Mac Pro Rebuild / Upgrade Options

Mac Pro Rebuild / Upgrade Options

Given that the ‘trashcan’ is highly proprietary and has very limited upgrade options, you are better off taking a further step back in time to the Mac Pro tower which CAN be easily upgraded. You can upgrade the CPUs, memory, hard drives, Bluetooth, and graphics to 2019 tech and beyond, using commodity PC components that don’t costs the earth.

Mac Pro 1,1 / 2,1

2006-era Dual Core CPU Mac Pro 1,1 systems can be found second hand for $100 or less and can upgraded via custom firmware to a 2007-era Mac Pro 2,1 system to support quad core CPUs and a more recent OS with a few tricks. By default Mac Pro 1,1 and 2,1 systems top out at OSX 10.7.5 but with a few tweaks can be made to accommodate 10.11.6 - the highest its 32bit EFI boot system will support.

Hardware / Firmware Upgrades
The key is to upgrade the firmware to 2,1 BEFORE you replace hardware. There is a tool to do this which can be downloaded here or from our servers here. The tool attempts to reach the official Apple firmware but the URL has been changed to here, but in case it changes again, you can download the file from our server here (known good copy). Open the firmware DMG, then run the updater - its should see it rather than try and reach out to the Internet. Follow the instructions to complete. The upgrade tool appears to work best from Snow Leopard or Lion so you may need to install a version on a partition or thumb drive for the upgrade assuming you are running something newer already. Read the forums below for troubleshooting and reset the PRAM after the whole upgrade process. (See the resources section below for additional guidance)

Custom OS installation
As stated above, you are not limited to running the officially supported OSX 10.7.5, but can in fact run something considerably newer if you have the RAM and CPU for it. A faster SSD hard drive would probably also help as the slowest part of any system (see the storage page for details).

There are two methods for installing your desired OS version - boot to Terminal mode and attach to another Mac via a Firewire cable or pull out your system drive and plug it into a newer system if you have one and build it out from their. The process is the same. Install a fresh OS (you may need to set back the clock on your host machine by a couple of years if the apple installer certificate has expired). Then replace the boot files with custom ones that will allow the system to boot on your Mac Pro 1,1 or 2,1. Shut down and then boot from the older Mac and it should work. (see the resources section below). I have had mixed success using this method - my 10.9.5 install worked, but by 10.11.6 install didn't. It might have been that my 10.11 installer contained the security update 2016-004 that doesn't work with any of the solutions however. By far the easiest is to download a clean fixed image from Google or from Mega as outlined in this rather long winded video. Once you have this, simply restore your Mac Pro 1,1/ 2,1 boot drive with the image and reboot and voila!

DO NOT UPGRADE OR INSTALL THE 2016-004 SECURITY UPDATE or you will need to restart again. 

Resources - How to upgrade Mac 1,1 systems

2006 Mac Pro (MacPro 1,1) Dual X5355 CPU Upgrade

Creating “The Beast” – How to upgrade a Mac Pro 1,1 to run El Capitan

Mac Pro 1.1 max CPU upgrade

How to install El Capitan on a 1,1/2,1 Mac Pro or follow these instructions

Mac Pro 4,1

2009-era Mac Pro 4,1 systems can be upgraded to 2012 specification and beyond to support hex-core CPUs and faster RAM, SSDs or PCIe-connected hard drives giving you 12 cores and really fast storage. Ten-year-old systems with a little loving upgrade can even run the latest macOS 10.14 Majove, and in some cases run it faster than the 2013 Mac Pro. The Mac Pro 4,1 and 5,1 do not support the new MacOS 10.15 Catalina natively although I suspect someone will figure out a way to bypass the installer restrictions.

How to upgrade Mac 4,1 systems

    YouTube 12 core Upgrade

    Upgrading the CPU in a 2009 Mac Pro

    Upgrading a 4,1 2009 quadcore 2.93 Mac Pro

    2009 Mac Pro 12-core CPU Upgrades

There’s a ton of YouTube videos to walk you through the process and many articles on the subject so don’t just take my word for it.

You need to purchase different upgrade CPUs depending upon whether you currently have a single CPU (4-core) system or a dual CPU (8-core) system.

Single:  Intel Xeon W3690 3.46GHz SLBW2 6 Core Processor LGA 1366 i7-990x
Dual:  Matched pair of Intel Xeon X5690 3.46GHz SLBVX 6 Core X58 LGA1366 Processors

Here's a good article on supported CPUs and no you can't run X5687 3.6Gz or X5698 4.4Ghz CPUs in your Mac Pro. You can however run X series CPUs in a single CPU tray.

At the time of writing this a W3690 sells for about $70 on ebay and a pair of X5690s for $140. If you are prepared to go slower to 3.33Mhz a W3680 can be had for under $50 while a pair of X5680s can be had for under $95. One thing to bear in mind is that Apple designed the Mac Pro 4,1 dual CPU tray to use lid-less CPUs so that the heatsinks connect with not only CPUs but also other components of the processor board. While you could pay someone to de-lid your purchase or pay more for lid-less processors, the cheapest way is to purchase a strip of heat conductor padding and place this to connect with the processor card components. You will also need a 3mm long handle Hex wrench in order to remove and replace the heatsinks. Be carful not to over-tighten when using lidded CPUs.

If you have the 2009 version of the Mac Pro and have not upgraded to the 5.1 firmware yet, you will need to download and install the 4.1 to 5.1 firmware BEFORE installing these CPUs or they won't work! (See the next section for details)

A couple of points to bear in mind: In addition to upgrading 2009 firmware before upgrading CPUs, MacOS 10.12 'Sierra' also requires that you also upgrade the stock GT120 video card(s). It is possible to use this card afterwards but in my experience, not for the OS install. Borrow one or simply replace the aging GT120 either with an Apple EFI supported card or install a second standard Windows/Linux video card and TV so you can still see the Apple boot screens on the stock Apple video card and monitor. The 2010~2012 era Mac Pro 5,1 with its better video card supports macOS 10.12 Sierra out of the box, however you will need to upgrade and flash the firmware of a 2009 era Mac Pro 4,1 first to 5,1 levels. See the next section for details.

You will need to upgrade from OS X 10.11 incrementally to get to the latest version of MacOS. Simply building a USB installer stick for MacOS 10.14 WILL NOT WORK. The installers contain firmware updates that need to be applied.

Next Page - Upgrading Firmware

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