Purchasing a Mac Pro Tower

Purchasing a Mac Pro Tower

If you aren’t already the proud owner of a 'cheesegrater' as its sometimes known, and want to ditch the worn-out Mac Mini or PC you have connected to your TV in the Den or Lounge, then the good news is that Mac Pro systems can be purchased second hand for a good price and upgraded to give them a modern lease of life.

2006 Mac Pro 1,1

At the time of writing this article a 2006 Mac Pro 1,1 can be had on eBay for under $100 (don’t worry about the CPU, memory or hard drive(s) as we are going to ditch those in favor of more modern internal components. Instead look for something that looks nice cosmetically and powers on – you still need a working power supply and motherboard.

The 2006 Mac Pro 1,1 supports one or two 2.66 GHz dual core Intel Xeon X5150 processors and 667Mhz DDR2 ECC RAM by default. The two CPU model was referred to a a Quad Core even though technically its wasn't. CTO options were for a pair of X5130 or X5160 CPUs. The 2007 Mac Pro 2,1 had a firmware revision that allowed it to run X5655 or X5365 Clovertown quad core CPUS giving the two CPU model 8 cores in total. By flashing the firmware on your 2006 model you can easily make it a 2007 Mac Pro 2,1 model and upgrade the CPUs for a modest performance improvement.

2009 Mac Pro 4,1 or 2010~2012 Mac Pro 5,1

Far better however would be to get yourself a 2009 Mac Pro 4,1 or 2010~2012 Mac Pro 5,1 as these can be upgraded to faster RAM, and more modern CPUs and can be upgraded to run MacOS High Sierra, Mojave and possibly beyond. Mac Pro 5,1 from 2010 and 2012 are essentially the same system as the 4,1 but with a later firmware and slightly better graphics cards which will only work upto macOS 10.13 anyway. Only the Mac Pro 5,1 is officially supported but you can easily upgrade the firmware on a cheaper 4,1 system to 5,1.

There are essentially two models: a single Quad Core CPU and a double Quad Core CPU model giving 8 cores, the only difference being the CPU tray. These can be updated to faster Hex Core CPUs giving you 6 and 12 core models and 1333Mhz Ram. Dual CPU systems support more RAM slots and maximum memory so if lots of memory is important to you, look for an 8 core donor system. That being said the motherboard CPU architecture is fastest with three or six DIMMS so a system with 48GB Ram will outperform one with 64GB ironically thanks to Intel's triple channel memory bus.

The Mac Pro 4,1 can usually be found for a better price that the newer 5,1 systems but many have had their firmware upgraded already so look carefully to make sure you aren’t over paying. Single CPU Mac Pro 4,1 systems go for around $150 to $300 while dual CPU systems go for $200 to $400 depending upon condition. Again don’t worry about CPU speed, existing RAM, hard drive, Video card etc. We are going to replace the lot!

Recently there have been a spate of upgraded Mac Pros fitted with 6 core CPUs up for sale on eBay. Some are bargains, some are way over-priced. If changing out a CPU and RAM is not something you are comfortable with then take a look. Make sure that the speed of the CPU is something you can live with and make sure that the RAM is 1333Mhz rather than the factory default 1066Mhz as you may have to throw it away if the CPU is designed to run on 1333.

You could also look at the Mac Pro 2,1 from 2007 or the Mac Pro 3,1 from 2008 neither of which can really be upgraded …. but if you are going to spend time, energy and effort on this upgrade project just get yourself a 2009 Mac Pro 4,1.

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