Open Heart Surgery on a Mac – Success!

The Mac Pro - Now with more badass.

The Mac Pro – Now with more badass.

I was planning on doing a regular update on each upgrade for the Mac Pro, but the ram and CPUs came together, tipping my wife off that I was up to something.

To recap, I got myself an old first-generation Mac Pro from the university surplus. I don’t think it was ever used extensively, as it only had a gig of ram and was remarkably dust-free. It was a base model Mac Pro with two dual-core Xenon processors running at 2Ghz. A quick eBay search and I netted two quad-core Xeons at 2.66Ghz for a hundred bucks and an extra 4GB of memory for thirty.

Installing ram is a piece of cake, you open the case, slide out a special daughter card, install the ram and put it all back.

The CPUs are another story. Things like ram and hard drives are super easy to add, as those are standard upgrades. New processors aren’t exactly run-of-the-mill upgrades for most people, and it’s the kind of thing that would void a warranty. Although this is a five to six old computer, so warranties don’t really matter at this stage of the game.

Computer tear-down on my desk.

Computer tear-down on my desk.

To get at the CPUs, you need to remove most of the components like the ram, hard drives, video card and even the fans. Once that’s out of the way, you need to remove the largest heatsinks I’ve ever seen in a personal computer. They’re about seven inches long and weight a ton.

Some of the parts that were in the Mac Pro. Note the size of the heat sink.

Some of the parts that were in the Mac Pro. Note the size of the heat sink.

After a processor swap and some fresh thermal paste, put it all back together and boot it up.

To nothing.

I didn’t get a start-up chime and had no video. My heart sank. The dream had died. But I refused to give up. I took the computer apart again, re-applied the thermal paste and put it back together. Some searching on the internet led me to the on-board diagnostic LEDs and the logic board reset. After resetting the SMC and logic board, I plugged in the power cable.

“Ding!” The Mac chime!

The screen lit up, the grey Apple greeted me and the computer booted up. All was well.

2 x 2.66Ghz of Unknown Power. Oh yeah!

2 x 2.66Ghz of Unknown Power. Oh yeah!

With the upgrade, the Mac Pro is fast, much faster than before. A DVD rip took 46 minutes before the upgrade and less than 18 after. I’m looking forward to seeing how it does with Final Cut Pro and Compressor.

There is a firmware update to fix the “Unknown” from the About This Mac dialogue box, but my Internet connection has some blocked ports that it needs. I’ll probably have to lug it home one day. Next up, an SSD boot disk. Thanks to my Mac Mini not liking the Intel 330 I gave it, I have one on hand. And I’ll need a new drive for the Mini.

Ah upgrades…


About Ryan

I'm a writer-performer originally from Montreal, Canada where I performed stand-up and sketch comedy. These days I'm an Instructor in the New Media Department at the University of Lethbridge where I indulge in my fascination with creative media and technology. I've written and directed two web series and always seem to have a new project lined up. Busy is good.

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  1. Mac Pro Update « This Old PowerBook - February 21, 2013

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