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Pumping Up The 2009-2012 Mac Pro

September 18th, 2019 by rob-ART morgan, mad scientist

The 2019 Mac Pro tower is expected to ship this fall. The 2009-2012 Mac Pro tower was designed so well that it is very easy to upgrade. Let's count the ways.

CPU Upgrades

Our 'mid 2010' Mac Pro tower started life with a 6-core 3.33GHz Xeon W3680 processor tray. We eventually replaced it with a 12-core 3.3GHz Xeon X5680 processor tray. You can easily replace your Mac Pro tower's processor tray with a new one. It's plug'n'play. Check out these options offered by Other World Computing.

GPU Upgrades

Our 'mid 2010' Mac Pro tower came with the AMD Radeon HD 5870. Over the past 9 years, we've upgraded it with various AMD GPUs including the Radeon HD 7950, Radeon RX 480, Radeon RX 580, Radeon Vega RX 56, and Radeon VII. (The last two require auxiliary power.)

With macOS High Sierra and earlier, thanks to web drivers from NVIDIA, we were able to experiment with GPUs like the GeForce GTX 770, 980, 1080, 1080 Ti, and TITAN Xp. With the release of macOS Mojave, most of those are no longer an option. Two "Apple Blessed" NVIDIA GPUs that do work with Mojave are the GTX 680 "Mac Edition" and Quadro K5000 "For Mac." (Certain NVIDIA GPUs can be flashed to work with Mojave. Contact MacVidCards for more info.)

With macOS Mojave, the 'sweetest' choice currently is the AMD Radeon RX 580 since it does not require supplemental power and has the flexibility of connecting to your display with DVI, DisplayPort, or HDMI. MacVidCards is offering an EFI version of the RX 580 that supports Apple Startup and Boot screens. They also offer a flashing service for your existing 580.

Memory Upgrades

Though our 'mid 2010' Mac Pro 6-core shipped with 8GB of 1333MHz DDR3 ECC memory, we immediately upgraded it to 64GB. When the 12-core tray was installed, we upped the memory to 96GB (six sticks). Why not 8 sticks? Leaving the fourth slot in each memory bank empty triggers triple channel mode. However, going up to 128GB (8 sticks) is not a bad idea if you need the extra memory. The difference in speed is often negligible since most apps don't saturate the memory bandwidth.

Storage Upgrades

Back in 2010, the Mac Pro shipped with the 1TB 7200rpm HDD. We were able to get large sequential transfer speeds up to 120MB/s. Small random transfers were 34MB/s. Even switching to 2.5-inch SSDs, the factory 3Gbps SATA bays maxed out at 270MB/s.

Fast forward to 2019. We now use PCIe-based flash storage. A single PCIe-based module on an M.2 card in the Mac Pro tower's x4 slot 4 does large sequential transfers at 1500MB/s. And small random transfers are measured at 560MB/s.

And to really transfer data fast, we use an four slot M.2 PCIe Carrier Board with four striped Samsung 970 Pro PCIe-based modules in the Mac Pro tower's x16 slot 2 that attain up to 5700MB/s for large sequential transfers and 1100MB/s average small random transfers.

As for the optical bay, we replaced the Mac Pro factory Super Drive DVD with a Blu-ray reader/player/burner. It does require special software when you are trans-coding or playing Blu-ray video.

Port Upgrades

The five factory USB ports are as slow as a 'seven year itch' (30MB/s.) Thanks to the Sonnet USB 3.1 Gen 2 PCIe card in slot 3, we can use the fastest PCIe-based flash USB drives to reach as high as 660MB/s or 22 times faster than the speed of the factory USB ports.

Keyboard and Mouse Upgrades

Apple keyboards are okay but I've never understood their resistance for offering a back-lit option. But I've found a third party, Matias, that makes a wired aluminum keyboard that looks and feels just like the latest keyboards from Apple but offers RGB back-lighting. Plus you can chose the color using a dial. I'm also partial to the Razer mice -- especially the DiamondBack Chroma model. Their utility (Razer Synapse) enables you to choose the color of the glowing scroll wheel and side stripes.

Final Thoughts

The 'classic' 2009 - 2012 Mac Pro "Tower of Power" is still popular with many Mac users. It's impressive how many ways you can "hot rod" it.

A group on Facebook (MacProUpgrade) shares ideas and advice on upgrades including one member who got Thunderbolt to work. A custom Mac Pro builder recently modified the original 2010 Mac Pro PSU to support dual 300W AMD Vega Frontier GPUs.

As you contemplate spending big buck$ on the new Mac Pro, you might consider investing in a few key upgrades for your existing Mac Pro -- some of which can be migrated to the 2019 Mac Pro.

Comments? Suggestions? Feel free to email me, Follow me on Twitter @barefeats.

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copyright 2019 Rob Art Morgan
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