Which GPU for Mac Pro 5,1 Gamer?

Discussion in 'Mac Pro' started by Alchemist, May 4, 2017.

  1. Alchemist macrumors regular


    Dec 22, 2004
    Hi all,

    I've recently purchased a classic Mac Pro (5,1 - flashed from a 4,1). It has the following spec:
    • W3690 - 6 Core 3.46GHz
    • 32GB RAM
    • Nvidia GT120 GPU
    • HDD - 640GB I think (Haven't really looked at what it is yet as intend to upgrade to SSD)
    I am a pro photographer and use a iMac 5K for work which suits me admirably but I am keen to run the Mac Pro as a secondary machine to use for occasional rendering tasks, such as exporting slideshows, and some FCPX. However my main intention for the machine is to use it as a gaming machine. I've always wanted a powerful gaming machine but haven't wanted to spring big money for a gaming PC that will only get used for gaming. My thinking with this setup is I'll have a good gaming machine but also have access to a 2nd, powerful Mac.

    I'm happy to run the machine under Bootcamp for gaming, and have installed Windows 10 onto it, but am now trying to figure out what is the best GPU purchase to maximise performance. My main gaming love is flight simming, specifically X-Plane 10/11 but I also want to spend some more time with other games such as Witcher 3, Elite and whatever the latest FPS games are these days (I've been out of the loop for a while). I'd also like to try out some VR stuff in the future - I currently own a DK2 which I have used sporadically.

    So, the main aim is good X-Plane performance, with other games an important secondary concern. I'm willing to drop some money on a good card, but the question is, what's the best bet?

    I understand that you can comfortably power up to approximately ~225w via the PCI-E slot (75w) + the 2 PCI-E AUX connectors on the motherboard (75w each) and am reticent to push beyond that or attempt complex mods to allow for more powerful cards.

    My inclination is to go for a GTX 1080 as these are rated at 180w according to Nvidia and are basically top of the tree before you push through that 225w power threshold. That said, I'm unclear, and have struggled to find info on whether or not the W3690 can feed these high end 10 series GPUs fast enough to unlock their true potential. I don't want to spend a bunch of change on a 1080 to find that actually a 1060 would have provided the same performance levels due to a CPU bottleneck. On the flip side, if a 1080Ti or a Titan was going to offer significant leaps in performance and could be installed via a reasonably safe and non-complex process then I'd consider it. While I don't want to screwup my new machine, or overload the traces on the mobo I'm ready to enjoy as much gaming speed as this machine can provide and am willing to spend a bit to access it!

    I've also seen that Nvidia have announced official Mac support for their 10 series (Pascal) cards so I imagine these could be decent investments for use on the Mac OS side of things as well?

    Sorry for the long post, any input or advice would be gladly welcomed! If you have experience with any of this, I'd love to hear your thoughts or see some in-game benches.
  2. h9826790 macrumors G4


    Apr 3, 2014
    Hong Kong
    It depends on how you want to play the games (e.g. resolution, FPS, etc.) . And what games do you play (CPU limiting or GPU limiting).

    If you want to play Witcher 3 at 4K max setting (or even multiple 4K monitors). Sure you will need a GTX 1080. But if you just want anything beyond 1080P 30FPS, then a GTX 1060 already overkill.

    For X-Plane, it's highly CPU single thread limiting. So, the GTX 1080 may not able to perform any better than the GTX 1060.
  3. Fl0r!an macrumors 6502a

    Aug 14, 2007
    It's also important to know if you plan to play in Windows or macOS.
  4. h9826790 macrumors G4


    Apr 3, 2014
    Hong Kong
    I think Witcher 3 only avail on Windows but not MacOS. OP also mentioned "whatever the latest FPS games" and" Some VR stuff". So I assume it's for Windows gaming.
  5. Filin macrumors regular


    Mar 7, 2010
    macOS still not good OS for gamers.
    I love to play Warthunder from time to time. With same settings under macOS i have 80 FPS and 180 under Windows 10...
  6. HiroThreading macrumors member


    May 1, 2017
    Hm... that CPU will pose a pretty annoying bottleneck.

    I would probably recommend an AMD 7950/7970/280X for a good bang-for-buck GPU/CPU combination at like 1080p.

    If you're looking to perhaps reuse the card for a future dedicated gaming rig, then going for the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1070 is a better purchase.
  7. Alchemist thread starter macrumors regular


    Dec 22, 2004
    Hi guys, thanks for the input. A few details to flesh things out:

    • While gaming in 4k would be cool, I'm happy to game at 2560 or even 1080. I'd prefer things to look great at a lower resolution than to push for 4k and have fps fall apart.
    • I'm aware that X-Plane is heavily CPU bound, but most recent testing I've done is that if you have a reasonably quick CPU with a slow GPU things get jerky quickly. Do you think the W3690 won't prove up to the task? If anyone has any performance testing to clarify this I'd be hugely thankful.
    • Very happy to game under Windows. It already has Windows 10 loaded onto it ready for this purpose.
    • In the future I am probably going to purchase the modular Mac Pro (if they can get it half right...) or alternatively a powerful PC which will be used for gaming and work. So potentially I can reuse any GPU I buy.
  8. HiroThreading macrumors member


    May 1, 2017
    Hm... For just 1080P, I would probably go for a bang/buck approach and stick to the AMD options I mentioned. Driver support is solid under macOS and gaming performance in Windows 10 is generally solid for 1080P. Hopefully yeah you can get an R9 280X or AMD reference design HD7970 -- also try to avoid XFX cards, their BIOS's cause issues.

    When Apple releases the modular Mac Pro, there will be better GPU options available. :)
  9. AndreeOnline macrumors 6502


    Aug 15, 2014
    Possibly, but don't jump to conclusions.

    In my 12c 3.46GHz, running F1 2016 with all gfx settings maxed at 2560x1440px the AMD RX480 benchmarked around 35 fps, while the 1080 Ti came in around 29 fps. The 1080 Ti also hung every time sooner or later playing that game (but the card was very stable in CUDA and pro apps).

    Since you know what game you want to run, try to find actual benchmarks, on a Mac with the cards in question. Windows benchmarks are of no use.
  10. Alchemist thread starter macrumors regular


    Dec 22, 2004
    Thing is, I'm very happy to game under Bootcamp. In fact I'd probably prefer to. Plus, I'm willing to spend money... I've set £500 aside for this project...
  11. AndreeOnline macrumors 6502


    Aug 15, 2014
    OK! That changes things obviously! =)
  12. h9826790 macrumors G4


    Apr 3, 2014
    Hong Kong
    I am actually having opposite point of view. By considering the GTX1060 is so cheap and it can easily out perform the R9 280x on gaming. I really can't see the reason why go for the old AMD card. The cards which you mentioned are good for flashing, good to have native driver support in MacOS, but not a great candidate for gaming (not even @1080p for today's AAA games standard).

    Anyway, I am a 7950 user. I even have 2 of them for crossfire gaming. I can tell how they perform. Not bad, but definitely better to have a single stronger card. Unless OP want a budget choice that can have boot screen. But even in this case, a used GTX680 4GB should be still a better choice.

    Since OP clearly stated that he prefer to gaming in Windows, may be @1440P, willing to spend £500, and he is looking for good graphics (but not just "can play"). I personally will recommend GTX 1080. This suggestion is based on a very GPU demanding game (e.g. Witcher 3), max setting. The reference is based on Guru3D's review (everything ON, or max, except Nvidia hairworks OFF).

    It give's out 82 FPS at 1440P, so if turn Nvidia hairworks ON, the FPS will drop a bit, but should still able to stay at or above 60FPS.

    A W3690 can do provide 60FPS in X-plane if you reduce the number of objects. e.g. Cars, trees. You can have extreme graphics (which taxing the GPU), but have to reduce moving objects (require CPU calculation).
  13. HiroThreading macrumors member


    May 1, 2017
    Of course the GTX 1060/RX 480 is faster than the Tahiti options (7970/280X). However, Tahiti is pretty much fully supported on macOS, and it delivers enough gaming performance at 1080P.

    Also, Tahiti cards should be cheaper.

    The GTX 680 is awful. It's based on the Kepler architecture -- which has aged very very poorly, and the GTX 680's DX12 support is questionable at best:


    The 7970 thoroughly outperforms the 680 today, and even when it launched, the 680 was a pretty questionable product from Nvidia:


    A waste of money IMO. His Westmere based CPU is a huge bottleneck on the GTX 1080 -- heck, I wasn't that eager to recommend the GTX 1070 earlier.

    He's much better off going with a 7970/280X now, saving the extra money, and then going all out on whatever the latest AMD/Nvidia GPU is by the time Apple releases the new [modular] Mac Pro.

    Or he should just save his money now and put the money toward building a Windows gaming rig based on Intel's Skylake/Cannonlake platform.

    The plug and play support of the Tahiti options (7970/280X), its superior compute performance under macOS, and its high bang/buck ratio make the GTX 1060/1070/1080 pretty difficult to recommend.
  14. h9826790, May 5, 2017
    Last edited: May 5, 2017

    h9826790 macrumors G4


    Apr 3, 2014
    Hong Kong
    I appreciate that you are trying to help OP, so do I. Let's have a proper discussion / debate.

    I really can't see how R9 280X has better performance to cost ratio than the GTX 1060. A new GTX 1060 cost just a bit more then the 280X on Amazon and perform at least 50% better on gaming. The cheapest 1060 I found on Amazon is a EVGA card that cost $161.87. On the other hand, 280X is $147.44. The 280X is not that much cheaper, but the biggest problem is it can't even stay at 60FPS with good graphic settings.

    Screen Shot 2017-05-06 at 01.02.20.jpg

    And 7970 (released on 22 Jun 2012) is roughly the same old generation architecture as the GTX 680 (released on 22 Mar 2012) . If GTX 680 is awful because of it's age, 7970 is the same. On the other hand, I do accept and agree that 7970 can perform better on some games base your link (review). However, also base on your review. I will very focus on Witcher 3, a game that OP mentions want to play.

    Screen Shot 2017-05-06 at 01.38.24.jpg

    Do you think that we should recommend someone to buy a card that can only gives less then 30FPS in 1080P? I don't think so.

    A W3690 can be the bottleneck for CPU intensive game, but not always the bottleneck. At least not at the 60FPS level in GPU intensive game.

    I know the AMD card is better for compute, however, this thread is about gaming. It's another story. Why suggest OP to buy a card that has better compute performance to cost ratio when he was asking gaming.

    As I said, I have 2x 7950 in crossfire. I know how they perform. All my suggestions are base on reviews / numbers (fact), not just what I believe (opinion). The fact is, 280X unable to deliver 60FPS even in 1080P (as shown above). GTX 1060 has better performance to cost ratio (base on the above review and Amazon today's price). And GTX 1080 can deliver 1440P 60FPS on very GPU demanding game (which shows on my last post). I really really won't recommend a card that can't even deliver 60FPS in today's standard.

    I do agree that 280X has much much better support in MacOS. It's totally plug and play. On the other hand, all new Nvidia card MUST work with web driver, otherwise, black screen only (non flashed card). We should make this point very clear to OP, and let him decide if he really want to go this route. Since he has a GT120, that's won't be a huge problem for him. However, still something should consider.

    I don't know if the GTX 1080 can be installed inside the upcoming 7,1. However, it won't be a big waste of money. If OP really realise the GTX 1080 is huge bottlenecked in all his games (I really doubt if it will to a level that he want to abundant the GTX 1080). He can sell it, or use this card in a delicate gaming computer later. It's not a Mac specific parts. If we recommend him go to OWC and buy a new HD7950 Mac Edition card, yes, that will be a big waste of money.
  15. Gazember macrumors member

    Apr 5, 2017
    Let's hope that will be the case. Apple's offerings are usually something very proprietary to maximize profits, and to reduce their support overhead (same thing).
  16. koyoot macrumors 603


    Jun 5, 2012
    Simple question and simple answer.

    X-Plane is Nvidia optimized title. If you want best performance - buy Whatever suitable Nvidia GPU.
    Witcher 3 is actually Nvidia optimized title. If you want best performance - buy whatever suitable Nvidia GPU.

    IF you play in 1080p or 1440p, even GTX 1060 will be perfectly suitable for your resolution, and you will not hit CPU bottleneck in the games, because you will hit GPU wall faster.

    And third factor. GTX is 6 pin GPU, and costs less than 260$.

    There you go. Everything summed up perfectly.

    You will not waste a lot of money, and will have perfect road to upgrade if you will want to jump to 4K resolution.
  17. BillyBobBongo macrumors 68020


    Jun 21, 2007
    On The Interweb Thingy!
    I'll add one more thing to what @h9826790 has said, the power usage in the GTX 1060 is low. I have smart energy meters that tell me how much energy I use day to day. I worked from home on both Tuesday and Wednesday of this week. On Tuesday I had a 7950 installed in my system and on Wednesday the 1060. I used about €0.70 less energy on Wednesday than on the Tuesday, something that over a years usage would really make a difference to your energy bill.

    Of course I know that one day's testing isn't really an accurate measurement of these things, but it's certainly an indication that there are savings to be made by simply using a GTX 1060.
  18. HiroThreading macrumors member


    May 1, 2017
    Sure thing. :)

    Plenty of cheap and good 280X/7970 GHz Edition cards on eBay.

    Most of the links you posted are on ultra settings with AA. Either turn down/off AA or lower settings from 'ultra' to 'high', and you're able to hit 60 FPS easily.

    There are literally hundreds of threads on the internet about how badly Nvidia's Kepler architecture has aged:



    What is the configuration for that benchmark? What drivers were used? When was it conducted?

    Also, again, were those benchmarks conducted with all settings set at balls to the wall maximum?

    CPU performance is extremely important when it comes to frametime delivery and game "smoothness":


    The Sandy Bridge based 2500K is looking pretty bad -- the OP's Westmere is on average 30% slower than Sandy Bridge on a clock-for-clock basis.

    It makes absolutely no sense to purchase a GTX 1080 with such a slow CPU.

    Buying a card with the peace of mind that it'll work straight out of the box is extremely important, no?

    Do you know how many Mac Pro/Hackintosh users have problems with the Nvidia web drivers?


    No one here is engaged in opinion based discussion.

    Yet, you were willing to recommend a GTX 680.

    Also, as stated, we need to know more about what settings the 7970 was benched at.

    The GTX 1080 won't deliver anywhere near its potential performance with that CPU bottleneck.

    Agreed, and I think this is the central point of contention between our two arguments. You argue that the GTX 1060's performance advantage should outweigh any negative arising from hardware/software incompatibilities, and that the CPU bottleneck should not be an issue. I favour the plug-and-play aspect of the 7970 in macOS, while also advocating its cost effectiveness (eBay), and argue that it is a fine card at 1080p with high settings (not everything set to ultra).

    If he is willing to spend the money on a GTX 1080, then the OP should really just build a Hackintosh or a PC gaming rig. His current CPU is way too slow for a GTX 1080.
  19. h9826790 macrumors G4


    Apr 3, 2014
    Hong Kong
    So, you are now comparing used, no warranty, old cards on eBay to new, full warranty, new cards. I don't think that's a valid comparison.

    OP clearly stated that he want the things "look great". Why now, at the planning, buy a card that can't even go for max setting and cannot turn AA on? I don't think it's a good suggestion to him.

    CPU performance is extremely important ONLY when the game is CPU single thread limiting. Even the W3690 is old, R9 280X can easily be the bottleneck, why not go for something better? And even with a GTX 1080, the W3690 cannot always be the bottleneck in any setting, any resolution. As long as the resolution is high enough, GPU can always be the bottleneck. Of course you can also argue that if the setting is low enough, then CPU can always be the bottleneck. But again, OP want good graphics, that's why I recommend a card that at least good for max setting, 1440P or above (he did mention 1440P indeed).

    If you random pick a game and said CPU always limiting the games performance, then why not pick this one? (Also from your link)


    Which still shows 2500k is the weakest, however, I don't think it makes any difference in real world, 60FPS is all we need in general. As long as the CPU can give's 60FPS, it's the GPU's job to make the graphics looks great. Also, OP did mention VR as well. Use a 280X to drive a VR don't sounds like a good way to do it (especially there are lots of VR ready GPU, e.g. GTX 1060 or above).

    I 100% agree that the GTX 1080 CANNOT always deliver due to the CPU limitation, but just want to emphasis that it CAN deliver at some scenario, especially with high resolution and max setting. Therefore, I think we should let OP know, and let him to decide if it's worth to do so.

    I also 100% agree that playing the same money to build a more balanced delicate gaming rig is a better choice in general.

    It very depends on what OP want. If he want the cMP run flawlessly, I also agree that he should NOT go for the GTX 1000 series at this moment. The driver seems not mature enough at this moment. However, if he care gaming more than anything else, but just want a card that able to work in MacOS. Then GTX 1000 series can be one of the good candidate.

    It's the choice between better MacOS support or better gaming. Better MacOS driver or better Windows driver (it's well known that Nvidia provide better driver on the Windows side, which make the card able to release their full gaming power, this is why the same raw power Nvidia card almost always perform better in Windows gaming).

    So now, rather then we keep looping the same arguments. Let's sum up so far what we can conclude. It's about 3 options.

    1) If OP looking for GTX 1080 because he want 144FPS gaming on the cMP. That's definitely NOT the way to go. As you said, CPU will be the bottleneck and he won't able to make it. But for 60FPS extreme graphics, it's totally possible.

    P.S. I did try some 4K gaming setting. I can tell ultra setting on 4k is really really stunning. If OP ever think about 4K gaming, and may get a 4K monitor for gaming later, I definitely recommend the GTX 1080. For 1080P, may be not that much difference between ultra and high setting. However, in 4K, the difference is high. Everything become crispy clear, and able to see so much more details if able to push to ultra setting.

    2) If only want good enough 1080P gaming, R9 280X can be a good choice. Especially considering it can be flashed, and exceptional good FCP performance (OP did mention this indeed).

    3) If he want some very very good graphics on 1440P, then 280X should not be powerful enough, he should go for something better. e.g. GTX 1060, however, the down side is, once go beyond 280X, all MacOS driver headache kick in. No matter on the AMD side or Nvidia side. e.g. for RX 480, it need kext editing, and crash happened. For Nvidia, web driver required, and also the driver may be buggy.
  20. HiroThreading macrumors member


    May 1, 2017
    Let me address your post in reverse order.

    Yes, glad that we can see each other's point of view. :) Plenty of information here for the OP (and other users) to make a decision.

    Half the video card decisions made on this forum consist of second-hand cards. Heck, we're talking about the Mac Pro 5,1 platform here -- a system that is now what, 7 years old? C'mon man, second-hand 7970/280X's are a perfectly comparison to a current GTX 1060/RX 480.

    Which most games are.

    Even current DX12 titles rely on a fast CPU for smooth frame-time delivery.

    The Division is more of the exception than the rule. Also, did you read this from that page of the review:

    I think you and the OP should read up on how 99th percentile frames and frame-time delivery works. Once you get a grasp of that, then I think you'll start to see why buying such an imbalanced CPU/GPU combination would be folly:

    Original Tech Report article from 2011 outlining the frame time delivery benchmarking methodology:

    A follow up article earlier this year:

    Anyway, that's all I have to add to this discussion. As I said, my recommendation is:

    a) Go for a cheap 7970/280X, save money for future Mac Pro; or,

    b) Build a PC with a GTX 1060/1070/1080 and Intel Skylake/AMD Ryzen.
  21. calderini macrumors newbie

    May 6, 2004
    My 2 cents. If you are even FLIRTING with VR, the 1080 would be my choice. (Besides covering all of the other bases)
    VR will chew and spit out any amount of power you want to throw at it. I've used a 970 (okay), 1080 (Very Good), and a 1080ti (Boom!) so far in my Hackintosh. (i7 4790, 32GB Ram). And once you start down THAT path it may be hard to go back. Of course Vega could make it moot, but for HERE and NOW, 1080 is a beast.

  22. orph macrumors 68000


    Dec 12, 2005
    i vote 1060/1070 + a 1TB SSD :D (or even 2 SSD's :D)
  23. thornslack macrumors 6502

    Nov 16, 2013
    I have a 3.46 cMP with a maxwell titan x to game in bootcamp. It works like a charm on my 1440 ACD. If you want to game with all the eye candy on at that resolution I would have at least the horsepower of a 980ti. I have had a 680, 680s in SLI, a 780, 980, and the titan x. If you're playing at 1080p your needs drop rather significantly. If you want benchmarks or something let me know.
  24. assoc macrumors member

    Jul 14, 2013
    I'm looking at one of these for my 5,1 Pro, mostly for Legion and World of Warships. Does that look like it'd work well?
  25. flowrider macrumors 603


    Nov 23, 2012
    ^^^^Seems to be the cheapest GTX 1060 with 6GB of RAM out there.


Share This Page