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.

9 thoughts on “Refreshing an old Mac Pro.”

  1. Alister, I have been using FCP and Premiere Pro CS5 with an NVidia GeForce 285X for over a year now, all built on top of a generic Intel / Gigabyte motherboard. I use a hardware EFI emulator called EFix (anyone can Google it) which costs about $230 USD and plugs into the motherboard on the first USB slot. With this you can run either a PC 64bit or OS X 64 bit – I have a dual boot setup to utilize both. About This Mac reports it as a MacPro 3,1.
    The Mercury CUDA engine is indeed activated for Premiere Pro CS5 using the less expensive 285X card. These machines might be derisively referred to as Hackintosh, but since Apple sells the OS X software for $30 USD it makes it very simple and easy to legally have it both ways. The best part is not being a slave to the retail tyranny of Apple as you can buy more generic and much cheaper PC parts like RAM, Hard Drives, etc and they are recognized by either OS.
    My system would have cost well over $4,000 USD as an Apple Mac, but my cost for parts was around $1,200 USD. It doesn’t hurt that I’ve been building PC’s for myself, family and friends since the 1980’s, so if one has some experience and a little time, a fully-functioning editing machine can be quite economically built.

    1. Hi Bruce.

      I’ve built a couple of Hackintosh systems over the years and know about the EFix. Not sure that it’s entirely legal, but that’s another debate altogether.
      Yes, Mac’s are expensive and you do pay a premium on the hardware. But I have to say that I have always had a better end user experience with my “real” Mac’s than any PC or home built Hackintosh type machines. It’s small things like the near silent running, nice ergonomics and out of the box reliability. The other is the resale value, because Mac’s hold their value very well I can typically sell an older machine on after three or four years and get back 50% of the original cost which makes upgrading less painful.

  2. Dear Alisterchapman,

    Will you please explain in which way you have upgraded the system to run at 64 bit?

    Thanks a lot!

    1. All the Intel MacPros will run 64bit Lion. The EFi is 32bit but that does not stop you installing and running a 64bit OS. The CPU’s are socketed so can easily be swapped out. I upgraded mine from dual core CPU’s to quad core CPU’s, it took about 4 hours to do. The hardest thing is finding graphics cards for the older MacPro’s but there are many suppliers of flashed ATi cards that bring a significant boost in performance on ebay, or you can do it yourself. Mine had a Ati 5770 in it. Another trick is to boot the machine using the Chameleon boot loader that those running OSX on a PC. This will then load a 64 bit EFi with extensions that will allow you to use PC video cards into ram and the machine will use that as opposed to the on board EFi.

  3. Hello Alister,

    Late comment to your informative post here, but I was wondering if you could go into some more details about the PC EFI on a Mac Pro 1,1?
    I’m looking to run a PC GTX285 also, was it was simple as running iBoot and Multibeast them popping the GTX285 in there?
    Thanks for any info Alister!

    1. I’m trying to remember how I did it. There are two ways. One requires the use of a second genuine apple NVIDIA card and an injector by NETKAS. This was the simplest and got CUDA working, but renders still used the other card. I think in the end I had a EFI boot system similar to iBoot. I was still not completely happy with this, so in the end I got a flashed ATI 5770 which work very well. I also upgraded the CPU’s to quad core CPU’s so I ended up the an eight core 2.66ghz machine.

      Was it worth it? Looking back I would probably have been better off selling it and buying a newer machine, or as I have done now purchased an i7 4 core iMac. My iMac is way faster than the 1.1 MacPro was and at a third of the price of a tower a real bargain. With thunderbolt I can add HDSDi I/O, raid etc and I get hardware Mercury engine acceleration with CS6. As I have a thunderbolt laptop all my edit suite peripherals and I/O work with either machine which is a further money saver.

  4. For once there’s a workaround for all those old macs that become redundant over time. I’m wondering whether it can be used to circumvent anyone from having to pay the extra (made for mac) price that irks so many of us!

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