I take another look at the Mac Pro, and how machines Apple made in 2006 are still owning Macs sold today.
I’ve been a long-standing advocate of using older Mac Pros (and Xserves) in place of buying a newer Mac. For the same price as a Mac mini, you can build/revive an older machine that has equal-or-faster horsepower, four SATA hard disk bays (and a few more if you’re creative), along with four PCI Express slots. Add in that NVIDIA and AMD now support stock, PC BIOS graphics cards on OS X… and you can make awesome happen easily.
Here’s my current setup, and my main desktop workhorse.
Early 2006 Mac Pro, Purchased in 2010 (MacPro1,1… technically).
Upgraded CPUs with Twin Intel Xeon X5355 Processors
2×120 GB SSD in a RAID-0 (via Newer Tech’s Adaptabay)
2x1TB SATA HDDs in a RAID-0
1GB AMD Radeon HD 6850 GPU + NVIDIA GeForce 7300GT (for EFI tasks, see below)
Wi-Fi via Gigabit Ethernet-to-802.11n Dongle
Bluetooth via USB Dongle (connected to a Microsoft 5000 Keyboard and 5000 Notebook Mouse)
4-port USB 3.0 via PCI Express with a Manhattan 27 port hub
2x3TB USB Seagate Backup Plus Drives in RAID-0 (6 TB Time Machine)
eSATA via Newer Technology’s Mac Pro adapter
BD-R via USB
I now score over 10,000 on Geekbench, and basically peg in where today’s Core i5 Mac mini would land. But, the real gains are in cost and in graphics and expandability. The base system could be had for under $500, the CPU upgrades for around $75 to $100. USB 3.0 card and power cables cost $30.
The only upgrade I really regret is the Newer Technology eSATA adapter. I gave it one star on Amazon. It’s painful to install (literally), even if you are swapping CPUs at the same time. And, it doesn’t stay in-place unless you throw out the Apple PCIe slot holder and manually screw in each slot. Plus Apple’s internal SATA port limitations and glitches when using eSATA devices make it unnecessary, especially in light of USB 3.0-to-SATA options.
Apple abandoned these machines, but for no good reason. Perhaps, Apple could have done the honorable thing and offered these uses Mountain Lion support provided that they upgraded their graphics cards. These are desktops however, and Apple’s lone claim to incompatibility was the lack of graphics drivers for the original GPU that shipped with these machines. Claims of EFI32 support are non-sensical and have been thoroughly debunked.
Even if you believe them, which Apple refuses to defend themselves (go try asking them, enjoy the silence in response), Apple could have easily issued an EFI64 firmware update for MacPro1,1 and MacPro2,1… Apple has the EFI source code, and again, EFI32 can run Mountain Lion just fine once you bypass the checks.
And, thanks to MLPostFactor, everything works. I can FileVault decrypt from the GeForce 7300GT and also boot select, should I want to run Windows, Ubuntu, or even something else. A secondary display is on the GeForce, while my primary display(s) are hooked in via HDMI and DVI. I keep my other OSes on external SATA drives connected to the eSATA ports, which is the lone reason I would suggest adding the eSATA adapter if you’re interested in it.
Honestly, I’ve made this workflow work so well, that I’ve put my retina MacBook Pro on eBay. I just don’t need it anymore. I have a MacBook Air for travel, and can screen share and remote access anything on the go from it. And, thanks to USB 3.0 and my CineRAID HR-212, I can take my big files on the go too.
It’s epic, it’s awesome, it’s everything great about Apple. The only problem is, if Apple had their way, I wouldn’t be able to do it. And that’s the shame about where Apple has been led astray.
The future is bright, too. As newer Mac Pro’s from 2010 and 2012 sunset, they’ll be upgradable and can follow the same workflow. A real bargain though is the now-discontinued Xserve family. They work great if you want something with Mac Pro power, but on a desktop-friendly or wallmount-capable format. And yes, you can wallmount an Xserve.
Edit: I hadn’t planned to attach this, but despite working non-stop and stepping into the tech sector as a maker, rather than an editor, I still write feedback to Apple… just not on products I may compete with Apple on. I still love the products that Apple doesn’t impose a walled garden on. Here’s what I sent the Mac Pro team.
Mac Pro Team,
Having deployed MLPostFactor without incident, I am disappointed in Apple refusing to offer Mountain Lion officially for these older Mac Pro models.
I can totally understand if a GPU upgrade or other changes (RAM, etc) are necessary, and have done those.
But I am disappointed that Apple won’t stand by a machine that has not hit the Obsolete date in its own lifespan timeline.
I know, I’ve sent these emails before. But now I’ve done it. It works great. It shouldn’t have required this level of effort from the community. As the walled gardens continue to rise at Apple, my bitter taste for Apple’s continued course keeps rising.
If you don’t pass this up the chain, you’re accepting failure. As a past leader at Apple once said, if you don’t act, you should apologize to the people around you. It’s disappointing that this lack of support has become systemic, especially as Windows PCs continue to enjoy years of OS level support, with comprehensive driver support as newer releases emerge.