Buying & Upgrading an older MacPro for gaming?

Discussion in 'Mac Pro' started by clnilsen, Dec 20, 2011.

  1. clnilsen macrumors newbie


    Jan 18, 2011
    Hopefully everyone will be able to provide some insight on this idea to build a Mac Gaming system.

    I have a 2011 MacMini Server - my first mac purchase ever - which I am enjoying very much as a media server for my house. Given my positive experience with OSX Lion so far, I am interested in playing around with getting a machine to use as my main PC. I currently have an fairly new Alienware Laptop that I use for gaming (World of Warcraft) and general business applications.

    Given that I'm still paying off the MacMini Server I can't afford to go buy a new second Mac all at once, but I have plenty of systems building experience and am not afraid of experimenting. I was thinking of a getting an older Mac Pro off Ebay, and seeing what I can upgrade. I also don't mind taking time looking for parts to get everything together.

    What I am hoping someone could provide some insight into is what I should look for in terms of models of Mac Pro's, that I would be able to upgrade to a good Video card in eventually.

    From my limited research and thread reading, it seems like there is a break in 2008 with regard to models that can be upgraded to current higher level video cards. I'd be interested in if it would be possible to use earlier Intel Proc models and still drop in a pretty fast current card (6870, or even faster?), or should I steer towards something else.

    Finally, if anyone could post their gaming experiences using older mac pro's that they have upgraded, I would appreciate the insight in terms of frame rates, etc. For whatever you're doing, are you playing it in bootcamp or in OSX?

    I'm not quite brave enough to want to go the hackintosh route either; otherwise I'd just build a straight up gaming windows PC.

    Thanks in advance!
  2. philipma1957 macrumors 603


    Apr 13, 2010
    Howell, New Jersey
  3. miles01110 macrumors Core


    Jul 24, 2006
    The Ivory Tower (I'm not coming down)
    Why aren't you doing this anyway? For the same or similar price you'd get access to the latest graphics cards, a current-generation processor, and significantly less hassle.
  4. ashman70 macrumors 6502a

    Dec 20, 2010
    Gaming on Mac Pro's is never going to be as good as gaming on an iMac or PC, the Xeon processors inside Mac Pro's are not designed for gaming and thus do not produce a 'great' gaming experience. It doesn't matter what video card you stick in a Mac Pro, the processors will always hold you back. I would advise you look at a PC for gaming as you will spend less money to achieve a far greater gaming experience then you ever will on a Mac Pro.

    That being said, I am not saying you can't game on a Mac Pro, you absolutely can, but for the money your going to spend to do it, it just seems futile.

    If you pick up a first gen Mac Pro 1,1 lets say with 8GB of RAM and the original Nvidia 7300GT, for $1,000.00 on eBay, you can expect to pay $250 ish for a used AMD 5770 video card, the best card for this model. The problem is that on the Mac Pro 1,1 the PCIe slots are PCI 1.1 and so can't utilize all that the 5770 has to offer. If you look at a 2008 Mac Pro 3,1 in any configuration, your going to be up around at least $1500 if not more plus money for the 5770, but at least you'll have a system that can take full advantage of the 5770 and newer cards.

    Also Mac Pro's from 2006-2008 use FB DDR2 RAM which is expensive and not as fast as current DDR3 RAM, so you have another penalty from slow ram.
  5. DustinT macrumors 68000


    Feb 26, 2011
    Yes, sadly, this is true. Personally, I think the iMacs are the best gaming Macs in the price range we're talking about here. The 27" with the upgraded graphics card is quite powerful, integrated and fully under warranty. Plus, the resale market for an iMac is a piece of cake so you can get your investment back when the time comes.
  6. clnilsen thread starter macrumors newbie


    Jan 18, 2011
    I already have a perfectly serviceable alienware laptop I use for gaming. The reason for the exercise was a proof of concept and to see if, when the time came, I would want to switch to Mac full on.

    If it sounds like gaming may not be as viable on a mac (forgetting money differential for a second), then I may want to rethink my long term tech strategy.
  7. ashman70 macrumors 6502a

    Dec 20, 2010
    Its not that it may not be as viable on a Mac, just not as viable on a Mac Pro. There are plenty of happy gamers who use iMac's and bootcamp, thats about as viable as gaming gets on the Mac platform.
  8. clnilsen thread starter macrumors newbie


    Jan 18, 2011
    OK sounds good. Maybe I was proceeding from a bad assumption, in that I was thinking that I'd end up with better graphics than an Imac. Thanks for the input!
  9. goMac macrumors 603

    Apr 15, 2004
    I have a 2008 Mac Pro (8x2.8). Threw a Radeon 5870 in there and it's great for gaming. I can max out every game I throw at it except for Battlefield 3 because.. well... that's Battlefield 3.

    The Xeons are perfectly fine at being able to handle games. They're simply upgraded versions of the Core processors. I think there is some quibbling over the FB-DIMMs used on the Mac Pros and how they impact game speeds, but it's not at all noticeable, and on 2009 Mac Pros and newer you can change out for normal RAM. When I got my Mac Pro, it destroyed any PC in all the gaming benchmarks I threw at it.

    The biggest issue with the Mac Pros that make them not ideal for games is the price, actually. But, if you're over that, they make great gaming machines.

    (The iMac uses a laptop GPU. It has about half the performance on most games as a real desktop. OK, but certainly not what a gamer would be expecting.)
  10. BigJohno macrumors 65816

    Jan 1, 2007
    San Francisco
    I agree. I have a 5770 in my pro and I ca play BF3 with all settings on high and some on ultra with 1920x1080 and get between 35-45 fps. I had an iMac which was about 2 years old and boy does it suck not being able to change any of the parts out. I disagree with Dustin about the iMac resell. They fall in price quick. The Pro however will not fall in price especially if you plan to upgrade things. It might be expensive but more than capable of gaming.
  11. Dan04MCS macrumors member

    Sep 28, 2008
    My 2 cents.....

    I used to have a Mac Mini and a separate Win 7 gaming PC.

    I picked up a 2008 Mac Pro quad core 2.8, no hard drive no graphics card and 8gb of ram for 800$

    Installed 2 64gb ssd, 100$ each (one for osx one for win 7) and the Apple 5870 ($450).
    I use a linux based samba server for storage of crap.

    Installed win 7 32 bit without bootcamp.

    I can boot in win 7 and play games for hours without any problems.
    Plays BF3 at high settings with zero lag.

    So yes you can use a mac pro as a gaming machine.

    Can you build a PC cheaper, sure, but if you don't want 2 machines at your desk plus the hassle of switching monitor inputs,
    switching your headphones around, 2 separate keyboards, 2 separate mice,
    2 separate lan connections it can be done.
    You could get a KVM that does the switching but now your adding to the cost and clutter.
    I have zero complaints with a Mac Pro as a gaming rig and my work machine.

    Just my 2 cents.....
  12. mrlhxc macrumors member

    Aug 25, 2010
    Best bet

    Stick with your alienware or build a PC. I've been thinking long and hard about going full Mac and I just can't. I mean, your going to have to run windows one way or another to play most DX9-DX11 games anyway. The other thing is obviously price vs performance. I would buy a Mac Pro, but uhhhh they might discontinue it, the processors are from 2010, and its way to expensive to justify. So i've decided to just stick to building a PC exclusively for gaming and any windows apps i need. And do my recording and everything else on an iMac. If you really want a gaming PC, just look on youtube for your favorite games and see if someone uploaded a video of that mac playing that game. But your best bet and cheapest route is probably your Alienware for gaming (or build a PC) then your Mini for everything else.
  13. goMac macrumors 603

    Apr 15, 2004
    I'm not sure why this is a metric as to if you should buy a machine. Your machine won't disappear in a puff of smoke if it's discontinued, and your warranty is still good.

    Heck, if the Mac Pro gets discontinued the first thing I'm doing is buying a Mac Pro.

    Why? Macs run Windows. If you have the specs to run it, you can run it.
  14. jonnymo5 macrumors 6502

    Jan 21, 2008
    If games are your primary use, go Windows. For me they are about 10-15% of my computer time so i do the Boot Camp setup. But I have thought hard about just building a PC so I can leave my Mac Pro untainted.
  15. cragmr macrumors member

    Jul 21, 2011
    Build a gaming PC.

    i5-2500k, 8GB Ram, 560 TI/6950, ect shouldn't set you back more than $900, and this setup will give you much more game performance for you buck than an older Pro would.
  16. elvisizer macrumors 6502

    May 29, 2003
    San Jose
    Absolutely untrue. Xeon's (of the era we're discussing) are Core 2 Duo's that have the ability to run in multiple-socket configurations. nothing more, nothing less.
  17. elvisizer macrumors 6502

    May 29, 2003
    San Jose
    Also not true, but I can understand why you'd say that- fully buffered dimms DO have much higher latency than regular ddr2 or 3 RAM. But, it doesn't really make a difference in gaming applications. Check out these benchmarks from barefeats using a radeon 5870 in a 2008, 2009, and 2010 mac pro- the results are almost identical for all 3 machines outside of xplane and doom 3- the 2008 machine is actually 2nd fastest in the majority of tests.


    unless you have a need for a supported hardware configuration for running os x, I would agree. I've got a pro because I needed official support for FCP and the Logic suite under os x, and needed to upgrade my gaming rig at the same time. Buying a mac pro achieved both goals, but if you ONLY want to play games, building a PC yourself will save you some money on the front end.
  18. ssgbryan macrumors 6502a


    Jul 18, 2002
    For what it is worth, I have a Mac Pro 1,1 (See specs below) and I have been very pleased with the results, with just about anything I have thrown at it. I haven't swapped out the dual core cpus for quad cores, but that is on my list of things to do.

    It does gaming & a whole lot more.

    I'd recommend picking up a 3,1 and building out from there.
  19. ashman70 macrumors 6502a

    Dec 20, 2010
    They may be similar to C2D but they were certainly not identical, a C2D is not a server CPU, it fit in a 775 socket as well. Xeon's are not marketed to or built for gamers in mind.


  20. goMac macrumors 603

    Apr 15, 2004

    The only difference with a Xeon that could impact performance is the FB-DIMMs, which are not required in Mac Pros 2009 and later, and doesn't even noticeably impact performance.

    Most gaming performance is going to be based on your latency to the GPU, not your latency to RAM.
  21. ashman70 macrumors 6502a

    Dec 20, 2010
    So with respect to the CPU's, what re you saying?

    Are you saying Xeon's of this era were exactly the same as C2D's?

    Are you saying that architecturally they were identical?

    I'm not sure what you are trying to state. I've already pointed out some differences between them, are you disagreeing with those?

    Do the bus architecture of a Mac Pro motherboard talk to the PCIe slots at the same rate of speed as consumer motherboards using C2D cpu's of this era did?
  22. derbothaus, Dec 21, 2011
    Last edited: Dec 21, 2011

    derbothaus macrumors 601


    Jul 17, 2010
    You all are high. My Xeon W3680 and 5870 is the fastest "gaming" mac you can get right now. Period. That does not mean it is the fastest gaming PC. You can build 1500.00 PC that blows it away. The graphics in Mac Pro are 50%-100% faster than the top shelf iMac and the processor is basically an i7-980x. Xeons are no slower in real life than the i7 counterparts (I have ran most of the benchies that prove this) they are just better quality and can take more punishment. Overclockers love them. And the 6970m on that 27" imac can barely push the native res on Call of Duty MW1. Such misinformation. My Mac hits 22000 in 3dmark Vantage, 23900 in PCmark06 and 10622 in Passmark. What's the iMac get?
    But still for pure gaming and that is why you want a computer, build a PC. Much cheaper and upgrades are easy and readily available.
  23. goMac macrumors 603

    Apr 15, 2004
    The only architectural differences were:
    1) Support for dual CPU configurations
    2) Support for FB-DIMMs
    3) Larger caches (which is a good thing for games)

    That's it. Aside from that they are Core 2 Duos.

    Yes. No difference. It's the exact same bus architecture.

    Xeons are just upgraded Core processors. That is all they are. They are not entirely different CPUs.
  24. TheDoc macrumors member

    Mar 18, 2008
    There was some talk in some previous threads about using the Intel 980x instead of the Xeon (only in 2010 models?).

    As someone who is curious about this (currently rocking the W3530), I thought I'd inject that option into the thread as well. I'm already using non-ECC RAM, so that loss isn't a big deal to me.
  25. derbothaus macrumors 601


    Jul 17, 2010
    I think the W3680 is cheaper right now than a 980x. The only benefit from running the 980x is the unlocked multiplier which is useless on an EFI based Mac. It isn't any faster as my Xeon scored 11 points higher in Passmark. lol/

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