October 19, 2019

From Gerald R. Lucas

Big Mac

2009 Mac Pro and a nice view.

So, I purchased a 2009 dual-processor Mac Pro (2x Intel Xeon E5520 2.26 GHz and 15GBs RAM) a couple of weeks ago. It was a spontaneous decision, really, sparked by watching dozens of YouTube videos about getting used equipment and upgrading it. I'm generally convinced that going used for expensive items really is the way to go. You can get so much more for much less, like a car or a Mac. New is nice, but you really get more for your money with something used.

Anyway, I spent about $300 on the Mac Pro — money I had in my Pay Pal account from eBay sales of random — unused and unneeded — stuff sitting around my house. I made this deal with myself: I would only spend money on this hobby from old stuff I sell. Therefore, I will spend no money on this Mac Pro. Autumn seemed to go for this approach. I really does make the most sense: I’m buying a computer I don’t really need but will use. It’s a hobby. Plain and simple.

I have to add, too: one of the reasons I purchased the Mac Pro is that Giles had an old 30" Cinema Display sitting around that he graciously donated to the cause. While very nice monitors can be had for very little these days, buying a new monitor was a hurdle I was not going to jump. So, with monitor in hand, I got my first Mac Pro.


I had planned to upgrade as I could afford to, maybe adding more RAM each month, eventually leading to a new GPU or processors. However, I decided to sell a Synology NAS I didn’t need and my new (to me) Lenovo ThinkPad. Within a week, I had nearly $500 to play with. W00t!

First, I upgraded the firmware and operating system on an old 250GB SSD. This went well. I had it running Mojave natively in no time with the most current firmware. Even the old SATA 2 SSD was pretty sprightly. I had used it in my old iMac for years.

The NVNe PCIe card looks like it’s sitting right on the GPU’s fan.

Next, I purchased a used Sapphire NITRO+ Radeon RX 580 with 8 GBs of VRAM (yes, very overkill) and a Samsung NVMe M.2 1 TB 970 Evo. The GPU was $120 and the M.2 drive was $150 (and another $6 for the PCI card). These installed easily, though the NVMe card is right against the GPU, but it does not seem to hinder its operation. Mojave was a quick install on the Evo. SSD speeds quadrupled, at least for extended read/writes. I wish I could say I notice a difference with the graphics card, but I think the old monitor does not make this upgrade very obvious. Maybe I’ll get a newer monitor in the future.

I ordered 48 GBs of server RAM (running at 1333 MHz) and two Intel Xeon X5680s (3.330 MHz) for 12 cores. I watched many upgrade videos and read quite a bit about upgrading the processors. It’s tricky, since the heat sinks need to go on the de-lidded processors just right. On the first try, I thought I nailed it. Both processors and 48 GBs of RAM showed up in the “About the Mac” dialog, but as soon as I started GeekBench, the computer crashed — a sure sign something is amiss. I tried to back off all the screws holding the heat sinks, and in the process I lost an 8 GB DIMM. OK, how about tightening them? Same outcome. I was stressed, so I gave up for the day and read a bit more.

Nice upgrades.

Today, I tried Lyndon B’s approach off of Accelerate Your Mac (currently third from the top). I installed one processor at at a time. It took me a couple of tries to get processor A working (chime, boot, 24 GBs of RAM showing, and a successful run of GeekBench), but I finally did. The fans were spinning at full-speed, but I went ahead and installed processor B. I got a successful result on the first try with fans behaving normally. Whew. That was really nerve-wracking. Still, I’m watching iStat Menus closely, but so far, so good.

I have a new Wi-Fi/Bluetooth card waiting to be installed next. I think I have some soldering to do, so this will have to wait until I can teach myself to do that. Oh, and find a soldering gun.

So far, this hobby has been rewarding. It’s nice having a large desktop Mac again. I need to take some photographs so I can use it for editing. It won’t replace my MBP as a daily driver, but will augment it nicely.