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2006-2013 Mac Pro and alternatives

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I have a Mac Pro 5,1 and tried different card slots for my old SSD adapter. They were all the same... according to Apple, the Mac Pro 5,1 slots are all the same speed.
This is true in one sense, but also misleading. Here's a little more detail on the 4,1 and 5,1 PCIe configuration.

Slot 1 and slot 2 are PCie 2.0 x16, and each has an independent path into the CPUs and memory controller. With an up to date boot ROM, each of these slots should operate at 5GT/s with any card that's capable of it, and potentially give you ~10GB/s of bandwidth.

So these are the high performance slots. Notice, though, that to take full advantage of them you must use a card with an x16 PCie bus width, and that actually uses all 16 lanes. If you have a card with a narrower bus width (x8, x4, x2, or x1), you will get correspondingly reduced performance.

Slots 3 and 4 are PCie 2.0 x4, and, critically, share an x4 connection to the CPUs and memory controller, through a PCIe switch. With an up to date boot ROM, each of these slots should again operate at 5GT/s with any card that's capable of it, and potentially give you ~2.5GB/s of bandwidth, as long as you're only using one of the two slots. If you're using both Slot 3 and Slot 4, the available transfers/s and bandwidth will be split between them.

So these are the lower performance slots. And similarly to the above, to take full advantage of them you must use a card with an x4 PCie bus width. If you have a card with a narrower bus width ( x2 or x1) you will get correspondingly reduced performance.

Perhaps obviously, there's more to this than just what I described here - there are a number of other limits that could pop up in different circumstances, particularly in situations that create many small bus transactions rather than fewer large ones. But the hardware configuration limits above give you a good basic starting point.
 


I just checked OWC, and I note that the OWC Accelsior card (on which I have my Crucial 512GB SSD connected) says:
Mount a 2.5" drive to the Accelsior S, install in any available PCIe x4 (or greater) slot, and you're up and running with expanded high-speed storage.
I currently have the card in Slot 2, immediately above the Radeon RX580 card in Slot 1. I would get much better cooling on the video card if I could move the Accelsior to Slots 3 or 4. As the SSD is my boot drive, will I notice any difference from Slot 2 to 3 or 4?
 


Ric Ford

MacInTouch
I currently have the card in Slot 2, immediately above the Radeon RX580 card in Slot 1. I would get much better cooling on the video card if I could move the Accelsior to Slots 3 or 4. As the SSD is my boot drive, will I notice any difference from Slot 2 to 3 or 4?
You'd probably have to just try it to see, since everyone's systems and workflows (and perceptions) are different.
 


... I currently have the card in Slot 2, immediately above the Radeon RX580 card in Slot 1. I would get much better cooling on the video card if I could move the Accelsior to Slots 3 or 4. As the SSD is my boot drive, will I notice any difference from Slot 2 to 3 or 4?
I recently installed an OWC Accelsior card with a Samsung 860 EVO 2TB SSD in Slot 4 (i.e., an x4 slot). Blackmagic Disk Speed Test showed the drive’s operating about as fast as can be expected.
 


I recently moved my OWC Mercury Accelsior PCIe SSD from slot 2 to slot 4 to accommodate the large Radeon RX580 video card (non-Apple but says Orinoco in System information). I tested it with Blackmagic Disk Speed Test and the results were as good as identical in both slots, 650MB/s read. Slot 3 is currently empty. System information reports Link Width x2, Link speed 5.0 gt/s. Hope this helps.
 


This is true in one sense, but also misleading. Here's a little more detail on the 4,1 and 5,1 PCIe configuration.
Slot 1 and slot 2 are PCie 2.0 x16, and each has an independent path into the CPUs and memory controller. With an up to date boot ROM, each of these slots should operate at 5GT/s with any card that's capable of it, and potentially give you ~10GB/s of bandwidth...
Thanks, John. Good information! The card I have is, I believe, x2, and shares with an x2 USB 3 card, so that explains why I have no speed issues in the other slots.

(It would be nice from a cooling standpoint if they made slots 1 and 4 (or 1 and 3) high speed instead, or gave more space for the video card.)
 


I just checked OWC... I currently have the card in Slot 2, immediately above the Radeon RX580 card in Slot 1. I would get much better cooling on the video card if I could move the Accelsior to Slots 3 or 4. As the SSD is my boot drive, will I notice any difference from Slot 2 to 3 or 4?
Last night I moved my Accelsior S (from slot 2) to Slot 3, and that was fine as well - roughly 450 MB/sec. (according to Helios LANtest).

I may have to inspect my 4th slot's connector more closely, as it appears it's the source of the anomaly in my situation. So Slot 3 should (technically and anecdotally) be A-OK for you.
 


I recently moved my OWC Mercury Accelsior PCIe SSD from slot 2 to slot 4 ... and the results were as good as identical in both slots, 650MB/s read. Slot 3 is currently empty. System information reports Link Width x2, Link speed 5.0 gt/s. Hope this helps.
That sounds about right. Looking at the specs for various Mercury Accelsior cards, the "S" and "E2" cards are both PCIe 2.0 x2 devices, so they are going to perform identically in any slot (unless you configure a 2006 or 2007 era Mac Pro to have a 1x slot and put it there).

The (discontinued) "Pro Q" model is a x8 device - it will clearly suffer if plugged into a x4 slot.
 


That sounds about right. Looking at the specs for various Mercury Accelsior cards, the "S" and "E2" cards are both PCIe 2.0 x2 devices, so they are going to perform identically in any slot (unless you configure a 2006 or 2007 era Mac Pro to have a 1x slot and put it there).
Does the E2 require their proprietary cards, or will it work with standard m.2 PCIe storage?
 


Does the E2 require their proprietary cards, or will it work with standard m.2 PCIe storage?
All I know about this card is from OWC's web site, and it doesn't say yes or no to this question. I would recommend contacting their sales people for an answer to this question.
 


This is from the trial version of Geekbench for my Mac Pro5,1 (Mid 2010)...
OpenCL:​
Mac Pro (Mid 2010)​
OpenCL Score: 16638
ATI Radeon HD 5870​
Compute Units: 20​
Maximum Frequency : 850 MHz​
Device Memory: 1.00 GB​
I recently purchased (eBay) a refurb'ed AMD Radeon R9 280X which supports the boot screen. It works with Snow Leopard, Mountain Lion, Sierra, and High Sierra. Since it is Metal-compatible it should also work with Mojave—although I haven't yet had a chance to install Mojave.

Geekbench results:

OpenCL:​
Mac Pro (Mid 2010)​
OpenCL Score: 108776
AMD Radeon R9 280X (AMD Radeon HD Tahiti XT Prototype Compute Engine)​
Compute Units: 32​
Maximum Frequency : 1.03 GHz​
Device Memory: 3.00 GB​
The new OpenCL score is 6.5x better than the score for the older card.
 


I recently purchased (eBay) a refurb'ed AMD Radeon R9 280X which supports the boot screen. It works with Snow Leopard, Mountain Lion, Sierra, and High Sierra. Since it is Metal-compatible it should also work with Mojave—although I haven't yet had a chance to install Mojave.

Geekbench results:

OpenCL:​
Mac Pro (Mid 2010)​
OpenCL Score: 108776
AMD Radeon R9 280X (AMD Radeon HD Tahiti XT Prototype Compute Engine)​
Compute Units: 32​
Maximum Frequency : 1.03 GHz​
Device Memory: 3.00 GB​
The new OpenCL score is 6.5x better than the score for the older card.
I just looked at an auction for this card, which indicates support for Lion and newer, with no support for Snow Leopard. Since I still need Snow Leopard for a couple of things, I am especially interested in that part of your report. Did you see any issues with this card when running Snow Leopard?
 


I just looked at an auction for this card, which indicates support for Lion and newer, with no support for Snow Leopard. Since I still need Snow Leopard for a couple of things, I am especially interested in that part of your report. Did you see any issues with this card when running Snow Leopard?
The online listing indicated support for Mountain Lion forward -- so I was surprised (and happy) to discover that it also supported Snow Leopard. The seller has several more graphic cards -- all refurb'ed and tested.

From the eBay description:
Card has been disassembled, cleaned, and new Arctic MX-4 thermal paste reapplied.
This cards' original BIOS has been flashed/modified for enhanced compatibility with ALL Apple Mac Pro's running OSX 10.8.3 or later. Mavericks, Yosemite, El Capitan, Sierra, High Sierra, and Mojave included.
 


I recently purchased (eBay) a refurb'ed AMD Radeon R9 280X which supports the boot screen. It works with Snow Leopard, Mountain Lion, Sierra, and High Sierra. Since it is Metal-compatible it should also work with Mojave—although I haven't yet had a chance to install Mojave....
I am currently running the R9 280X in my Mac Pro (Mid 2010) with Mojave. It runs great! I have connected two Viewsonic monitors at times when doing audio production work, and there are no problems at all. Mojave simply works. (Not a fan of dark mode. Must be my middle-aged eyes.)
 


The online listing indicated support for Mountain Lion forward -- so I was surprised (and happy) to discover that it also supported Snow Leopard. The seller has several more graphic cards -- all refurb'ed and tested....
Thanks for the link to that seller. The apparent lack of Snow Leopard support has been a big factor in my reluctance to attempt a graphics card upgrade; most of the ones I have considered list OS X 10.8.3, at the oldest.
 


The R9 280X also supports 4K monitors. I like this card very much, and you do get the start-up screens with this GPU.
 


The R9 280X also supports 4K monitors. I like this card very much, and you do get the start-up screens with this GPU.
Don’t you need an external power supply for this card? I am trying to remember, or can you just hook it up with a couple of cables and let it fly?
 


Don’t you need an external power supply for this card? I am trying to remember, or can you just hook it up with a couple of cables and let it fly?
Yes, it needs additional power, but not an additional power supply. The power comes from two cables that go to the power plugs on the Mac Pro motherboard - one 6-pin, one 8-pin, if I recall correctly.

I have one in my Mac Pro 2009, and it works well. I wasn't sure about it being Metal-compatible, so I am glad to hear that it is. I'm sticking on El Capitan as long as I can, but if I have to upgrade, Mojave is the next step.
 


Yes, it needs additional power, but not an additional power supply. The power comes from two cables that go to the power plugs on the Mac Pro motherboard - one 6-pin, one 8-pin, if I recall correctly.
Okay, I'm used to two-cable cards in my 2012 and my 2010 Mac Pros. Been so long. I think I have the 7950 in one now and the 680GTX in the other, but I have run a 780. Just so long as I don't have to hot-wire another power supply into the equation. Thanks.
 


Thanks to everyone who provided info about the R9 280X. It seemed too good to pass up, and I bought one from the seller mentioned above. The card came today and I got it installed tonight. I haven’t run any tests, but subjectively, performance seems better when working on photos in Bridge and Photoshop or running Firefox. It gives me the option of installing Mojave at some point, although that is not a pressing concern.

Tomorrow I will see how it does with my Snow Leopard drive. Fingers crossed…
 


The online listing indicated support for Mountain Lion forward -- so I was surprised (and happy) to discover that it also supported Snow Leopard. The seller has several more graphic cards -- all refurb'ed and tested.
Thanks to everyone who provided info about the R9 280X. It seemed too good to pass up, and I bought one from the seller mentioned above.
I, too, ordered one of these cards and just received and installed it in my Early 2009 Mac Pro today. Works fine in Snow Leopard, but there is one limitation: SwitchResX shows only one resolution (1920 x 1080) available. If I boot into Yosemite or El Capitan, SwitchResX shows the whole list of possible resolutions. Until now, inability to use Snow Leopard was the dealbreaker for me in upgrading the graphics card. Many thanks to David Blanchard for posting about this card.
 


Another wrinkle with the R9 280X card under Snow Leopard: Preview opens an image, but no image is actually displayed, just a blank window. No problem opening with GraphicConverter 8 or Photoshop CS6.
 


I, too, ordered one of these cards and just received and installed it in my Early 2009 Mac Pro today. Works fine in Snow Leopard, but there is one limitation: SwitchResX shows only one resolution (1920 x 1080) available. If I boot into Yosemite or El Capitan, SwitchResX shows the whole list of possible resolutions.
My experience was a bit different. With Snow Leopard, the Displays --> Default for display works correctly. With Mountain Lion, that setting results in a very high resolution, so I need to select Scaled and then the correct native resolution. For both Sierra and High Sierra, it correctly uses Default for display.

I'm just guessing, but perhaps the monitor, native resolution, and connector (DVI vs. DisplayPort) may play some role here.
 


I booted into Snow Leopard briefly and noticed one or two things that may or may not be related to the new card.

One was that the display was noticeably darker, and required adjustment and recalibration.

The available resolution was the default 1920 x 1200 for this display (NEC 24” wide-gamut model). Not a problem for me.
 


Another wrinkle with the R9 280X card under Snow Leopard: Preview opens an image, but no image is actually displayed, just a blank window. No problem opening with GraphicConverter 8 or Photoshop CS6.
That's a problem when using Snow Leopard in a virtual machine too. I think JPEGs and most image formats don't work, but PDFs do. I don't think there's any resolution, but it would seem to be tied to some sort of display framework that these GPUs are also stumbling over.
 


Yet another wrinkle, which may be unrelated to the new card, but the timing is suspicious: I had noticed a few brief episodes of my mouse-directed cursor freezing since installing the new card. Then the mouse stopped being seen by the system at all. It had been connected to one of the two front USB ports, which both appear to be dead now. The front FireWire ports are still working.
 




Ric Ford

MacInTouch
Nothing works. It’s possible that the power supply is having some problems.
If it were me, I’d eliminate that mouse and switch to another, try a good, powered USB hub, and if things didn’t resolve, pull the new card and see what happens. Do you have other, power-hungry devices installed? Maybe Louis Rossman could help diagnose the problem/check the power supply.
 


If it were me, I’d eliminate that mouse and switch to another, try a good, powered USB hub, and if things didn’t resolve, pull the new card and see what happens. Do you have other, power-hungry devices installed? Maybe Louis Rossman could help diagnose the problem/check the power supply.
When the old graphics card was in there, I had my i1 profiler and my mouse plugged into the front USB ports. They are both plugged into the powered USB2 hub since the front ports became unresponsive. The mouse is essential: it’s a Contour Perfit mouse, the only truly ergonomic mouse I have used.

I have four internal hard drives (4TB and 6TB) installed and three cards, including the graphics card. The other two cards are Sonnet USB3/FW800 cards. I could get along without having both of the combo cards in there, if I had to.

Two of the HD enclosures connected to one of the Sonnet cards are AC powered. Neither is perpetually on: I turn them on for CCC backups. There are several small bus-powered drives attached, but only one of them is always “on”. The other two portable drives have on/off switches, and are switched on when needed. One is an iTunes backup and the other is a second portable image backup.

I have other reasons to suspect that the power supply may be flaky, but as long as it has kept running mostly reliably, I haven’t wanted to take the monster anywhere for service.
 


... I have other reasons to suspect that the power supply may be flaky, but as long as it has kept running mostly reliably, I haven’t wanted to take the monster anywhere for service.
You can check yourself to see if the power supply is within specification, and you can also replace it yourself. It’s not that difficult.
 



That's true, but it's also possible the circuitry responsible for those USB ports has gone bad. USB 2.0 and USB 3 cards are both very cheap and could resolve the issue, if the power supply is good.
That’s another possibility, certainly. My Wayback Machine running Tiger through Lion is a 2006 Mac Pro (bought cheap on eBay a few years ago) and one of its front USB ports is non-functional. So it did occur to me that the USB ports in the front panel of my 5,1 Mac Pro could be having problems. In either case, it’s not a critical failure for my purposes, unless it’s a symptom of something more sinister. The Mac Pro 5,1 already has USB 3 cards.

I will have to look into how to assess the health of the power supply.
 


That’s another possibility, certainly. My Wayback Machine running Tiger through Lion is a 2006 Mac Pro (bought cheap on eBay a few years ago) and one of its front USB ports is non-functional. So it did occur to me that the USB ports in the front panel of my 5,1 Mac Pro could be having problems. In either case, it’s not a critical failure for my purposes, unless it’s a symptom of something more sinister. The Mac Pro 5,1 already has USB 3 cards.

I will have to look into how to assess the health of the power supply.
Actually, the front USB ports on every 5,1 Mac Pro I have owned end up crapping out. They are almost like a cheap hub that is strung to the front with a couple of wires. I don’t know why, but that’s one weak point of that otherwise solid model. On one of my current ones, a 2012 12-core, one of the front USB ports is still working. That machine runs 24 hours a day, every day.
 


I have other reasons to suspect that the power supply may be flaky, ...
Short reply: If you use Macs Fan Control to reduce your power supply temperature, your power supply may be less flaky.

Longer reply:
At MacRumors there is an extensive and seemingly well-informed discussion of Mac Pro power supplies. Citing from memory, some points I got are power supply failure is usually due to capacitors drying out, capacitors dry out faster at higher temperatures, and replacing capacitors is relatively easy. Also, cheesegrater Mac Pros are specified to run at temperatures higher than optimal for power supply longevity or efficiency, reducing cooling fan speed which results in quieter operation. Speculation is that the higher operating temperature was chosen because quieter Macs sell better, even though they probably fail sooner. The power supplies and capacitors used by Apple are very high quality, which can be expected to last longer, perhaps compensating for the excessive standard operating temperature.

I am not an expert. If anyone sees errors in what I post please comment.

I try to use this information to guide my use of my Mac Pro 3,1, bought new in August 2008 after capacitors blew out in my Power Mac G5. Macs Fan Control informed me that with normal system control, all four fans usually run at their minimum speeds. That surprised me, since I have many added devices, although newer devices may draw less power. It meant I had unused cooling capacity available. By setting my power supply fan to be controlled by PSMI Supply AC/DC Supply 1 temperature, beginning at 40 and maxing at 60 degrees C, I reduced the usual PSMI Supply AC/DC Supply 1 temperature from over 70 to 56 degrees. I also set custom controls which run the CPU_Mem, IO and Exhaust fans at speeds higher than normal system control.

From what I read at MacRumors, reducing the power supply temperatures by 15 degrees should allow more efficient operation and longer life. It might reduce whatever flakiness might occur. Macs Fan Control is a free download and simple to use, so this would be easy to test.
 


You can check yourself to see if the power supply is within specification, and you can also replace it yourself. It’s not that difficult.
Hey, this would be a good thing to know how to do. I don't suppose you have a handy link to a service manual?
 






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