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X-Serve GPUs, anyone still care?

MacVidCards

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Original poster
Nov 17, 2008
6,096
1,054
Hollywood, CA
Hey all, we have created great cards for Mac Pros and I finally got ahold of a 3,1 X-Serve.

I didn't really understand the noise about the noise until I fired it up.

Man that thing is loud !

Anyhow, I have been curious about which EFI these machines used and how the MXM slot works.

Very interesting bunch of things I discovered. It is possible to use an EFI card and have boot screens CUDA, etc on 3,1. Can't speak for 2,1 and earlier. But I was very interested in the MXM slot. It turns out Apple did a crappy thing and only ran 2 PCIE lanes to it. I would be thrilled to find that the Dual CPU models got 4 as I only got a single CPU model, but I doubt they bothered.

So even when I put a GTX980M in the MXM slot I got minimal CUDA/OpenCl out of it. I think the Nvidia cards will require some display remapping to output through the MDP connector, but the AMD 6970M did it just fine unflashed.

I have to apologize, definitely came to the party after everyone went home. I imagine these things are getting shredded for the most part. The unimaginable noise makes them unthinkable for home use, except in a distant room. It is possible to use GPUs with CUDA and OpenCl support but not sure there is much need for that.

Would love to hear differently. I am hoping to write a GT630 EFI/BIOS to enable basic display and CUDA functions, might help some folks.
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jamall

macrumors regular
Jun 9, 2003
181
29
Canberra, Australia
Hi MacVidCards,
I'd been curious to have a tinker with my Xserve's MXM slot but I don't own any other Macs or PCs that use MXM cards, so I was quite shocked when I saw the prices commanded by six and seven year old iMac pulls. There's an abundance of MXM cards from PC laptops available for about a quarter the price, but all the info that I could find here and at the netkas forums suggested that they couldn't be made to work. You'd certainly blow a hole in the used spare parts market for iMacs if you were able to reliably get PC cards working, not to mention drastically alter the repair/replace equation that many owners of older machines face when things inevitably go south. I'm running a single CPU Xserve3,1 with both PCI Express slots occupied, so anything would be a nice upgrade to the GT120 under El Capitan. I also just acquired another motherboard with dual sockets but haven't yet got a second CPU to go with it. It strikes me as odd that Apple would cut the PCIe lanes back to 2 for the GT120, as the 2008 Xserve I'm typing this on has 8 lanes dedicated to its X1300 mezzanine card.
 
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Surrat

macrumors 6502
Jun 20, 2014
478
169
United States
Maybe the reason the party is over is because people gave up. Nobody could make a better card work well, and there was nothing for the MXM slot that worked besides the crappy 1300.

I say go for it, and make sure to post your results on the forums, you might really start something!
 
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MichaelAudet

macrumors newbie
May 15, 2016
11
4
Rhode Island
Maybe the reason the party is over is because people gave up. Nobody could make a better card work well, and there was nothing for the MXM slot that worked besides the crappy 1300.

I say go for it, and make sure to post your results on the forums, you might really start something!


I have two late 2006 Xserve 3.0 dp and always thought about doing a video card upgrade. just never really got around to it.
 
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jamall

macrumors regular
Jun 9, 2003
181
29
Canberra, Australia
Just to clarify, the only Xserve that shipped with an MXM slot was the Xserve3,1 from 2009, and it came with an Nvidia GT 120 in that slot. The 2008 and 2006 Xserves used a proprietary mezzanine connector and both shipped with a Radeon X1300 with 64MB of VRAM. I tried repurposing that mezzanine connector as an additional 8x PCIe slot but was unsuccessful, but I'm sure someone with proper testing equipment and better soldering skills would have no trouble. I've read about an upgrade that Apple offered for the '06 and '08 graphics - the same X1300 but with 256MB of VRAM - but I've never seen one in operation or for sale anywhere.
 
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MacVidCards

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Nov 17, 2008
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From initial testing I am confident that I could make newer Nvidia cards work in that slot. My first test in next few days will be a GT630. It can probably live with existing cooling.

If someone with a dual CPU 3,1 could look in system profiler and see if GT120 has 2 lanes or 4 would be helpful.

Is there any sort of need for CUDA in these machines?
 
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Surrat

macrumors 6502
Jun 20, 2014
478
169
United States
From initial testing I am confident that I could make newer Nvidia cards work in that slot. My first test in next few days will be a GT630. It can probably live with existing cooling.

If someone with a dual CPU 3,1 could look in system profiler and see if GT120 has 2 lanes or 4 would be helpful.

Is there any sort of need for CUDA in these machines?

Even if they are stuck with 2 or 4 lanes, I think a newer, cool running card, would be a worthy upgrade. Just to get current hardware features and better driver support.
 
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MacVidCards

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Nov 17, 2008
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The most interesting featurer that might be added would be 4K support, I just don't know if the plumbing will support it.

Should be able to find out by end of week.
 
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zebity

macrumors member
Aug 1, 2008
68
17
Australia
Hi MacVidCards,

I have dual cpu Xserve3,1 (Early 2009).

You are right about noise, I run mine in cellar under garbage and only then turn it on as needed for backups and storage. It is 100% a server.

The most interesting featurer that might be added would be 4K support, I just don't know if the plumbing will support it.

Should be able to find out by end of week.
The most interesting featurer that might be added would be 4K support, I just don't know if the plumbing will support it.

Should be able to find out by end of week.

Ok so just fired it up and here is the bad news (cut / paste from "About This Mac" PCI slot report) ...

Name: NVDA,Display-B

Type: Display Controller

Driver Installed: Yes

MSI: Yes

Bus: PCI

Slot: MXM-Slot

Vendor ID: 0x10de

Device ID: 0x0656

Subsystem Vendor ID: 0x106b

Subsystem ID: 0x0010

ROM Revision: 3397

Revision ID: 0x00a1

Link Width: x2

Link Speed: 2.5 GT/s


So it is reporting as x2 link width, however is this limit of PCI Slot or the actual NVIDIA MXM card ?

Cheers,


Zebity
Owner of: XServe (Early 2009) with Dual 3.33 Intel W5590 CPUs + Areca ARC-1883x SAS RAID + SmallTree Dual 10Gbe
 
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reukiodo

macrumors 6502
Nov 22, 2013
298
138
Earth
Has there been any progress on MXM cards for 2009 Xserves? If not, would a GT130 512MB from a 2009 24" iMac work as a smallish upgrade?
 
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Flint Ironstag

macrumors 65816
Dec 1, 2013
1,208
661
Houston, TX USA
Might check over at netkas.org forums - MVC is active there. I have a bunch of Xserves in storage. I was considering installing single slot, no extra power required GTX 750Tis in them. Now that we have Pascal drivers, however, I'm waiting for some of the OEM partners to introduce single slot 1050s or 1060s.

I had no idea the 2009 Xserve had an MXM slot.

Hmmm... off to eBay to check MXM prices. Wonder if Pascal MXM has been released yet...
 
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reukiodo

macrumors 6502
Nov 22, 2013
298
138
Earth
Now that we have Pascal drivers, however, I'm waiting for some of the OEM partners to introduce single slot 1050s or 1060s.

Actually, ELSA already makes a single-slot 1050Ti for sale only in Japan, but Amazon.jp ships worldwide:
https://www.amazon.co.jp/dp/B06VVGDCF8/

It doesn't require any extra power connectors for a normal PCI-E slot, but I thought the Xserve doesn't supply the normal 75W from its slots though? I vaguely remember reading somewhere that it only supports 50W cards or something. Also, I think this limits OS choice to 10.12.4 or higher, which requires some hacky workarounds to get the front-panel CPU lights to work properly, which might be acceptable for some, but not for me.

I would still prefer MXM anyway, as that leaves the PCI-E slots available for USB-C and storage. I think the bigger problem is finding an MXM that can be cooled by the GT120's heatsink.
 
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reukiodo

macrumors 6502
Nov 22, 2013
298
138
Earth
According to the block diagram on http://tim.id.au/laptops/apple/xserve/xserve_early2009.pdf#p20 the MXM slot isn't even connected to the I/O Hub, it's a second-class citizen hanging off the I/O Controller confirming @zebity 's post that it's a gen1 x2 link. I think the real bottleneck is that it's sharing a gen1 x4 link to the I/O Hub with basically all the rest of the I/O connectors to get to RAM.
 
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derohan

macrumors member
Jul 28, 2012
70
13
Nice, France
****! was getting so poised to search eBay for an Xserve... might do so anyway ^^
 
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XserveJunkie

macrumors member
Sep 19, 2017
30
2
I got the EVGA GTX 970 FTW+ external of my Xserve 2009. If I leave it plugged in with 10.8.3, it boot loops. Can't do anything yet until I upgrade to El Cap, but i'm also waiting to replace the stock SSD to upgrade to El Cap. Anyone have any experience with fast cards in these machines?
 
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jamall

macrumors regular
Jun 9, 2003
181
29
Canberra, Australia
I got the EVGA GTX 970 FTW+ external of my Xserve 2009. If I leave it plugged in with 10.8.3, it boot loops. Can't do anything yet until I upgrade to El Cap, but i'm also waiting to replace the stock SSD to upgrade to El Cap. Anyone have any experience with fast cards in these machines?
Yes mate, 10.8.3 doesn't have drivers for the GTX 970. You should at least update to 10.8.6 and install the appropriate Nvidia Web Drivers before attaching the card, but with the great little utility called macOS Sierra Patcher, unless you need to support a particular piece of legacy software, there's no reason why you shouldn't be running Sierra. If you haven't already seen it, have a look at this thread I started a couple of years ago: Xserve 2008 video card mods
 
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XserveJunkie

macrumors member
Sep 19, 2017
30
2
Yes mate, 10.8.3 doesn't have drivers for the GTX 970. You should at least update to 10.8.6 and install the appropriate Nvidia Web Drivers before attaching the card, but with the great little utility called macOS Sierra Patcher, unless you need to support a particular piece of legacy software, there's no reason why you shouldn't be running Sierra. If you haven't already seen it, have a look at this thread I started a couple of years ago: Xserve 2008 video card mods

Hi jamall. I saw your post somewhere disecting the firmwares to find a way for this machine to go 6 core chips. How did that go?? I'm curious as well, but more curious booting windows as in bootcamp. I saw on macvidcards site the web driver to this card will only install from 10.10 and upwards. I made a sudden turn from buying a Mac Pro to getting a Xserve off fleabay for gaming because it seemed like the better deal at the time. Now I'm not sure anymore lol

Reason why I'm still running the earlier version OS was this stock SSD somehow came preinstalled with mountain lion without any users in it. When I installed that, I found a situation where the Xserve doesn't boot cleanly every time. Sometimes it powers on with everything running and nothing comes in screen or any errors found in the logs either. All the LEDs on the board also checked out fine from the manual. It runs usually after I do a power reset not pram reset. So I might just find a replacement board and install sierra all in one go.
 
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jamall

macrumors regular
Jun 9, 2003
181
29
Canberra, Australia
Hi XserveJunkie, that's strange sounding behaviour, intermittent faults are always frustrating. Replacing the motherboard should be your last resort, if that's what you meant by finding a replacement board. Swapping out the motherboard was far too frequently the fallback position of authorized Apple repairers when they were confronted with a problem that required time-consuming troubleshooting to isolate, and as often as not the problem persisted. That was fine if you were still under warranty, but far from ideal if you were paying for parts and labor, and Xserve motherboards are still quite expensive, if you can find one. Without any error lights I'd be inclined to try and rule out the other much cheaper potential culprits like a corrupt installation, faulty boot media, or a flaky video board or connector. I always install a fresh OS when I get my hands on a used machine and never trust an existing installation, so I'd start there if I were you.

I'm not sure how video performance compares to a vanilla installation of Windows on equivalent hardware, but did you consider ESXi to get Windows up and running on your Xserve? I had a play with version 5.5 a few years back on a 2008 Xserve and couldn't detect any performance hit running Windows 7, although I didn't experiment with anything graphics intensive. It used to be free for non-business purposes.

I know exactly what needs to be done to get the six-core Westmeres working in the Xserve but I lack the technical expertise to do it. I've extracted the EFI volumes containing the required microcode update from the 2010 Mac Pro firmware installer and transplanted it into the 2009 Xserve's firmware, but this breaks the CRC32 checksum self-test that runs at every boot. My efforts to change the value of the expected result to match the new value obtained with the newer microcode inserted have all failed. I tried to reach out to Trammel Hudson but never got a reply, and EFI firmware hacking is only understood by a handful of experts around the world, so I can't really see a way forward.
 
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XserveJunkie

macrumors member
Sep 19, 2017
30
2
Hi XserveJunkie, that's strange sounding behaviour, intermittent faults are always frustrating. Replacing the motherboard should be your last resort, if that's what you meant by finding a replacement board. Swapping out the motherboard was far too frequently the fallback position of authorized Apple repairers when they were confronted with a problem that required time-consuming troubleshooting to isolate, and as often as not the problem persisted. That was fine if you were still under warranty, but far from ideal if you were paying for parts and labor, and Xserve motherboards are still quite expensive, if you can find one. Without any error lights I'd be inclined to try and rule out the other much cheaper potential culprits like a corrupt installation, faulty boot media, or a flaky video board or connector. I always install a fresh OS when I get my hands on a used machine and never trust an existing installation, so I'd start there if I were you.

I'm not sure how video performance compares to a vanilla installation of Windows on equivalent hardware, but did you consider ESXi to get Windows up and running on your Xserve? I had a play with version 5.5 a few years back on a 2008 Xserve and couldn't detect any performance hit running Windows 7, although I didn't experiment with anything graphics intensive. It used to be free for non-business purposes.

I know exactly what needs to be done to get the six-core Westmeres working in the Xserve but I lack the technical expertise to do it. I've extracted the EFI volumes containing the required microcode update from the 2010 Mac Pro firmware installer and transplanted it into the 2009 Xserve's firmware, but this breaks the CRC32 checksum self-test that runs at every boot. My efforts to change the value of the expected result to match the new value obtained with the newer microcode inserted have all failed. I tried to reach out to Trammel Hudson but never got a reply, and EFI firmware hacking is only understood by a handful of experts around the world, so I can't really see a way forward.

Very very very frustrating.... so you're saying quite often the mainboard wouldn't be the issue if the problem returns flowing a swap?.....so many components. I might just try replacing the mainboard battery by the backplane to see if that helps though the computer does keep the correct date and time.

One thing I noticed every time it boots successfully is when the blue status lights flashs on once and stays off.

Selecting boot media by holding down option key or doing the pram reset is a hit or miss and doesn't work every time. But I'll see about the battery replacement and if not, then I'm hoping a mainboard can fix this.

I've read the Thunderstrike post on how Tramell bypassed the crc32 check. I'd say he's the guy for the work. Crazy stuff.
 
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jamall

macrumors regular
Jun 9, 2003
181
29
Canberra, Australia
Very very very frustrating.... so you're saying quite often the mainboard wouldn't be the issue if the problem returns flowing a swap?.....so many components. I might just try replacing the mainboard battery by the backplane to see if that helps though the computer does keep the correct date and time.

One thing I noticed every time it boots successfully is when the blue status lights flashs on once and stays off.

Selecting boot media by holding down option key or doing the pram reset is a hit or miss and doesn't work every time. But I'll see about the battery replacement and if not, then I'm hoping a mainboard can fix this.

I've read the Thunderstrike post on how Tramell bypassed the crc32 check. I'd say he's the guy for the work. Crazy stuff.
 
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jamall

macrumors regular
Jun 9, 2003
181
29
Canberra, Australia
If you've got access to another Mac I'd get a blank external hard drive (or just slice off a 20GB partition from an external drive that already has a GUID partition table) and perform a clean installation of whichever is the most recent macOS version that they both support. When it's ready confirm that it boots first, then remove all the Xserve's drives and peripherals, especially the SSD, and transplant the fresh install to the Xserve to see if the problem goes away. Best to use an external enclosure so you can rule in or out the hard drive backplane. If the problem persists then you may well have a motherboard problem, but this one step cuts the potential sources of the problem in half whatever the result.
 
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XserveJunkie

macrumors member
Sep 19, 2017
30
2
If you've got access to another Mac I'd get a blank external hard drive (or just slice off a 20GB partition from an external drive that already has a GUID partition table) and perform a clean installation of whichever is the most recent macOS version that they both support. When it's ready confirm that it boots first, then remove all the Xserve's drives and peripherals, especially the SSD, and transplant the fresh install to the Xserve to see if the problem goes away. Best to use an external enclosure so you can rule in or out the hard drive backplane. If the problem persists then you may well have a motherboard problem, but this one step cuts the potential sources of the problem in half whatever the result.


Geez. this was all I had to do
 

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jamall

macrumors regular
Jun 9, 2003
181
29
Canberra, Australia
Just saw your attached image. I have a picture of that page of the manual saved on my phone which has come to the rescue on several occasions :)
 
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chtugha

macrumors newbie
Oct 3, 2017
10
2
I think I'll join the Party too :)

Just managed to boot a APFS formated NVME Disk (Samsung 960 Pro) via PCIe Adapter with my XServe 3,1.
The trick is to use rEFInd as bootloader on a USB-Stick and to copy /usr/standalone/i386/apfs.efi from the High Sierra install disk as well as the DXE-NVME Driver from the Clover bootloader into the /boot/drivers_x64 folder of rEFInd.
High Sierra has to be installed with the "High Sierra Patch tool" that dosdude1 made of course.

Everything works well. The NVME disk gives instant and constant read/write speed of 736Mb/s - which seems to be the limit of the PCIe bus and the Adapter(4x2,5GT)...might be better with a x8 Adapter, but is ok for now :p

The Metal 2 Interface is pretty sluggish though, therefore would be decent solution for the MXM Slot very appreciated.
 
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chtugha

macrumors newbie
Oct 3, 2017
10
2
Did somebody manage to increase the frontsidebus to 1333mhz? It should be supported by Ram, Chipset and CPU....there was a working hack for 32bit OSX – only via installing a .kext....but never for 64bit
 
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