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. 

Upgrading the Graphics Card in My Mac Pro

Upgrading the Graphics Card in My Mac Pro

I’ve finally gotten around to something I should have done a log time ago. I have finally upgraded the graphics card in my Mac Pro. I had been owing the original and extremely bad (by today’s standards) ATI 5770 and its paltry 1gb or ram. Amazingly enough I managed to get by all these years, but it was becoming increasingly problematic, so I finally ordered a replacement.

There was more and more software coming out that required metal support, and some features of various applications weren’t working properly. On top of that a few of the applications I wanted to test and write about needed Mojave, and I was stuck with High Sierra. So, I finally ordered a new card from Amazon, and the required other parts, and once they came I began the upgrade process.

The card I ordered was a Sapphire Pulse Radeon 580X 8GB. It’s been in my shopping cart on Amazon for the better part of a year, but the price kept dropping, and with sterling tanking recently, it reached the point where it was going to cost me around €200 and that was a a bargain so I bought it.

Installing the card was relatively straight forward. It does require extra power, so I also got a special Y splitter cable which connects to the two power supply ports on the motherboard. This was a stock card by the way, it has no flashed firmware, so you don’t get a boot screen. I wasn’t sure what to expect from this, but it works fine, and I’m sure you get used to it. It does present problems if you need to do certain things at boot up, such as selecting a disk.

Once I had the card installed I ran some quick benchmarks using GeekBench 4. I only ran the Open CL benchmarks, as I was using the trial version. The results in the Open CL tests showed that the card was significantly faster.

Next I wanted to try Lightroom. My old card didn’t support either the new GPU acceleration or Enhanced Details. When I fired up the software and tested it, I was upset to find that the GPU acceleration still wasn’t fully working, and enhanced details still produced errors. I was surprised by this, as this card is used in several current macs. I had recently had a conversation on twitter with someone who had the same issue, and I didn’t think it was right, but it was. I was really sure that this card had to be supported, so I thought that it might be an issue with still running High Sierra, so I decided to go ahead and install Mojave.

That was kind of a hairy experience. Because of the lack of boot screen support, the monitor was black through a large portion of the process. I wasn’t sure if it was doing anything or it had crashed and I just had to be patient. I very nearly turned the computer off, but I resisted and eventually the log-in screen came up. (It took a good 20 minutes or so)

Screenshot 2019-08-26 13.10.02.jpg

Once in Mojave, it felt even faster. I tried Lightroom again, and the problem was solved. Now, it supported both full acceleration and Enhanced Details now works properly. Enhanced Details is fast too. Much faster than it was on my old Laptop. When I first wrote about it (using my MacBook Pro) was taking me over a minute a shot for enhanced details to process. Now it does it in a couple of seconds.

There are other thing I still want to test too, which I’ll get around to shortly. I haven’t tried Capture One yet, but that supports GPU acceleration, so I presume it will be faster. I’m also looking to try FCPx as it should be much faster too. Finally, I can also check out Pixelmator Pro, which I’ve been longing to try and Pixelsugar from Totally Rad.

I know I could have probably gotten a faster card, but I’m pretty happy with the results for the money. I really don’t want to spend any more on this computer than I have to at this point. It won’t be supported by Catalina, so it’s pretty much the end of the road for it. Over the years I’ve put lots of upgrades into it including more ram, several hard drives and a SSD boot disk. It really is a testament to the computer and Apple’s engineering, that these systems are still so capable after such a long time.

It’s a shame Apple took the detour it did with the trash can Mac Pro, but now that the tower is back, it’s time to start saving! I figure I should be able to get another year at least from this one. I know lots of people were complaining about the new Mac Pro's but the old ones really were well built, and you can seriously get a good return on your investment over the years. If the new ones are as good, they will be a worth investment, even at the high price. I have never had a piece of technology that has served me so well for such a long period of time.

And its not done yet!

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