Achieving 2010 performance with a 2006 Mac for Under $700? | Cult of Mac

Achieving 2010 performance with a 2006 Mac for Under $700?



– Part 1. “The Plan”

The new hexacore Mac Pro’s are coming, the screaming performance and egg frying potential of those new machines are making my previously five thousand dollar 2006 model look positively dated.

To be sure, I’m in the midst of a computational mid-life crisis. Follow me after the jump for the cure…

I was totally jonesing for a new Hexacore, that is until I checked the prices of these new Super-Macs. Five grand is a might stiff price to pay for an entry level 12-core, and decked out the way I’d want it to replace ‘ole’reliable‘ under my desk looks more like ‘Nine Large’.


Maybe next year right?

Yeah, right, “maybe next year” is a reoccurring theme in my house when it comes to upgrading Macs –especially those that cost as much as gently used Honda. But then it hit me: I got the ‘Pro because it was upgradeable. So, let’s upgrade it, right?

Now, I gotta warn you, we’re talking about venturing into warranty killing territory –As if there was still a warranty left to void. Nevertheless, we will be passing a point of no return here. If we torch a circa 2006 Mac Pro there won’t be any geniuses there to help us on the other side. The Mac will be dead, and there won’t be f— all anyone will do to help us.

F— it. If I kill my Mac then I’ve got a perfectly good reason to get another one. That’s what we in business call a Lose-Win-Win.

The Research

Mac Pro (1,1)’s shipped with Intel Xeon 5100 series processors. To upgrade we can look at other 5100 series, or the 5300 series. For (1,1) owners, the 5400 series that shipped on later Macs is out, even though they’re compatible sockets. Before you grieve too much over that, there is a damn-fine unintended benefit of this we’ll discover later as we get to benchmarking… I promise you will be surprised.

Our Options

The 5100’s are out, I’m already near the top of that food chain, adding a few Mhz isn’t going to put shine on this dusty old heap of mine. So, as I see it we have three real choices:

  • Intel Xeon L5320 1.83 ghz (quad core) – a nice little chip, very easily and safely over-clocked to 2.33 ghz (one little piece of e-tape will do it, no cutting, software, drivers or anything) – it also has the advantage of being essentially “free” on ebay. (Average price $50-100 dollars used server pulls)
  • Intel Xeon x5355 2.6 ghz (quad core) – basically the same as my current Mac, but with 2 extra cores per chip. Also very affordable on ebay $275-350 for a server pull chip
  • Intel Xeon 5365 3.0 ghz (quad core) a minor step up from the x5355, but if you have to have the absolute fastest you can put into a gen (1,1) Mac Pro, this is it. These are also by FAR the most expensive, ebaying around $700 for a server pulled processor.

Why not new? Well, new 5300 series procs are actually more expensive than their current generation counterparts because they’re out of production, and there are folks running data centers on a lean budget doing exactly what we’re thinking of. Moreover, new doesn’t necessarily mean “more reliable” when it comes to CPU’s.

A server pull processor is a CPU that’s been harvested from a server that’s been broken down as parts. Not only am I not worried about a server pull proc, I prefer it. CPU’s don’t wear out like tires, and a processor that’s been running non-stop for the past 3 years is likely to keep on humming for several more.

As long as we make sure to buy from a reputable seller who will replace the CPU if we get a DOA one, we should be fine.

Timing works to our advantage in this right now too. There are a LOT of these processors being pulled from servers coming off lease. The companies doing this reclamation are professional, and probably more interested in positive ebay feedback than Intel would be if we try’d to send them a three year old “New In Box” CPU that burns out after a month.

Go for used.

In my case I picked the x5355 2.6 ghz. The cost of buying two 3ghz  X5365’s (~$1400) is damn near what I could buy a entire pre-owned 8-core Mac for. This turned out to be a FANTASTIC decision, as we’ll see when we get to benchmarks.

What else

We’ll, I’d like a third monitor. To do that, I’d need another video card. This is probably a smart decision as when I got my Mac, there weren’t what you’d call video games really available for the Macintosh (at least none that’d stress a Mac Pro). So I’ve stuck with the entry level Nvidia 7300 this whole time.

I know I am lame beyond words.

Now, good luck finding an ATI x1900 that’s supposed to fix this machine, you’d have better luck trying to fart a pink unicorn. Good news is that the current Apple Mac ATI 4870’s will work in first generation Mac Pros even though Apple doesn’t suggest such.

Bad news is they’re crazy expensive. $350 bucks for a part whose PC cousin sells for under $100 on ebay.

If only there is someway to hack these PC cards to make them work on Macs….

Of course there is. Now before you go off buying a card you’ll want to read the installment about hacking the video, it’s harder than you think, and you may have new options a commin’.

On CPU’s, Go. Now. Buy some, before everyone else who is reading this does. Really, you won’t regret it.

Coming up next Voiding your Warranty with Foreign CPU installation, it’s easier than you think!


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