Refreshing an old Mac Pro.

First of all – rest in peace Steve Jobs. A great visionary.

I’ve had my Intel Mac Pro since Apple first switched to Intel. So it’s a version 1.1 Mac Pro, or at least it was. Originally it had 2Gb of ram and 2 dual core CPU’s running at 2.33Ghz, so 4 cores in total. Over the years I’ve upgraded the Ram and last year I swapped out the CPU’s and now have 8 cores running at 2.4Ghz. It would be pretty straight forward to take it up to 8 cores at 3Ghz, but the faster Xeon processor chips are very expensive.

The biggest issue though has always been the Graphics cards. The problem being that the first and second gen Mac Pro’s have a 32 Bit EFI (the software that allows it to boot). The later Mac Pro’s have a 64 Bit EFI. Only a Graphics card that supports 32 Bit EFI will work in a 1.1 or 2.1 MacPro and the choices are very, very limited and non of the newer Mac Nvidia cards can be used so no CUDA or Mercury Engine with Adobe Premier unless you get the extremely expensive Mac Nvidia Quadro cards.

However for many years people have been putting together PC’s that will run OSX very well by booting up using the PC’s Bios and then loading a software version of the EFI on top, so that OSX thinks it’s installed on a real Mac. So if you can run a 64 Bit software EFI on a PC, what about using it on a Mac? After some research I discovered that this was possible and now my 1.1 Mac boots up and loads a software version of the 64 Bit EFI and will now allow me to use any Mac Graphics card. As it is still a real Mac underneath, all my software updates and everything else works completely as normal.

However it doesn’t stop there. As the software EFI is one written to run on any Intel based computer it has the ability to work with PC graphics cards. This means that the machine will work perfectly well with the PC version of any of the Mac Graphics cards. I’m currently using a PC Nvidia GTX285 which was half the price of the Mac version, yet I still get full CUDA/Mercury Engine acceleration under Premier. Next I’m going to try a PC ATI 6870 to see how that works with Avid and FCP.

So I’ve extended the life of my Mac Pro for another year or so. I do have a new IMac coming tomorrow with a 4 core i7 processor. It will be interesting to see how they compare. On paper the IMac should be about 20%-30% faster than my 5 year old MacPro.

The iMac upgrades are soooo much cheaper than the MacPro. For example 4x 1Gb Ram sticks for a MacPro cost around £100. I got 4x 4Gb of Ram for the iMac for the same price. An i7 4 core 3Ghz CPU costs around £300 while a comparable 4 core xeon costs at least double that. Plus of course the iMac itself is half the price. While it might not be all signing, all dancing and have 12 cores, it will be an improvement over my current machine which has served me very well so far. Perhaps when work picks up again, another MacPro will be on the cards.

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