Without going into it too much, I’m a big Mac user. I’ve been using Macs since I was in high school, and have owned them personally for nearly 10 years.
While Apple have been moving away from it steadily over the last few years, one of the things that really appealed to me was the extensibility of the older models. I have a couple of 15” 2011 Macbook Pros that have had the full ‘16GB RAM/SSD/Remove DVD Drive for an extra SSD’ treatment, and have attempted to breath new life into a 2010 iMac by upgrading to an SSD. The jury is still out on whether or not the iMac was already broken when I tore it apart to replace the drive - it’s been crippled with PSU/Power issues ever since… 🙄🤷♂️
Isn’t a Saturday afternoon without tearing apart an iMac... pic.twitter.com/3u2vw3gKaY— Josh Fraser (@jishf) March 31, 2018
While both of the 2011 Macbook Pros have had the dreaded Graphics Card failure, the one that failed while the free repair programmeno £800 repair for me… was active is still going strong, despite being nearly 8 years old now.
The Cheesegrater Mac Pro
Despite my affinity for Macs, I’ve never had the chance to use one of the old ‘cheesegrater’ Pros (cMP). However, over the last couple of years, the idea to get one has been kicking about in the back of my mind for a few reasons:
- Sites like Create Pro, where you can (still) drop a good few thousand on a 2012 cMP.
- Apple’s ‘lack of movement’ in the desktop market and the lack of updates to their desktop models; the Trashcan Mac Pro and Mac Mini most notably.
- Wanting to get back into audio production/recording, I knew the 2011 MBP I used to record on wasn’t up to scratch, and while I could use the newer model I use for work, I’d prefer to keep things segregated.
- More recently, coming across the /r/MacPro community on reddit.
- Most importantly…they look fantastic 🤷♂️
As soon as I found the /r/MacPro community, the project idea began to take form. A couple of blog posts from people who had successfully upgraded 2009 cMPs (4,1) to 2012 cMP (5,1) hardware for substantially less money than purchasing a 2010 or 2012 model indicated that this might be a way to get my hands on one, and sate the impulse to pull apart and upgrade it myself.
Why the 2009 (4,1) Model?
So why did the blog posts I mentioned above bring life to this project idea? Essentially, if you take a look under the hood of the 2009, 2010, and 2012 cMPs, there’s very little, if any, difference between them in terms of the internals; discounting the specific CPU/RAM/etc. types.
- All three machines use the LGA1366 CPU socket.
- All three have a Double-wide, 16-lane PCI Express 2.0 graphics slot.
- Plus three open full-length PCI Express expansion slots, one 16-lane, and two 4-lane.
- Four drive bays with independent 3Gbp/s SATA channels.
- Support for DDR3 ECC RAM.
- Two Gigabit Ethernet ports.
Unfortunately, it’s not quite as simple as acquiring a 2009 cMP and upgrading all the hardware to that of a 2012 model, but almost as simple! Thanks to someone on the netkas.org forums, the firmware of a 2009 (4,1) cMP can be upgraded to that of a 2010 (5,1). Once this is done, the 2009 model can be upgraded to the newer generation of Xeon CPUs, faster RAM and newer versions of MacOS.
Along with the 4,1 to 5,1 upgrade, the 2009 model can be upgraded the same way as the later models, allowing for newer WiFi/Bluetooth cards, USB3.0/USB3.1 ports and upgraded graphics cards to be added, bringing the machine up to an equal or higher spec than the original 2012 cMP. Given that the latest version of MacOS; Mojave, can be used on any 2010 or 2012 cMP with a Metal-compatible graphics card, this allows a ten-year-old machine to be upgraded to a more than acceptable level.
Finding a 2009 Mac Pro
After doing some research into the 4,1 to 5,1 upgrade, I began to search eBay and Gumtree for second-hand 2009 cMPs to see how much it would set me back to get a hold of one. The going rate was around £300-400, not outside the realms of possibility, but still a fair whack; plus, start-up living is frugal 🤷♂️
Then came Christmas, and an off-hand conversation with my dad led to an offer to finance the purchase of a 2009 Mac Pro if there was one going. Back to eBay I went, and as luck would have it, an e-waste company was selling a number of 2009 Mac Pros, each with a starting bid of around £230.
After one failed bid at £270, I was successful in my second at £235 - such is life on eBay I guess? 🤔
Pretty decent specs for the price, not that it matters too much as most of it will be lovingly torn out to upgrade. Unfortunately there weren’t any dual-CPU models available at a similar price, or that hadn’t been upgraded already. This isn’t the worst thing in the world, but if I really want to upgrade at a later date, it’s simply a case of finding and buying a 2009 dual CPU tray; one of the few cases where the 4,1 and 5,1 aren’t compatible.
Up next in part 2 will be a tear-down and cleanout of the newly arrived 2009 cMP.