Looking to upgrade graphics card in early 08 - hopelessly confused

Pat H

macrumors member
Original poster
Jan 14, 2008
71
0
New Jersey, USA
I've had the piece of mediocrity known as the stock 2600Xt since I bought my Early 08 Mac Pro almost 2 years ago. I've started to get into some more GPU intensive graphics apps lately and I'm finding myself very limited.

I used to be a PC guy so installing a new card was simply a matter of installing the drivers and all was done. But as I'm looking through the threads here, my noobness is really starting to hit me hard. I haven't yet installed SL, but I'm reading about things such as OpenCL compatibility (which my current card apparently does not have because of Apple's refusal to write a driver) and QE and wondering if this is all worth it. :confused:

It seems that Apple is changing their architecture constantly and cards are becoming useless or limited left and right.

I looked through Apple's very slim and VERY overpriced selection on the Apple Store, and came away less than impressed. I also read up on flashing a card (particularly the ATI 4890 thread) and am a little hesitant to do this, especially since the ROMs will continuously become incompatible as Apple makes Leopard updates.

I know my ignorance is a bit pitiful, but I would be extremely appreciative if someone has the time to help me clear this all up.

It's not that I don't understand GPU hardware specs, but my lack of fundamental understanding of the Mac-specific driver issues and new OpenCL architecture (as opposed to OpenGL?) are making me fearful that I will make an uninformed decision.

My ideal solution is something that works out of the box with my machine (assuming I upgrade to SL) and will simply require occasional driver updates. But I'm getting the feeling that unless I'm willing to pay top dollar, this is going to be a hell of a lot of frustration.

Any help (in terms that someone with my limited knowledge of Mac graphics architecture can grasp) would be more than appreciated! :)
 

gugucom

macrumors 68020
May 21, 2009
2,136
1
Munich, Germany
Your MP3,1 from 2008 is a lucky break. It has EFI64 firmware which is the newest and probably a relatively long lived version of firmware which Apple introduced. As a result you should be able to use everything from 2008, 2009 and 2010 from the arsenal. So expect to be able to use a new ATI 5870 if Apple introduce it in Q1 2010 as many observers believe.

Right now if you want out of the box OpenCL capability Apple's ATI4870 and Nvidia GTX285 are your only improvements as primary cards. With some properties sub x1600 you can also use the GT120 to get more monitors.

Other than that you can use flashed 4870 PC cards which will not need any updates in the future and that is about all your choice.

EDIT: forgot the Quadro because it usually is missing the price/performance requirements
 

iamcheerful

macrumors 6502
Oct 3, 2008
259
0
... My ideal solution is something that works out of the box with my machine (assuming I upgrade to SL) and will simply require occasional driver updates. But I'm getting the feeling that unless I'm willing to pay top dollar, this is going to be a hell of a lot of frustration ...
The Apple Online Store is a good place to start.
1) http://store.apple.com/us/browse/home/shop_mac/mac_accessories/displays?mco=OTY2ODUwNQ

NVIDIA GeForce GT 120
2) http://store.apple.com/us/product/MC002ZM/A?fnode=MTY1NDA5OQ&mco=MTA4MzU2MzE

ATI Radeon HD 4870
3) http://store.apple.com/us/product/MB999ZM/A?fnode=MTY1NDA5OQ&mco=MTA4MzU2NTc

EVGA GeForce GTX 285
4) http://store.apple.com/us/product/TW387ZM/A?fnode=MTY1NDA5OQ&mco=MTA4MzU2MDA

NVIDIA Quadro FX 4800
5) http://store.apple.com/us/product/TW386LL/A?fnode=MTY1NDA5OQ&mco=MTA4MzU2Nzg&p=1&s=topSellers

Something to note, only the first 2 cards - NVIDIA GT120 & ATI 4870 will be serviced under Apple's warranty.
 

iamcheerful

macrumors 6502
Oct 3, 2008
259
0
... It's not that I don't understand GPU hardware specs, but my lack of fundamental understanding of the Mac-specific driver issues and new OpenCL architecture (as opposed to OpenGL?) are making me fearful that I will make an uninformed decision ...
Information Gathered From Apple's Snow Leopard (10.6) Tech Specs Page
http://www.apple.com/macosx/specs.html

OpenCL requires one of the following graphics cards or graphics processors:
NVIDIA GeForce 9400M, GeForce 9600M GT, GeForce 8600M GT, GeForce GT 120, GeForce GT 130, GeForce GTX 285, GeForce 8800 GT, GeForce 8800 GS, Quadro FX 4800, Quadro FX5600
ATI Radeon HD 4670, ATI Radeon HD 4850, Radeon HD 4870


An additional highlight (this pretty much leaves out all the desktop graphic cards at the moment)
QuickTime H.264 hardware acceleration requires a Mac with an NVIDIA 9400M graphics processor.


Lastly, here's another graphic card option (ATI RADEON 3870, http://eshop.macsales.com/item/ATI%20Technologies/100435928/) which some mac users have considered. This is not sold on Apple Online Store but it apparently has decent support from the manufacturer. Unfortunately, Apple doesn't officially list this card as OpenCL aware. I have absolutely no information if this card is unofficially OpenCL aware either.

Quick summary on the ATI RADEON 3870 ...
OpenGL = Yes, OpenGL = Likely NOT

Thus I didn't include this in my above first reply.
For more information, you may wish to read about user discussions here on AMD's forum.
 

Pat H

macrumors member
Original poster
Jan 14, 2008
71
0
New Jersey, USA
Thanks for the input guys.

Well I'm certainly not paying the bloated price for Apple's offerings, so I guess a flashed 4890 is my only option at this point.

And gugucom, I'm slightly confused about your comment regarding the card not needing any future updates. I was under the impression that the ROMs needed to be re-written by a third party every time OSX is updated since these are essentially hacked, apple un-supported drivers?

Also as an unrelated side question, if Apple updates it's EFI framework a few years down the road, would that likely mean getting a completely new box because of a fundamental hardware incompatibility, or would my current 08 motherboard likely be upgradable assuming it's simply an updated 64 bit EFI?

Thanks for the help, and sorry if I'm completely ignorant about the particulars of EFI.
 

gugucom

macrumors 68020
May 21, 2009
2,136
1
Munich, Germany
There is a difference between a 4870 and an 4890. The flashed PC 4870 needs no updates, but the 4890 does. The reason is likely that Apple actually sells it's own 4870 which could be used to donate the drivers.

A difference between flashed and Apple 4870 cards is the size of the memory and the type of ports used. Apple use 512 MB RAM and PC cards tend to have 1 GB. Apple uses 1 Dual-DVI and one MDP. PC usually have two Dual-DVI.


EFI64 is now stable in the third year and likely to stay around. Before Apple used to switch the firmware base code due to graphics interface changes from AGP to PCIe, due to the IBM/Intel change and then again due to the 32-64 bit transition. No such changes are currently anticipated although Open CL capabilities seem to be evolving rapidly and will probably get stronger with the 5xxx generation.

Apple firmware is almost never updated or upgraded unless there is a fundamental design fault discovered. This is much different to BIOS updates from PC MB manufacturers. So if Apple introduces new firmware features for CPUs, GPUs or memory enhancements you are unlikely to profit from any upgrade on a used machine.

Basically firmware is been obsoleted every year with a new MP model. So if you want to use a new 2010 feature like the Gulftown 6-core CPU you will not be able to do this with a 2009 Mac Pro because the firmware will evolve and you have no way to get it on your old machine.

With regards to GPUs there are no firmware changes anticipated. So in all likelihood new GPUs for the 2010 MacPro5,1 should be compatible with your MP3,1.
 

Pat H

macrumors member
Original poster
Jan 14, 2008
71
0
New Jersey, USA
There is a difference between a 4870 and an 4890. The flashed PC 4870 needs no updates, but the 4890 does. The reason is likely that Apple actually sells it's own 4870 which could be used to donate the drivers.

A difference between flashed and Apple 4870 cards are is the size of the memory and the type of ports used. Apple use 512 MB RAM and PC cards tend to have 1 GB. Apple uses 1 Dual-DVI and one MDP. PC usually have two Dual-DVI.
Thanks. So maybe the 4870 might be better (sorry, I misinterpreted you the first time, thought you meant the 4890 as well). This way if there are new drivers released for Apple's variation I can simply install those without worrying about someone taking the time to write a new 4890 ROM. - am I assuming correctly here?

Also, as far as power... I know the 4890 requires me to run a power cable from the extra slot below the superdrive..would a PC 4870 require the same, or can I hook it to the existing GPU power socket?
 

gugucom

macrumors 68020
May 21, 2009
2,136
1
Munich, Germany
4870 Driver updates are automatically done in OS X. You don't need to do anything. This is the main advantage of staying with the models Apple supports.

Yes, the 4870 uses two six pin PCIe cables and they are both supported directly by the Apple propriatory six pin sockets on the logic board without the need to make any adaptations. All 4870 cards are identical with regard to power supply but the cables for the Mac are only supplied with the Apple card. If you use a PC card they will have Molex connectors on the MoBo side and not the Apple connectors. The cables are available from ATI and Apple AASPs for appr. 14$.
 

Pat H

macrumors member
Original poster
Jan 14, 2008
71
0
New Jersey, USA
4870 Driver updates are automatically done in OS X. You don't need to do anything. This is the main advantage of staying with the models Apple supports.

Yes, the 4870 uses two six pin PCIe cables and they are both supported directly by the Apple propriatory six pin sockets on the logic board without the need to make any adaptations. All 4870 cards are identical with regard to power supply but the cables for the Mac are only supplied with the Apple card. If you use a PC card they will have Molex connectors on the MoBo side and not the Apple connectors. The cables are available from ATI and Apple AASPs for appr. 14$.
Thanks for all your help gugucom, I'm 100% more knowledgeable then I was 2 hours ago! :)

I think I'm going to go with the 4870 then, much less hassle than the 4890 and without the risk of it becoming unsupported in the future if the flow of hacked ROMs comes to a halt.
 

Cindori

macrumors 68040
Jan 17, 2008
3,523
372
Sweden
just to clarify

once a 4890 is flashed, you never need to reflash it

so what is the "update" that the 4890 requires?

well in OSX the device ID of 4890 does not exist
the card will run without this but 3D effects wont work.

all you have to do is add this 0x94601002 in 1 text file in the system to get full support....
the text file is overwritten at OSX updates (that is like, one every 2 months?) so you have to edit the text file again.


if editing is too hard, netkas releases an automatic installer at netkas.org

if searching netkas.org is too hard, my app ATI Flashing Tool automatically downloads the patch at the release day of a new OSX update.

so ppl claiming 4890 requires too much maintenance... pffh...
 

Pat H

macrumors member
Original poster
Jan 14, 2008
71
0
New Jersey, USA
just to clarify

once a 4890 is flashed, you never need to reflash it

so what is the "update" that the 4890 requires?

well in OSX the device ID of 4890 does not exist
the card will run without this but 3D effects wont work.

all you have to do is add this 0x94601002 in 1 text file in the system to get full support....
the text file is overwritten at OSX updates (that is like, one every 2 months?) so you have to edit the text file again.


if editing is too hard, netkas releases an automatic installer at netkas.org

if searching netkas.org is too hard, my app ATI Flashing Tool automatically downloads the patch at the release day of a new OSX update.

so ppl claiming 4890 requires too much maintenance... pffh...
Thanks for your input Cindori. That certainly clarifies the flashing aspect of it. I'll have a look at both cards I guess, just understand where I'm coming from..I don't typically hack hardware (or software for that matter) so this would be a first for me. Thus I'm a little uneasy. But your application certainly makes the proposition a bit more tolerable.

One thing I'm not understanding now that you mention no real updates are required..should ATI release a driver update for the 4870, it is presumably covered under an OSX update since Apple supports that card in some capacity. With the 4890 not being "official", how would I ensure that the latest drivers are there? I'm going off of my previous PC experiences, so if Mac is somehow different please enlighten me. I'm still relatively new to Macs in general.

Thanks again
 

Cindori

macrumors 68040
Jan 17, 2008
3,523
372
Sweden
the 4890 is using native 4870 drivers. the boards are the same, but the 4890 is tweaked for more speed.
 

TheStrudel

macrumors 65816
Jan 5, 2008
1,133
1
His flashing app is ridiculously easy to use, compared to what we used to do to flash 4870s and 4890s in the past (That 8800 GT was a real disappointment). Use it and trust it - you'll be glad you did. My only suggestion is that you use a card noted to be compatible by those in the ATI flashing tool thread.
 

KG2002

macrumors member
Oct 21, 2009
36
0
Guys, excellect thread. I was also lost in these Ultimate 4890 flash discussions and etc. This newbie F.A.Q. is perfect. Thanks a lot!
 

Mackilroy

macrumors 68040
Jun 29, 2006
3,621
84
Just to clarify how easy it is to make work in OS X, the HIS 4890 I purchased was ready to go in less than two minutes (most of that time spent rebooting). You literally run the app, pick a rom, flash it, install QE/CI, and reboot. Then you're done. Everything is contained within Cindori's app. :)
 

Pat H

macrumors member
Original poster
Jan 14, 2008
71
0
New Jersey, USA
Thanks again guys! You just saved me a lot of money, as I was going to go for one of Apple's mediocre offerings.

I'll be using Cindori's app for either the 4870 or 4890...going to look into some deals this weekend on the supported card variations.

Quick question...anyone know where to buy the MAC compatible power cables so I can connect the card directly to the board, rather than running from the standard terminals in the optical bay? I looked on ATI's site as suggested but came up empty.
 

justit

macrumors 6502a
Dec 1, 2007
640
1
if you're going the 4870 route, choose a card other than the newer version Saphire 1GB model, the one with the woman on it. As of today there are still no modified working ROMs for it.
 

gugucom

macrumors 68020
May 21, 2009
2,136
1
Munich, Germany
Quick question...anyone know where to buy the MAC compatible power cables so I can connect the card directly to the board, rather than running from the standard terminals in the optical bay? I looked on ATI's site as suggested but came up empty.



Apple part number 922-7128. In Europe all authorized service providers can order it for you if they do not have it on stock. I'm told in the US ATI is cheaper. But I would not know their part number.
 

Pat H

macrumors member
Original poster
Jan 14, 2008
71
0
New Jersey, USA
Thanks! Will be ordering as soon as I get my card.

How many of these do I need though? I'm fairly sure it's 2 for the 4870, same w/ 4890?
 

KG2002

macrumors member
Oct 21, 2009
36
0
Do I still need the additional cables if I am replacing the exiting card, not adding a new one?
 

nanofrog

macrumors G4
May 6, 2008
11,719
2
Thanks! Will be ordering as soon as I get my card.

How many of these do I need though? I'm fairly sure it's 2 for the 4870, same w/ 4890?
Yes, it needs 2.

Do I still need the additional cables if I am replacing the exiting card, not adding a new one?
Assuming it's the same card model, No, as you already have the cables from the original. :)
 
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