Questions About Upgrading a Mac Pro
September 15, 2006 1:11 PM   Subscribe

I just got a Mac Pro and I have questions about upgrading the hard drives, video card, and Bluetooth.

I got the mid-range Mac Pro (2.66GHz), without changing anything from Apple's standard configuration. I do web development (BBEdit, Dreamweaver, Flash, Illustrator, Photoshop, etc.) and very occasional video editing in Final Cut Pro. I play a couple of games, but nothing too video-intensive.

Hard drives: Apple's Technical Specifications page says the Mac Pro supports SATA; the Ars Technica review says SATA II. Which is correct? What's the difference? I already have an internal SATA hard drive from my now-defunct G5. Can I use it in my new Mac Pro?

Video card: I decided to stick with the stock NVIDIA GeForce 7300GT (even though the Ars Technica review said it was "like having a can of Schlitz with filet mignon") because, based on these comments it seemed like I'd be fine with it for what I'm doing. What would I gain by upgrading to a ATI Radeon X1900 XT if I'm not happy with the stock video card?

Bluetooth: Can I just buy a Bluetooth doohickey and install it myself? (I have a Bluetooth USB dongle, so I could probably just use that.)
posted by kirkaracha to Computers & Internet (15 answers total)
Bluetooth dongle should work fine.
posted by Freen at 1:29 PM on September 15, 2006

SATA hard drives and controllers are backward compatible. best performance will be with SATA II, but if you get one it'll just run slightly slower. They have the same plugs and everything else.
posted by voidcontext at 1:54 PM on September 15, 2006

Ugh. Sorry for the typos.
posted by voidcontext at 1:54 PM on September 15, 2006

According to the Mac Pro Developer Note (SATA section) the Mac Pro does indeed support SATA-II features such as Native Command Queuing (NCQ) and PHY power management via an AHCI 1.1 controller.
posted by RichardP at 5:45 PM on September 15, 2006

With regards to the Apple Bluetooth module, the same note in the Bluetooth section says it is available either as a fully-integrated configure-to-order option or as an Apple Authorized Service Provider kit (which can be ordered and installed by an Apple retail store or an Apple Authorized Service Provider). So apparently Apple doesn't consider the Bluetooth module to be a user installable part - if you want to retrofit your Mac Pro with the Apple Bluetooth module you'll have to take your Mac Pro to an Apple Store or other Apple service provider.
posted by RichardP at 5:53 PM on September 15, 2006

And I believe that OSX will happily use a generic USB bluetooth thingy (the USB bluetooth interface is standardized across modules, so there shouldn't be a driver issue).
posted by hattifattener at 11:50 PM on September 15, 2006

Best answer: Some of the first SATA drives didn't have the exact port configuration that the later ones do. The bays in the Pro require a very specific layout.

When you get it, pull the existing hard drive. (this is quite hard and you'll probably need a screwdriver to pry with... don't just pull with your fingers, you can hurt yourself. I hurt my knuckles by having them bent the wrong way by the suddenly-released drive. NO fun.) Look at the ports on that drive and make sure the ports on your existing drive match. If so, then just attach it to another sled and plug it right in. Should work fine. If the layout isn't the same, don't do it!

I'm running the 7300GT also, and it's really pretty fast. Basic 3D geometry is EASILY handled by this card, even at 1920x1200. WoW runs very nicely... faster, in fact, than it did on my Athlon 3200+ with a 6800GT. It starts to choke up with shader effects. Weather, the death effect, and 'full screen glow' all kick the crap out of the 7300GT, where the 6800GT isn't bothered much. It's slower to start with, but barely is affected by these. The 7300GT on the Mac just doesn't seem to have the muscle to do much more than basic rendering. This could also, possibly, be the relatively slow OpenGL stack in OSX. Apple is rewriting it heavily to be more multithreaded, and WoW should be retuned to take advantage, says Blizzard, in the next patch.

I have crash issues with the two 3D games I run, WoW and Second Life. Both crash exactly the same way. I _think_ it's related to the fact that I have 4 gigs of RAM. I don't know this for sure, but the error message is always about 'address out of 32b range', and I know that Parallels won't work on the Mac Pro with more than 3.5gigs. And this isn't a light-duty crash, either, it's a full kernel panic, restart-the-computer crash. It happens only when I first start a game, or when I change resolutions. I think, basically, it's allocating RAM for the display that's not reachable with 32 bit addressing, and this crashes the system very badly. As long as the initial allocation works, the game will run very well.

So I'd suggest not overdoing it on the RAM just yet.

I have a 1900XT waiting for me at the FedEx depot, I missed the delivery today. I can give you a much better idea of the differences tomorrow night, probably. :)

I know almost nothing about Bluetooth, so on that issue, I will defer to wiser heads than mine.
posted by Malor at 3:15 AM on September 16, 2006

A word of warning about upgrading the video card on your own. I bought an X1900 from someone besides Apple (saving a good $100), only to find that I need a 6-pin to 6-pin PCI express power cable, which does not seem to exist. I guess that's what's included in the "upgrade kit" Apple sells, but I can't find anyone - not even Apple - who just sells that cable.

I can find almost no mention of this problem on the web, besides that one forum, so perhaps I'm misunderstanding something. Since it sounds like Malor has made the same purchase, maybe he can shed some light on the issue.
posted by Sibrax at 8:27 AM on September 16, 2006

Sibrax, you can't use an X1900 that's not meant for the Mac... at least not in OSX. The Mac version has both an EFI BIOS and a regular BIOS-style bios... the Windows-flavor cards have only the regular sort.

So, if you plug in an X1900 from another source, it'll work happily in Windows, but it won't run in OSX. (yet... someone may come up with a way to make it work. Probably will, in fact.)

The one I bought is straight from Apple. Just about to shut down and plug it in now.
posted by Malor at 9:16 AM on September 16, 2006

But... but it should be... the same...

Sigh. I guess I will update my word of warning to: don't be an idiot like me and think you can use any old graphics card you please. But since you won't be using it for gaming, yeah, the 7300 should be fine.
posted by Sibrax at 10:20 AM on September 16, 2006

Well, sadly, it's definitely audible with the 1900 in. It gets louder when playing WoW, but the game sound drowns it out entirely.

When not playing WoW, I wouldn't call the sound that obnoxious, but I can definitely tell the computer is on. With the 7300, I was never sure.

When you first start up the machine, it sounds like a freaking snowblower, but thankfully that lasts for only a few seconds. It returns to snowblower status for about 2 more seconds as the OS first starts, and then goes quiet again.

I think I'll be looking into aftermarket coolers... I really appreciate the _total silence_ of the 7300gt.

Oh, and from what I can tell, you can crank all the settings at 1920x1200 and it's smooth as silk. Works fine with Full Screen Glow, which messes up the 7300. It's a little silly at a resolution that high, but I'll have to try FSAA just for kicks. :)

If you value quiet, don't want to mess with third-party heatsinks, and are only an occasional gamer, I'd DEFINITELY stick with the 7300 for now.
posted by Malor at 11:29 AM on September 16, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks for the help, everyone. I installed two SATA hard drives from my G5 and they work fine. The computer's really fast and quiet with 1GB RAM and the 7300, so I'll stick with them for a while.
posted by kirkaracha at 4:24 PM on September 16, 2006

If you're still reading this thread, Kirk, I've ordered an Arctic Cooling Accelero X2 replacement cooler for the 1900. I've been told it's essentially silent; it dumps the hot air back into the main case, rather than out the back. Then the Mac's own (very quiet) cooling system moves the hot air out, just as it did with the passive 7300GT.

It should show Friday. I'll try to remember to post back with what I think of it.
posted by Malor at 12:06 AM on September 21, 2006

I should also mention that my crash issues went away entirely since I put the ATI card in. It went in last Saturday and I haven't kernel panicked once since... it was twice a day minimum with the 7300, doing any gaming.
posted by Malor at 12:42 AM on September 21, 2006

Been running the Accelero for about an hour. You have to re-use two of the screws from the original cooler to mount it, because of the weird bracket that Apple uses on the card, but it works fine otherwise. Very quiet and nice.

If you're looking for an upgrade in video speed, and don't want to add much noise, the 1900+Accelero X2 seems to work really well.
posted by Malor at 5:53 AM on September 23, 2006

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