Mac Pro 3,1: Max Out Upgrade Order

So, I’ve had my Mac Pro 3,1 for a few months now and it does work great. It’s smoother than my 2012 MacBook Pro, despite having less RAM (10Gb vs 16GB in the MBP). Here are the current specs:

In addition to the 1TB Apple Time Capsule, there are also both DVD-RAM and BD-RW installed. It is successfully running patched Sierra, and the patch will work on High Sierra, at least so far.

My freelance writing, graphic, video, and IT went from a small bit of my income over the past few months to about 1/3rd of my income, so as my billables start coming in, I’m going to try to update the Mac Pro more. I was wondering where to start for the most bang for my buck. The goal is to eventually max the 3,1 completely out. Would it also be useful to do something like a Thunderbolt/USB-C internal card? Do those even exist?

It seems to me that despite being nearly 10 years old, this thing is pretty far from being obsolete, and it feels like there’s still a lot of potential to be upgraded left in it.


This isn’t an area I have played in (even if I was envious of those who did!).

OWC says up to 64GB of RAM.

CPU Power wise you’re talking about a pair of Xeon E5462’s vs Xeon X5482’s, I don’t know that there is a huge improvement there since you’re already running dual CPUs.

I found someone talking about this elsewhere, talking about upgrading from a single 2.8GHz CPU, in short, probably not alot of value unless they were free CPU’s…

Well, the only difference is the clock speed, so;

4x2.8GHz = 11.2GHz
8x2.8GHz = 22.4GHz
8x3.2GHz = 25.6GHz

3.2GHz 8-core would be theoretically ~128% faster. I think your best option is to get another E5462, they go for as low as 300 bucks on eBay. That will already double your performance if all cores can be utilized. 3.2GHz would offer only 14% better performance than 2.8GHz[/quote]

Found this link too where they did exactly that… back in 2008:

I may be picking up a Mac Pro 3,1 in the near future and would be interested in knowing how to get Sierra running on it.


So would you say that my first stop should be RAM? 64GB does seem excessive at least at the moment, although I could see me going up to that amount in a few years.

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That’s a hard one to answer. I’ve long been a fan of just maxing out whatever you have, but 64GB is pretty excessive for normal humans… that said it’s getting older and probably harder to get so grabbing it while you can is probably a good idea… but even so 64GB is still probably not worth the investment unless you really do things that would use it.

From memory my old 2009 17" MBP was upgraded to 8GB RAM and I was concerned about dropping down to 4GB when I upgraded that to a 2011 MBA. Turns out it worked just fine, even for the VM’s I was running, although that was probably down to the SSD more than the RAM. These days I’m running a 2013 MBP with 16GB RAM and it’s more than enough for me and I can’t see that changing anytime soon.

In your case, there are a couple of factors. How long will you keep the machine? Will it keep running the latest version of OSX? Do you do anything that needs more RAM?

What have you actually got in the slots at the moment?

2 x 1GB + 4 x 2GB = 10GB
2 x 1GB + 2 x 4GB = 10GB
6 x 1GB + 2 x 2GB = 10GB

I think that just grabbing two new 8GB modules (16GB) and adding that into your current mix will give you more than enough ending up with 24/26GB of RAM depending on your base config.

2 x 1GB + 4 x 2GB = 10GB => 2 x 1GB + 4 x 2GB + 2 x 8GB = 26GB
2 x 1GB + 2 x 4GB = 10GB => 2 x 1GB + 2 x 4GB + 2 x 8GB = 26GB
6 x 1GB + 2 x 2GB = 10GB => 4 x 1GB + 2 x 2GB+ 2 x 8GB = 24GB

Grabbing 4 x 8GB modules does give a small saving over upgrading later (shipping aside) and would push that up a little more but is going to set you back a bunch more for questionable gains…

If you haven’t already, invest in an SSD. SSD’s make everything better. Given space isn’t an issue a smaller SSD + larger spinning drive for storage is the best bang for buck. 240GB SSD’s are dirt cheap these days, even 512GB drives are pretty damn cheap too. I mean you could get a 2TB SSD, but I think that’s only worth it if you are doing something that really needs that much capacity and speed or if you had a portable that can only accommodate a single drive.
You could go all out with PCIe storage solutions for that little extra bump, but honestly, SATA is probably more than enough for this machine.

It’s worth adding up the cost of all the upgrades vs the change over cost to upgrading to a 2012 Unit (being the last model refresh before the trash can) remembering that you will get cash back for your current unit. Chances are you can find a 2012 machine with all of the upgrades already installed into a faster machine that is natively supported by High Sierra.

To answer your questions:

RAM Config:

Yui (my OS drive) is already an SSD. It’s only a 64GB, but it was one I already had in my MBP. I had two SSDs (250GB and 64GB with an optical drive delete kit), and I took the 64GB out and tossed it into the MacPro when I got it. Since I’ve like 4TB of storage in various configurations already, it didn’t seem necessary to get another 240, let alone anything bigger, for the MacPro. Also, the MBP is currently only at 120GB of the 250GB used on its current SSD, so…

To be clear, this MacPro cost me around $600 and as it is now was essentially a combination of mostly what was already in it plus what I already had lying around from years of previous set ups. Which seemed like a very good deal based on everything I saw comparatively in my area. It is also worth noting that I’m unlikely to have the money to front for a 2012, because that would mean having it all at once. The reason I was asking about the upgrade order specifically is because I know it’s going to be a process, even if it might be cheaper to buy a 2012. The majority of my income still comes from my job as a social studies and English teacher, I’m not in a position to be dropping thousands of dollars. A quick check of used Mac Pro prices in my area puts them between $1200 and $2400 depending on specs. I can’t imagine that’s economical. Maybe buying a 2012 in 2022 might make sense…

Personally I’d slap an SSD in there, even though the bus sill be older and won’t handle full speed it’ll whip the pants off a hard disk drive.

[edit] re-read and see that this has already been done, nothing to see here [/edit]

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OS disk is already SSD.

Here are some quick pictures of the internals:

My first step would be to leave the 3,1 and get a 4,1 or 5,1.

No point throwing money at a 3,1 these days. The 4,1 and 5,1’s are so much faster.

I have an 8 core 2.93GHz 4,1 and a 12 core 3.33Ghz 5,1. RAM and CPU upgrades for both these systems is extremely. cheap.

All up I’ve spent AUD$1000 which got me a 2010 5,1 Mac Pro (8 x 2.4GHz), dual 3.33GHz X5680 CPUs which I installed myself, 64GB RAM and an Nvidia 680GTX graphics card which was flashed with a Mac EFI by a mate.

You should look at doing something similar.


Uhm… The first sentence in the first post was that I only got the 3,1 a couple of months ago. It’s still a “new-to-me” computer. I’m not going to replace it for YEARS. The idea I’d consider replacing it after a few months…

I simply cannot afford the prices I was looking at when it came to 4,1s or 5,1s, and it took me a long time to feel the price had dropped low enough for me to go ahead and get the 3,1. Maybe AU prices are cheaper, but JP prices certainly are not.

This is typical, AUD this is about 2100:

I saw the comment that the computer was new to you, but I would rather you not “waste” too much money on a system that has its roots in 2005/2006.
I’m sorry to burst any bubbles, but I wouldn’t spend any money on the machine on components that can’t be swapped over to a later machine.
SSDs, graphics cards can all be moved. RAM, CPU upgrades can not, so unless you are getting them for peanuts, I would just save the money to go towards a generation or 2 newer.

The benefits of the 4,1 and 5,1 over the 3,1’s are there in spades. Bus interconnects are much faster, RAM and CPUs are faster. The CPUs support Hyperthreading, so my 12 core machine can actually run 24 threads.

When I first purchased my 4,1 (it was an 8 core 2.26GHz), it was faster than a family members 8 core 2.8GHz 3,1. He couldn’t believe how my “slower” clocked CPUs were outgunning his.

I would look at a quad core 4,1. This can be flashed very easily to 5,1 and a hex core 3.33GHz or 3.46GHz CPU installed very easily. This hex core machine (12 cores with hyper threading) will run rings around your 3,1.

Well here are the kind of options I have. Most of these prices are several months or more out of my price range:

I would also be a bit wary of spending too much on it - my main work machine is a 3,1 that I just upgraded again - because, even though they’re still quite capable, they’re rapidly heading for obsolescence. I just put some more memory and a USB 3 card in mine and the RAM for these is extremely expensive by modern standards.

The other thing worth keeping in mind with any cheese grater Mac Pro is that they use bucketloads of power. Mine uses 30W when it’s off, about 35W asleep and idles at around 200W most of the time. Crazy stuff. I can deal with that because my office is solar powered so I’m not paying for it, but it’s way more power than you need to be using. My quad core i7 Mac Mini barely uses 30W when it’s working and offers very similar performance.

One thing you might want to think about though is a new SSD. If you’re running a 60GB unit then it is probably old and definitely slower than a larger and more recent one. The way they’re built means there is more parallelism in the larger ones so, even with the same brand and model, the larger ones are faster. It may not make a huge difference, but SSDs are very cheap these days and you can always use it elsewhere if need be. A 250GB Samsung 850 EVO can be had for under $150 here now.

Yeah, I paid about $100 for an 250GB 850 Evo on an Amazon sale back in March. I was looking at some folks who took two of them in a striped RAID format and got rather insane speeds. Especially if placed in the PCI slot and not the SATA connectors. Which of course, can be taken out and put in something else.

If I don’t use it, then it was a $600 paperweight, so…

I have two SSDs striped in the PCI slot of my 4,1. Made a BIG difference to the speed. :+1:

Replacing the CPUs probably isn’t hugely worth it in a 3,1 with 8 CPU cores already. But definitely upgrade the RAM. Don’t go crazy, but get it to at least 24GB or 32GB.

But (arguably before all of that), you also need to get a good video card. macOS sings with a good discrete GPU. I just picked up a GTX680 for AUD120 last week (well hopefully - I have a sneaking suspicion I was conned on Gumtree! :frowning:) But either way they are readily available for AUD150ish. As long as you get one that has dual 6-pin PCIe power cables without question that’s the best bang for your buck after striped SSDs and RAM. Depending on what you’re doing, potentially even better before that.

I’d probably say:

  1. RAM
  2. GPU
  3. PCIe striped SSDs.

The benefit of 2 & 3 is they can both be transplanted to a newer 4,1 or 5,1 in the future if you so desire - or perhaps even an external Thunderbolt GPU or SSD enclosure…

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Thanks Jaysee! That’s exactly the kind of info I was looking for.

Surprisingly 10GB of Ram is really pretty much fine so far. My MBP 2012 is slower. In going to guess that’s the 2.5ghz i5 vs the dual processors of the Mac Pro. I don’t work with 4K sources and it handles 1080p at 60FPS just fine. Render times are fast to me. But I might want to start working with 4K, and it definitely can’t handle that. And I also don’t have a 4K monitor.

I feel like as I only have an NVIDIA GT 710, that a GTX something or other would be a major improvement. And maybe I ought to do that first.

So, following Jaysee’s advice, sort of, I went on the hunt for cheap enough parts. I searched pretty high and low all over Akihabara in Tokyo for cheap SSDs, bigger harddrives for storage, for memory, and GPUs. What I found was mostly dismaying. Memory is cheaper new on Amazon than even in the tiny little hidey-hole places. Similarly, there’s no purpose to buying used harddrives, the value just wasn’t there.

However, to my genuine delight, I found a MSI NVIDIA GeForce GTX 660 for AU$74. I thought that was a very good deal, considering. I did have to spend another $10 on the connector cable (6pin to micro-6pin) off of Amazon. The guy at the store said even in Akiba, they’re difficult to track down. However, as I have prime, it’ll be here bright and early tomorrow morning. Given that I have a random GT 710 I just bought and the current drivers now allow the Apple Logo/boot screen to be displayed with it, I suspect that will be the same with the GTX 660.

I hope to see a big boost in performance, I’ll let you know.

Here are the benchmarks for the original ATI and the first replacement card I got the Nvidia GT 710. Both cards are actually painful, and from the benchmarks I’ve seen people do, the improvement should be nearly 10x the GT 710 and like 15x the ATI card that original came with this Mac Pro?

I can’t wait to see how Premiere and Resolve run on the GTX 660.

Cable is in and woah:

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Due to various threads about problems, I haven’t actually updated this thread. Likewise, I responded a lot to @cosmichobo and @jaysee threads, so this is out of date.

As of today, I now have in the system:

The original 2x2.8GHz Xeons
RAID 0 2x250GB Samung 850 Evo SSDs (have PCI cards for them, but my Black Magic tests on speed have been inconclusive)
28GBs RAM (Jaysee sent some to me for postage)
1TB 7200 rpm Seagate HDD
250GB Western Digital Blue Windows Drive
ASUS Nvidia GTX 770 (Kepler, so like the 710 and 680, it should be compatible with Mojave, is compatible with High Sierra)
Original DVD-RAM IDE drive
Pioneer Blu Ray Burner

Externally I have:

LaCie 1TB (2x1TB) RAID 1 FireWire 800 external for backups
Apple Time Capsule 3TB for media I can access via any Mac in the house

I had a 680, tried to flash it, borked it. I may try to fix it, but I’m leaving the 770 alone. If I fix the 680, great, if I don’t… I don’t. Learning experience. I’m hoping to get the latest version of Mojave up an running today. Pictures to follow.

EDIT 1: Mojave 10.14.5 runs on the 3,1, currently doing the backup/clone dance so I can get Mojave on the RAID 0 SSDs while still having a nice solid backup of High Sierra on the 7200 RPM HDD.

EDIT 2: And we are all good!

And, I do hope no more fiddling until we have a reliable patched version of Catalina. I can thus shut the case for the first time in many months.

EDIT 3: This is why I am unclear about the SSDs. Raid 0 SSDs in PCIe cards, and I’m only getting between 350-450 MB/s (depends on the run, and what combination of PCIe card + regular SATA slot I am using), R/W. A far cry from the 900 MB/s R/W I was getting with these in RAID 0 on my 2012 MacBook Pro.

Obviously faster than even a 7200 RPM HDD, let alone a 5400 though:

And to be honest, I can’t really feel I experience a difference between the SSD speeds here and the speeds of my MacBook Pro 2012 (let alone my 2015 MBP with M.2), even though they’re obviously significantly faster. I am so used to 5400 RPM (the 7200RPM drive is a recent addition) drives versus SSDs, I can’t honestly tell the difference between SSD speeds and other SSD speeds.

As for that GTX 770, well, once Unigine Heaven finishes downloading, I’ll run it.

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