in my Mac Pro at all times for this reason.

Lastly, there's Mojave to contend with. According to NVidia, Apple is blocking NVidia from releasing drivers for Mojave. This means its AMD or bust. AMD Saphire RX 580x Pulse is well regarded, and so are the Vega series for Mojave users, however, neither have EFI support, but the drivers for the AMD cards do not support Mac Pro 3.1s

  • Mac Pro 1.1/2.1 users are limited to a maximum of running Mac OS 10.11.x, thus do not have to worry about the lack of NVidia support in Mojave. 1.1/2.1 users should consider the GeForce 680 for EFI boot screen support or GeForce 7xx or 9xx series.
  • Mac Pro 3.1 users should consider GeForce 680 For Mojave. They are one of the few cards that can be flashed for EFI support and support Metal and the Mac Pro 3.1. Notably: The AMD cards with a hack can be enabled. More information coming.
  • Mac Pro 5.1 users should consider the AMD 580x or Vega series. The 580x is relatively inexpensive and does not require any modifications to power the GPU, whereas the top tier Vegas are power hungry but the most performant GPUs supported in Mojave.

Installing a GPU

GPUs are straight forward to install except two minor "gotcha"s, they use Mini PCIe power adapters on the motherboard and for exceptionally power hungry 250+ watt GPUs (GeForce 1080 Ti, Radeon Vega 64, Radeon VII etc), require modification to power the cards. See the Mac Pro Pixlas PSU Mod or External Power Supplies sections of this guide for more infomration.

As mentioned above, the Mac Pro has two 6 pin mini-PCIe power ports, which require mini-PCIe to PCIe power cables. For reference, here are examples of a miniPCIE 6 pin to PCIe Power cable and a miniPCIE 6 pin to PCIe 8 pin cable. These are likely required to power your GPU. Example, a GPU that has an 6 pin power port and an 8 pin power port would require one of each cable.

I wrote two guides blog.greggant.com: Installing GeForce GTX 760/770/780 on a Mac Pro 3.1 and blog.greggant.com: Installing GeForce GTX 1060/1070/1080 on a Mac Pro 5.1 which both detail the installation process.




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.

Note: This is not to be taken as a complete list, but rather a list of known working cards that users have confirmed. If you know of a card that's supported by macOS, please reach out to me.

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)
  • Sonnet Technologies Allegro™ Pro USB 3.1 PCIe
  • Sonnet Technologies Allegro USB-C 4-Port PCIe

Ethernet (10 Gigabit)

Useful Links




Thunderbolt?

In the unlikeliest turn of events, Thunderbolt has landed on the cMac Pro... sort of. PCIe Thunderbolt cards were exclusively for PCs that have compatible motherboards with specialized chipsets, generally requiring a pass-through jumper connection. The original speculation started at eGPU.io.

Shortly after, MacRumors Forum members started testing the Gigabyte GC-TITAN RIDGE and getting promising results. Since then, a member of Mac Pro Upgrade and MacRumors posted a screenshot of ThunderBolt working on a cMac Pro using a digital audio interface and posted two YouTube videos Part 1 and Part 2 demoing his setup using Windows 10.

Right now, it isn't very viable for all but tinkerers to purchase a Thunderbolt card, but this may change. As notable progress unfolds, this section will be updated to reflect it. For now, it's best to see the action on MacProUpgrade and MacRumors' forums.




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. SATA2 still won't be fully saturated even by performant 3.5 spinning disk drives the current gen 3.5 drives like the 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. SATA HDDs are still the best value price-per-gigabyte, and I highly encourage all users to use Time Machine.

SSDs come in multiple flavors: SATA, AHCI and NVMe

PCIe SATA + SSD Sleds

Historically, The most popular upgrade are PCIe sleds for SATA SSDs, which often feature two trays for RAID0 configurations, bringing up the speeds to the 1 GB/s range. These are essentially a SATA 3 card with two mounting ports for 2.5 inch SSDs, making it more convenient than using a regular SATA 3 card. That said, users can still use PCIe SATA 3 cards + SATA SSD 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.

  • Sonnet Technologies Tempo SSD (2x 2.5 SSD) - bootable
  • OWC Accelsior series - bootable *
  • OWC Accelsior S: PCIe to 2.5" 6Gb/s SATA SSD Host Adapter * Not APFS compatible
  • 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

PCIe AHCI SSD

Without any firmware modification, 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 (usually more roughly in the 1 GB/s mark). Many of the NVMe cards can accept AHCI. However, due to the speed limitations, there aren't many models on the market and the price per GB tends to be high.

AHCI (Advanced Host Controller Interface) is what the SATA standard is based on although, PCIe AHCI interfaces can exceed SATA3 speeds.

Credit goes to MisterAndrew for doing the original compiling of this list here.

  • 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/blades

NVMe (Non-Volatile Memory Express) is currently the holy grail of storage due to its extreme performance. For example, the 970 Evo by Samsung attains incredible 2237 MB/s reads, and 1405 MB/s writes, roughly triple to quadruple the read/writes of SATA (and often nearly double of AHCI PCIe SSD), and NVMe tends to sport faster 4k Random read/write times. NVMe was constructed to work only via the PCIe standard thus it's speed advantage over AHCI.

NVMe wasn't always supported under OS X. NVMe (NVM express) support started with the appropriate PCIe sleds under 10.13 with the glaring issue of only being read/writable but not bootable. Clever users found workarounds. They discovered that creating a Fusion Drive with NVMe, with only the boot record on the AHCI storage (it can be a thumb drive) allowed for NVMe boots allowing Mac Pros attain the incredible speeds of NVMe (See Fusion Drives section). Then users found using firmware hacking. They could enable NVMe booting 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. The latest Mac Pro 5.1 bios have NVMe support. See below for more details.

PCIe NVMe sleds aren't all created equal as the performance is limited on the PCIe max slot speed (and which slot the card is placed in the Mac Pro) (see the PCIe and You portion of this guide for more info). Also, some cards can host multiple NVMe SSDs. To make matters more confusing, many PCIe NVMe SSD adapters use bifurcation, which is a technology for later gen PCIe not supported on the Mac, which allows a PCIe slot to be split, example: One 16x port becomes two 8x ports. The Mac Pro is limited 1500 MB/s on a card unless the card uses a PCIe switch. A PCIe 3.0 switch will take a PCIe 2.0 port (the Mac Pros only have 2x), and instead of falling back to PCIe 1.0, swap it to PCIe 2.0, enabling much faster speeds (The 16x port will operate at the equivalent of a 4x PCIe 3.0 slot).

  • Lycom DT-120
  • Angelbirds Wings PX1
  • Aqua Computer kryoM.2 Evo PCIe 3.0 x 4, adapter
  • IO Crest IO-PCE2824-TM2 (aka Syba SI-PEX40129
  • Amfeltec Squid: Amfeltec x16 PCIe
  • Highpoint 7101a

Not all NVMes are Mac OS compatible, rather than list all that are compatible, here’s a short list of incompatible models as they are few and far between.

  • Samsung 950 PRO
  • Samsung 970 EVO Plus*
  • Samsung PM981

* The Evo and Evo Pro variants fo the 970 are Mac compatible. There is a firmware update for the Evo Plus that may fix issues.

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 earlier version fo MacOS had regarding NVMe. NVMe isn't natively bootable prior to the 140.0.0.0.0 firmware update for the Mac Pro 5.1s, but Fusion drives are.

Note the following hack is no longer necessary, I'm leaving the information up for posterity and Mac Pro 3.1 users. 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

OWC Aura and Accelsior SSDs and APFS

OWC appears to make the only SSDs that are incompatible with APFS, the default file system for 10.13+. According to the MacRumors forum posters, OWC Aura owners have been offered a rebate on Aura Pro SSDs. The Aura series is unlikely to be found in a cMac Pro setup as it'd require an external case. Users report that Accelsior SSDs work with HFS+ with 10.13.




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.

Lastly, Mac OS currently does not support Freesync. I can attest that enabling Freesync on a freesync display cause the monitor to stop outputting video in 10.13.x with a GeForce 1060. Also, both tonymacx86 and MacRumors forum members have experienced the same sort of issues. The workaround is to disable the G-sync and freesync if the monitor does not produce any video output.

Depending on setup 4k @ 60 Hz via HDMI may require workarounds whereas DisplayPort tends to be far more reliable. I've personally used a few 4k displays with my Mac Pro at 60 Hz via DisplayPort.

Notably, there are users with 5k displays and Mac Pros, including a user confirming two 5k displays working perfectly fine on his Mac Pro.

Some 4k displays will not report all scaled resolution. To display all the scaled resolution options:

  1. Open preferences and click the Displays
  2. If the option "Default for display" is selected, option-click Scaled
  3. If scaled is already selected, click the "Default for display" then option-click "Scaled."



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 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 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. Channel modes are 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, other applications may perform better than the ones tested here. 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)

It's also worth noting that the Mac Pro 5.1 may end up supporting more than 160 GB of RAM due to a few factors: Mac OS 10.9 Mavericks increased the maximum RAM in OSX above 96 GB. The Mac Pro supports 32 GB DIMMS. The latest iMac Pros now have larger RAM configurations. Windows can support 192 GB in the Mac Pro.

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. If you’re wondering why you’d want a Blu-Ray, see House of Moth (Jay)’s blog post on reasons why. Notably VLC has 4k and 8k hardware decoding, HDR10 support and Blu-Ray Java menus. The LG Black 12X BD-ROM 16X DVD-ROM 48X CD-ROM SATA Internal Blu-ray Burner is a popular model with several reviews confirming Mac OS X support and in Classic Mac Pros.

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

Mojave has it's own share of users experiencing fan rev ups. A forum user at MacRumors wrote a simple app Airout to stress the GPU quickly to cause the fans ro rev back to a normal speed.

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 High-Temperature 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 popular grounds for finding classic Mac Pro replacement pieces.

Replacing the Mac Pro fans with 3rd party fans is not very popular as your computer will lose the ability to control the fans. This means using custom fan thermal monitoring and/or manual controls to adjust the fans speeds. There's a MacRumors post detailing a few users experiences.

Boot Manager

Due to the nature of Metal requirements of Mojave, many users have had to eschew their old GPUs for Metal compatible CPUs that do not display the EFI boot screen. The link below is also listed in the GPU section.

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 concession: it was on a separate drive.

Enabling Apple Watch Auto Unlock with the Mac Pro

Officially Apple does not support Bootcamp the classic Mac Pros for Apple Watch Auto Unlock. Of course, enterprising users have figured out how to enable it, but it requires disabling SIP and a few terminal commands. Notably, you'll need a Mojave compatible Airport card.




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. I had a good experience.

If you're here, I assume you already are a capable user but it bears repeating the Mac Pro might not be the best buy for some users. The Mac Pro is a tinkering box and ideal a certain class of users. It's by far the best computer Apple has ever engineered, and possibly any computer maker has ever produced for its sheer longevity and insane upgradability. That said, 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 making for better Photoshop performance. 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 many tasks it'd be noticeably faster if you are not planning to make use of the PCIe slots.

  • If considering a single CPU Mac Pro, Dual CPU trays for Mac Pro 4.1/5.1s are hard to come by, and often 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. The X5690 is the fastest CPU money can buy for the Mac Pro 4.1/5.1, but the X5680 is roughly half the price making it the bargin upgrade.
  • 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 or its model type. Also, you can request a photo of the computer with the panel removed.
  • Mac Pro 1.1/2.1s so far haven't been able to run later than OS X 10.11, which limits their longevity or utility. Consider the Mac Pro 3.1.
  • The Mac Pro 3.1 can run the latest OS X with minor hacks, making them bargains but are limited in upgrades and performance. Mojave requires a metal GPU but, the latest AMD drivers for recent cards do not support the 3.1 in Mojave.
  • 2010 and 2012 Mac Pros are virtually the same. There are no performance differences other than the base configurations.
  • Markets vary quite a bit based on geo-location. Based on my limited observation, North America is considerably cheaper than the rest of the world.
  • A few resellers still exist like OWC (other world computing) and Big Little Frank.



Collected Articles on classic Mac Pro and the 2019 Mac Pro




Communities & Blogs

You're not alone. There are more people out there than you'd think who still love the classic Mac Pro.

  • MacRumors Mac Pro Forum - The center of the Mac Pro universe, if it's happening, it's probably here. My go-to for sourcing information as one can gather by reading this guide.
  • MacProUpgrade - The premier facebook group, very international with Mac Pro users across the globe. It requires requesting access, but they let anyone in, I'm there. Also, it is a strangely friendly and nice community. They are always willing to answer questions from the obscure to novice and has a lot of high tier creative professionals who can answer your questions about AVID, Premier, FCPX (and etc.) related to your Mac Pro.
  • Mac Pro Users - The another major FaceBook group for Mac Pro users, smaller but still helpful and it has the benefit of being public too (no sign up process and can be browsed without a facebook account). Helpful and friendly community, with a lot of creative professionals too.
  • House of Moth - Jay's mac related blog, it's not explicitly Mac Pro related but has probably the best guide on the Pixlas mod.
  • eGPU.io - Not classic Mac Pro related in the slightest but where I go for Thunderbolt information
  • Netkas - Blog related to GPU flashing and hacking
  • forums.netkas.org - The original group of firmware flashers for GPUs.
  • blog.greggant.com/topics/#macpro - I've written for 6 years now infrequent Mac Pro related blog posts.



Mac Pro 2013 Upgrade guide

Looking for information about the cylinders? It started out as a joke, but it is real! The Definitive Trashcan Mac Pro (2013) Upgrade Guide




Changelog

Due to the ever-evolving list of possible upgrades and hacks, this guide is a living document, and thus information contained may change, I've included a robust log of recent changes to help repeat visitors discover new content. 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 new information not included here, suggestions, corrections or edits, please feel free to contact me at: blog@greggant.com. I get a fair amount of questions, and I try to answer them to best I can. I'd recommend asking the MacRumors forum or MacProUpgrade group first as I'm just one person vs. the collective intelligence of a community.

06/03/19 - Fitting just north of the 1 year anniversary, the Mac Pro 2019 has been announced and it is a beast. Those specs are beyond what I hoped for and thus the price is beyond what I hoped for too, 2x the price of the 2006-2012 Mac Pros.

06/03/19 - Happy WWDC day, let's see if we're all disappointed. Added info about the RX560 in Mac Pro 3.1s.

05/17/19 - Editing, and clarity, Added how to install GPU section.

05/18/19 - Linked Jay’s article on Blu-Ray and added notes about VLC and Blu-Ray drive, added better recommendation against 3.1s and NVMe, added incompatible NVMe list.

05/13/19 - 10.14.5 notes on GPU AMD Radeon VII and added notes on enabling AMD video codec acceleration. Editing (typos + punctuation + corrections)

05/11/19 - Now that this guide has matured. The new focus is organization. More cleanup. I noticed a few typos. Reordered things a little more in the GPU section and other places. I dislike to make executive recommendations on hardware, but I ended up bowling it down in the GPU section. If you disagree with me, do e-mail me.

05/08/19 - Biggest update in a long time. Massive cleanup around the Firmware upgrades and OS upgrades sections as it annoyed me that the information wasn't organized well, better notes about Mojave on Mac OS 3.1s, better placement about 3.1s and NVMe, and lastly added a list of the firmware updates to the Mac Pro 5.1s. Tried to reduce redundancy. Reduced the GPU recommendation section to be less verbose and made it clearer. Removed warning about firmware and issued a general recommendation. Added a mini-glossary, added a few more anchors to sections. Still plenty more clean up to happen in the future.

05/07/19 - One year anniversary! Added links to The Definitive Trashcan Mac Pro 6.1 (2013) Upgrade Guide.

05/03/19 - Hey, it's almost been one year for this blog post! Added notes about custom fans on Mac Pro and RX 580 drivers. Added links to articles on Mac Pro 3,1s and NVMe. Also, as always few grammar/editing corrections.

03/29/19 - Added the link the AMD Polaris/Vega GPU thread, added note about 3.1s and Mojave GPU support. Minor typo corrections.

03/11/19 - Reader Benjamin R noted I was missing the Quadro K5200 and sure enough there's a Mac version as well as K4200. Also listed the Firepro S10000 to list of natively compatible GPUs.

03/05/19 - Added CPU check terminal command. Added version number, using the date, since this guide has evolved quite a bit and this gives repeat visitors a quick reference for when the guide was last updated. Updated Fusion drive section. Updated NVidia driver section only list TonyMacX86's latest drivers rather than versions, and clarified RTX series. Added link to Expansion Slot Utility for Mac Pro 1.1/2.1s. Also, saw two FB users wondering if Apple bricked computers with the 142 firmware on purpose. I can assure you they did not. The W3xxx series aren't nearly as common, and if Apple wants to drop support, they can do so at any time. They do it frequently with major OS updates for both macOS and iOS. Why bother to play a cloak and daggers game and open themselves up to a potential class action lawsuit? Not everything is conspiracy (most things aren't in fact, youtube and social media is making us stupid), Occam's razor says this was an edge case that wasn't tested. As a developer, I can tell you this happens more than you ever want to know.

03/04/19 - Created the Special Announcements, as the DP4 of Mojave 10.14.4 has a new firmware the bricks the higher end CPUs. Added more notes to firmware section. Minor copy edits/grammar-y corrections are littered through this update.

02/27/19 - Wow, this guide is about 10 months old now has had nearly 50k visits. Added link to Mac Pro Users, added tables to PCIe section, clearer explanations on PCIe, linked a user confirming dual 5k displays and added a few lines to the Ebay buying. Also took off a little of the AppleInsider slandering. It's not my favorite site but doesn't really add anything of value.

02/01/19 - Added new Sonnet USB 3.1 cards to compatibility, Added link to Delidding cleanup.

01/24/19 - Added image to illustrate the Mac Pro generations under know your Mac Pro and subsection. Added RX580 Mac Pro 3.1 compatibility note.

01/23/19 - Moved the Thunderbolt info into its own section as it's moved beyond speculation. I'll track this best as I can. Added a communities section. Added an anchor to the changelog. Minor copy edits.

01/18/19 - Just when you think you've considered pretty much any upgrade feasible, there's a new one. It looks like there's been progress made on the Apple Watch Auto Unlock for the cMP, so I added it to the guide. I added minor corrections to grammar and punctuation as it'd been a while since I've proof-read this entire monster of an article. Fun fact, this article is 12,500+ words now, which is 24 pages, single-spaced 12-point text (48 double-spaced). For reference, a novel is generally considered to be 40,000+ words. Apple Insider, the apologist trash rag, seems to think that PCIe 5.0 might be in the 2019 Mac Pro. Why? Because it was ratified as a standard. I find this incredibly silly as PCIe 4.0 first motherboards were demoed in June and there aren't many floating around right now nor hardware. PCI 4.0 was finalized on Oct 26, 2017, and took roughly a year for the first devices to ship. With the extreme lack of PCIe 4.0 hardware, let alone 5.0, this is extremely dubious.

01/17/19 - Reader Arif pointed out an error on my guide, and I didn't have a check mark next to the X5675 on the Mac Pro 5.1, also looks like more progress on thunderbolt and added it. First, update for 2019 and 7 months running of updates.

12/21/18 - Added a note about the X5687 since recently there's been a few posts on Mac Pro communities again. It's incompatible, and this guide lists it as incompatible. I linked a forum poster's attempt at getting it to work (despite knowing it was listed as incompatible). Hopefully, this saves a few people the heartache and money. Added notes about UI scaling to monitors and freesync

12/14/18 - Thanks to reader Ian for confirming the RX 590 works in the cMPs. I hadn't even noticed it had been released. He even created a video. You can watch it here. Also, added info about the latest in NVidia driver updates as NVidia released new drivers for 10.13, but without Volta support, lending a lot of weight to the previous rumor that the drivers were pulled over a dispute with Apple's AMD contract. The issue has landed itself in Forbes under the blistering headline Apple Turns Its Back On Customers And NVIDIA With macOS Mojave. Hopefully, this helps Mac Pro users out, such as myself. I've had my NVidia GeForce 1060 less than a year. Oh, and this blog now supports Dark Mode for Mojave users using Safari Tech Preview 68 or higher.

11/28/18 - With the stalemating fo NVidia drivers, I've added a link to the petition for drivers and updated the GPU section a bit to reflect better that it's AMD or bust right now for Mojave.

11/05/18 - Bad news on the Mojave front for NVidia users, NVidia blames Apple for not approving its drivers. Added links to the said article.

11/02/18 - Updated intro, Apple released Mac Minis, minor clarification in the intro and call to the right to repair.

10/29/18 - Big reworking of storage section (now ordered by ATA, AHCI, and NVMe), Added direct links to NVMe firmware.

10/26/18 - lots of copy editing on new (and some old) sections. Also thanks to Pressure G on Mac Pro Users (on Facebook) for spotting an error. This guide is now roughly 40 pages long! Added to Contents list of the "other upgrades."

10/25/18 - first draft of NVMe section, and editing to more accurately reflect NVMe status, plus added first draft PCIe, and You section to explain PCIe ports. Both will require editing.

10/22/18 - 2018 is the year of the cMac Pro. In the space of not updating for a month, we have native NVMe support, bootscreens on RTX cards and the craziest of them all: promising ThunderBolt results. Added notes in relevant sections. Added Boot manager to both GPU and it's own section under other upgrades. Also, I was mentioned in a podcast a while back Brograph Podcast - Episode 134 (at the 33:05 mark). Added a TechRadar link. Added more AppleInsider insults. Why? It's apologist fanboy propaganda.

9/26/18 - It's Mojave time! Added notes on 10.14 Mojave installation, Metal, Mojave patcher for Mac Pro 3.1s, and OWC APFS problems.

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, also added 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