macpro build - day 0

macpro build - day 0

May 12, 2020

Now that we now what we’re going to try to do here and why, let’s formulate some kind of plan for this project.

the plan #

I’m going to start with the lowest spec 2 processor tray. I might have been able to find a better deal on a single processor machine and then source a dual proc CPU tray, but from a cursory search of ebay and craigslist, that might take a while, and I’m a little concerned about extra shipping cycles and part availability. Ultimately, I landed on:

Apple Mac Pro 5,1 MC561LL/A (2010) 8 Core/16GB/1TB/ ATI Radeon 5770

(Note that the 8 Core specification spells out two quad core CPUs)

More details around that particular Mac available here.

Most of those specs are stock - that is the GPU that shipped with that machine in 2010, which is important for getting the bootscreen and will be a useful thing to keep around for troubleshooting, and a 1 TB 7200 RPM rotating drive also could well be original. The RAM isn’t stock (the original machine shipped with six 1 GB DIMMs), but that’s a super common upgrade, and I don’t imagine we’ll need the factory RAM for anything.

From the listing, the machine is running High Sierra. Unclear which firmware it will ship with.

What’s the plan?

There are a few interlocking steps here. To upgrade from High Sierra to Mojave, I’ll need a metal capable graphics card. Switching to a metal capable graphics card probably means giving up the boot screen (there are flashed firmware cards, and folks who offer firmware flashing as a service, but I don’t think it’s worth it for my use case). I’ll likely end up running OpenCore anyway to allow me to update to Catalina with hardware acceleration and Thunderbolt 3 support, so the boot screen isn’t a big loss.

So I need a metal capable GPU. I’ve gone back and forth a bit, trying to decide between the 5700 XT and the Radeon VII. The 5700 XT is a newer Navi card, with some significant benefits to power draw and cooling. They’re both 7nm processes, but the Radeon VII is much more power hungry. To the Radeon VII’s credit, it appears to benchmark better than the 5700 XT in several performance characteristics, and, most importantly, is supported in both Mojave and Catalina (the 5700XT requires a relatively new version of Catalina). Both would likely require modifying my power supply. In the end, I landed on the Radeon VII for the slightly increased flexibility, slightly better performance and slightly better price. I will need an interim card, a card that runs in both High Sierra and Mojave so that I can perform the litany of firmware updates and the crucial update from High Sierra to Mojave. It will also take some time to get the parts required for the power supply mod, so I’ll be using an MSI RX 580 Armor 8G OC with a dual mini 6 pin to 8 pin power adapter in the interim.

I’ll keep the 1 TB HDD on High Sierra so that I can use the original 5770 (once I upgrade to Mojave, the 5770 won’t be able to boot the OS). The plan starts to look like:

  1. Document and benchmark the initial system
  2. Run High Sierra firmware updates, wipe 1 TB HDD and clean install High Sierra
  3. Install Radeon RX 580. Power the card with a dual mini 6 pin to single 8 pin adapter.
  4. Run all firmware updates bundled in the Mojave installer. This will bring the machine’s firmware to, and crucially adds the ability to boot off of NVMe drives.
  5. Install PCIe NVMe bifurcation Riser and boot NVMe drive in slot 2
  6. Install Mojave to NVMe drive. Remove 1 TB HDD, store in safe place.
  7. Flash Titan Ridge thunderbolt 3 card
  8. Install Thunderbolt 3 card
  9. Upgrade CPUs
  10. Upgrade memory
  11. Perform pixlas mod on power supply
  12. Install Radeon VII
  13. Upgrade optical drive to Blu-ray drive
  14. Install Windows 10 (to either SATA SSD or, if I’ve installed OpenCore, to the second NVMe drive)

componentry #

This will leave me with a machine that looks like (from the bottom of the box up):

CPU Tray2 x Xeon 5690 (32 nm 6 core, 12 thread 3.46-3.73 GHz processors)
Memory Slots96 gigabytes (6 x 16) DDR3 ECC memory at 1333 MHz
PCIe Slot 1Radeon VII
PCIe Slot 2Syba I/O Crest SI-PEX40129 Dual M.2 NVMe Bifurcation Riser
Syba Slot 11 TB Samsung 970 Evo NVMe (macOS boot drive)
Syba Slot 21 TB Samsung 970 Evo NVMe (Windows 10)
PCIe Slot 3Sonnet Allegro USB-c 4 port PCIe card
PCIe Slot 4Gigabyte GC-Titan Ridge Thunderbolt 3 card
Drive Bay 18 TB Seagate HDD (Time Machine, EFI host for OpenCore)
Drive Bay 23 TB WD Red HDD (Mac rotational storage)
Drive Bay 33 TB WD Red HDD (Windows rotational storage)
Drive Bay 43 TB WD Red HDD (Vanilla Mojave bootable snapshot, for OpenCore troubleshooting)
Optical Drive Bay 2Empty
Optical Drive Bay 1LG WH16NS60 16x Internal Blu-ray BDXL M-Disc Drive (flashed for UHD rips)

references #