About Thomas Fitzgerald

Thomas is a professional fine art photographer and writer specialising in photography related instructional books as well as travel writing and street photography. 

Continuing to prolong the life of my old Mac Pro

Continuing to prolong the life of my old Mac Pro

I’ve been managing to keep an ageing 2012 Mac Pro as my main computer for nearly 7 years now, and from time to time its really been a struggle. Over the years I’ve added various upgrades and replacement parts, and its somehow managed to keep going, despite getting a tremendous amount of use. Lately though it’s been driving me mad. It takes nearly an hour to reboot - from off to being useable. The OS comes up in about two minutes, but by the time everything loads and settles down and is useable - it’s nearly an hour. This is partly because of a slow system drive, and partly due to years of bits and pieces clogging the OS

Note: This article was originally written on my Patreon page.

So I’ve decided to give it one last round of updates, to hopefully get another year or so out of it before finally retiring it to a back-up role. Yesterday, I upgraded the main system drive to an SSD and it’s made a huge difference, but it’s also been kind of a pain.

The reason I had waited so long is that my current system drive is a 3tb traditional hard drive, and its nearly full. Most of it is rubbish mind you, and the detritus of lots of software testing. I wanted to replace it with an SSD for a while, but I didn’t want to go through the process of cleaning it up or doing a fresh install. My previous system has been going for about 5 years, through various upgrades, and even cloning it onto another drive. As you can imagine, this was starting to incur some issues. Still, the longer it goes on the more daunting a “nuke and pave” can be. In the end though, I had no choice, as the computer was becoming borderline unusable.

I opted for a 1TB Sandisk SSD, as a friend who runs a post production facility uses them in his custom configured Mac Pros and he swears by them. For mounting I found this cool adaptor on Amazon from OWC, which lets you just insert it into the MacPro without having to go through a 5.25” to 3.5” adaptors.

While the drive is not as fast as what I could get by using an M.2 drive and a PCI card, it's substantially better than it was and it's more than fast enough for what I want for now.

To keep the system clean, I had no choice but to do a clean install on the drive. This was easier said than done. I messed it up the first time. When installing from the recovery partition, it wanted to format the disk as an AFPS volume, but then my MacPro can’t install High Sierra on an AFPS volume, so I had to go through a bit of a process to reformat and start again. I can’t install Mojave as my graphics card isn’t currently compatible - but that’s next on my list.

Finally, after installing a clean system it was time to put everything back on. This is the part that’s kind of a nightmare, but also kind of liberation. I was basically doing the Marie Kondo method on my hard drive. I’m only installing the applications that I use or need. Not so much sparking joy, as sparking revenue. Even so, there’s still a ton to do, between finding old plug in installers, license keys and so on. I’m 90% there but I’m still finding bits and pieces.

Anyway, this has taken up a surprising amount of time but it’s definitely worth it. Lightroom is much MUCH faster now, and Photoshop no longer takes an eternity to load. More importantly, the computer boots up in a few minutes as opposed to an hour.

At the end of the day, I’m amazed how versatile the old Mac Pro was, and I can understand why so many people were furious with Apple’s trash can design. These old one just keep going, and its so easy to replace parts in them. Every time you try to have a discussion with a hardcore Mac fan about this, they make the stupid argument, that people never really upgrade their computers anyway, but that’s not really the case and is kind of missing the point.

The reason, computers like these are poplar in a professional space, isn’t so much about upgrades, but it’s about being able to replace parts yourself, quickly and easily. If I had an iMac Pro, I’d be out of luck if the drive failed or needed replacement. I’d be without a computer for however long it took to replace. If anything goes wrong with my Mac Pro, its just a matter of popping the part out and a new one in. Since I’ve had this, I’ve replaced three hard drives, added a USB3 card, and external video card, and upgraded the ram twice. It’s getting old, but it’s still ticking!

For my next trick, I’m replacing the graphics card, which will hopefully give me metal compatibility, and I can upgrade to Mojave. I’m guessing this will be the last supported operating system though. Until then, I’ll keep it running as long as possible!

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