Mac Pro 3,1 (2008) Graphics Card Confusion

Discussion in 'Mac Pro' started by Mathazzar, Nov 26, 2011.

  1. Mathazzar macrumors newbie

    Mathazzar

    Joined:
    Jun 17, 2011
    Location:
    Toronto
    #1
    Hi everyone,

    Sorry to keep floating such a common topic, but I've spent a few hours today reading up on the compatibility of various recent graphics cards with the Mac Pro and I don't seem to have come up with a definitive understanding of what the best solution to my upgrade situation is. If you have some time and goodwill, I'd really appreciate some clear advice.

    I think it's probably most helpful if I start by describing what I'd like to do with the new card/card(s), so here goes:

    - video editing in Final Cut Pro X; sub-feature length films mostly, but always in HD

    - Photographic editing in Aperture

    - Photoshop editing of large files

    - Gaming (Steam-based on OSX, and I'll likely add a W7 partition at some point too for native PC gaming)

    That being said, I've been looking at 3 basic options: the 5770, 5870, and the 6870. My understanding is that you used to require a ROM flash to get these cards to be recognized and operational in OSX but that a recent update for the Macbook Pro (which I have access to) has made this unnecessary...or possibly not, it's not terribly clear and is likely based on circumstances.

    Currently, my computer is running OSX 10.6.8 — and I'm afraid I can't upgrade it to Lion right now because of software compatibility issues. The machine has 12GB of RAM, it's the basic 8-core (2 x 2.8 Quad Xeon), and there are 4 harddrives and two disc drives, though I'm happy to disable one of the superdrives if I need its power cable to get the new graphics card running. The current graphics card is a stock Radeon HD 2600 XT powering two 23" cinema displays (the older silver ones from when this model of the Mac Pro was current).

    So in terms of doing this graphics update, what is my best option for maximum performance and compatibility? Two 5770s (one monitor hooked up to each), a 5870, or the 6870? Or something else entirely? Am I going to need extra cables to hook everything up inside? I do NOT want to have to flash anything if I can avoid it — I'm sure I could manage it given some clear instructions, but it's a complication I'd rather avoid.

    Pardon the wall of text but I wanted to be comprehensive so you know where I'm coming from. Any guidance would be terrific!
     
  2. Phrygian, Nov 26, 2011
    Last edited: Nov 26, 2011

    Phrygian macrumors regular

    Joined:
    Nov 26, 2011
    #2
    Well, i'd like to take this opportunity to piggy back onto your thread, simply because i was about to make the same request for help picking out a graphics card.

    I too have a early 2008 3,1 and am looking to upgrade the graphics card.

    Here is what i know so far:

    Mac offers the Ati radeon 5770 and 5870 for Mac, however they are about twice as much as the cards cost for PC. It is theoretically possible to flash the PC cards, but as i am a nub i am very scared to do this.

    I have also just found this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cC-Rzl_bRhU

    It claims that the Ati radeon HD 6870 will work in a mac using OSX lion (but not snow leopard) even though it is not a specifically mac graphics card. the video showed that the card doesn't kick in until after the start up screen though. I also do not know if this means it won't work with bootcamp since the screen may not load. Thats the part that scares me.

    To be specific to me for a second, I would like a graphics card that will run well while running Windows 7 in bootcamp so that i can play games. When in OSX, i primarily do the regular office stuff, and i stream videos through divx online (something that lion is making more difficult to do..)


    So if any of you more experienced users can help us out, that would be great. Specifically on the Ati radeon 6870. Its such a huge savings, especially since gaming is my primary interest. I just don't know if i'll be able to bootcamp with it.

    Edit: Also throwing out there that flashing cards really confuses me. I wish there was a guide with illustrations for someone who doesn't have any real experience with doing it. I haven't used DoS for over a decade...
     
  3. Neodym macrumors 65816

    Neodym

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2002
    #3
    The 6870 works out of the box (I.e. unflashed) in a MacPro under SnowLeopard (10.6.8). You won't have a boot screen, though, and neither DVD player nor steam based games will work.

    Iirc you can cure the problems with Steam and DVD player by using a dedicated kernel extension named "aty_init.kext", which has been released by Netkas. Installation is pretty straightforward.

    The missing boot screen can be fixed by flashing the card with a proper Efi firmware (I don't know whether Cindoris Mac-based flashing tool "Zeus" supports the 6870 by now). Currently only 64bit variants are available (Netkas or Cindoris homepage Groths.org) so this works only for MP 3,1 and younger.

    Alternatively you can keep an existing card like the 2600 as "helper" card inside the MP to show the boot screen.

    A 6870 will also work under bootcamp, as a MP basically is just a PC in bootcamp mode with Windows booted. In order to switch between Windows and OSX you don't need a boot screen, but instead you can select the OS-to-be-booted on next restart in the settings in either OS. Or you have a helper card as described above.
     
  4. Mathazzar thread starter macrumors newbie

    Mathazzar

    Joined:
    Jun 17, 2011
    Location:
    Toronto
    #4
    Thank you for the straight-forward, happy answer! I just have a few follow-up questions then...

    1. Of the card options I mentioned, would the 6870 be giving me the best performance?

    2. Which variant should I look to get? I'd like to get the XFX Radeon Black, specifically the 2GB one — would that be fine? I only ever see the 1GB mentioned in posts. The card I'm looking at is here: http://bit.ly/skqtz5

    3. Assuming it works and I perform the flash using Zeus (which supports the card now, if I understood right, and I'm on 64-bit EFI), I wouldn't need to use the 2600 as a "helper" card, right? Would the process involve me using RomCreator and then Zeus or do I still need to work in Windows for something?

    4. With all of this said and done, will the DVI ports work to power my monitors? I keep seeing mention of only one port or another working (top, bottom, etc.) and I'm not sure if that applies to my situation.

    Sorry for the ongoing questions but I'd rather not waste time and money when I pull the trigger!

    Thanks very much for the help :)
     
  5. Neodym macrumors 65816

    Neodym

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2002
    #5
    The 6870 is considered to be roughly 5-10% slower than the 5870, though it needs noticeably less power and costs significantly less! So it's probably the current sweet spot if you can live with the mentioned shortcomings/manual tweaks.

    I'd say it at least partly depends on whether the 2GB variant is supported by the flashing tool of your choice. For out of the box functionality there should be no difference. You may want to do some research regarding noise. I went for a Gigabyte card with only 1GB partly because of the cooling system.

    Right.
    I'm no expert with that tool, but from what I remember it has been developed to be able to flash without the need for Windows.

    Afaik the flashing would indeed lead to one port becoming dysfunctional. However that may apply only to boards using the reference layout. Maybe someone else can tell you more - or you go to the forums over at Netkas and do some research.

    Hopefully I could answer at least some questions. :)
     
  6. Mathazzar thread starter macrumors newbie

    Mathazzar

    Joined:
    Jun 17, 2011
    Location:
    Toronto
    #6
    Very very useful feedback, thanks Neodym!

    That's quite bizarre that a newer card would be outperformed by an older one. I guess less power draw and heat is a good thing, but if my main concern is maximum raw power, then is the 5870 actually my best choice or is there an even newer card that offers more punch? 6900 series?

    I'd be interested to know what the actual best possible graphics card for this Mac is right now, in terms of power. I'm not too concerned with cost...I'm primarily wanting to keep within the Pro's power supply limits and have a cooling system for the card that doesn't sound like an aircraft.

    From what you're saying, I'm thinking my best solution would be to work with the out-of-the-box performance and do my gaming on a W7 partition. Then I keep all the ports working, can use Bootcamp to change which partition to boot to on next startup, and forget about flashing concerns. I don't use DVD player on this machine anyway. I get full access to the card's Open-CL etc. functionality out of the box though, correct?
     
  7. lemonade-maker macrumors 6502

    lemonade-maker

    Joined:
    Jun 20, 2009
    #7
    My experience with a 6870 10.7 (diamond). Zeus tool is useless. I first used the 6870 without flash - worked fine. Never was able to flash the card using zeus. Then flashed ( using DOS on a different computer - atiflash) with the rom Zeus tool generated - no boot screen. Flashed with netkas' method - boot screen. Only unflashed did the upper dvi port work. Only two ports work no matter if flashed or not.
     
  8. Neodym macrumors 65816

    Neodym

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2002
    #8
    Well - obviously development goals have been changed (power efficiency). The "real" successor (6970) actually does outperform the 5870.

    The 69xx series is still in a somewhat experimental stage. Check out the forums over at Netkas for latest information.

    I'm not sure how to determine OpenCL functionality. But i assume that a recent AMD/ATI card should support it. Maybe someone else could chime in...

    For my needs the out of the box performance of the 6870 is sufficient (though seemingly a little bottlenecked on my MP 1,1 :) )
     
  9. Mathazzar thread starter macrumors newbie

    Mathazzar

    Joined:
    Jun 17, 2011
    Location:
    Toronto
    #9
    Thanks for chiming in, lemonade! Sounds like I don't want to have to flash this thing...

    Neodym, considering I'm coming from a 5 year old card with 256MB of onboard RAM, I'm pretty sure the 6870 is going to scream regardless! :p I was just curious. Not going to dabble in experimental support areas...at least I know the 6870 will actually work, and that's the most important bit.

    So unless someone drops in more feedback that discourages me, I'm thinking I'll go pick the 2GB XFX Black Edition of the 6870 up and see how it goes.

    Incidentally, if I leave my 2600 in there, how would the two co-exist in terms of functionality? You mentioned that I could maintain the boot screen by keeping the 2600 in there (does that apply to Steam games too?), but do I have to configure anything for that to happen or does the mere presence of that card tell the computer to use it for displaying the boot screen?

    Like if I keep my monitors plugged into the 2600, would the machine still know to use the 6870 for all its other graphics needs or would it ignore it and continue using the 2600? Or would I need one monitor plugged into each or something?

    Having just one card in there is still my goal, but if I can have both co-exist happily and have the machine know to use the 6870 for actual graphics processing and the 2600 just for powering the displays and dealing with that boot stuff? Somehow I doubt it but man that would be sweet.
     
  10. Cindori macrumors 68040

    Cindori

    Joined:
    Jan 17, 2008
    Location:
    Sweden
    #10
    the GPU which is connected to the monitor, will do all the work.


    for not crasching dvdplayer&steam, see 6870 pkg at my website.
     
  11. Neodym macrumors 65816

    Neodym

    Joined:
    Jul 5, 2002
    #11
    I'm using this setup myself (6870 + 7300GT). OSX will recognize both cards and you can span the desktop over both cards on the monitors connected to them. You can setup the details with the normal System setting -> monitors. You could even add a 3rd and 4th graphic card and OSX will recognize them, allowing you to build a monitor wall... ;-D

    During boot time in your setting only the 2600 will show a picture (allowing you to select a boot device or reset the PRam or whatever else you may wish to do). When the login window shows up the monitor connected to the 6870 will light up as well.

    If you switch to Windows it will probably not properly recognize the 2600 (being a Mac card), but then your 6870 will work just fine.

    From my experience Steam just does not start a game (i.e. you can fire up Steam itself, but once you start a game it simply does nothing but shortly showing some dock icon). The ATY_INIT.kext (Netkas) is said to remedy that behaviour at least using Lion (have not installed it myself yet and don't know whether it works using 10.6.8).
     
  12. Phrygian, Nov 27, 2011
    Last edited: Nov 27, 2011

    Phrygian macrumors regular

    Joined:
    Nov 26, 2011
    #12
    I have decided to go for the 6870 and flash it to be as functional as possible, however i have to say this stuff scares the crap out of me, and i still find it all rather confusing. I suppose once i get the card i'll simply follow the instructions on flashing to the best of my ability..

    if all goes wrong i guess i could return it.

    Also, Mathazzar, have you decided on the 1g or 2g? From what i have read the 2 gig for for people using two screens.
     
  13. VanneDC macrumors 6502a

    VanneDC

    Joined:
    Jun 5, 2010
    Location:
    Dubai, UAE
    #13
    lol, if all goes wrong i guess i could return it..

    NOT!!!

    nah mate, thats not the case as youve stuffed the rom in it, its not the vendors fault.
     
  14. Phrygian macrumors regular

    Joined:
    Nov 26, 2011
    #14
    And the vendor that takes the return back at a store is going to know that how? Never said it was ethical, nor would it be my first option. I much rather get it to work, and hope that i could do so. Just saying.
     
  15. VanneDC macrumors 6502a

    VanneDC

    Joined:
    Jun 5, 2010
    Location:
    Dubai, UAE
    #15
    Rant/
    This is the problem right here, peeps going into flashing cards with little or no clue and then when stuffing it up, just RMa it back to the vendor. I've flashed many cards before, not always a success, but I've never returned one to the shop when I've been the cause of it's failure..

    If your unshore of what your doing, how about buying one of the pre flashed cards of Mac-vidcards..

    Other than stuffing up the flash and starting many of the same threads here about flashing ati cards, asking how to fix the problems.

    /rant

    Anyways, have fun.
     
  16. Phrygian macrumors regular

    Joined:
    Nov 26, 2011
    #16

    Well i believe the first step with any flash attempt is to make a back up of the original rom so you can revert any changes that you make.

    i read this on the netkas forum as the first step:
    If i read correctly, the purpose of this is to be able to revert the card to the factory setting in case the flash attempt fails.
     
  17. Mathazzar thread starter macrumors newbie

    Mathazzar

    Joined:
    Jun 17, 2011
    Location:
    Toronto
    #17
    Card is on its way and I had a few further questions while I'm waiting for it to show up...

    1. If I connect the new card and leave my 2600 in there with the main monitor connected to it (and second monitor connected to the 6870), I maintain the boot screen, so I'll still be able to choose which boot device even without flashing the new card, right?

    2. Steam & DVD player etc. won't work OOTB in OSX with the new card, but if I use my Windows partition Steam should work fine, yes? In other words, the OOTB 6870 on a Windows partition should behave 100% as if it was in an actual Windows machine, if I understand correctly.

    Thanks for the continuing help, folks. I'll report back with my results as soon as the card arrives this week.
     
  18. Neodym macrumors 65816

    Neodym

    Joined:
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