August 11, 2014

New-to-me Mac Pro

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Periodically at work they offer old systems to employees as part of a employee-only sale. For the first time that I can remember, Mac Pros were available. There were a few early 2009 and 2008 models. My friend and I were lucky enough to get the only two early 2009 models left.

I currently have an iMac that I bought in early 2010 (listed as late 2009 model). It has a Core 2 Duo Intel processor. I’ve upgraded it to 8 GB of RAM, which helps. It has a lethargic 256MB video card that barely keeps up with the games I’d like to play. The hard drive was replaced under warranty. The screen is lovely with no bad pixels.

I bought the iMac when my old Hackintosh quit working. What I had really wanted instead of the Hackintosh was a Mac Pro because of the upgrade capabilities and power. Unfortunately, the cost of a Mac Pro was way out of my price range.

Until now. The Mac Pro might be old, but it still has a better processor, graphics card, and upgrade possibilities (four PCIe slots and four hard drive bays!). The system I got had 8 GB of RAM, a 640 GB hard drive, and the standard 512 MB nVidia graphics card. No operating system was installed.

Upgrades for a Mac Pro are different than upgrading a regular PC. Mac-compatible graphics cards are expensive, even old ones. If you know about building hackintoshes, then you know that there is an avid community that has written drivers for dozens of additional pieces of hardware. Why not use the kernel extensions (kexts, the equivalent of drivers) the community has written to enable hardware on a real Mac Pro?

I chose to add a new wifi card, upgrade the video card, upgrade the RAM, and add a new primary hard drive (since the 640 GB was probably original). RAM and hard drive were very easy to do: system now has 32 GB of RAM and a 2 TB hard drive, with the 640 GB available as extra storage space.

Quite a few of the hackintosh sites recommended a TP Link PCI express wifi card. The specific model (4800) wasn’t available locally, but the Wifi-N 300Mbs card (model TL-WN881ND) was in stock at a local shop. I installed the card and found a kext on a hackintosh site that let me get the card up and running immediately. Perfect.

I also got a MSI GTX 660 nVidia card, which should be natively supported from what I read. Unfortunately, I have to order a special power cable to be able to attach the card to the motherboard ($8 on Amazon). Hopefully by the end of the week I will have the system completely configured.

I’m using Migration Assistant tonight to move the data from the iMac to the Mac Pro. The cool thing is that I should be able to get enough from the iMac to cover the cost of the Mac Pro and the upgrades I’ve done.

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