Xserve 2008 video card mods

Discussion in 'Mac OS X Server, Xserve, and Networking' started by jamall, Jun 16, 2014.

  1. jamall, Jun 16, 2014
    Last edited: Nov 21, 2014

    jamall macrumors regular

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    #1
    Apple dropped support for the Xserve2,1 when Mountain Lion was introduced back in 2012, but the MacPro3,1 was retained and will be able to run the upcoming OS X Yosemite. These machines share a very similar architecture, the main difference being the Xserve's built-in Radeon X1300 video. Rather than writing 64-bit drivers, Apple decided to abandon these otherwise perfectly servicable machines. Getting Mountain Lion and Mavericks to run simply involves adding the Xserve2,1s board ID to the PlatformSupport.plist file, but it's not a very pleasant experience. The X1300 works, but lacks any acceleration, so I decided to beef up the graphics in my Xserves a bit. Both of my Xserves are dual quad core 2.8 GHz models from 2008, the first has 10 GB of RAM, a quad fibre channel card, and a Powercolor Radeon HD 6870 1 GB.

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    I've used part of an old Sun server's top cover which had a door above it's fans to create a PCIe access panel. It's attached to the Xserve with two large bolts and a two-part resin glue. The PCIe extension ribbons cost about $5 on ebay. This is the neater of the two designs, but is also the least practical because the 6870 is attached with screws and not in a quick-release cage. Removing the card for any reason involves tools, and a different card would involve repositioning the stand-offs, as every card seems to have a slightly different arrangement of holes.

    My second Xserve has 18GB of RAM with an Asus GTX 580 and Sapphire Radeon HD 7950:

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    This design was much more difficult to complete, but is far more practical to work on now it's finished - swapping out a damaged PCIe extension ribbon took less than five minutes. I wasn't as thorough in the planning phase as I should have been and had to make some late alterations. I had to cut down the 7950s bracket to free up space for the 580s power cables, and the 580 was a few mm wider than I had calculated, so I had to reposition it slightly, but everything functions as intended and it was never intended to be a work of art!

    The software side was even easier than I'd expected. Mountain Lion and Mavericks include drivers for all of the cards I installed, I just had add my device IDs to the AMD drivers to get Quartz Extreme and CoreImage running properly. The graphics performance is about halfway between the D700s and D500s on the new Mac Pros. I will probably eventually have a go at flashing the AMD cards, but for the time being I'm happy to connect up the built in X1300 video if I need to access the boot screen.

    [​IMG]

    I'm in the process of mounting the extra power supplies separately in my server cabinet and routing the power cables to where they're needed. Attaching them to the Xserves would just complicate things unnecessarily, and I've had enough of building stuff for now. I'm just going to enjoy using them for a while!
     
  2. crazzyeddie macrumors 68030

    crazzyeddie

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    #2
    I found this to be very interesting. Thanks for sharing.
     
  3. nzalog macrumors 6502

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    Jul 25, 2012
    #3
    What's the purpose of this? Are you just using the xserve as a desktop? Or do you have applications that take advantage of the GPUs?
     
  4. jamall, Jul 9, 2014
    Last edited: Jul 9, 2014

    jamall thread starter macrumors regular

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    #4
    nzalog, the purpose of doing this is to keep the Xserve current with other hardware and software that I use. As I pointed out early in the post, the Xserve2,1 is basically a MacPro3,1 but with less PCIe slots and a dedicated, underpowered and unsupported video card. Apple's decision to leave them behind at Lion seemed somewhat arbitrary to me. The dual quad-core Xeons are still plenty fast enough for my needs, so rather than discard the money I've invested (especially in the PC-6400 FB-DIMMS which are just about the most expensive RAM there is) I decided to add a few more useful years to my Xserve's life. It's the machine I use the most, but it's hardly a "desktop" - it sits at the bottom of an 18U soundproof XrackPro cabinet, along with several Dell PowerEdges and a couple of RAID arrays. It's currently driving two 30" Apple Cinema Displays and a Sony Bravia HD projector. I use several OpenCL and CUDA aware apps, and use Telestream software to engage the whole cabinet of dual quad-core machines as a cluster for transcoding large video files relatively quickly.
     
  5. jimmyco2008 macrumors regular

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    Jan 8, 2014
    #5
    I enjoyed this, very awesome. It's just this sort of creative ingenuity that restores my faith in humanity! Thanks for sharing!
     
  6. pattielipp macrumors newbie

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    Apr 2, 2014
    #6
    This is incredible. I have been planning on how to go about doing this once i acquire my xserve.
    Now that i've gotten rid of my server and Desktop i can convince my Fiance that i need one.
     
  7. jamall thread starter macrumors regular

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    #7
    pattielipp, you'll save yourself unnecessary headaches by getting a 2009 Nehalem based Xserve, which are still officially supported by the current and upcoming versions of OS X. While getting Mavericks and Yosemite running is fairly trivial on the 2008 model, every minor point update to OS X overwrites the modified PlatformSupport.plist file, and various graphics and power management definitions are absent. Large enterprises have also just started offloading them en mass as they've reached the end of their 5 year hardware replacement cycle.
     
  8. kasstek macrumors newbie

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    Apr 18, 2015
    #8
    Pretty sweet setup. I have a Dell rack but it is not sound proofed ... would be nice.

    I have read that one can get Mavericks and possibly Yosemite on a 2008 by mod-ing the plist. Is this a simple enough thing to do and is it stable, if you know ?

    BTW, what is your power consumption on that rack ?
     
  9. kweevuss macrumors member

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  10. kwikdeth macrumors 6502a

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    Location:
    Tempe, AZ
    #10
    was the purpose here to extract maximum graphics power? why not use some slightly lower-power cards with single slot coolers? EVGA makes a nice single-slot GT740 with GDDR5, XFX makes a single-slot R7-250 and HD7750 with GDDR5 as well.
     
  11. onemotime macrumors newbie

    Joined:
    May 6, 2015
    #11
    Video Card order

    I'm hoping Jamall sees this post. I've added a 2nd graphics card to my 2008 Xserve. When I run the Profiler the X1300 still shows up first. I saw in your screenshot that you've changed the order. How did you do it? My new Nvidia still shows as the 2nd display and there's no display on boot up if I connect my Monitor to it.

    Thanks for any help
     
  12. jamall thread starter macrumors regular

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    #12
    onemotime, you're in luck. I didn't do anything to change the order of the cards listed in Profiler, but the Radeon is connected to the faster outer-most slot and the GTX to the central slower slot. The mezzanine connector sits in between the two PCIe slots on the motherboard so I'd just assumed they were listed in physical order, starting from the outside. Regarding your lack of boot screen, I don't get one on either of my additional video cards as they're both off-the-shelf PC components. Unless you've got a Mac specific card or you've taken a PC card and flashed it with a Mac ROM you won't get an image until just before the login screen, after the graphics drivers have loaded. Only cards with Mac compatible EFI will work with the Mac's EFI environment, which is all that's running when you first power on and are looking for a drive to boot with. If you're not getting any image at all, even after booting, then you've got another problem which we should be able to help with.
     
  13. onemotime macrumors newbie

    Joined:
    May 6, 2015
    #13
    My video in Profiler

    Hi Jamall
    This what Profiler shows on my Xserve even though the Nvidia card is in slot 2. Any thoughts about how to make it my primary card?
     

    Attached Files:

  14. gugule, May 11, 2015
    Last edited: May 11, 2015

    gugule macrumors newbie

    gugule

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    Jan 14, 2014
    #14
    Questions about the video card and noise of Xserve2,1

    Hi, Jamall.
    Thank you for sharing the wonderful experience! May I ask you two questions?
    1st. If I add a mac video card(such as a flashed 8800gt card) to XServe2,1 and run Yosemite, do I need to add the Xserve2,1s board ID to the PlatformSupport.plist file?
    2nd. How about the noise of Xserve2,1? If I place the machine near my desk(about one metre), is it sustainable?
     
  15. jamall thread starter macrumors regular

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    Canberra, Australia
    #15
    onemotime - a screen shot of your GT 220's info would've been more useful. It is obviously a PC card as Apple never shipped that model, and I'm assuming you didn't create your own Mac compatible ROM and flash it, and you haven't told us whether you're actually getting any video output once it's booted, but I assume you would have made specific mention of it if it just stays blank. As I explained in my last post, your Xserve can't communicate with a PC video card until the drivers are loaded, which is quite late in the boot process.

    gugule - getting Yosemite to run and upgrading the video card are two separate things. If you want any OS from Mountain Lion onwards to boot you'll need to modify your PlatformSupport.plist file. Regarding the noise, I wouldn't do it but why don't you test it out? If you don't already have an Xserve2,1 and are about to buy one, don't. Get a 3,1 instead, the ridiculous price of FB-DIMMS for the 2,1 make it hard to justify the initial cost saving.
     
  16. gugule macrumors newbie

    gugule

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    Jan 14, 2014
    #16
    Thank you for your help and advice.

    Hi, jamall.
    Thank you for your help and advice. I don't have an Xserve2,1 now. I'm considering buying an Xserve2,1 because it's cheaper than a mac pro 3,1. The price of Xserve2,1 is just about half of 3,1 in the city I live. But for the space and noise(probably) of Xserve2,1, it is not suitable for desktop. So I think your advice is practical, and I will not buy it.
     
  17. donknotts macrumors newbie

    Joined:
    Sep 19, 2015
    #17
    jamall

    Great thread, it's nice to see people making use of perfectly good hardware. I have an xserve 2,1 and am basically just looking to get Yosemite Server up and running on this box. Would a GT 120 from a mac be compatible with Yosemite Server? Also, could Yosemite Server be on an external firewire, just with the edited .plist file that includes the model ID and the board ID? Thanks.
     
  18. jamall thread starter macrumors regular

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    Canberra, Australia
    #18
    Hi donknotts,
    Yes a GT120 would work, but they seem to be a bit overpriced for what they are: low-end, six year old cards. While it won't give you access to the boot screen out of the box, a single-slot GTX 750 Ti can be had for about $100 and is the most powerful card available that doesn't require additional power connectors. You need to install Nvidia's web drivers before you install the card (in the case of 10.10.5 you need 346.02.03f01) as Apple's drivers don't support it, and if you ever need the boot screen you just connect a monitor to the built-in X1300 card. It may be possible to flash with a Mac EFI but I haven't looked into it. As far as I know external FireWire drives will work with the modified plist - my preferred method of installing unsupported OSes is to connect a MacBook Pro in target disk mode. Best of luck!
     
  19. donknotts macrumors newbie

    Joined:
    Sep 19, 2015
    #19
    So my xserve (2,1) isn't booting from the 10.10 Server installed on a firewire drive(I have booted it to my laptop running 10.10 just fine). On the firewire drive I installed the nvidia drivers and modified the platformsupport.plist file to include the model and board IDs, then cloned this drive via firewire to spare onboard drive of xserve. When I select that spare onboard at boot it shows the circle-with-a-line-across-it, and gets no further. What else could I try to get 10.10 on the xserve? macpostfactor? Thank you!
     
  20. jamall, Sep 25, 2015
    Last edited: Sep 25, 2015

    jamall thread starter macrumors regular

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    #20
    Ok, if you're just going to clone the firewire drive to the Xserve anyway, the way I would go about it is this:

    - Make an extra partition of ~15 GB on the hard drive of whichever supported machine you have access to using disk utility, install 10.10 Server on that partition, and run Software Update to get it 100% current.

    - Boot back into your supported Mac's main partition and make the modifications to /System/Library/CoreServices/PlatfromSupport.plist on the Server partition you just set up.

    - Use Disk Utility to create a disk image from your new Server partition File > New > Disk Image from "Server 10.10.5"

    - On the Xserve either start up from a partition with a supported OS or use a supported Install DVD, and use Disk Utility to restore the Yosemite server disk image you just created to whichever partition you want it on.

    Get it up and running on the Xserve, then start worrying about the video card. Trying to do two things at the same time means you won't know which one went wrong when it doesn't work. You could just use a FireWire cable to connect the Xserve to your supported Mac with the Xserve in Target Disk Mode, and install directly to the Xserve's drive that way, but I like to have a disk image of an up-to-date, clean installation with the modified plist on hand for quick recovery from hacking disasters. You can use Recovery Partition Creator to fix the one shortcoming of this process, but you'll need to modify the same PlatformSupport.plist file on any recovery partitions you create for them to be of any use. I prefer to use a small partition with some third-party utilities installed over Apple's recovery partition for any troubleshooting, but I have both there.
     
  21. jamall, Sep 25, 2015
    Last edited: Sep 25, 2015

    jamall thread starter macrumors regular

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    #21
    It's also a good idea to change some settings in your Xserve's NVRAM so you know exactly what's going on rather than just seeing a panic or a flashing symbol. When your Xserve is booted into any version of OS X, including any install disk, open the terminal and enter:

    sudo nvram boot-args="-v debug=0x14e"
     
  22. Flint Ironstag macrumors 6502a

    Flint Ironstag

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  23. nlistgarten macrumors member

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    Feb 19, 2016
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    San Mateo, California
    #23
    Jamall,
    I love this post! I recently got an Xserve 3,1 (2x 2.26 GHz with 32 GB of RAM). This post inspired me, so I'm planning on adding a single slot graphics card in one (or possibly both) of the PCIe slots. I'm also looking into possibly upgrading the CPUs to the 3.33GHz W5590s (I heard this was possible). If you have any advice please let me know!

    PS: Also, I have two Xserve 2,1s (2.8Ghz + 8GB RAM) and five Xserve 3,1s (2.26Ghz + 12GB RAM) that I'm not using. Do you have any ideas of what I should do with them or if not do you want any of them?
     
  24. jamall thread starter macrumors regular

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    Canberra, Australia
    #24
    Thanks nlistgarten,

    I'm glad that so many people have enjoyed seeing the modifications I've made to my Xserves, but more satisfying is the fact that many have been inspired to keep their own Xserves running a little bit longer by making simple changes that have dramatic effects.

    Both my 2008 Xserves are still going strong, but while they're showing no signs of slowing down anytime soon, I'm working on a new project. Don't go ordering new quad-core Xeons for your Xserve3,1 just yet, the six-core Westmeres will be much faster. They aren't working yet and it's slow progress, but I have a couple of dozen modified EFIs left to test, and I'm confident one of them will work. Unlike the mod that upgrades MacPro4,1s to MacPro5,1s with genuine Apple firmware, I've had to take sections out of the MacPro5,1 EFI and replace parts of the Xserve3,1 EFI with it, then make it pass the tests that run on every boot designed to prevent this exact thing from happening.

    I would love to take a 2009 Xserve or two off your hands, but there's a good chance that wherever you are, freight to Australia would be prohibitively expensive :(
     
  25. kwikdeth, Feb 19, 2016
    Last edited: Feb 19, 2016

    kwikdeth macrumors 6502a

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    Tempe, AZ
    #25
    [edit] got my info wrong on the X vs W CPUs. [edit]


    Ive seen them going for next to nothing on ebay as of late. I built a hackintosh system using X5670s i got off ebay for $95 each.

    what would you wnat for one of those 3,1s?
     

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