Will my 2008 Mac Pro benefit from a video card update?
December 12, 2011 5:32 PM   Subscribe

Will my 2008 Mac Pro benefit from a video card update? Which cards can I use?

I have a 2008 Mac Pro (800MHz bus) with two ATI Radeon HD 2600 XT cards in it, each with two monitors (DVI). Is there a more recent card I can replace these with and still keep my 4-monitor setup?

I don't do much video editing or 3D gaming, but I do a fair amount of photo editing, and video watching and transcoding. Will I get a decent speed boost out of upgrading the video, or is it not worth it?
posted by Caviar to Computers & Internet (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I would almost always say it's not worth it, especially at the prices Apple charges for video cards. For your usage scenarios, if you do your photo editing in Photoshop, a number of actions can use the GPU, and in Quicktime and other video apps, encoding/decoding can be GPU accelerated. Use atMonitor to see if anything you do is GPU-bound (i.e., the GPU is pegged at 100% during long-running tasks). My guess is no.
posted by zsazsa at 5:44 PM on December 12, 2011

In addition to what has been said, I wouldn't do it for heat reasons.
posted by michaelh at 6:00 PM on December 12, 2011

Hardware transcoders may help give you a performance boost (example) and be cheaper than a video card.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 6:11 PM on December 12, 2011

According to this:
† The Mac Pro "Eight Core" 2.8 (Early 2008) was configured with an ATI Radeon HD 2600 XT with 256 MB of GDDR3 memory. At the time of purchase, it also could be configured with a NVIDIA GeForce 8800 GT with 512 MB of GDDR3 memory or a NVIDIA Quadro FX 5600 with 1.5 GB of GDDR3 memory. All of these video cards have two dual-link DVI ports, and the Quadro FX 5600 has a stereo 3D port as well.

So you could get the NVIDIA card, which would double your vRAM. If you're doing 3D or video or Photoshop it will probably give a nice but not really substantial boost. If you have extra drive bays still open, I'd recommend getting a SSD drive and using it for your OS and Apps drive. This will speed things right up.
posted by doctor_negative at 6:46 PM on December 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Normally, I wouldn't even approach this for the above mentioned heat reasons, but holy shit that 2600XT was a horseshit card. The drivers were even worse.

That being said, I'm not sure the problems you mention are even video card related. Can you give us some other specs? How much RAM are you running with? What's your HDD setup? RAID? As doctor_negative says above SSDs are extra snappy, and finally cheap enough to use, even to RAID.

I just got to the part about 4 monitors. Really? Four? I've been working with Macs in a video environment for two decades now and I've never seen any situation that two monitors couldn't tackle.
posted by Sphinx at 9:29 PM on December 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

I don't think the video card will help you much in transcoding, but as Sphinx says, that 2600 is really a stinker. The 2600XT was not a fast or great card even when it was modern, so yes there are most certainly many better options.

Also note that you are most certainly not bound to Apple offerings or those available from the Apple stores, but when considering modern Radeons or GeForces, do be sure you're looking at the versions with Mac compatible ROMs. Most vendors make two versions, and the Mac one is usually hidden in the back somewhere with a $50 premium price on top, just because. You can also flash-hack PC ROMs into Mac ROMs, sometimes and maybe and at your own risk.

One of many possible easy examples, the Mac version of the NVIDIA 8800GT, while not exactly a modern barnburner itself, seems to check in at between 3-4x the performance of your 2600s, depending on the benchmark you read.

(Why I know this: I'm busy myself lately, spec'ing out a three-monitor Mac Pro for a new office in my new home, and wondering if I should hold out for the 2012 Mac Pro replacement that may or may not ever arrive.)
posted by rokusan at 9:34 PM on December 12, 2011

Seconding Sphinx on the 4 monitors, you're essentially cutting the specs for each card in half. If you have what could be a background process (e.g. rendering video or 3d) running in a visible window, it's probably slowing down the process.
posted by doctor_negative at 6:43 AM on December 13, 2011

Response by poster: I'm not having any particular "problems", but I've upgraded pretty much everything else (ram, fast disks, sad where possible) and looking to squeeze what other performance gains I can out of this machine.

The 4-monitor setup is not for video or photo work - it's for coding and system administration, maximizing screen real estate for side-by-side work on a lot of data (often 20-30 terminal sessions at a time, plus various chats, browsers, mail, etc...) without window flipping. Possibly I could do with fewer larger monitors, but I already have these four and I don't want to replace them (at significant expense) unless there's a really good reason to do so.
posted by Caviar at 7:42 AM on December 13, 2011

For most things besides 3d/Video/Games, you don't even tax the cards you have, so I doubt you'd see much of a speed increase if any. Rendering time for text widows is pretty minimal to start with.
posted by doctor_negative at 5:20 PM on December 13, 2011

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