Upgrade your Mac Pro
he pre-2013 Mac Pro – and the Power Mac G5 that shared the same basic chassis design – was Apple’s most traditionally upgradeable Mac. Open one up by flicking a catch and removing the side panel, and you’ll get access to its impeccably laid-out guts.
The easiest thing to upgrade here is the hard disk. Well, we say ‘the’ hard disk, but there’s space for four of them. Your boot drive – the drive that came in the Mac Pro when you bought it – takes up slot one, but there are three empty bays just ready and waiting for more disks. All you have to do is get a SATA hard disk, pull out the little numbered caddy from the Mac’s line of bays and attach it to your new disk, and then slot it back into place. Once you start up the Mac again, it’s likely to be that you’ll be prompted to initialise the disk, but even if it mounts successfully, it’s worth loading Disk Utility to check what format and partition map it’s using. If it’s anything other than a GUID partition (for Intel Macs) with a Mac OS Extended (Journaled) format, you should repartition and/or reformat now, since any other options will either be slower or lead to other problems later.
(If you’re formatting an external drive, you might want to choose Master Boot Record and MS-DOS so you can share that disk with PCs, but since you’re realistically never going to do that with an internal drive, using the Mac’s native options is best.)
TThe drive of your life
You can pair up drives, too. For example, you might want to install two drives into spare bays inside a Mac Pro and have them mirror each other so that data is written to both at the same time; that means that even if one disk fails, your data isn’t lost, which is useful for missioncritical work.
You can also ‘stripe’ the drives for higher performance, but for really fast speeds you need a dedicated RAID controller; happily, you can actually add such a thing in a Mac Pro. The drives you fit in a Mac Pro or G5 should be 3.5-inch SATA drives, but be cautious about using very high performance models; the SATA connection in Mac Pros is SATA II – decently fast at 3Gb/sec but not the SATA III connection (which is twice as fast), and G5s are languishing with 1.5Gb/sec SATA I.
An SSD, too?
That doesn’t mean, though, that you shouldn’t consider fitting an SSD. While they won’t be able to hit the kind of sustained transfer speeds you could expect over a SATA III connection – for things such as copying huge files around the system – SSDs shine in quickly being able to find data from all over their storage such as during startup, and that’s the kind of responsiveness boost that can make an old G5 or Mac Pro suddenly feel like new again. While 3.5-inch SSDs are not unheard of, they’re pretty rare, so you’re more likely to get a 2.5-inch, laptop-style SSD and mount it in a caddy to build it up to 3.5 inches so you can fit it easily into a 3.5-inch slot.
The 8 and 12-core pre-2013 Mac Pros support up to twice the RAM – 128GB – as Apple’s options for the new Mac Pro, and it’s trivial to add more if you want, so go nuts if you need that much RAM!
Of course, there’s lots more you can add to the Mac Pro. Because it has full-sized PCI slots, you can add cards to give you more ports and more options. The OWC Mercury Accelsior_E2 SSD, for example, slots directly into one of the PCI lanes rather than going through a SATA connection, and not only offers huge speed, but also adds two 600MB/sec eSATA ports for connecting high speed eSATA peripherals such as RAIDs.
If you don’t need quite that speed but are frustrated with the FireWire and USB 2.0 speeds you get from your Mac Pro, you could add the RocketU Quad USB 3.0 for Mac, which, unsurprisingly enough, gives you four USB 3.0 ports. Unlike some USB 3.0 cards which are designed to work with drives from specific companies, this one is more broadly compatible.
Graphics card (in theory)
You can also upgrade the graphics cards in older Mac Pros; official cards are old and expensive, but you can use some officially unsupported cards. The only major problem is that you won’t get a boot screen, which could fox some troubleshooting steps.
You should (in theory) be able to upgrade the graphics cards in the new Mac Pro, too – it’s just that nobody’s made any that fit it yet. The good news is that upgrading the SSD in the new Mac Pro is really easy, and OWC has announced new 1TB and 2TB Aura SSD upgrades for it – more than you can configure, even with Apple.