Mac Pro 5.1 pre purchase questions

wayne_rowley

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Original poster
Mar 2, 2019
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Bournemouth, UK
Hello!

I am considering buying a professionally refurbished Mac Pro 5.1 as an upgrade to my 2011 MacBook Pro. My use case is home office and also music/DAW with Logic Pro X. I have some questions that I am hoping existing users can help me with.

- 6 core vs. 12 core. I’m inclined to get a 3.46 12 core because I’d like the most power and longevity, but I have heard that the dual processor model slightly reduces single core performance. Is this true? Single core speed is important for low latency audio recording. I know I’m not going to get much better single core than my MacBook Pro, so I’d like to maximise it.

- 2009 vs. 2010. I’m not upgrading the processors myself so no issues with de-lidding. Therefore, will a 2010 offer any other benefit over a flashed 2009?

- How noisy are they? Would they impact audio recording in the same room? My MacBook can sound like a jet but only when stressed. Otherwise I can’t hear it.

- The seller recommends high sierra over Mojave for these Mac pros. Any reason?

- Any known issues with USB2 audio interface compatibility? I’m avoiding the new Macs because of the T2 usb audio issues.

Lots of questions I know, but the thought of buying a 9-10 year old machine is a little daunting, even if it does come with a warranty.

Many thanks,
Wayne
 

JeffPerrin

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Jul 21, 2014
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6-core 3.33 here, w/24GB RAM. Primarily Music studio use.

I monitor real instruments though my MOTU interface's onboard mixer, aka "zero latency monitoring", so latency is not a concern for me. I don't typically play VI, though when I've tried, performance is hit-and-miss at 32 buffer. 64 is better. It's a Firewire interface, btw.

re: noise. You can definitely hear it, but it's quiet and steady (assuming your fans are in good condition). The MP has never come close to breaking a sweat for DAW work! Stays cool & quiet! However, my current issue is I've upgraded the GPU (Sapphire 580 for Mojave compatibility) and I can definitely hear the new GPU's fans whenever they kick in and ramp up to speed (0 to 830 rpm). This happens ALL THE TIME. And it's during normal usage, like surfing the web, or typing this reply. Gamers and video editors probably won't notice, but in a quiet studio environment, it's very distracting. I'm at a point where I am going to try a different, single-fan GPU (a 560) to see if this helps. Otherwise, I may have to reinstall my original GPU and stay at High Sierra (as recommended by your seller) until I'm ready to move on, either to the upcoming 2019-20 Mac Pro or even the 2018 Mac Mini.

The problem with buying into a near 10-year-old machine is you're going to have to spend time and money keeping it compatible with modern OS and DAW software. But again, if you "freeze it in time" and never upgrade your OS or DAW, you should be fine. (There are plenty of commercial studios out there with 09' Mac Pros running Pro Tools.) I've invested quite a bit into this machine since I bought it back in 2012, so the GPU purchase I mentioned above is meant stretch out the value a little longer. If I were going to buy something today, I'd definitely be looking at the 2018 Mac Mini (which has been getting pretty good reviews in the audio forums), or hold off to see what Apple has in store for the next Mac Pro.

Hope this helps!
 
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wayne_rowley

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Original poster
Mar 2, 2019
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Bournemouth, UK
Thanks, that's helpful. The Mac Mini is the other option I am looking at, but I would have to buy a new audio interface as my current one is USB2. I slightly resent being forced into that by the current T2 bug - that Apple show no signs of fixing anytime soon.

Wayne
 

JeffPerrin

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Jul 21, 2014
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You'd probably want a TB dock anyway. Fast card reader, extra USB 3 ports, etc.

Hopefully Apple will sort out the issue soon. As you know, it's a pretty big deal!
 

AlexMaximus

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Aug 15, 2006
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The list of requirements you have would usually warrant a 5.1 tower. If you stay on HS and a regular GPU card, you would be fine for years to come If you don't need Mojave. I myself freezed up my machine for about three years on El Capitan, because everything was running so smooth.
However, I recently sold my trusted Nvidia 980Ti to switch completely to Mojave. I was worried. But to my surprise, everything works really great now. Since its so late in the game when it comes to the cMP, I would configure the system for Mojave upfront because it will last you longer on the software support, + you will have some nice upgrades such as the dark mode.
NVMe boot works great, PCIe card solutions for fast SSDs are supported and AMD GPUs are getting better by the minute.
The only issue I see is the noise issue. For that, I recommend the forum post about AMD GPU's to read about the fan issues on several GPU cards. There are some cards that do not have a high-speed fan issue. You need to check out the exact model to avoid buying the wrong card. Many cards work, only a very view don't have fan issue #1 or/and #2. As a measure of last resort, there is, of course, the option to flash the firmware of certain GPUs to eliminate fan issues and therefore noise. The King of Road so to speak is at the moment a Sapphire Vega reference card 56 or 64, flashed with the secondary Nitro+ Bios. This way you got GPU Power like the iMac Pro and a fixed fan issue for a relatively good noise profile. Unfortunately, it requires the install of an additional Power cable (Pixlas Mod).
 

JeffPerrin

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Jul 21, 2014
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There are some cards that do not have a high-speed fan issue.
I agree you should plan on being able to upgrade the OS. The average commercial studio will typically freeze the recording set-up for as long as possible, but us small/home studio-types can't resist the urge to try out the latest software features! :)

The problem with some of the newer GPU cards (such as the Apple-approved RX 580) is that they are configured so the fans do not spin at all under a certain temp. Once they warm up a little, they spin up and you can hear them "beating" womp-womp-womp against the MP case fans' frequencies as they ramp up to speed. Once up to speed, however, the 580 GPU fans are indeed quiet. It's the constant and random fan spin-up and spin-down noise that is distracting in a quiet work environment.

Another pro for investing in a new machine is Thunderbolt. TB is the new standard for audio, and is capable of achieving super-low latency numbers. And unfortunately you will never be able to add TB to an old MP. :(
 

wayne_rowley

macrumors newbie
Original poster
Mar 2, 2019
12
0
Bournemouth, UK
The only issue I see is the noise issue. For that, I recommend the forum post about AMD GPU's to read about the fan issues on several GPU cards. There are some cards that do not have a high-speed fan issue. You need to check out the exact model to avoid buying the wrong card. Many cards work, only a very view don't have fan issue #1 or/and #2. As a measure of last resort, there is, of course, the option to flash the firmware of certain GPUs to eliminate fan issues and therefore noise. The King of Road so to speak is at the moment a Sapphire Vega reference card 56 or 64, flashed with the secondary Nitro+ Bios. This way you got GPU Power like the iMac Pro and a fixed fan issue for a relatively good noise profile. Unfortunately, it requires the install of an additional Power cable (Pixlas Mod).
Thanks. Which is the thread? I thought the only issue was with the newer Vega cards. I’d be looking at an RX560 at most. Mind you the refurbisher company don’t state which cards they use.
 

mikeka

macrumors newbie
Jan 31, 2013
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Mid-2012 12-core 3.33 here w/64GB ram. Primary use is in recording studio using LPX.

I record real instruments and use lots of VI's. If you're going to be using lots of VI's I'd highly recommend going with a 12-core as LPX uses a new core for each VI. Latency has never been an issue for me or the players in my studio. I am a keyboard player and a 128 or 64 buffer feels fine. My machine has not broken a sweat yet using lots of plugs and VIs.

Noise is minimal. Even when I had four spinners (I now have two SSDs in the machine), I had no problem recording someone in the control room. I installed a Radeon RX580 for Mojave compatibility and have never heard its fan.

My experience with Sierra/High Sierra was: HS was slower than Sierra. I'm running Mojave and it's been totally solid. Wouldn't go back to HS.

No issue with USB audio. I use the MOTU 424 pci-e card normally but recently did a shootout with a USB I/O. Latency went up a whopping one or two milliseconds using USB but wasn't a problem.

I do this professionally and have already gotten almost six years out of my 5,1 and anticipate at least several more.
Great machine.

Hope this helps with your decision. Good luck!
 
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AlexMaximus

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Thanks. Which is the thread? I thought the only issue was with the newer Vega cards. I’d be looking at an RX560 at most. Mind you the refurbisher company don’t state which cards they use.

Here is the thread:

https://forums.macrumors.com/threads/amd-polaris-vega-gpu-macos-support.2083168/


AMD Polaris & Vega GPU macOS Support

Its a very long post, however most info's regarding cards are on the first view pages. Its a kind of collector thread where experiences are put in to provide a good decision basis for purchasing the right card.
 

tsialex

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Thanks. Which is the thread? I thought the only issue was with the newer Vega cards. I’d be looking at an RX560 at most. Mind you the refurbisher company don’t state which cards they use.
Forget RX 560 GPUs, Apple now has a lot of restrictions with those, like no HDCP. It's only for eGPU support now, but Apple share codebase and this will probably go to PCIe too. Mac Pro 5,1 support for RX 580 came from eGPUs, btw.

Screen Shot 2019-03-02 at 15.46.40.png
 
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JeffPerrin

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Jul 21, 2014
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I’d be looking at an RX560 at most.
I've got a 560 on the way for delivery next week to compare, noise-wise, against the 580.

EDIT: Just saw tsialex's reply. I don't typically watch movies or HDCP content on my workstation. Fan noise is more of a concern for my workflow.
 

tsialex

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I've got a 560 on the way for delivery next week to compare, noise-wise, against the 580.

EDIT: Just saw tsialex's reply. I don't typically watch movies or HDCP content on my workstation. Fan noise is more of a concern for my workflow.
If you have iTunes in your workflow, it's a problem.
 

JeffPerrin

macrumors 6502
Jul 21, 2014
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I believe HDCP is only for commercial movies. iTunes uses FairPlay for copy-protected music content. Purchased downloads are no longer encrypted.
[doublepost=1551555886][/doublepost]Here you go, Wayne! This recent article compares the 2018 Mac Mini vs a 12-core 5,1 for audio use. Complete with fan noise testing and even the "USB T2 bug" issue.

https://www.pro-tools-expert.com/production-expert-1/2019/2/27/apple-mac-mini-2018-tested-for-audio-production-work-is-this-the-next-computer-you-should-buy-for-your-studio
 
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deconstruct60

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Mar 10, 2009
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Forget RX 560 GPUs, Apple now has a lot of restrictions with those, like no HDCP. It's only for eGPU support now,
Errrr. highlighted in bold above versus the below:

macOS 10.14 Mojave on Mac Pro (Mid 2010)
"...
These specific third-party graphics cards are Metal-capable and compatible with macOS Mojave on Mac Pro (Mid 2010) and Mac Pro (Mid 2012):

  • MSI Gaming Radeon RX 560 128-bit 4GB GDRR5
..."

The restrictions you inserted are from Apple's page on eGPUs; not the Mac Pro. A RX560 is on their Mac Pro support list.


The HDCP restriction possibly still could be there. (that should be mentioned on the Mac Pro page but Apple has goofed on support pages' details before ). Apple hasn't used a 560 in another Mac product where pragmatically they have used the underlying foundation of the 580 (and Vega) in others. But being internal and constantly connected may be enough of a significant different to get by with what they do have (perhaps why restriction not footnoted on the Mac Pro page).
 

tsialex

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Jun 13, 2016
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Errrr. highlighted in bold above versus the below:

macOS 10.14 Mojave on Mac Pro (Mid 2010)
"...
These specific third-party graphics cards are Metal-capable and compatible with macOS Mojave on Mac Pro (Mid 2010) and Mac Pro (Mid 2012):

  • MSI Gaming Radeon RX 560 128-bit 4GB GDRR5
..."

The restrictions you inserted are from Apple's page on eGPUs; not the Mac Pro. A RX560 is on their Mac Pro support list.


The HDCP restriction possibly still could be there. (that should be mentioned on the Mac Pro page but Apple has goofed on support pages' details before ). Apple hasn't used a 560 in another Mac product where pragmatically they have used the underlying foundation of the 580 (and Vega) in others. But being internal and constantly connected may be enough of a significant different to get by with what they do have (perhaps why restriction not footnoted on the Mac Pro page).
Let's keep eGPU limitations outside, shared codebase maybe will never be a problem with PCIe versions, and discuss the just RX 560 problems.

It never got the attention that should have:
  • 2GB versions not working,
  • pink screens,
  • DVI to HDMI problems,
  • hardware assisted decompression never worked,
  • outputs not working with some cards…

With the little price difference between RX 580 and RX 560 and the enormous performance difference, it's just insane to buy a RX 560 now unless you have a very specific need like @JeffPerrin.
 
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deconstruct60

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Mar 10, 2009
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Let's keep eGPU limitations outside, shared codebase maybe will never be a problem with PCIe versions, and discuss the just RX 560 problems.

It never got the attention that should have:
  • 2GB versions not working,
  • pink screens,
  • DVI to HDMI problems,
  • hardware assisted decompression never worked,
  • outputs not working with some cards…
This presents as a long list but it has a root cause issue (pink on DVI ports) DVI -> HDMI) . The current Apple doesn't care about DVI ports. The last Mac that shipped with DVI ports was about a decade ago.

The support from the GPU cards on Apple's list is largely driven by GPUs that they used embedded in relatively ( to the Mac Pro 2009-2010) modern Macs not stuff from a decade ago. The RX 560 is "close enough" to the Radeon Pro 560 that Apple has used in iMacs that is on the list. There are two cards on Apple's explicitly supported are 2012 stop gap era cards that are those are more the exception, not the rule. Apple's "future direction" pointer on GPU ouput was pointed at DisplayPort even in 2010-2012.

The RX 560 being on the list is basically the modern role that the GT 120 played back in the 2009 Mac Pro. It can be a slot power card ( toss the overclock and go basic reference design. ). Even if need a 6-pin to power it is far more of a no drama , drop-in replacement card. It is incrementally better than the stock cards from the 2009-2012 era.

It is relatively easy just to skip the 2GB models. Especially when that is not what is on Apple's list. The configs that are close to what Apple says will work will probably work better than trying grossly deviate from their specs.


With the little price difference between RX 580 and RX 560 and the enormous performance difference, it's just insane to buy a RX 560 now unless you have a very specific need like @JeffPerrin.
There happens to be higher glut of 580 due to the cryptocurrency mania implosion so the price gap is a bit lower than when Apple released the list. For whatever reason the RX 560 happens to have not dropped. The used market is down around the original MSRP.

For DAW that price gap would be applied to more SSD storage which could make a difference in low latency contexts. The original poster is also looking in a DAW context so if anything deviating out of DAW is this thread is at variance with the context. The performance for mostly 2D workload is negligibly different.

Diving deep into DVI corner cases is just as much of a very specific need.
 

JeffPerrin

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Jul 21, 2014
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With the little price difference between RX 580 and RX 560 and the enormous performance difference, it's just insane to buy a RX 560 now unless you have a very specific need like @JeffPerrin.
Agreed, though it's sounds like the OP and I do have similar specific needs.

No doubt about it, if you aren't gaming or doing heavy multi-cam 4K video editing, I'm finding the 580 is grossly overpowered for audio work or general studio needs. With my twin 19" monitors, it uses about 75 watts at idle and jumps up to almost 200 watts doing the same tasks my 5770 could handle. A side-effect of all this power is it ramps the fan speeds up and down to match, something which is clearly audible (and potentially distracting) during quiet moments like playhead jumps or timeline scrubbing.

Looking forward to trying out the 560 for myself later this week...
 

SneakyTLoD

macrumors member
Apr 6, 2018
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The reference RX480 works fine and is pretty dang quiet. Undervolting the RX580 will calm down the fan behavior.

I posted this in another thread but it applies here as well.
I am an extensive Logic X user. I have a 4.1>5.1, dual x5690, 24gb of ram (6X4), rx480, nvme ssd.

I would definitely recommend the dual x5690 config. I have not been able to get it to error since upgrading. I even did a torture test, copying a virtual instrument track with two reverbs (one algorithmic and one convolution) per track. I got to 240 tracks before giving up on trying to get it to crash. Don't get me wrong, it got slow, but didn't error out.

I upgraded the video card mainly to get the graphic visualizers in 10.4 which use "Metal" but it actually helped the system over all so I would recommend a "Metal 2" card as well.

I was going to add more ram but decided to hold off as I never have pushed it too far in real world application except for rare occasions using lots of samplers and virtual pianos. I may still add more in the future but for now it's fine.

The NVME was a huge upgrade for me. I was using an 850 EVO before and it was not bad but NVME made everything zippier.
 

joebclash

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Jun 14, 2016
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With the little price difference between RX 580 and RX 560 and the enormous performance difference, it's just insane to buy a RX 560 now unless you have a very specific need like @JeffPerrin.
How are people powering the rx 580? The rx 580 cards I have seen all require both 8 and 6 pin...
 

JeffPerrin

macrumors 6502
Jul 21, 2014
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Undervolting the RX580 will calm down the fan behavior.
Unfortunately, I have no plans or desire to go about mucking with Windows on my Mac, altering card bios settings and the like.

With Apple officially recommending Sapphire cards for cMP and eGPU machines, you'd think Sapphire might step up and port their utility app over for mac customers.
 

wayne_rowley

macrumors newbie
Original poster
Mar 2, 2019
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Bournemouth, UK
Unfortunately, I have no plans or desire to go about mucking with Windows on my Mac, altering card bios settings and the like.

With Apple officially recommending Sapphire cards for cMP and eGPU machines, you'd think Sapphire might step up and port their utility app over for mac customers.
I'll be interested to know how you get on with the RX560. The refurbished ones I have been looking at come with 2GB RX560s. I'd be connecting over display port to a Dell Ultrawide.

Wayne