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Old May 1, 2012, 10:13 AM   #1
applegeek13
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Join Date: Sep 2009
2006/7/8 Mac Pro for Photoshop, etc?

I'm on the fence about building a PC or buying a Mac Pro. My overall budget is around 1200$, but that has to include a monitor. I can do hardware upgrades, not afraid to upgrade a CPU. My question is this: Is an earlier generation Mac Pro still a viable workstation?

Primary Uses:
Photoshop CS5/6
Occasional gaming. (Most of my games are not intensive, but I'd like to play GTAIV and perhaps try my hand at Crysis)
The rest of the time, it will be used for internet, and perhaps some VM's and other nerdy stuff.

Macofalltrades has some decently priced machines, with a 1,1 starting at 650$. How long would this machine last me? They also have 2008 machines with EFI64, but they're at the very top of my budget, and I'm not too flexible on that. I could go with a cheaper machine and flash a video card for an upgrade, I'm thinking a 6870. All the threads I've found so far about it are old and stale. Thoughts?

My main concern about buying an old MP is RAM. The FB-DIMMS are both expensive and relatively slow, compared to DDR3. However, RAM is still pretty quick compared to everything else, so will I see a noticeable bottleneck from the RAM? I'll be working in some RAM heavy environments, such as bulk files in Photoshop and virtual machines.

And finally, I'd like to take this machine to college with me, at least for the first year. So, the machine would need to last another three years, however I may be able to upgrade before then, we'll see how scholarships play out.

TL;DR
1: Is a Mac Pro 1,1 or 2,1 still viable for Photoshop and moderate gaming?
2: Would the RAM be a significant bottleneck?
3: Do you guys think Mountain Lion is really going to drop support for older MP's, or will Apple add support at the last minute?
4: How long could I reasonably stretch the machine, time wise?
5: What about upgrades? Flashing video cards and upgrading the CPU?
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Old May 1, 2012, 11:28 AM   #2
ssgbryan
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Join Date: Jul 2002
Quote:
Originally Posted by applegeek13 View Post
I'm on the fence about building a PC or buying a Mac Pro. My overall budget is around 1200$, but that has to include a monitor. I can do hardware upgrades, not afraid to upgrade a CPU. My question is this: Is an earlier generation Mac Pro still a viable workstation?

Primary Uses:
Photoshop CS5/6
Occasional gaming. (Most of my games are not intensive, but I'd like to play GTAIV and perhaps try my hand at Crysis)
The rest of the time, it will be used for internet, and perhaps some VM's and other nerdy stuff.

Macofalltrades has some decently priced machines, with a 1,1 starting at 650$. How long would this machine last me? They also have 2008 machines with EFI64, but they're at the very top of my budget, and I'm not too flexible on that. I could go with a cheaper machine and flash a video card for an upgrade, I'm thinking a 6870. All the threads I've found so far about it are old and stale. Thoughts?

My main concern about buying an old MP is RAM. The FB-DIMMS are both expensive and relatively slow, compared to DDR3. However, RAM is still pretty quick compared to everything else, so will I see a noticeable bottleneck from the RAM? I'll be working in some RAM heavy environments, such as bulk files in Photoshop and virtual machines.

And finally, I'd like to take this machine to college with me, at least for the first year. So, the machine would need to last another three years, however I may be able to upgrade before then, we'll see how scholarships play out.

TL;DR
1: Is a Mac Pro 1,1 or 2,1 still viable for Photoshop and moderate gaming?
2: Would the RAM be a significant bottleneck?
3: Do you guys think Mountain Lion is really going to drop support for older MP's, or will Apple add support at the last minute?
4: How long could I reasonably stretch the machine, time wise?
5: What about upgrades? Flashing video cards and upgrading the CPU?
Short answer: You can't get there from here on $1,200.

Long answer:

1: Yes, a Mac Pro 1,1 or 2,1 are still viable for Photoshop & moderate gaming. However, if you haven't purchased one yet, understand that the computer is at the end of the road. And Crysis doesn't qualify as moderate gaming with mac GPUs. You will need to replace the video card (all of the shipping ones with the 1,1 & 2,1 were crappy cards back then - they didn't get better with age.)

2: Yes, RAM is a significant bottleneck on the 1,1 & the 2,1. It is very expensive compared to what a 4,1 and later use. In the 64-bit world, ram is more important that clock speed.

3: Yes, ML will drop support for the 1,1 & the 2,1. So far, there are ways around it, but whether or not they will work will depend on the community, not Apple.

4: You could stretch a 1,1 or a 2,1 a year, possibly two, if you have already committed yourself to serious upgrades - which will not be cost-effective at this point

5: See #4.

Is it cost-effective to start with a 1,1 or a 2,1 at this point? I would say no. The cost of the upgrades would quickly put you over the price of a used 4,1. 32Gb of ram on a 1,1 or a 2,1 is over 1,000. It is $260 on a 4,1. It will be easier & cheaper to upgrade the graphics card on a 4,1 than a 1,1.

I have a 1,1 & I have seriously upgraded it (see sig). The only thing I have left is the CPU upgrade & I'll be doing that shortly. I have had it since 2007 & it has given me great service, but as much as I love it, it is getting long in the tooth. Still a more capable machine than the latest iMacs though.....
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Old May 1, 2012, 06:42 PM   #3
applegeek13
Thread Starter
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Join Date: Sep 2009
So, moral of the story is, save for a 4,1? I think I'll do that. How would that compare to a comparably priced custom built PC? I really would like a Mac, but if a PC for the same money is significantly faster than I might be forced to go that route.

EDIT: Does a Quad Core 2009 Mac Pro only have one CPU socket? I've read it only has four RAM slots, which is a bummer, and the OctoCore Pro has 8. I assume this means the Quad only has one CPU socket as well. I'd like to do a CPU upgrade someday, but I'm not sure whether it would be necessary or possible with a 2009 MP.
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Last edited by applegeek13; May 1, 2012 at 10:15 PM.
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Old May 1, 2012, 11:36 PM   #4
ssgbryan
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Quote:
Originally Posted by applegeek13 View Post
So, moral of the story is, save for a 4,1? I think I'll do that. How would that compare to a comparably priced custom built PC? I really would like a Mac, but if a PC for the same money is significantly faster than I might be forced to go that route.

EDIT: Does a Quad Core 2009 Mac Pro only have one CPU socket? I've read it only has four RAM slots, which is a bummer, and the OctoCore Pro has 8. I assume this means the Quad only has one CPU socket as well. I'd like to do a CPU upgrade someday, but I'm not sure whether it would be necessary or possible with a 2009 MP.
If you are using the same parts, a MacPro & a Customized PC are about the same price. If you are running an i7, then yes, the PC will be somewhat cheaper, but you won't have the same performance. I don't know how many i7 boards take 128Gb of ram, but there aren't many if any. A workstation will have a longer lifespan - a lot of us run on a 5 year replacement cycle with a Mac Pro.

Custom PC vs Mac Pro - It's the underwear answer. It Depends. Is your time valuable? If so, then the Mac Pro is a better choice. If you want to upgrade the computer - it is a no brainer - the Mac Pro is much, much easier to maintain.

Let me give you an example. I own a 1st Gen Mac Pro & a Dell Xeon Workstation (both built around the same timeframe). Adding or swapping out a drive or card is a 60 second operation. The Dell, not so much. First you have to install the drive in - route the sata cable (the ports on the board mean I have to take a number of parts out to get to the motherboard & then fiddle with the bios. Compared with 4 screws on a Mac Pro (I love that backplane).

Second Question - Yes, the 2009 has 1 board that only has 4 memory slots - so you can only go up to 48Gb (3x16Gb sticks) of ram on them. Which could be a limitation in the future.

With a 2009, not only can you do a single CPU to dual CPU tray upgrade - You can also do a 2009 to 2010 CPU Tray upgrade. I don't know if OWC still does that as a turnkey solution, but they did in the past & they still to the 2010 CPU upgrades.
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MacPro 1,1 - 22Gb Ram, 2x240ssd (Raid), 2x2TB - RAID0 (iTunes), 2x2TB RAID0 (Data) 4x2TB RAID5 (external backup), ATI 5770
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Old May 2, 2012, 10:28 AM   #5
applegeek13
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Join Date: Sep 2009
Thanks for the answers. I don't foresee needing more than 48GB of RAM soon, but knowing the tray upgrade is viable is comforting. How long do you think I could keep a 2009 Mac Pro? If it's on a five year upgrade schedule, that would get me almost through senior year of college if I count from today. How would the base quad core 2009 compare to a PC, gaming performance wise? I could upgrade the graphics myself, I've been reading about flashing a 6870 to work in one.
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Old May 2, 2012, 03:23 PM   #6
minifridge1138
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Join Date: Jun 2010
Hello,

A few things I'd like to throw in. Sorry, they get kind of long.

1) For gaming, you're better off with windows. Almost every game out for Mac is also out for Windows. Very few Windows games are out for Mac. Also, the OpenGL drivers for Mac are not as efficient as the DirectX drivers for Windows. So the same physical gfx card will perform better in Windows than in OS X. That doesn't mean buy a PC, that means use BootCamp.

2) The 2009 MP is a great Mac. That's the one I have. I bought in 2009 and it's still amazing. Yes, there are newer and faster computers. But if you own a Ferrari, do you really need to be envious of a Veyron?

3) The CPU's are mounted to a daughter board (along with the ram) and slide into the mother board. You can swap a 2009 single cpu daughter board with a 2009 dual cpu daughter board. Not a problem. You can NOT put a 2010 daughter board into a 2009 motherboard without hacking the firmware on the 2009 board (so it thinks it's a 2010 board and will work with the daughter board). It's not hard, but it is something to be aware of.

4) CPU swaps on the dual cpu 2009 is NOT EASY! The 2009 dual-cpu daughter board used lid-less cpu sockets. The only thing holding the CPU in place is the heat-sink (which is held in with torx). They also used CPUs direct from intel that didn't include integrated heat spreaders. I'm not aware of any place that sells these cpus (unless they're out of other 2009 Mac Pros). That means the CPU in a 2009 dual processor is 2mm thinner than a standard CPU. What happens if you use an off the shelf cpu in a 2009 daughter board? When you tighten the torx that hold the heat-sink, you CRUSH the CPU. Several people destroyed their processors before they realized this. The workaround is to put 2mm spacers on the torx to "lift" the heat-sink up. This causes another problem: the fans and heat sink are 1 unit and now the fans can't connect to the powersource on the board. So you have to modify the power cable coming out of the fan so it can reach the board.

5) As for the 1,1 and the 2,1 being out of date. That's true, but less of an issue if you don't want Lion or Mountain Lion, or Snowy Mountain Jungle Kitty (or whatever the next version will be called). They're still great machines, but the money you save on the purchase price will be spent later on upgrades. You're probably better off spending the money up front and needing fewer upgrades. You can look at GeekBench to see performance differences between models. Then look at cost (including upgrades) and decide which year has the right balance for you.

6) The sweet spot: a lot of people will buy a single CPU 2009 MP. Flash it to the 2010 firmware (this allows the use of processors that can't be used in the 2009). Then installing a hex-core processor (12 cores when including hyper threading). The 2009 single cpu system uses standard processors, not the ones that are 2mm thinner so the upgrade is easy. A lot of people consider this to be the best do-it-yourself-mac-pro option available today.

7) An alternative: i love my Mac Pro. I'm happy to tell people why they're great. But another option you could look into is the Mac Mini. With the i7 processors, they can actually outperform some of the 1,1 and 2,1 Mac Pros. They start at$600 brand new. You'd get a warranty. You'd loose the expandability, the awesome chassis, and the enterprise grade parts, but you'd be well within your budget. Just something to consider.

Good luck and don't be afraid to ask questions.
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Old May 2, 2012, 11:47 PM   #7
applegeek13
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Join Date: Sep 2009
Thanks for the lengthy reply, exactly what I was looking for.

1) Sorry for not being clear, I was intending to Boot Camp for my games, and OSX for everything else. I probably should have mentioned that.

2) I love car analogies. Thank you.

3) I've read about the firmware hacks, it doesn't seem to be too difficult. I did look at tray prices on ebay and OWC, and boy they're expensive.

4) Noted. I'll look at single CPUs.

5) I've been stuck on Leopard on my G4 for so long, I really don't want to watch another OS come out that I can't have.

7) I like the Mac Mini, but I'd really rather have the pro. Hard drives are easier to install, for one thing, plus more ports, plus sometimes I open up my computer and just look at it. It's fun. Thanks for the recommendation though, I'll look into it. Maybe it'll grow on me.
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