2009 Mac Pro W3680 Swap Addendum

I got a bunch of questions regarding the 3.33 six-core swap in my Mac Pro, so here are answers:

– When I say 10°F cooler, I mean that it idles at around 95°F now, instead of ~105°F. My Mac lives in a cabinet, so 95°F ain’t bad. It gets up to 125°F when I play games or render stuff.
– I got a good deal on the W3680, so the total cost was $450 (I haven’t sold my W3520 yet). If I hadn’t gotten a good price, I probably would have gone with the W3570, which is the 45nm 3.2 four-core. Actually I probably should have gone with that anyway; I don’t think there’d be much difference in 95% of the stuff I do, and the W3570 is $250. You can also use the LGA1366 i7s if that saves money, although they’re not really any cheaper than their equivalent Xeons.
– No, you can’t use the W3680 in dual-processor machines. The equivalent for dual-socket machines is the W5590. They should be around $500 each these days for used chips. That’s a pretty screaming deal, since the retail price is still $1500 each.
– I don’t have a Kill-a-Watt, so I can’t measure power consumption, but I don’t think it went up by much, judging from Apple’s published specs for the 2010 vs 2009 Pros. Putting in the newer video card probably did a lot more.
– Performance isn’t really any different now that I have the matched set of 1333MHz RAM in there. On the plus side, my RAM is all the same color now, which looks fancier.
– The 5,1 firmware is totally stable. Hasn’t crashed or hung once. I upgraded to the 10.8 GM, and it’s totally fine.
– One guy asked if it would be a good upgrade for a MacBook Pro. Um, not really.

Swapping a 3.33 6-core into a 2009 2.66 4-core Mac Pro


Use the long Allen key to remove the heat sink. It’s also a great time to blow all the dust out of it. When that’s done, you can pull it off and get this:
Note that the standard application of thermal compound is actually pretty bad. At least, it was bad on mine. The processor side will be like so:
Again, not great; there’s bubbles in the compound, and goop falling off the side of the heat spreader. Use the thermal compound remover (ArctiClean in my case) to get this crap off the heat sink and processor, and the surface purifier (where applicable — that’s the “ArctiClean 2”) on the heat sink. Then, you can undo the latch and carefully take the processor out, being careful not to touch the contacts on the processor or the daughterboard. The new processor drops straight in, like so; make sure to get the alignment right:
And latch it up.
Then, after you’ve made sure the surface is clean, it’s time for new thermal poop. On these Xeons, Intel recommends that you don’t cover the whole thing in thermal paste. Instead, taking the alignment arrow to be pointing south-west, do a bead running north-south (this one’s thinner than it looks; you don’t wanna cake it on there):
Once that’s done, you can bolt the heat sink back on. Put it over the alignment pins to get it on straight, and then screw it down evenly. You’ll have to push down a bit on the Allen key to get it to engage. They will have a firm stop once they’re tight; obviously, you don’t wanna exceed that.
Pow! Put the processor tray back in and go!
It’s faster than the 3520 to a fairly nutty degree. My system already has a SSD and 5870, so it was already pretty speedy as far as Macs go, but the W3680 was like getting a new computer all over again. As a side note, you can now use 1333MHz RAM. You don’t have to, though, as the W3680 is fine with 1066 (I’ve got four sticks of mis-matched 1066 in here; I ordered 16GB of 1333, but it hasn’t come yet and I was eager to try the new processor).
As a side-bonus, the stock thermal compound was so junky that my system actually runs 10°F cooler at the CPU now.
Here are benchmarks.
Before on the left, after on the right. Full results are linked. These are 32-bit scores; 64 seem to be about 1000 higher for each.
I didn’t do any serious testing with games, but improvements (at 2560×1440/full details) seem to be anywhere from 0 to 30 FPS, depending on the game, with X-Plane being the high end. Most are around 10 FPS faster. The big improvements are in multithreaded apps, of course, since games don’t really use those two extra cores.
A ton faster and a bit cooler. Neat!

This was a fun project…

As a result of the shitsville Mac Pro “update”, I got a 2009 Mac Pro, which is pretty easy to upgrade to the current spec. You just need a newer Xeon and one of Apple’s insanely overpriced and outdated GPUs. A quick firmware bebop, and yer done.

First these showed up, which is fun: a 480GB SSD for OS X, and a 240GB SSD for Windows. These will join an ATI 5870 and a Xeon W3680 (3.33 six-core) in making the thing newer. It came with a 2.66 quad-core Xeon and a GT120. The 5870 is pretty old, and Nvidia releases Mac drivers for all their cards now, but the 5870 seems to keep up with Nvidia’s 570 in the real world, at least under Mac OS, so I decided to go OEM.
I’ll go into detail on the upgrade later, though, after I have time to install everything and stop weeping after having to pay $450 for a 5870. The fun project was tearing apart enclosures to harvest the delicious meaty platters within.
It was a straightforward job of butchering Seagate, Iomega, and Western Digital enclosures. The WD one was sensible — the disk was more or less suspended in a lightweight housing — but the Seagate one was a nightmare. The drive was more or less mummified in metal and plastic. I don’t know how the failure rate on these was as low as it was.
Worked out fine, though. 1TB for backing up the Mac SSD, 1TB for backing up the Windows SSD, and 3TB as a local copy of my media server.
My elementary school’s after-school program had “take-apart day”, where they encouraged clouds of pre-teens to demolish electronics, without providing any hope of reassembly. This may have been before people knew how much crazy toxins that would release. Actually, that might be why I don’t have a memory. At any rate, it was fun to re-live, and also to carve open drive enclosures with a Ka-Bar.
In other news that doesn’t matter at all, how ’bouts that purple. I used to think one didn’t see many bright yellow websites around, but then I saw some, so now we’re doing bright purple. Wait, I looked at Flickr. Okay now we’re doing orange. Now I looked at Ars Technica. Um, weird green, we’re going weird green.

Fixing one’s climate control

I couldn’t find a detailed guide to this, so I made one just in case.

The W123 HVAC is pretty funny, because half of it relies on vacuum actuators and stuff (if your center vents don’t work, that’s why), and the other half relies on PCBs soldered at 90° to each other and then subjected to (usually) diesel vibration for 30 years. Failure of the latter can cause the HVAC not to come on, to come on sporadically, or to come on full-heat or -cool. So re-soldering is a good way to go. Let’s do that…

Continue Reading “Fixing one’s climate control”


R. Monkeys and I both realized we liked Pokémon a lot c. 1998, so we decided that it’s on over the holidays. And because my response to challenges is to dump a lot of energy into areas that are tangenitally-related at best, I had to craft a Game Boy of untold power to wield, and it will slowly corrupt me like the Soul Edge. So It has the buttons and de-labeled back of a Pokémon Edition, the front of a yellow regular one, replacement little rubber button pads from a DS Lite, and the frontlight from an Advance SP. So I guess it’s going to shoot a stream of energy into the sky and start using me as its host.

At least it didn’t cost money that wasn’t spent years ago. I used to collect handheld game thingies, and while the good stuff was sold in, like, 2003, stock Game Boy Colors and a Pokémon Edition in rough shape are among the things still around. Those and a Game Gear. Hm, there was rarer stuff, like the Turbo Express, but I think the funnest were the Nomad and Neo Geo Pocket Color. The former was just a Genesis, and the latter had a bunch of weird Japanese RPGs and Match of the Millennium. There aren’t enough submarine RPGs.

Too bad I can’t find my old Red cartridge. My crack team of killers probably died long ago. I’ll have to do a “getting the gang back together” montage.


I have a few of the old colorful iBooks (a Tangerine and a Blueberry), which I like because they’re indestructible, and have a much more naïve design than modern Macs, which are quite Germanic and boring. The Tangerine is overclocked by 133mhz, has CompactFlash instead of a hard drive, and I re-celled the battery so it can get about 12 hours of life. It makes a great simplistic writing machine.

Of course, the essence of technological simplicity is needlessly complicating and overthinking it, then rationalizing more nonsense purchases. I like the FireWire iBooks because the colors are nicer (it’s less translucent and more white), and I also wanted to try a shady Chinese SSD instead of CompactFlash. So I got a preposterous KingSpec 16gb IDE SSD, and another iBook, a 366 Indigo. Here’s the procedure and a little test of the KingSpec.

Here’s the SSD. The mark of quality… must be around here somewhere…

There’s the computer with its keyboard off. In a nice world you could get to the hard drive from here, but the Clamshell iBooks (and every other iBook) are actually among the more notorious Macs to re-hard drive.

There’s the removal of the top case. Surely one can now get to the drive….

…oh. Then the EMI shield comes off. There’s the 60gb 7200RPM drive that I transplanted from a P4 2.8 Toshiba. I was going to overclock this computer to 433mhz like the older one, but Apple moved the resistors that you re-solder to do so in these second-generation clamshells, and I have no idea where they went.

At this point, I became paranoid that the Chinese SSD was playing cards, or nothing, so I took it apart.

There was actually real memory inside there. And it’s from Hynix, a brand I have heard of! I didn’t take the sticker off the controller to see who made that (I thought it might let the ghosts out). It isn’t JMicron, though.

There, now it’s in. I got this down to about 50 minutes from start to finish, so it doesn’t seem that hard. Putting the display back on is kind of annoying because the clutch cover has to go over some tabs, but it’s not bad.

Anyway, then I tried it out. It starts reasonably quicker—49 seconds from power-on to opening a browser, compared to 1:35 on the hard drive. The battery meter on the OEM battery jumped from 3:55 to 6:20, 13 hours on my custom battery, and of course it’s also silent. Here’s the XBench score; SSD on the left, HDD on the right.

You can see the SSD is a lil’ faster with small sequential writes, slightly slower with sequential reads and big seq. writes, and way, way quicker with random reads. That’s nice, because random reads are what a computer spends most of its time doing. For modern comparison, here’s my MacBook Pro’s 500gb 7200RPM SATA HDD (on a much faster bus, of course):

So the cheap Chinese SSD may have an awful controller, but it overpowers a modern HDD by a factor of 10 in small random reads, and that’s handy for making a computer feel quick. Although this one’s pretty CPU-limited. It’s a lot quicker than the CF “SSD”. So I’m pretty happy with this experiment. It runs OS 10.4 and WriteRoom just fine. My rationalization for keeping the other iBooks around will be “emergency Starcraft 1 LAN party laptops”. That actually happens sort of frequently around here, so I am being prudent.