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Hey everyone, I have a 2008 Mac Pro/2.83hzXEON(8)/8800GT512mb.

Is it possible for me to upgrade this machine to newer hardware, since it is Intel based? What would it entail to put a newer processor, ram and video card in this machine? Is it worth it?

Thanks

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2 Answers 2

Certain upgrades are possible, but it’s not that simple.

  • Accelerate your Mac is a nice source of information, you can find them here.

  • ANandtech did change the CPU of a Mac Pro.

  • OWC Mac Sales does have memory upgrades (there are others).

  • Video card: Unless you want to experiment with modified firmwares, your only choice in that model is the ATI 4870, which is considerably faster than the regular NVidia (it’s very noticeable in x-plane and 3d applications) but still lagging behind the “latest offerings”.

According to Wikipedia: "The Mac Pro, as with other Macintosh platforms, requires Mac OS X firmware. That is to say, a PCIe video card designed exclusively for other operating systems will not work properly under Mac OS X without appropriate drivers and/or firmware”

Sadly, no other video card has that, other than the Apple’s offerings. But If you google around there are some posts about people who managed to make other cards work.

  • Forget about upgrading your Motherboard, as it’s a custom design.

  • Hard drives/SuperDrives are generic and can be replaced, as you may have already guessed.

  • Any other component is probably “custom” designed for a Mac Pro (the power supply for example) and you won’t be able to get away with it…

Is it worth?

I have an early 2008 Mac Pro with 2x4 Intel XEON 2.8 and 10GB RAM. I’ve upgraded the RAM (from the lame 2GB to 10 @ OWC liked above), and I ordered the machine with the NVIDIA card (8800? I don’t remember), which was the only option other than the stock ATI2600 or something lame like that.

A couple of years later, the NVIDIA died (the Apple guy told me it had bugs and used to fail), so I got the new ATI 4780 512MB (it was 100€ less expensive than the out of warranty NVIDIA apple replacement). The difference was really noticeable in 3d apps.

I haven’t thought about upgrading the CPUs because getting faster XEONs (I wouldn’t be able to upgrade to Nehalem or anything new) won’t really make a big difference for me.

I use a SSD and 4 Hard Drives in the bays, if that counts as an upgrade (my original drive was 750gb, up from the stock 500).

I brought it with the Bluetooth/Wifi module (it was optional back then) and tho I haven’t used it a lot, it came in handy in a few occasions.

OS X Doesn’t support SLI/Crossfire for using more than 1 video card in parallel (you can install more than one, but it’s not the same thing), so forget about getting two super video cards for running crysis y super-top-ultra-maximum quality.

Conclusion

Yes, if you upgrade the RAM to something other than the 2GB and yes to the video card if you do 3d intensive stuff. Exposé will work fine on the NVIDIA8800 you have, but X-Plane (among other 3D things) will be noticeably faster with a new video card.

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I really like your very detailed and explanatory answers. –  garikapati Dec 16 '10 at 16:52
    
@garikapati thanks, I’m glad you enjoy them! –  Martín Marconcini Dec 16 '10 at 19:36

I purchased a 2008 Mac Pro (3,1) with single quad core processor (Intel Xeon E5462 @ 2.80 GHz 1 processor, 4 cores), and 4GB of RAM running at 667 MHz. It produced the following GeekBench 3 results:

Single Core: 1559, Multi Core: 3927

I performed the following upgrades in stages and re-ran GeekBench 3 to get a base-line of what each upgrade offered in incremental performance.

  1. Upgraded RAM to 8GB to populate slots 1 & 2 on both memory cards. Result was a single core score of: 1647, and a multi core score of: 5743 (pretty substantial increase in memory read/write speeds).

  2. Next, I upgraded the CPU to 2 Intel Xeon E5472 @ 3.00 GHz (2 processors, 8 cores) which resulted in a single core score of: 1740 and a multi-core score of: 11638

  3. Next, I upgraded the memory to 800MHz and 16GB, again populating the first two memory slots on both cards with the same memory resulting in the following pick up: Single Core score: 1778, and Multi-Core score: 12441.

That is it for the Geek Bench measurable results. Above should give you a pretty good guide on the increases you can achieve in your system just by changing the RAM config, or upgrading your CPUs.

For two other upgrades I would have to turn to Nova Bench to show the details.

  1. Upgraded video card from NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GT GPU to the NVIDIA GeForce GTX 285. The 8800 was scoring at 405 fps, and scored a 139 on Nova Bench, whereas the GTX 285 scored 627 fps and a score of 191. The GTX 285 doesn't have EFI support and therefore doesn't show the Apple logo during startup, but the cost/value savings of not showing that is good enough for me to forgo watching the Apple logo during startup. The card is a 1GB DDR congif and just works (I had to add an extra power connector to power it, but the Mac Pro logic board has two and supports this card's power requirements stock).

Probably the most significant increase that I noticed was the addition of an SSD; unfortunately this isn't going to GeekBench or NovaBench a score that adequately demonstrates the perceived speed increase that I see. I believe this is likely the most significant improvement one can make to any older system to see immediate and meaningful improvements. I added a 500GB SSD, and turned it into a Fusion Drive using instructions I found using Google. The load time for the OS went from 50 seconds to 21 seconds, and launching of some applications is instantaneous vs. 5 to 10 seconds. Everything appears to be a bit faster. This is so much the case, I purchased a bunch of 128GB SSDs for about $70 and moved ever computer in the house to use them for the startup partition and virtual memory manager utilizing a secondary hard disk for larger applications and data.

Here are the specs reported by NovaBench for reference:

Drive Write Speed (read speeds are going to be significantly higher on the SSD):

Stock Hard Drive: 44 MB/s

7200 RPM Hard Drive: 75 MB/s

Fusion Drive: 180 MB/s (the SSD by itself was the same as MacOS manages the SSD to always have free space available which should result in SSD drive speeds for writing data; data reads will toggle between SSD and hard drive speeds depending on whether the data is on the SSD or hard disk when being read).

That is it on my upgrade. I used the guides on FixIt for the take apart on the Mac Pro CPU upgrades, and everything else I already knew how to do.

Total cost for my new computer is about $900 and includes the cost of two 24 inch displays + my time to do the work.

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