Monday, July 20, 2015

Mac(Gyver) Pro Upgrade

Back in 2009, I needed a new computer to take me through a transition
from SD to HD (yes, I was shooting SD in 2009!)  I ended up deciding
on a Mac Pro.  But I had a limited budget so I opted for a refurbished
single quad core instead of the more expensive dual quad core.
After all I was just worried about HD back then, I wasn't even imagining
4K (I still don't work with 4K but who knows...?)  This was the Mac I bought.
Because it was a Mac Pro, it was expandable,  so over time, I 'improved' it.
I bought 4 sticks of 4Gig RAM for a total of 16 gigs.  I bought
3 extra internal hard drives, giving me 2 separate system drives (so that
I could have different OS's on each one) and 2 drives I striped together into
a RAID 0 for speed.  I upgraded the video card from the stock GT120
to a FX 4800.  And I installed an internal Blu Ray burner so that I could
burn off Blu Ray movies of my HD productions.  Nice thing about these
Mac Pros is upgrading everything is really easy.  No tools needed, not
even a swiss army knife and duct tape!  It really is a pretty
nice machine and I've never had any issues with it.

Honestly, even in 2015 it still works just fine.  But I wouldn't mind some
more speed, mainly for encoding video.  When I produce long form
events (such as dance performances) I am often encoding a 2.5 hour long
timeline into both MPEG 2 (for DVD) and H.264 (for Blu Ray).
That can take awhile....more on this later!

I started some online research into options for upgrading a 2009 Mac Pro.
First thing I found out, is that the 2009-2012 Mac Pros are basically the 
same.  But the 2009 Mac Pro's have different firmware, which keeps them
from recognizing the newer CPU's that you could otherwise install into
them.  But there is a workaround.  An enterprising Mac 'hacker'
discovered a way to 'flash' your firmware.  You literally run it, and it 
makes your Mac think it is a 2010-2012 Mac Pro.  In your system profiler, it 
changes the 'Model identifier' from a MacPro 4.1 to a MacPro 5.1.
And the best thing is, it then lets you install off the shelf Intel Xeon 
processors!  However, while reading, I found another potential problem.
It seems the Mac Pros were using 'lidless' CPU's and off the shelf
Intels were 'lidded'....and you can't really buy 'lidless' CPU's very easily if
at all.  Basically what this means is that they wouldn't fit just right.
Not being a computer expert, I would have no idea how to remove the 'cap'
on the CPU.  There was a lot of info about this online.  Another video
professional, Erik Naso who writes a great blog, posted about how he updated 
his Mac Pro.  He had a 2009 dual quad core Mac Pro.  He bought a 'kit' from
an outfit called DN Computers for $549.  This outfit removed the lids
from the CPU's for you, and sent them to you along with a USB stick
which had the new firmware on it.  Read his blog about how he did it
here.  He does a great job showing how it all worked for him.

But then, just another page into my research, and I hit gold.  It
seems the 2009 Mac Pro single quad core processors did not use
'lidless' CPU's like the 2009 Mac Pro double quad core processors.
What that meant, was that I would NOT have to go through the
hassle of buying a 'kit' through a third party like Erik did.  I could
just buy an 'off the shelf' CPU and install it into my computer.
The best CPU I could find, was the same one's that Erik used, only
instead of installing 2 hex core CPU's, I could only install 1.
But still, it would be an upgrade from 4 cores running at 2.66ghz
each to 6 cores running at 3.47ghz each.  Plus it would only cost
$220 for the CPU and $3 for some thermal paste.  I found the 
firmware online, so no need to buy a kit with the USB key
like Erik did either!  You can find the firmware and instructions
here.  So I ordered the CPU's and thermal paste.  I decided to
'flash' the firmware while waiting for the CPU to come in.
Uh oh.  After downloading it and following the instructions I 
got a '5570 error'.  I did a quick internet search and found this
bit of information.
It appears Apple has removed/moved or otherwise changed the
location for the MacProEFIUpdate1.5dmg, which now causes the
Mac Pro 2009-2010 Firmware Tool to generate the dreaded 5570
error because it can't find it to download.  Aplle appears to have
renamed it to MacProEFIUpdate.dmg, the same name as the other
file needing download from Apple and can be downloaded 
here as others have mentioned in this thread:

So I clicked on that link and downloaded it.  Then I attempted
to flash the firmware again. worked.

After the CPU came in, I blocked off a couple hours
for the upgrade.  But, I really only needed 10 minutes.
It's that easy.  I removed the processor tray from the computer.
Then I unscrewed the heatsink (the big grey rectangle).  You can see there
are 5 screw holes, and you need a long hex key/allen wrench to unscrew
the 5 screws.  That is the only tool you need to do this upgrade.  And the 
screws will not come loose, they are spring loaded to the heatsink.  After the 
heatsink is unscrewed, you pull it off.

There will be thermal paste on both the old CPU (top picture) and the 
heatsink (bottom picture).  I used some 'touch screen wipes' to clean it
off with.  I used them because they are pre-moistened with isopropanol,
which works great to remove the thermal paste.  I cleaned the old
CPU just in case and packed it away in the new CPU package.
Then installed the new CPU and put a drop of thermal paste on top.

After I put the thermal paste on, I reattached the heatsink
and screwed it back on.  And that was it.  Next, to check 
out performance increases.  I had run Geekbench, and ran
another test (a self made video encoding test) on my
computer before I installed the new CPU.  Here are
the 'before' Geekbench scores:

And here are the 'after' Geekbench scores.

Well, that looks like a good improvement, but what does that REALLY mean?
Luckily I had thought of this ahead of time and decided to perform a 'real world'
test.  I had a 1.5 hour long event (dance performance) that I needed to encode
to both DVD and Blu Ray for clients to purchase.  This was a multicam
shoot using footage from a Sony FS700, Sony FS100 and Sony VG20.
Native AVCHD footage.  It was all supposed to be 24P (at 24mbps) but my 
second shooter had messed up and set one of the cameras to record at 60P.
Luckily FCP X will handle all that, synching the cams by audio and matching
the 60P stuff to the 24P framerate....but it did introduce a little extra strain
on the whole encode, which made it a perfect 'real world' test subject!
I sent the timeline from FCP X to Compressor.  I then dropped 3 separate 
encode settings on the file.  The first was a standard MPEG 2 encode to DVD.  
The second was a standard H.264 encode to Blu Ray.  The third was an encode
of the audio to .ac3.  So my CPU would encode this 1.5 hour long project three
separate times.  So here is the results from the old quad core 2.66 CPU.

Interestingly it took longer to encode to the SD MPEG 2 .m2v than it did
to the HD MPEG 4 H.264.  Maybe because of the downrezzing?  Anyways
3 hours and 24 minutes to encode a 1.5 hours of video into two different video 
formats and 1.5 hours of audio.  Faster than real time......but what about the
new CPU?  Well here are the results from the new CPU.

So 2 hours and 12 minutes to encode the exact same timeline into the
exact same video formats and audio format.  A time savings of 1 hour 
and 12 minutes.  Again, it took longer to encode the SD MPEG 2 .m2v
than it did the HD MPEG 4 H.264.  

So all in all, pretty easy.  If you have one of these machines, it's 
totally worth the upgrade.  I put together a video showing the
process.  It's not great as I just had a camera laying on the floor
and another on a tripod behind me.  Too eager to get this done to
do much production on the video I guess.  But I think if you watch this
video, it can answer any questions you have about the process.
Also, if you are interested in upgrading your MacPro you should join
the MacPro Facebook page.  Lots of nice people there who are much 
smarter than I am!

Gabe Strong
G-Force Productions Digital Cinema

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