Should you upgrade your old Mac Pro ?
by David Helmly
One common question I get at least once a week, from my Mac Pro customers is whether or not to upgrade their current Mac Pro or just bite the bullet and buy a New Mac Pro or a High-end iMac to run the latest versions of our Adobe Creative Cloud video/audio/imaging apps.
As in most cases, it really depends on what current gear you need to keep connected to your Mac Pro to insure your trusted workflow continues. I/O boards like Atto Fiber & SAS cards, AJA/BMD/Bluefish I/O cards and other PCI cards might be a compelling reason to upgrade your current Mac Pro. I’ve also seen custom Mac Pro racks and editing bays where the editing environment is actually created around the Mac Pro – ie, custom metal or wood work to incase the Mac Pro.
To be up front , it’s not exactly cheap to upgrade your Mac Pro to current high performance specs but it’s also not out of reach. So , let me start with the upgrade price which will typically range from about $1,500.00 – $1,800.00 depending on whether you decide add more RAM.
Keep mind that a high-end iMac with all those awesome options will run you over $3,500 and the New Mac Pro can easily top that (ie, I bought the 12 core D700 unit) . No question that both of these new Apple Desktops offer you a new warranty and of course Thunderbolt 2 (*note* you can not add Thunderbolt to an old Mac Pro as the Motherboard and Intel Chipset does not support it) but it also requires a change in most workflows. BUT – In some cases, it might be time to consider a change in workflow, as new Thunderbolt 2 raids and eternal I/O SDI units from Matrox, AJA, BMD, and others offer some great advantages.
For those people who want spend less and keep their current workflow as well as keep their “trusty” Mac Pro going for a few more years, then read on…..
Since I spend a fair amount of time testing high-end equipment and upgrades and my lab test machines for the TechTable are rarely over 18 months old, I reached out to good friend and colleague, Al Mooney (Premiere Pro Sr. Prod Manager) , who I know is very attached to his 2009 Mac Pro and would be a great candidate for an honest opinion of doing an upgrade like this. For those people that know Al, you know that he calls it like it is. Needless to say, he was up for it.
As most longtime Mac users know, a great resource for what’s new in Mac upgrades has always been OWC (Other World Computing – www.macsales.com). I’ve used them for years and I cruise their website several times a year just to see what’s new.
For Al’s aging 2009 Mac Pro, I hit the website and easily gathered all the necessary “Pieces n’ Parts” for his upgrade.
These are the options that picked out for Al and listed in order of performance relevance in case you plan to add these over time instead of all at once. (**note** not all Mac Pro Towers take the same parts and some are limited to older OSX versions and it’s always a good idea to call your local Mac reseller or even the guys at OWC and double check your model for the correct parts)
#1 on your list should be an NVIDIA 680 for Mac card or Quadro K5000 for Mac. This will breath new life in OSX as well as our new CC Pro Video & Imaging apps which use the GPU extensively. To me, the 680 card for Mac is a HUGE value for the price/performance it delivers .
#2 is adding an SSD Boot drive – get the largest one you can as prices are nearly half of what they were last year. You’ll also need a Mac Pro drive bracket designed for your specific model Mac Pro (there are a few different models) . This one upgrade alone will make your day as the boot and application launch times are insanely fast. BTW: Another great benefit of OWC SSD drives is native Apple Trim support.
#3 USB 3.0 card. This one feature will allow you to connect to the latest USB 3.0 drives and Raids for insane transfer speeds when compared to your current clunky USB 2.0. Make sure get a card that requires no additional drivers to work in Mac OSX. The NEWER Tech card I picked out offers 2 USB 3.0 and 2 SATA ports.These cards also currently require that you turn sleep off on your Mac Pro to reduce the possibility of the USB 3.0 drives from disconnecting. Also rememeber to only connect USB 3.0 drives & 3.0 hubs to these ports . Use your built in USB 2.0 ports for everything else like keyboards , Apple display USB, mice, trackballs, controllers. (yes, it’s a common mistake that I see all the time)
#4 Max RAM . Since you are taking the time to keep you old Mac Pro going a bit longer., and if you have not done it already, consider installing 32GB (Max for some models) or more if you can.
Here’s Al’s comment after his upgrade.
“It was getting to a stage where my long-serving Mac Pro was taking a long, long time to get up in the morning, and having spoken to a lot of customers who have breathed new life into these machines without forking out for something brand new, I wanted to try it myself. Dave helped me identify what I needed, and Cloud (my cat) did the install with my supervision. He’s pretty mean with a phillips screwdriver. Now the machine boots up in less than a minute and feels brand new. Amazing! “
My 2 cents:
So, the bottom line is that if you really want to keep your Mac Pro going a while longer running our latest CC apps, then investing in a few parts is great idea.
One thing about Apple and their engineering – it’s hard to argue that they really do make incredibly long lasting and beautiful hardware and these old Macs quickly become a “trusted friend” to our critical workflows. Which is easy to see why Al was up for my recommendation on extending the usefulness of his 2009 Mac Pro . No wonder the Apple fan base is growing stronger everyday and the resale of older macs remains strong.