Monday, September 14, 2015


I now continue my attempt to keep my 2009 Mac Pro relevant. As outlined
in my previous blog, I have performed several upgrades on my 'cheese grater'
since I bought it.  Recently, I 'flashed' the firmware on it and upgraded my
CPU's from a single Quad Core (2.66ghz) to a Hex Core (3.46ghz).  It was
a big upgrade, especially for compressing and outputting video.  But for
rendering video in the timeline, it's not quite as much next up,
I decided to upgrade the video card again, as many video programs
are starting to offload a lot of the work to the GPU card.  My
Mac Pro had the old GT120 (512MB) and a Quadro FX 4800 (1.8GB)
as the current graphics I started looking into options.

After a lot of research, I decided that the Nvidia GTX980 Ti would be a 
good candidate.  Now the GPU you decide on, can largely depend on
which programs you use.  Adobe and DaVinci Resolve, both make 
great use of the CUDA technologies on the Nvidia cards.  FCP X on the
other hand, uses Open GL/CL which is what the AMD cards are best at.
Now, I love Adobe's programs.  Premiere Pro, After Effects, Photoshop,
Audition and even a few new good ones like SpeedGrade and Prelude.
But what I cannot STAND is Adobe's new payment method.  No more
buying software.  If you wish to use Adobe's programs now, you must
pay them a 'subscription' fee, just as you might pay your cable company
or cell phone service provider.  You pay monthly, and once you stop paying,
the programs stop working.  So I refuse to use anything beyond Adobe's CS6
(which was the last version you could outright purchase from them.)  But
I do use DaVinci Resolve.  Which means CUDA is nice for Resolve, but 
Open GL/CL would be nice for FCP X.  It seems, that the Nvidia GTX980 Ti,
though, uses both technologies, and furthermore, it seems it's performance
benchmarks very well in both.  

Next I would like to give a shout out to MVC (Mac Video Cards).   These enterprising
computer experts, take video cards and 'flash' them with the Mac EFI.  Now with 
Yosemite, you don't 'have' to do this, if you don't need the Mac boot screen.  I 
actually have 2 different hard drives, and switch between which one I want to boot
from, by holding down option when I start up my computer....and without the boot 
screen, I wouldn't be able to do this.  I also like to support these guys, as they seem
to be trying to help keep the old Mac Pros viable, as long as possible.  So I bought
my GTX980 Ti from them.  Another option, which would be even better, would be
to buy an overclocked GTX980 Ti and then send it to them.  They will flash the
card for you for $180....and then you have the even faster GTX 980 Ti.  But even
the stock one is plenty powerful as you will see.

So I ordered up the card.  MVC got it to me pretty fast.

One thing that kept bothering me when I was doing my research, was that
if you just went and bought a 'unflashed' generic GTX 980 Ti, it said you 
needed a 6 pin power connector and an 8 pin power connector.  The 2009 
Mac Pro, only has two 6 pin power connectors.  But at MVC's site, it said 
the card came with two 6 pin power connectors.  Now I was pretty sure that
MVC didn't have any special version of the card, as I think they just buy them
and then flash them for you.  So, I just wasn't sure what to think.  But after 
I got it, the mystery was cleared up.  MVC sends you one normal 6 pin to 
6 pin cable, and one 8 pin to 6 pin cable,  along with the flashed card.  
There is no problem with anything,  it works perfect, you just need to plug in the 8 pin
end to the video card, and the six pin end, into the power supply in the Mac Pro.

And just slide the GPU card in like any other GPU card.  Now I will admit,
I misplaced my Mac Pro manual and it has been so long since I installed a GPU
in my computer, that I totally forgot how to do it!  Luckily, I had my handy 
iPad next to me and looked up an online PDF of the 2009 Mac Pro manual
and got the card installed.  Not too bad, but lets see how much it helped.

First up is a Cinebench benchmark

'Before' benchmarks 
Quadro FX4800 (1.8GB)

'After' benchmarks
GTX 980 Ti (6GB)

OK, so this card seems to have respectable OpenGL performance as well
as it's 2800+ CUDA cores....that's nice.  Next up is a benchmark in FCP X,
called 'BruceX'.  The following quote comes from 

"BruceX is a small Final Cut Pro X XML file that you import into Final Cut Pro. It creates a very short timeline at the highest possible standard resolution that Final Cut can handle: 5120 by 2700 (at 23.975 fps). It uses standard Final Cut generators, titles and transitions. As it uses many layers of complex content, it requires lots of GPU RAM."

So, first, I tried it with my old Quadro FX4800.  It took 2 minutes and 18 seconds.
After I installed the GTX 980 Ti.  I tried it again.   Hmmm...strange.  This time it
took me 4 minutes and 45 seconds.  What????  Then I thought it over.  My problem
was that I had left my GT 120 video card in my Mac Pro.  It doesn't need either one
of the power leads, as it gets all it's power through the slot.  I have heard, that is the
best way for using Resolve, you plug your monitor into the GT120 and free the 
980 Ti from having to drive the monitor, thus letting it only have to perform the GPU
calculations.  But my monitor was plugged into the GT120, and FCP X was using
that instead of the 980 Ti!!!  So I switched the plug on the back of my computer and
tried it again.  And it took......25 seconds.  Wow, that was insanely fast.  So I then 
tried some plug ins that used to choke up my timeline.  NewBlue Titler 3D.  Not
even a hiccup, it just let me spin 3D objects to my hearts delight without even
stuttering.  3D text in Motion 5 was the same.  Now I'm sure that part of my 
astonishment, comes from the fact that I am jumping from an old, underpowered
card, to one of the better video cards currently on the market.  But this really
is a big deal, I can just do SO MUCH motion graphic stuff and 3D content in real
time!  Motion 5 benefits quite a bit here too.  Fair warning, Resolve 12
may benefit from having a 2nd video card in to run your monitor, but
FCP X does NOT seem to.  It seems that it only wants to use the card
that the monitor is plugged into.  At least, that is the way it behaved for
me when doing the 'BruceX' test.   

Finally, I tried Resolve 12.  My timing was perfect as the first 'official' 
(non beta) release had just come out, the very day I got my new video card.
I have heard all kinds of complaints about it being 'laggy' and not performing
well as an NLE.  And to be honest, with my old video card, I really couldn't
even use it, it was really slow and not even usable for editing.  I fired it up....and....
presto.  Not even the same program.  Realtime playback (23.98fps) when using
the edit page.  I could actually edit an entire video in Resolve with this type of

In summary, I'd highly recommend this card, especially if you are using
a 2009-2012 old Mac Pro.  It will give your computer new life.  Now 
there is another card the Titan X (12GB) which is even better.  It is significantly
more money though, and the 980Ti benchmarks very closely to the Titan X
in most tests I have seen.  As usual, it all depends on your budget.

Gabe Strong
G-Force Productions Digital Cinema