Aw yuss, got my new little computer put together.
Aw yuss, got my new little computer put together.
Back in the game, okay? I had to sell my overclocked orange iBook that ran on CF cards, plus the indigo one I put a real SSD into a couple years ago, to pay for grad school, or at least groceries while at grad school. But now I’ve pulled this PowerBook 1.33 outta storage and gotten another iBook, so I’m all set to do it all over again, to create another Quake 2, StarCraft, and WarCraft 2 LAN kit. This iBook was walking-around money, not “save up for it” money — I wanna grab a Key Lime iBook, as well as a Cube, but those things are pretty expensive. Of course, it’s particularly stupid because I had both of those things, but sold them in early 2008 for a lot less than what I will undoubtedly have to pay for them now. My Cube even had a 1.4 GHz upgrade, wastrel that I was.
I’ll grab a Transcend PATA SSD for the iBook this time, to compare it to the KingSpec I put in the last one, as well as a 4400 mAh battery. Runcore and OWC also do a PATA SSD, but they use real parts for theirs, as opposed to things they found in their cereal boxes, so they are too expensive.
Always Be Concealin’
It’s a good thing neither of us wants kids, because if had any I don’t think I’d be able to resist introducing them to people as my off-site backups.
I sold the modified Mac Pro about which I have written previously, as well as the 11″ 2011 Air that served as a sort of tender to it. I replaced it with a 13″ 2013 i7 Air and a two-bay consumer-grade Synology NAS, and the Synology is such a pleasant surprise that I thought I’d ramble about it. However, unlike rambling about putting PC GPUs in the Mac Pro, there’s nothing experimental or new to find out. So, I will caution gentle readers — in a fashion that only a true and certificated Kentucky Colonel can employ — that this isn’t very interesting.
Aside from the extreme setback that a week without a computer posed to the sanctity of my digestion, the switch to the Synology was pretty easy. I backed up 3 TB of things to a USB drive from the Mac Pro and sold it, then I put a pair of 3 TB WD Reds in the Synology thusly:
They’re not hot-swappable, but then I wasn’t planning on that being a necessity anyway. When assembled and turned on, the Synology is fairly small and quite quiet. There’s a 92mm-ish fan that seems to default to a fairly low RPM which is generally inaudible (my Synology is hiding behind a row of books, so there’s some insulation), and the drives don’t exceed 34°C. It’s a nice little unit.
The Synology has two USB ports and knows what to do when you plug a drive in. Unfortunately, it cannot read Mac-formatted drives, so my way of getting 1.5 TB on to it went External drive –(USB2)–> 11″ Air –(WiFi)–> Router/Ethernet/Synology. This took 65 hours.
Once loaded, though, it’s great. Pretty fast, inaudible, etc. However, their software really sold me, and shamed me for having considered a Drobo or LaCie. I mean, really filthy shame. The caning, sirs, the caning. At any rate, their DSM OS is very sporty, and mixes powerful features including but not limited to a selection of BitTorrent clients, any sort of hosting (web/mail/forum/media/etc.), and so on with a graphical joie de nostril that salves those of us who know our way around a command line but feel that extended use of such is for foreigners and the unkempt. Do try their “live demo“. Here are two screen shots of nothing happening, because I am paranoid about displaying it showing anything real.
Although the Synology and the two 3 TB WD Reds cost as much as 650 generic-brand popsicles, I dare say that the result is enjoyable as at least that many popsicles. As Bob Lutz observed, after about ten popsicles the palate is bruised and sugar-worn. So I don’t think 650 popsicles is a great value for money, and thus the Synology is a justifiable expense for anyone who might consider one.
The Haswell Air is great too, but that’s not surprising. It was this or an outgoing 15″ Retina Pro. You can’t really go wrong, when it comes to consumer laptops. I will note that the 12-hour battery life is real and extremely nifty.
My Grande Designée was to ditch the computers that encouraged me to spend time on phatic tasks — that is, the Mac Pro encouraged tinkering, games, and things like that which are fun but relate to the silver box itself, and not extremely rewarding. So this simplification was a pain but for the best, I think. Similar to the new car; it’s not very interesting compared to the last one, but that’s sort of the point.
It’s not big news, but having gone from a dual-core, dual-thread laptop to the Mac Pro — having 12 threads maxed out while moving stuff from Flac to M4A is pretty neat.
(and that temperature is, fortunately, Fahrenheit.)
Pauvre Ramirez has bought the farm due to defective scrollwheelery. Now there is a new Ramirez with even more buttons. Long live Ramirez.
Update: Ramirez has been dismissed. Old Ramirez has returned, triumphantly. Long live the MX Revo.
I returned the EVGA because it just wasn’t worth the fuss, but then Nvidia started releasing their own OS X drivers, so I thought I’d give it another shot. I got another 670, an Asus DirectCU II, and tried it again.
Update from 2017: This post is five years old now, but lots of people still find it through Google. So I thought I’d update it just to say that I sold the Mac Pro with an Nvidia card to my dad, and it has been working fine through the various OS upgrades. Googling around suggests that the 10×0 cards work fine in Mac Pros too. I replaced my Pro with a MacBook Air and a custom gaming PC, but I think the 4,1/5,1 Pro remains a really good computer.
I thought I’d try dropping a GeForce GTX 670 into my Mac Pro, since apparently 10.8 can drive it (you just won’t get the EFI boot screens). I bought the 2GB EVGA 670 FTW, mostly since that has two six-pin power plugs. The top OEM card for the Mac Pro is the Radeon 5870, which is a good card but also pretty old, so — on paper — the 670 is a nice upgrade. The 670 is actually a little cheaper, too. The drivers in Mac OS are still pretty immature, so my goal was to get equal-or-slightly-better performance for now, and way better performance in Windows.
Installing it is pretty straight-forward, if you’ve ever done computer stuff at all. Here’s my Mac Pro as it sat, with the 5870.
The 670 is a little smaller.
The 670 dropped right into the 5870’s spot, and hooked up to its power plugs. These are standard parts, of course, so if it didn’t that would mean I’m really dumb. You can see that I also put in a little PCI fan (powered from the spare optical drive SATA port, and a SATA-to-Molex adapter). This pushed a lot of air, but it was really noisy, and it didn’t seem to make much difference; the only thing making much heat in the PCI bay is the GPU (the rear hard drives being idle most of the time), and both the 5870 and 670 keep their heat fairly contained in those plastic shrouds, and push it out the back. Maybe the fan did a little something, but it wasn’t worth the noise. So, the little PCI fan is gone now.
So I did that, and it booted. That was nice. You don’t get the grey boot screen (the video drivers loads when the OS does, so it appears to boot straight to the desktop). With the fast SSD booting, it was just, like, “push button, wait 20 seconds, be at desktop”. The obvious problem is that if you find yourself looking at the startup manager a lot, this is a bad solution — you no longer get that. In that case, it’s worth keeping things OEM or finding a flashed Nvidia card that gives you the boot screen.
Anyhow, it worked just fine. I went to run benchmarks, and LuxMark couldn’t load. No OpenCL. So I found a fix from Netkas, installed it, and hey, liftoff. So, here are benchmarks and observations.
Here’s LuxMark doing Sala. That’s a pretty solid improvement. I would have hoped for a bit more, but I’m not complaining. Of course, the real strength of an Nvidia card over ATI is CUDA; the 670 is probably about six million times faster in After Effects.
Wait, crap. Check the GFX details; the 5870 is the first result, and the 670 is the second result. That’s annoying. Cinebench is pretty dated these days, but the numbers went down! My precious numbers! Well, Kepler drivers are immature. Hopefully this changes over time.
Now, games. Everything was tested at 2560×1440 at the highest detail settings.
Starcraft 2 gained about 10 FPS (61 vs 50, average) on the 670, tested playing a Bly v. Tarson replay. So that was cool; you can see that Barefeats got the biggest improvement on a 570/580 from SC2 at those settings. Then I tried Civ 5; not only was it slower on the 670, it was kind of glitchy. Source games don’t really tax the 5870, so it’s hard to see much improvement in practical play, but the 670 was about 15% faster across Portal 2 and L4D2. L4D2 did have a weird bit of stutter when levels started. Dirt 2 ran great on both cards, although it remains a super-annoying game. Cities in Motion was, I think, slightly slower on the 670, but played fine. It gets jumpy with a huge map and the fastest game speed. The Sims 3 was just about as fast, too. Weirdly, Diablo 3 didn’t improve at all — you’d think whatever worked for SC2 would work for D3, but no.
My wrapped version of Skyrim was the only game here that wasn’t really playable on the 5870 at 2560/Ultra, so I was excited to see what the 670 did. It did nothing, actually; the game was still jumpy. If I had to cork sniff, I’d say the 5870 was more consistent — the 670 seemed to do a little better as long as you were standing still, and a little worse when you turned. This isn’t really a reflection on either card.
Everything else worked fine. I’d heard people saying that Steam didn’t work with PC GPUs — it did. All my non-game programs worked as well as before. Temperatures were about the same as before, and the 670 managed its fan just fine (it’s quieter than the 5870, which made me nervous). Restarting in Windows showed off what the 670 could actually do, of course, although I found the difference marginally underwhelming in stuff like New Vegas and World of Tanks. But then, they’re not taxing anyway, and the only tricky stuff for the 670 to add is anti-aliasing. Anyhow, the 670 in Mac OS is pretty much as fast as the 5870 except if you like Civ 5.
I ended up a little conflicted. The 670 is better than the 5870, depending on what you’re doing, but not by that much in most cases except for CUDA. It’s unsupported, and there were a couple glitches. The 5870, in comparison, is an OEM card that developers (presumably) test against, so you won’t see much in the way of issues, and it’s still the fastest OEM Mac GPU by a comfortable margin (over the iMac’s 6970M). However, the 670 is definitely faster in Windows, and there’s a lot of potential for the Mac drivers to improve and let the 670 really go nuts.
I got a bunch of questions regarding the 3.33 six-core swap in my Mac Pro, so here are answers:
So I just finished the W3680 swap. Really easy, and no troubles with the software side of things. I have the base 2009 Mac Pro, with the W3520, and it’s okay. But because the Pro is a sensible computer, you can put a newer processor in. And I got a great deal on the 3.33 six-core, which is what has come in the top single-processor Mac Pro since 2010. All this also applies to putting a W3670 in the 2009 Pro. That’s the six-core 3.2, which is pretty much as fast and about $100 cheaper.
The only things you need are the W3680, some Arctic Silver thermal compound and thermal compound remover (Amazon or NewEgg has the ArctiClean kit that comes with remover and “purifier”), a long 3mm Allen key, and the Mac Pro Firmware Upgrade Utility (you have to register to download).
The first thing to do is to use the firmware upgrade utility to make your Mac Pro think it’s a 2010. That’s one click. It’ll still identify itself as a 2009 in the System Information panel, but I believe that pulls its information from the serial number; the computer itself behaves as a 2010, and you’re clear to install the newer processor with B1 stepping. It’s worth pointing out that the W3680 is the same chip used in the 2010+ Mac Pro, as is the firmware, so this is all OEM — no weirdness.
Once the software is done, it’s just like swapping the processor on any other computer. Actually, it’s easier, since the processor lives on a daughterboard. Pull that out:
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.
When you burp into Google Voice Search, you get this: