AMD HD 7950/7970 vs NVIDIA GTX 680 for Mac Pro OS X

With the new options available in the Mac Pro video card world (at least for 2008 and later model Mac Pros), many people are asking which is the better card, AMD’s Radeon HD 7950 (or its bigger brother, the Radeon HD 7970), or NVIDIA’s GTX 680? The HD 7970 and 7950 are 3GB cards and the GTX 680 comes in 2GB and 4GB varieties.

The answer really depends on the applications you are planning to use. The AMD cards really excel at openCL, which is what Apple is pushing developers toward more and more. If you use Final Cut Pro X extensively, for instance, I would recommend going with the HD7950 or HD7970.

However, for any CUDA enabled app (Adobe Premiere Pro, After Effects, DaVinci Resolve, Octane Render, etc) you would definitely want the NVIDIA card, since AMD doesn’t support CUDA.

For general use, gaming etc, the difference is not so clear cut. We did notice that the GTX 680 4GB ran X-Plane on three 2560×1600 displays really well, while the 7950 struggled to keep up (X-Plane is openGL based, not openCL). In simple openGL benchmarks we found that GTX 680 performed about the same as the HD7970, and faster than the 7950.

The GTX 680 is quieter than the HD7970, and uses less energy. Both the 7950 and 7970 are pretty loud cards, especially the 7970.

Hopefully this helps in making your decision.

Which Mac Pro Models can be upgraded to 12-core 3.33 GHz CPU models?

If you are considering the 12-core 3.33 GHz upgrade (our most popular), and are wondering if your machine is compatible, or are considering buying a base model and then getting the upgrade done, here are some facts that might clarify things for you.

First, figure out what generation of Mac Pro you have.

– There are two generations of Mac Pros that can be upgraded to 12-core, the 2009 and 2010 models. (The 2012 model is essentially a rebranded 2010, so it can be thought of as identical to the 2010 model here.)

– Both 2009 and 2010 generation have two subvariants. The only difference is the processor tray, which comes in either single CPU or dual CPU varieties. So the four possibilities are:
1. 2009 (Single CPU Socket)
2. 2009 (Dual CPU Socket)
3. 2010 (Single CPU Socket)
4. 2010 (Dual CPU Socket)

– Other than the processor trays, all four of these machines are virtually identical physically, including the main the logic board That’s why you can upgrade the firmware from 2009 to 2010 to take advantage of the newer CPUs.

– We can upgrade any of these four machines to a 12-core 3.33 GHz machine. But, if the machine has a single CPU socket processor tray, you will need to pay for a dual CPU socket processor tray and heatsinks, which runs an extra several hundred dollars. However, if you could find a good deal on a single CPU socket machine, it may be worth considering this route. This method takes a little bit of extra time as we don’t stock the processor tray parts, and would need to special order them for the upgrade. We can send you a more detailed quote for this if you are interested.

So in short, if you are planning to get the upgrade done through us, any 2009 or later Mac Pro will work. But, you will pay more if your machine is a single CPU (4- or 6-core) machine.

Mac HDMI Enabler for HD 7950 Video Cards

7950PortsLabeledWeb

If you need to use the HDMI port on OS X and your Radeon HD 7950 does not support it natively, here is a driver that will activate the HDMI port on your card.

Note that this driver will need to be re-installed each time you update OS X (e.g. OSX 10.8.3 to 10.8.4).

An uninstaller is included if you would like to remove the driver for any reason.

Download the Mac HDMI Driver Package for HD 7950

Changelog
1.1 Added support for OS X 10.9 “Mavericks”

Enable CUDA video cards for Adobe Premiere Pro and After Effects on Mac

The CUDA Cards Enabler for Adobe Premiere Pro and Adobe After Effects (Mac Edition) allows Premiere Pro to recognize unofficially supported CUDA video cards, which will enable hardware acceleration in these Apps. Please note that this article applies only to Mac OS X.

PremiereProAfterEffectsCUDA

By default, some installations of Adobe Premiere Pro and Adobe After Effects will only recognize a handful of older card models for CUDA acceleration (Mercury Playback Engine for Premiere and the raytracing engine for After Effects), such as the GTX 285, while ignoring more powerful models like the GTX 400/500/600 series cards.

We’ve put together a simple Mac installer that adds CUDA acceleration support for those more advanced video cards.

Download the CUDA Cards Enabler for Adobe Premiere Pro and After Effects (Mac Edition)

Supported Video Cards

The CUDA Cards Enabler currently enables the following graphics cards for Adobe Premiere Pro and Adobe After Effects:

  • GTX 470
  • GTX 480
  • GTX 570
  • GTX 580
  • GTX 670
  • GTX 680

Instructions

Run the app to add support for the unofficial cards.

Please note that you will also need to have the CUDA driver running on your system. If you haven’t done so already, get the latest CUDA Driver from NVIDIA.

FAQ

  • This installer supports Adobe Premiere Pro and After Effects CS 5, CS 5.5, and CS 6.
  • The script will only work if you’ve installed the apps in the default location.
  • You don’t need to have both apps installed to use this installer.
  • The installer simply runs a script that makes an edit to a couple of text files (see below).

The Manual Method

If you’ve installed your apps in a non-default location, want to add support for a different video card, or simply want to make the edits yourself, here’s how.

Premiere Pro checks your video card against a list of approved cards it keeps in a text file called cuda_supported_cards.txt. If a match isn’t found, you will not have the option of enabling the GPU-accelerated Mercury Playback Engine. Likewise, After Effects has a list of approved cards in a file called raytracer_supported_cards.txt. Note that only the 3D Ray Tracer uses GPU acceleration in After Effects.

To add support for your card, you’ll need to add it to those files.

1. Determine the name of your card.

To do this you run something called GPUsniffer, which comes with both Premiere Pro and After Effects. Open the Terminal and type:

/Applications/Adobe\ Premiere\ Pro\ CS6/Adobe\ Premiere\ Pro\ CS6.app/Contents/GPUSniffer.app/Contents/MacOS/GPUSniffer

or

/Applications/Adobe\ After\ Effects\ CS6/Adobe\ After\ Effects\ CS6.app/Contents/GPUSniffer.app/Contents/MacOS/GPUSniffer

(If you’ve installed the app in a different directory, or are using a different version of the Adobe software, you’ll need to adjust the path accordingly.)

You’ll get a response that has a bunch of information about your video card. Depending on the version the output will vary slightly, but what we are looking for is “Name” under the heading “CUDA Device 0”, which is the first CUDA device found. It should look something like this: “GeForce GTX 680”.

GPU-Sniffer-Output

Select and copy that name, as it will need to be added exactly as seen (case-sensitive and space-sensitive) into our list of supported cards.

2. Add the card to the supported cards list.

You’ll need to make the edit with Admin privileges, so we’ll use Nano, a basic text editor that comes with OS X and runs on the command line.

Still in terminal, type:

sudo nano /Applications/Adobe\ Premiere\ Pro\ CS6/Adobe\ Premiere\ Pro\ CS6.app/Contents/cuda_supported_cards.txt

or

sudo nano /Applications/Adobe\ After\ Effects\ CS6/Adobe\ After\ Effects\ CS6.app/Contents/raytracer_supported_cards.txt

You’ll see the contents of the file, which should consist of a few video cards. On a new line, paste the name of your video card that you previously copied.

Now type CTRL-x to exit. Press “y” at the prompt to confirm that you want to save the file. Press Return to confirm the filename.

That’s it! Next time you open Premiere Pro or After Effects you should have access to GPU acceleration with your card.

Please note that not every NVIDIA card featuring CUDA technology will work with Premiere Pro and After Effects. Use this technique at your own risk.

Mac Pro CPU Upgrades

RevYourMac is now offering CPU upgrades for Mac Pro 2009 and 2010 models. Bring your system up to date with the most powerful computers Apple is currently offering!

Our recommended upgrades are:

  •  3.33GHz 6-Core (One Intel ‘Westmere’ W3680 60core CPU) for single CPU machines

The 12-Core upgrade can also be done on a single CPU machine; a dual CPU processor tray will be included in the purchase price.

Processor Trays

How does it work?

Upon purchase, we mail you an empty box with prepaid postage to send your processor tray to us. The processor tray is very easy to remove in a Mac Pro.

We’ll perform the installation and return the finished processor tray to you. Simply slide the processor tray back into your Mac Pro and you’re done!*

*Please note that to perform the recommended upgrades on a 2009 Mac Pro, you will need to upgrade the machine’s firmware for the new hardware to be recognized. An simple firmware upgrade utility, along with instructions, will be included.

Please contact sales@revyourmac.com for an upgrade quote.

Are My Mac Pro Expansion Slots PCIe 2.0 or 1.0?

Every Mac Pro comes with four expansion slots on the motherboard, which can easily be accessed by taking off the side panel of your machine. Your graphics card will be in slot 1, which is double wide.

MacProExpansionSlots

PCIe 2.0 (PCI Express version 2.0) supports double the transfer rate compared to PCIe 1.0.

MacPro 4,1 (2009) and 5,1 (2010):

  • Slot 1: PCIe 2.0 (x16)
  • Slot 2: PCIe 2.0 (x16)
  • Slot 3: PCIe 2.0 (x4)
  • Slot 4: PCIe 2.0 (x4)

Mac Pro 3,1 (2008):

  • Slot 1: PCIe 2.0
  • Slot 2: PCIe 2.0
  • Slot 3: PCIe 1.0
  • Slot 4: PCIe 1.0

Mac Pro 1,1 (2006) and 2,1 (2007):

  •  All Slots PCIe 1.0

Not sure which Mac Pro model you have?

PCI Express Lanes

What does “(x16)” mean? “x16”, pronounced “by 16”, refers to 16 lanes of connectivity in the slot. A 16 lane connection has 2 times the transfer rate of an 8 lane slot. This lane limit per slot is hardwired in the 2009 and 2010 Mac Pro models. Therefore, if you want to plug in an expansion card that takes advantage of more than 4 lanes, you would want to plug it into slot 2 (since slot 1 is already being used by your graphics card).

In the earlier Mac Pros, you can use the Expansion Slot Utility to alter the distribution of lanes across slots.

 

Adding a Solid State Drive (SSD) to your Mac Pro

Solid state storage has definitely become mainstream. More and more people are realizing that storage speed is a big bottleneck to their computer’s performance, and at the same time Solid State Drives (more commonly called SSDs) have become very affordable, especially in the smaller capacities.

After converting the boot drive in my Mac Pro to an SSD, I noticed the difference immediately in boot and shutdown time. Applications launched more quickly, and file operations sped up noticeably. But it wasn’t really until I tried using a system without an SSD that the difference really hit me. “My god, did I really used to wait so long for Photoshop to launch? And booting up, has the system crashed? No, it just takes that long for OS X to load from a hard disk.”

What is an SSD (Solid State Drive)?

This is a solid sate drive made by OCZ, with the case removed. As you can see, there are no moving parts, just chips on a circuit board.

This is a solid sate drive made by OCZ, with the case removed. As you can see, there are no moving parts, just chips on a circuit board.

As opposed to the hard disk drive (or HDD), which uses spinning magnetic discs to store and access data, a solid state drive (SSD) does not contain any moving parts.

Why is SSD better than HDD?

Because there are no moving parts, SSDs are essentially silent, generate far less heat, and are not as fragile as hard disk drives. But the most exciting part for computer users is the speed with which they operate.

While the fastest data transfer rate you can get from a hard disk drive is about 128 MB/s. These days, it’s not uncommon for a consumer level SSD to support a data transfer rate of well over 500 MB/s.

How does an SSD connect to my Mac Pro? 

Most solid state drives on the market today connect to your system just like hard disk drives, that is, via a SATA connector. A Mac Pro has four hard drive bays, each linking up with a SATA connector on the motherboard. Sounds easy, right?

Unfortunately, there are a couple of roadblocks on our way to SSD Mac Pro nirvana. First of all, the drive bays in a Mac Pro are built to accomodate 3.5″ drives, the typical “desktop” hard disk drive most of us are familiar with. But solid state drives come in the 2.5″ form factor, or “notebook” hard drive size.

To solve this problem, one solution is to use a replacement drive bay sled such as this one. Or if you want to spend beaucoup bucks, Apple sells an SSD in a sled for $999.

However, neither of these solutions is very satisfactory. That’s because the SATA ports in the Apple Mac Pro drive bays (and this includes the very newest Mac Pro model being sold currently) are SATA 2.0, or second generation SATA, in other words, old, slow, outdated SATA. SATA 2.0 has a theoretical limit of 300 MB/s (and a practical limit of around 275 MB/s). The current crop of SSD offerings use SATA 3,0, which supports up to 600 MB/s.

It seems a crime to purchase an SSD with a data transfer rate of 500 MB/s and plug it into a port that limits its speed to 275 MB/s.

SATA 3.0 SSD Solutions for the Mac Pro

To connect an SSD to your Mac Pro in a way that doesn’t hobble its speed, you need to bypass the hard drive bays entirely and use one of your PCI Express (PCIe) slots. In the Mac Pro universe, these are known as expansion slots. Every Mac Pro has four expansion slots on the motherboard; more than likely your graphics card is in slot 1, and you may or may not be using the other 3 slots. These slots give you much more bandwidth to play with than those measly SATA 2.0 ports.

OWC makes a line of integrated PCIe SSD cards, called Mercury Accelsior, with capacities ranging from 120 GB to 920 GB. These cards are very fast but expensive for the capacity.

My favorite solution is this SSD PCIe adapter card which allows the use of any standard SSD and supports a transfer speed of up to 550 MB/s. This is already pretty fast but you can use two of these and RAID the drives to get some truly wicked speeds. No drivers are required on the Mac, which is also nice.

SSD-adapter

PCIe 1.0 and Mac Pro 2006-2008

It should be noted that all four slots in the 2006/2007 Mac Pro, and slots 3 and 4 in the 2008 Mac Pro, use the older PCIe 1.0 standard rather than the newer PCIe 2.0. You really need a PCIe 2.0 slot to take advantage of either of the PCIe solutions I mention above. (If you don’t know which Mac Pro model you have, here is a guide.)

Which Mac Pro Model Do I Have?

The first step in determining which upgrades are available for your Mac Pro is to figure out which model Mac Pro you have. Since the Mac Pro models look (almost) the same physically, you’ll need to power on your computer to check.

MacPro

1. Click on the Apple logo at the upper left corner of your screen. If you’re in fullscreen mode, mouse to the top of the screen to make the menu bar appear. Choose “About This Mac”.

AboutThisMac
 

2. Click on the “More Info” button.

MoreInfo

3. Click on “System Report…” (Snow Leopard and earlier does not have this step.)

SystemReport

4. Look where it says “Model Identifier” – you will see something like “MacPro5,1”.

ModelIdentifier

Here is a list of the possible Mac Pro Identifiers:

  • MacPro1,1 (2006 Mac Pro)
  • MacPro2,1 (2007 Mac Pro)
  • MacPro3,1 (2008 Mac Pro)
  • MacPro4,1 (2009 Mac Pro)
  • MacPro5,1 (2010 and 2012 Mac Pro)