Mac Pro Tower Reborn by Marco Solorio

Mac Pro Tower Reborn

Marco Solorio Editorials, Reviews 75 Comments

After many months of research, Marco Solorio of OneRiver Media decides to finally upgrade the master edit suite’s Mac Pro tower with new hardware to aid in the ever growing need for more power. Is this silver cheese grader of old still worthy of such a task?

When the Mac Pro Trashcan was announced in 2013, I was pretty impressed with how much power was crammed in such a small package. But like many people, I was hesitant to jump on board. For starters, the configuration I’d need (want) would be upwards in the $10,000 zone. The last time I dropped $10,000 on a computer workstation was back around 1996 on a Daystar Genesis MP800+ (a quad 200Mhz CPU Mac clone, at a time when clone makers were running performance circles around Apple).

The next problem was the lack of upgradability in these little black cylinders. The lack of PCIe slots is a big problem for us, as are the non-upgradable graphics cards. Yes, those dual ATI cards pack a punch… for the time being. But frankly, I’ve always been a fan of Nvidia cards, so the ATI cards aren’t a selling point for me. The Thunderbolt integration is fantastic (something I wish the Mac Pro tower could do), but even the Trashcan’s thunderbolt has limits with regard to using a PCIe expansion chassis. All in all, the lack of upgradability with these new black Mac Pros has always been a big red flag.

So what about a Windows solution? We actually have some Windows boxes in our facility and I’ve never been opposed to using the Windows platform. I do however have a number of software licenses that are specific to Mac and in preference I’d rather stick with OSX. I admit, many of these licenses are starting to become floating, in that they can cross between platforms if need be. In the end however, I do prefer the Mac operating system if given the choice.

So this leaves a final alternative: upgrading our existing Mac Pro tower. Even just a year ago this was a fairly expensive option but prices have really come down and computational power has increased. It just made the most sense for us to go this route, as this would allow us to keep our PCIe slots and continue to expand our GPU power as technology grows.

Here’s a list of all our main upgrades:

  • Dual-CPU 12-core 3.46GHz Xeon Processors
  • Nvidia GTX Titan X 12GB GPU Card (Mac Flashed)
  • 64GB DDR3 PC10600 1333MHz SDRAM (will add another 64GB for 128GB total)
  • Sonnet Tempo SSD Pro Plus Storage Controller PCIe Card
  • 2 x Samsung 850 Pro 1 TB 2.5-Inch SATA III Internal SSD
  • 2 x HGST Deskstar NAS 3.5-Inch 6TB 7200RPM SATA III 128MB Cache Internal Hard Drives
  • 1 x HGST Deskstar 4TB Internal Hard Drive

MacPro Upgrade Parts

The Breakdown

Dual-CPU 12-core 3.46GHz Xeon Processors
This 12-core CPU upgrade (and the GPU upgrade) were the main reasons for making the decision to even upgrade in the first place. With prices having dropped on these CPU upgrades, it made sense to finally bite the bullet. My friend and super nice guy Erik Naso did an incredibly detailed how-to blog post on this very upgrade and I advise anyone interested in performing this upgrade to check out his blog post. In short, this upgrade bumps up the core speed of the Mac Pro 4,1 (early 2009 model) by leaps and bounds. And at $550, it really seems like a no-brainer.

Dual 3.46Ghz CPU 12-core

Nvidia GTX Titan X 12GB GPU Card
The 12-core CPU upgrade is only part of the equation. With the Titan X GPU upgrade, the system starts to become a true workstation to really churn through computational intensive processes. I almost opted for a standard Titan X card (B&H, Amazon), but I decided to go with the Mac-flashed Titan X cards that MacVidCards modifies and sells. This allows the boot screen to function as well as a few other tasks. One of the biggest selling points about this card is that it can use the Mac Pro’s existing power supply, rather than investing in external (and sometimes messy) power supplies. Although I was eyeballing the Titan Z (B&H, Amazon), that card hogs up 3 PCI slots (and requires external power) where the Titan X uses 2 standard slots like most large GPU cards.

Keep in mind that the Titan X on a Mac Pro isn’t using the full PCIe V3 processing power the card is designed for. But for us, the 12GB of vRAM is what’s also helping our various 3D applications, so the card made sense for our particular needs. If you want to save some cash without needing 12GB of vRAM the Titan X offers, then you might want to look into other Nvidia cards, such as the GTX 980, 970, 760 or all these as Mac-flashed options (recommended).

nvidia titan x gpu graphics card

64GB DDR3 PC10600 1333MHz SDRAM
The CPU upgrade allows you to keep using your existing PC8333 RAM should you want to, but I didn’t want any potential bottlenecks if I could avoid it, so I opted to buy a new set of 64GB PC10600 RAM (16GB x 4) from Other World Computing. A second 64GB kit will be purchased shortly to maximize the potential all of our memory-hungry applications to 128GB. Note that this PC10600 RAM upgrade will ONLY work with the 12-core CPU upgrade.

Sonnet Tempo SSD Pro Plus Storage Controller PCIe Card
One of the biggest bottlenecks in our Mac Pro tower has been the internal hard drive for the operating system. All of our non-desktop computers have been solid state driven and knowing the big benefits of that, I decided it was time to add internal SSDs to this upgrade. But rather than simply plugging an SSD to the existing 3GB/s buss of the Mac Pro tower, I decided to try out the Tempo 6GB/s SSD PCIe controller from Sonnet (B&H, Amazon). This allows me to basically add a pair of SSDs directly to the PCIe buss plane to maximize bandwidth speed. The SSDs themselves can be RAIDed together in various forms, but I decided to stripe them as RAID-0 for maximum data rate and maximum data size (2TB combined) while continually backed up on a daily basis (word on that in a moment). Oh and the Sonnet PCIe card also adds external eSATA ports which is cool. We’re not currently using those external eSATA ports, but I definitely like the option in case we decide to use them. We decided to take a chance and buy the Addonics eSata-based CFast Card Reader/Writer for our CFast 2 cards and it works great using the external eSata ports on the Sonnet Tempo SSD card! 128 gigs of CFast 2 footage transfers in about 3 to 4 minutes directly to our RAID. No complaints there.

Sonnet SSD PCIe Samsung 840 Pro SSD

Samsung 850 Pro 1TB 2.5-Inch SATA III Internal SSDs
I decided to buy the 1TB Samsung 850 Pro SSDs (B&H, Amazon) to install into the Sonnet controller card. We decided on the “Pro” model over the standard model as there appears to be some performance advantages with the Pro models. Although SSDs will inevitably be shipping in sizes greater than 1TB, it’ll still be a little while away and the initial high prices will be staggering. So for now, we’ll use 1TB drives as a 2TB RAID. As 2TB and 4TB SSDs become available and more importantly, become affordable, we’ll switch out the current Samsung Pro SDDs for those. For me, it’s all about upgradability when the time arises and this system lets me do that.

6TB HGST Deskstar NAS 3.5-Inch 7200 RPM Internal Hard Drives
Because the Samsung 850 Pro drives are only 1TB each (2TB total in RAID-0), they will be assigned for the operating system and caching duties only. For document storage (non video file based), these 6TB 7200 RPM HGST Deskstar NAS drives (B&H, Amazon) will be used instead. These two 6TB drives will be mirrored in RAID-1 format so that if a drive fails, we still have another functional drive while the bad drive gets replaced. Hopefully this never happens, but if it does, we’re prepared. And because these drives are 7200 RPM, we should be in good shape performance-wise. These drives will merely load project files and such. The true file-based horsepower will come from the dual SSDs and our external 8-disk RAID-5 system.

4TB HGST Deskstar 7200 RPM Internal Hard Drive
This was actually a new spare 4TB drive (B&H, Amazon) we had on hand and decided to use it as our internal Time Machine backup for the 2TB SSD RAID-0 boot drive. Although we don’t really need the performance this 7200 RPM drive offers, it didn’t cost us anything extra to use it, so we opted to use it for this backup configuration. If you want to save cost while increasing storage size, a basic 5400 RPM “Green” drive (B&H, Amazon) is adequate for this task.

Internal Configurations

Our PCIe slot configuration is pretty straightforward:

  • Slot 1 (16x) Nvidia Titan X GPU card (#1)
  • Slot 2 (8x) Sonnet Tempo SSD Controller card with 2 Samsung 850 Pro 1TB SSDs RAID-0 (#2)
  • Slot 3 (4x) RAID Controller card for external 8-disk RAID for video media (#3)
  • Slot 4 (4x) Blackmagic Design 4K Extreme video capture/output card (#4)

The hard drive bays are also straight forward, from left to right:

  • Bay 1: 6TB HGST Deskstar NAS 7200 RPM Internal Hard Drive (RAID-1) (#5)
  • Bay 2: 6TB HGST Deskstar NAS 7200 RPM Internal Hard Drive (RAID-1) (#6)
  • Bay 3: HGST Deskstar 7200 RPM Internal Hard Drive (Time Machine) (#7)
  • Bay 4: Previous OSX system hard drive as optional emergency boot drive (#8)

Optical drive bays from top to bottom:

  • Original Apple DVD-RW optical drive (#9)
  • Empty bay (#10)

MacPro Open Parts

Number Comparisons: Upgraded Tower vs. Maxed Trashcan

  Mac Pro Tower Mac Pro Trashcan
Cost $3998.48* $9,599.00 (Apple Store)
CPU Dual X5690 3.46 GHz Intel Xeon 12-Core 2.7 GHz Intel Xeon E5 12-Core
RAM 64GB (4 x 16GB) DDR3 PC10600 1333MHz (128GB max) 64GB (4 x 16GB) DDR3 1866MHz (64GB max)
System Storage 2TB PCIe-based RAID-0 SSD 1TB PCIe-based flash storage
GPU Nvidia GTX Titan X 12GB GPU Dual AMD FirePro D700 GPUs with 6GB of GDDR5 VRAM each (non-upgradable)
Thunderbolt N/A 6 x Thunderbolt 2
PCIe Slots 16x, 8x, 4x, 4x N/A (limited via Thunderbolt Expansion)
Internal drive bays 6 0
*Notes cost of upgrade only and not Mac Pro Tower itself. Cost of used 4,1 Mac Pro Tower range from $500 to $1000 for a minimal system needed for this upgrade. Upgrade cost includes CPU upgrade, Sonnet Tempo card, and two Samsung Pro SSDs.


I decided to stripe these two new RAID systems (2TB SSD RAID-0 and 6TB HDD RAID-1) using SoftRAID, rather than the OSX Disk Utility app. Apparently SoftRAID is optimized for SSD RAIDs, but even outside of that, I do like the additional options SoftRAID provides that Disk Utility does not. And if you buy it from this link, you can get it at lower cost that directly from SoftRAID.

Off the bat, I’m getting around 950 MB/s (note the capital “B”, as in megabytes, not megabits) read speeds with the SSD RAID-0 setup and about 800 MB/s write speeds. This is a speed increase by leaps and bounds compared to the original system hard disk drive. Boot times, application load times, caching, it’s all way faster and responsive. This alone makes it feel like an entirely new computer workstation.

bmd disk speed test

Since the new 12-core 3.46GHz CPUs were added at the same time as the new PC10600 1333MHz RAM (and everything else), it’s tough to say how much faster the RAM is, but the CPU times are definitely better as well. Rendering has been improved, which was the goal of this upgrade.

I’m also enjoying the benefits of having a dedicated 7200RPM RAID-1 Documents drive for all project files. Again, this doesn’t have to necessarily be a fast drive, but paring 7200 RPM drives in RAID-1 mirror looks to have been a good choice.

The Nvidia Titan X with its 12GB of RAM is also a nice improvement. Resolve is able to handle 4K timelines with ease, even with several nodes doing their thing. I do drop the frame rate by half by adding a bunch of blurs and such, but otherwise, performance is great. One thing to note is that adding denoising in Resolve unfortunately adds processing noise when using this card. This is a known bug and sounds like it may be “Resolved” upon version 12’s release. Other applications we use with heavy graphics processing is also seeing the benefits, like After Effects 3D (standard and Raytracing), Lightwave 3D, and more.

With all that said, there still seems to be a few general computer functions that don’t seem to be improved with these updates, mostly in regards to OSX interface operations and such. Not a huge deal, but still surprising.

Was it worth the upgrade? I believe so, but some may feel the investment is still too high for these improvements. As an operating facility, every ounce of speed boost we can get out of these machines, the better, so the investment was worth it. The best part is, you don’t have to do everything in one big swoop like we did. Maybe start with just the CPU upgrade first. After that, maybe upgrade the GPU card. Then maybe the SSD boot drive. The bottom line is that you can upgrade what and when you see fit. I’m just happy we’re still able to use the original MacPro tower form factor. It’s highly unlikely Apple will ever build another tower like this again, so stretching its potential for another few years is truly fantastic.

OneRiver Media Conference Room MacPro Upgrade

OneRiver Media’s conference room was turned into the Mac Pro upgrade center for a few days.

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About the Author

Marco Solorio

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Marco Solorio is an award-winning feature filmmaker, published author, and international speaker as a 30-year veteran in the industry with many industry awards to his name. As owner of OneRiver Media, he has produced, directed, and lensed content spanning from commercial to feature film works. As a credited thought-leader in the industry, Marco has consulted for the likes of Pixar, Apple, and Google to name a few. Along with published books to his credit, Marco has also been featured in... Read Marco's full bio here.

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Comments 75

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  1. hi marco, interesting article for sure. would this also apply to older machines? i have a quad core 2.66 first intel machine from 2006.
    thanks, ernest

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  2. Great article! I’m currently debating what my next machine should be, currently running an early 2008 Mac Pro. The trashcan Mac Pro is too expensive, the iMac is not what I want… Either I’m switching to Windows, building a Hackintosh or now – after reading your article – I’m actually considering upgrading my old Mac Pro. Do you happen to know if there’s a difference between the 2008 and 2009 models that might make this upgrade impossible or more difficult?

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      Hi Jan, thanks for the kind words. I think it depends on which portion you want to upgrade. The CPU upgrade requires a 2009 4,1 Mac. I think the Titan X will work on a 2008, but I’m not 100% sure (check with MacVidCards) but does require Yosomite. The Sonnet should work and only needs a 4x PCIe slot.

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          I’m not specifically sure, but the guys at DN Computers (the ones that make the CPU upgrade we bought from, as listed in the article) would be the best resource to ask. Also, the linked blog post from Erik Naso (that we also mentioned in our article) lists a few other solutions for Mac CPU upgrades, so that might be another starting point as well. Cheers!

  3. I to am upgrading my 2008 Mac Pro.
    I will be getting a Nvidia GTX 750 Ti 2GB and eventually a 1TB Samsung SSD.

    I have decided now is the time as the next release of OS X will require a video card that support OpenGL 4.x in order to run their new graphics engine Metal. The Nvidia GT 8800 in my system now only support OpenGL 3.x and thus will not support Metal. I have until the fall when the nexd OS release comes out.

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      1. Geekbench is a standard processor test, with both single and multi-core tests (in both 32 and 64bit modes).

        Cinebench is made by Maxon (C4D guys), and is free. According to their website: “CINEBENCH is the perfect tool to compare CPU and graphics performance across various systems and platforms (Windows and OS X). And best of all: It’s completely free.”

        They both give pretty good ideas of real-word performance.

  4. Great article – I’ve been stuck on what to do with my Mac Pro 4,1 for a while now!

    At what point do you think the motherboard will be holding this computer back though?

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      Thanks! I wish I knew the answer to that, Daniel. OSX Yosemite seems to be running fine with everything in place. I have faith the next OSX 10.11 should be fine as well or we’d be hearing things from the beta testers (or an undisclosed leak at the very least). I think the bigger issue will be when the Trashcans (or the next Mac Pro product evolvement) are so far advanced that various speed performances are 4X, 5X, 10X, and beyond to that of a maxed out Tower. Or in our case, all our Mac licenses and workflows can seamlessly carry over to Windows (even though I personally do prefer Mac). I’m not opposed to it, just not my first choice.

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      Thanks! We do wish we could use USB3 or TBolt, but in the grand scheme of things, the trade off on overall higher system performance is more of what we need on a day-to-day basis. With that said, we may potentially integrate the external eSata ports (from the Sonnet card) for external data transfer, more specifically, for our CFast 2 media transfers, which then goes to our external 8-disk RAID-5 array (which has its own bandwidth of about 800MB/s). Obviously eSata isn’t as fast as USB3 or TBolt, but it’ll be fine for our needs when we need to transfer CFast 2 cards or media from portable eSata hard drives.

  5. Nice writeup. Thanks! You mention using the SSDs for OS and caching. I assume that means you’re using the SSDs for active projects (I’m a FCPX user, so cache, to me, indicates the location of the render/proxy/optimized files). 2TB would seem sufficient for OS X, apps, and a couple of projects, but what about long-term storage (assuming you keep client projects around for a while)? How are you moving media around? You’re not using the internal Hitachi disks for video – so, where do the media files go when you are done editing?

    In the above post, you mention the external 8-disk RAID. How are you connecting it to the Mac Pro?

    My daily edit machine is a 2012 iMac with an Areca 8-disk TB RAID. My 4,1 Mac Pro has been demoted to occasional use. I’m interested in upgrading it as you and Naso have done, but external disk I/O is what has me a bit stumped. I have a lot of high performance disk space on that Areca, so I’ve been thinking about 10-gigabit Ethernet to move projects and media between machines.

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      Thanks for the kudos, Kepano. The boot RAID-0 SSDs are strictly for system and application tasks and caching. Any video based caching, renders, proxies, etc., is all performed on our external 32TB 8-disk RAID-5 system. This RAID is connected to the #3 PCIe slot via a RAID hardware controller card. If you want to share media between your two machines at high speed, you could look into a SAN based system but 10-gig might work for your particular needs.

      1. Thanks, Marco. You mind describing what RAID card you’re using and the external enclosure? Also, are you using SoftRAID to manage that storage pool, too?

        I had the internal Apple RAID controller originally, but it died. So, I went to an external eSATA RAID. Since switching to my iMac for cutting video, my 4,1 was relegated to photo editing – the eSATA was fast enough. Hoping to refresh this old dog into a legit cutting station, but need to suss out media storage.

        It’s usually just me, so I don’t need high performance, concurrent media access. Moving FCPX libraries over the local network seems to work well enough for me.

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      Thanks! That is correct, we ran out of slots for USB3, but if we had another slot, we would have added such a card. Our Sonnet SSD controller card with external eSata ports has proven to come in very handy for our CFast2 card reader needs. Slightly slower than USB3 but fast enough to not notice a big difference when offloading 128GB and 256GB cards to our RAID.

  6. Hi Marco,
    Thanks for this excellent post!
    Does the Titan X HDMI port output 4k/UHD? In other words, is it fully functional or are any ports disabled or hampered in an way since its not a “Mac card”?

  7. Hey Marco,
    thanks so much for the write up, I hope many more will see it!
    I don’t know if you still update this, but I have a general question:
    Why the 2TB system disk if it’s “strictly for system and application tasks and caching”?
    Why do you need that much space?

    Since I’m still working with compressed HD (from C300 or Alexa) 90% of my time and the rest some RedRaw an compressed 4K (GH4, GoPro) I am thinking of doing a more “minimal upgrade”.
    I would actually use the SonnnetSSD2TB combo for the active project, like you use your external 32TB 8-disk RAID-5 system.
    System disk would probably just be a 128GB SSD in Bay 1, a HDD RAID 1 in Bay 2 and 3 and a TM-Backupdisk in Bay 4 (similar to what you did…).


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      Really happy to hear you enjoyed the article, Christian! I like a large system/boot drive to help ensure there’s always plenty on tap for any large data bursts and the like. Applications (and their associated files) are also stored there, and those files add up quickly (especially the very large number of applications we use).
      If you decide on the Sonnet as your active media/render storage RAID, it should work quite well if you can manage the 2TB limit. Just be sure to assign the right block size to maximize speed since large video files are being used, rather than small data files. SoftRAID is highly recommended for that.
      I’d suggest a 1TB SSD as the boot/application drive instead of 128GB, but then again, I don’t know how many apps you use and what kind they are. Sounds like you have a plan!

  8. Thanks of the fast reply! I guess my minimal upgrade must sound strange:) We’re small and only edit stuff we shot, so we went the cheap road two years ago and bought two maxed-out Imacs. I have this MacPro 3.1 standing around, serving as our legacy Final Cut Studio box. If it was a 4.1, I’d probably be more bold.
    As it is, I just feel sentimental about the silver tower, it always worked reliably and made me good money and I miss the “expandable all-in-one workstation” feel.
    So FCS and FCX, that’s it for the tower.
    But your article opened my eyes for now considering an used and maxed out 4.1 instead of waiting what’s going to happen with the trashcan. Again, thanks for that!

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      Thanks! Yeah, I was just looking at those 2TB SSDs just a few days ago! Looks like both Amazon and B&H are carrying them. Since our original installation of our dual 1TB SSDs when this article was posted, we’re still only using .5TB out of 2TB, so we’re still good! Makes sense since it only consumes OSX and all our apps. Are you thinking of buying the 2TB SSDs?

  9. Can you description more about Slot 3 (4x) RAID Controller card for external 8-disk RAID for video media (#3)
    where I can buy and RAID type you create on it.


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  10. Thank you so much for the write ups!

    Any thoughts on 4K monitoring on a budget?

    I am running a dedicated SSD drive for cache, it’s a little 256GB SSD primarily for Adobe previews and such. The one thing I like about it being on a separate drive or partition is I go in all the time and simply delete everything there. Whamo, I have a clean cache (video, audio, and sidecar files are pointed here). I’ve done this most in Premier when I start or open a new project with different preview settings. After Effects, Cinema4D and Photoshop seem to clean up their mess well. Mocha for example leaves some really big previews in 4K which I don’t need once I have a track to bring back to AE.

    I also ran the Nvidia 780Ti which had a big cost/performance benefit over the Titan. I used this site to make my cpu and video card hardware decisions – I used Tom’s Hardware and Google to stick with the non-pro Samsung and Crucial SDD choices.

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      Hi Jake. With regards to 4K monitoring, are you referring to 4K LCD video monitors, 4K LCD computer monitors, 4K capture/output video cards, or 4K graphics cards?

      I agree, using an SSD in the manner you’re using it for has benefited a lot of people in your post-production scenario. We use our big RAID for that task, but on a budget, a dedicated SSD is a great solution.

      The 780 series cards is a great lineup. We decided to go with the Titan X for the extra VRAM in other aspects of post, like our 3D modeling/animation workflows and such where image mapping and the like can get RAM hungry. Glad to hear the 780 is working out great for you!

  11. Thank you Marco for your article! I first read it in Definition Magazine during IBC. I appreciate you sharing these information. I am actually in the same process of upgrading our Mac Pro 4,1 to handle 4K color grading and finishing.

    One question I have regarding the cpu upgrade to Dual-CPU 12-core 3.46GHz Xeon Processors with the GTX Titan X: have you noticed any issues with your computer over heating since you made the leap?

    Also am I correct to think that the 12-core 3.46GHz Xeon processor handle better H.264 based footage in general?

    Thank you!

    David “who appreciated your work on codecs comparison when you maintained that list years ago”!

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      Hi David. Thanks so much for the kind comments! Happy to hear the info is helping you out. Our workstations actually reside in our machine room, so I haven’t noticed them heating up. However, the Titan X does get very loud with its fan when its really starts to crank through calculations (like Resolve). I’m assuming the 12-core 3.46GHz CPUs do handle h.264 better, but in all truth, all our footage stems from ProRes and RAW, which uses far less CPU processing than H.264, so I wouldn’t know for certain. I will say however H.264 encoding seems faster. Haha, I do miss the old codec comparison page days and have often thought of updating it to modern technology, but everyone pretty much uses ProRes, DNxHD, and H.264, so the options aren’t as wide as they used to be! Thanks for mentioning that though!

      1. Thank you for your feedback Marco!
        Regarding Titan X, I notice it is noisier than our GTX 570… (I know, not much of a comparison there in terms of power;-), but it seems like the fans are running higher RPM particularly after a reboot… will have to see after a few weeks running it… regarding your codecs comparison, I still think it would be useful especially with the different variant of MPEG-4… it seems like every camera manufacturer has to come with a “new” codec, every time they introduce a new camera! On smaller budget we do not always have time to transcode to intra-frame codec, so we have to deal with them in our post-production workflow, all the way to color grading… and some other time we do not want to introduce transcoding error and keep as much as possible of the original image quality, thus keeping the same codec… anyway I could still see a usage of the codec comparison page, but I am sure it was a lot of work to keep it updated!

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      Thanks, James! Glad to hear our article helped you out! The configuration is about as cheap as I could go while sustaining the maximum amount of horse power. There are cheaper ways to do this (like removing the dual-SSD RAID PCIe backbplane system as the boot disk). It’s really up to you on what you want to sacrifice in terms of performance for cost savings. Hope this helps!

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          Unfortunately I do not know of any. But any reputable Mac repair shop will be able to do these mods if you don’t feel comfortable doing them yourself. It’s honestly very straight forward once you get the parts (as listed in the article). If you’re able to swap RAM you can do all these things.

  12. Just discovered this page, and as more an audio system guy, I upgraded my mates Mac Pro for running Resolve and adobe apps..

    Cant believe how close our system is (yep, pat on the back for me)

    Mac pro 4.1 DP2.93, now FW flashed to 5.1
    64Gb Ram 1333 (Ready for the dual Hex core upgrade)
    512Gb Samsung Pro Evo SSD in lower optical bay (System)
    8Tb internal raid (2 x 4Tb Toshiba 7200rpm 128mg cache)
    2Tb int (use it for whatever you want) Drive
    1Tb int (Library Drive)
    1 Sonnet PCI-e Tempo Pro card:-
    with 2 x Samsung 512gb Pro evo Raided
    USB3 4 port PCI-e card
    A EVGA Titan X with 12Gb DDR5

    Still a few things to add……
    Didn’t get a flashed Titan X (hoping a FW flash becomes available as MVC won’t supply flash without sending the card), so have a spare GT120 to get into the boot screen if required, but as things settle down , there shouldn’t be any need for it , thus giving us the slot free (obviously will keep it on hand, just in case)

    It then allows us to add a raid card when the projects get going, however, Ive found a 4 disk external raid box that has TB/FW/eSata and USB3, and from what I’ve read, USB3 is fast enough throughput wise for video editing… But for 4k?

    Thanks so much for a very informative article.

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      Hi Matt. Looks like you have a great system there! 1080 HD should be fine for your USB3 setup, but 4K might be stretching it. It really depends on a few factors: RAW/codec type, compression amount, whether or not filters are being applied, 1 stream vs. multiple streams. What read speeds are you getting using the Blackmagic Disk tool? That may give you a good idea on whether or not you can use 4K footage on that RAID setup.

      1. Thanks for the reply….

        We have a Blackmagic 4k cinema camera, and probably will work in its raw format…

        Interestingly , A feature I just worked on , we used raw files off a GRaid with FW800 at a production house called Spectrum films here in Sydney… Actually, its was the first time they used the format, so we were really a test case… Thats why I’m thinking USB3 will perform well..

        As for the black magic test, its redlined all the way with the Sonnet SSD config…get pretty much 1000MB read approx 980 write..

        im not at the studio, so cant check the internal 7200 drives, but from memory around 300Mb R 280 W

        I guess the idea of this upgrade was to future roof by buying hardware that can be brought over to a newer Desktop, if required… One reason I went with the Sonnet card is because if we ever upgraded to a TB Mac, the sonnet is compatible with their expansion chassis…. If things end up going off the charts, we could possibly even consider a CUBIX, but I won’t get to far ahead of myself…….

        Originally I had the system on the Raided ssd , but decided to get a dedicated SSD system drive so the Raided SSD could be used as a Scratch disk, while at this point the mains files sit on the 2 x 4tb 3.5 Raided drives in bays 3&4…..

        Sound like a reasonable Idea?

        The idea being, if it doesn’t cut the mustard, I can always add another 2 to bays 1&2 and setup an internal 16tb raid…..
        Migrate the drives to an external Box (see below) and add another 2….

        What to do?

        Thanks for your feedback.
        Also hope this helps other people in the community considering a mac pro upgrade.

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          Well, it sounds like you’re on the right track. I forgot that your USB3 system was a RAID, so yeah, it should yield good bandwidth. Keep in mind that external chassis vis thunderbolt do have a bandwidth limit, so depending on how many systems are running through the TB buss, you might want to see what those max ratings will be between devices. But again, sounds like you have a handle on it!

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          1. To Add, Just registered as Rhythmattic….
            So will post from now under that name…

            BTW , just found the “Build your own Raid” … Great stuff…. Will be looking into that for sure !

            Hats off to you Marco…

            Brilliant blog…

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  13. Marco,

    Do you have any practical testing regarding the raid OS on the PCI-E bus vs a high end SSD running on a Sata bus?

    I’m really curious how much improved processing, and render you getting with multiple apps open with the OS on the PCI-E backplane and then if there is another significant jump in performance with that in a RAID.

    That is a lot to ask but this is a huge jump in price for what I would guess is very little in terms of improved percieved performance…???

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      I really didn’t do a comparison test between our dual-SSD PCIe RAID setup and anything else on the internal MacPro SATA buss, only because I knew the direct PCIe backplane would blow it away in terms of bandwidth speeds. At almost 1TB per second of speed, my predictions were correct, LOL! But yes, it’s definitely a heavy investment. Just depends how much work you’re doing to justify the cost. Keep in mind that you’re not gaining anything in processing speed or rendering speed… it’s purely file/cache read/write speeds. This may not be critically important for your needs, so you could save a buck there.

  14. Oh and just a 4K computer monitor…since I’m a hobbie/pro I use a second LCD next to my main monitor for video monitoring. I would want to get 2 monitors and I guess a second graphics card since you can only drive 1 4K monitor with a newer card, but that is still less than a Blackcmagic IO card I believe.

    So I think that most folks in my shoes do use 2 monitors side by side with the playback view full screened to the second monitor…maybe not. I only know what the folks who edit around here use.

    What would you suggest?

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      We’re implementing a slightly different approach to the matter (a more traditional approach actually). We use a dual-display system (two 25″ 1920×1200 displays), both running off the Titan X card. If I had an extra PCIe slot, I’d run an extra 580GTX card on it (we have extra cards on hand), but that extra slot is running a Blackmagic Decklink 4K Extreme card for proper SDI output (up to 4K SDI). If you’re doing paid work, then I’d highly suggest implementing a way to get broadcast output to a calibrated monitor (we use Flanders Scientific monitors here). Using a computer monitor, even if 4K, won’t give you a reliable way to see how your work will look in REC709 space (among others). If your sole amount of work is just going to the web, then it’s not as critical to implement a broadcast monitor. But if you ever step into commercial work, music videos, broadcast work, short film work, feature film work, etc., then you *need* a broadcast monitor. That’s my 2¢ anyway!

  15. I think I get your set up and I love it. I can easily switch out my gpu card if I want to. I need the Apple flash to edit my videos in real time. Can the Radeon 5770 gpu play 4K? I’m thinking this gpu is for gaming. Do you think, whenever I can afford it, I can switch out my WD hhd for angel ssd’s or flash drives making my back up ridiculously fast.

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  16. Marco you are the Best!!! thanks for this kind of information.
    I’m working with Adobe After Effects, Premiere pro.
    I want to upgrade my 12 core e5645- 2.4 ghz (min 2012) with 3.46ghz, but i read that the new imac 5k with 6700k cpu works better for video editing than the 2x x5690, because it seems Adobe apps no longer to use multicore (after effects cc15 not using full cpu 100% tested). I would like to know do you have any experience with imac 5k with newest intel skylake 6700k cpu?


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  17. Hi Marco,
    Great informations, really enjoy it. I’m planning to buy two ssd drives for my sonnet tempo card in MP 4.1. For Ae and Resolve. In your article you were saying about ssd drives …We decided on the “Pro” model over the standard model as there appears to be some performance advantages with the Pro models. So, please what are those advantages over other ssd models like cheaper Evo? Keep up the good work. Thanks!

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      Hi Ziga. The Pro model adds a slight increase in read/write speeds. In a RAID setup like this the performance gain may not be overly huge but for us, we wanted to squeeze out every ounce of performance we could. The net result is a system volume that approaches 1GB/s, which has worked out great for us. Thanks!

  18. Im a huge fan of this article!

    Almost done with mine. Running pretty much the same thing but 3.33 instead of 3.46.

    How did you power your Titan X? Mine came in the mail today and I picked up a few adapters but Im still not 100% sure which route I want to take. I cant seem to find a write up on how someone else powered it.

    Any info is greatly appreciated!


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  19. Nice work! I am just about to do exactly the same thing to two of my Mac Pro 4,1 units. I use the machines as display nodes to manipulate live video for stage productions. The only thing that’s stopping me from doing it is a question mark around latency which I know isn’t an issue on the new high end 10k trash can configurations.

    Have you noticed any latency/frame delay between the decklink card input and the titan output at all?

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      Hi Chris. I wish I could give you a solid answer but the fact of the matter is, our LCD displays (that are driven from the Decklink Extreme 4K card) have their own inherent delay so I can’t measure latency between the Decklink and the Titan X. However with that said, I cannot imagine there would be any latency between the two cards simply because they’re both running off the PCIe buss. Just an educated guess.

  20. Hey!

    Thanks to this blog post I found an old 2009 Mac Pro and updated it with a lot of the same things you did. Went with the OWC Accelsior over the twin SSDs on the Sonnet.

    Question… I purchased 1333mhz RAM and it is only showing up as 1066. Did you happen to have this issue as well?


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  21. Hi Marco. Continuing our conversation on Twitter… I have started the process of upgrading my Mac Pro 2009. My ultimate goal is to be able to edit 4K Raw video in DaVinci smoothly. I began by adding the Sonnet Tempo card and two SSD drives. I’m editing the footage from there. Currently, I’m only getting about 10fps of playback. My video card is an older card: GTX 680 4GB. I have 32GB of memory, and the original CPUs. I’m trying to figure out what is going to give me the biggest improvement: CPU upgrade + memory, or GPU upgrade. It’s probably really hard to tell. Also, has anyone here experimented with upgrading a MacBook in a similar fashion? I’ve seen people run desktop video cards through Thunderbolt and an expansion chassis. If putting multiple graphic cards gets you a bigger performance jump than upgrading CPU, then adding more cards to my MacBook Pro seems like an interesting idea. Thanks for the help, Marco.

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      Hi Jose. Thanks for continuing this from our Twitter thread. Makes more sense to use the space here than the frustrating character limit of Twitter, lol!
      First question: can you play back ProRes HQ or ProRes444 source files (as 4.6K) in QuckTime Player smoothly from your Sonnet setup? Simply encode test files from Resolve, AE or your NLE of choice. This will at least let you know if your drive bandwidth is fast enough without bringing GPU into the mix (it should be fast enough since I’m getting roughly 1TB/sec on it, but is only used for boot drive tasks).
      Keep in mind we do use a dedicated RAID for video playback that is separate from our Sonnet system/boot RAID setup.
      Next, you’ll definitely need a much stronger GPU for 4K processing in DaVinci Resolve. The question is, will you use all the power/RAM of a Titan X or can you work with a GTX980 at lower cost?
      The CPU upgrade will definitely help with other relative tasks (like smart caching in Resolve for quicker playback of clips require rendering) but I would maybe get new CPUs last if budget is tight.
      As per your original question on Twitter, I can smoothly edit/playback 4.6K RAW footage in Resolve in either a UHD or 1080 timeline. In fact, I can typically have basic node setup (primary CC) plus lower third overlays without needing to render for playback. Anything that does need a render (chromakey, complex nodes, de-noise, etc.) instantly renders quickly via smart cache. We’re editing this way just about everyday in this scenario from 4.6K RAW source. No transcoding/proxies or round-tripping required anymore. Import, edit, grade, output, all in one… it’s truly awesome.
      Oh and I don’t know if the MacBook/TB chassis idea will work since TB2 is 20 Gbps max and 3.0 PCIe 16x is 128Gbps max. There may be some serious bottlenecking with that.

      1. Thanks for the response, Marco. I can play ProRes HQ and 444 4K without any problems through QuickTime. In fact, I think FCPX doesn’t mind it much either. Once in a while it stutters but it plays it just fine. It’s only DaVinci that’s a problem for me. I think my first big purchase will be the Titan X 12 GB card and see if that improves things. As for the external chassis for the MacBook. I thought PCIe 3 was 1GB/s per lane or 16GB/s for a 16-lane slot and that the Mac Pro 2009 only had PCIe 2, which is 500 MB/s per lane. So that’s only about 8GB/s. It is still faster than SATA III, which is only 6GB/s, which is why I think that PCIe Sonnet card can support SATA III on an old Mac Pro. That’s why I started thinking, if the problem is the GPU and not so much the CPU, maybe I can use a Titan X 12 GB card on an external chassis with my MacBook and improve DaVinci Resolve. It should use the internal card for the display, and then use the Titan for computations, maybe?

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          I’m still not certain a MacBook Pro with an external GPU chassis is the way to go to gain full potential of the GPU card, but I haven’t personally tried it myself. It’s also a bit bulky, so the advantage of using a MacBook Pro remotely becomes less efficient. But yeah, I’d definitely go with a 980 or Titan X in your tower and see where you stand from there, which should be good. And yes, the MacPro Tower is not PCI 3.0 unfortunately.

  22. Wow, those CPU’s rose quite a bit in price since this was done. Hopefully they go down again soon.

    Thanks for this btw as it has given me a guide for my old ’09.

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      Yeah, the jump in price shocked me as well when I first discovered it. So much so that I decided to hold off upgrading the CPUs in another MacPro Tower I have. There’s a fine line between CPU upgrades and upgrading an entire new system… if the CPU upgrade costs are just too high, then it may make more sense to just get a new system. Luckily my other system in question isn’t too dependent on an upgrade at the moment, so I’ll continue to hold off on the CPU upgrade. The system outlined in this article is still running strong though! Glad the info was of help to you!

  23. Hi Guys!

    I’ve gradually been building up my own tower (2012, 2×2.4GHz 6-core) I’ve got it up to 64GB of RAM with an NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 Ti. I have a 512GB Samsung 850 pro running in slot 1 as my OS drive and I a 1TB Samsung 850 Pro in slot 2 as my media drive.

    Recently, while working in Premiere I was having some serious lagging while editing. I had bought the PCIe Card you guys have in here and then put the single Samsung drive on it which seemed to fix the problem. I have a second 850 1TB SSD that I will be adding to the card and putting them in raid as you did in this post. Im about to order the 2 6TB HGST drives as you did in this post as well.

    My question is that with the HDDs being in the regular bays, will I run in to the same drop in performance as I did before if I use them as my media drives? I thought I would be covered with the original setup that I had, but I was wrong and now Im concerned that I will hit the same problem since there will be HDDs instead of SSDs in the bays. What are the speed caps for the bays as opposed to the PCIe slots? Should I get rid of the 512 as my OS drive? What made you not use an SSD in one of the bays for your OS?

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      Hi Larry. The 6TB HGST drives were configured as RAID-1 mirror config so that if a drive fails, the other can still operate (with time to replace both drives and copy the contents to them). So far (knock on wood) they’re still running strong to this day. But they are not super high in performance. We knew that going in because it was specifically designated for saving document files and *not* media files (for storing document/project files, it’s perfect or us). For actual media files (Quicktime, RAW, audio, etc.), we use our (very fast) external 8-disk RAID-5 system. The tower’s internal SATA pipeline just isn’t super fast for media access (for either HDD or SDD), especially when working with 4K RAW and the like. The Sonnet card however offers extremely fast bandwidth speeds (as you’ve seen yourself) for SSDs. We specifically delegated that card as the boot drive (as RAID-0) so that system operations and caching would be extremely fast (which it is). If you have space, you could add a second Sonnet card that is delegated for media files (if you’re okay with a 2 disk limit).

  24. I’m wondering if you can help me remedy some behavior we’ve been experiencing at the studio with a similar setup.

    Every so often while using video card heavy workflows (editing 6k video, rendering composite vfx) we’ll experience what we’ve been calling BSOD, or, the “black screen of death”. Basically, everything just locks up for one second, then the screens go black. The machine becomes totally unresponsive, and requires a reboot. You can’t screen share. No sleep-mode wake up. Nothing.

    We first tried addressing the issue by having our GTX 980’s flashed with the correct firmware through the service provided by This gave us our Apple logo back on startup, but did not seem to improve the regularity of BSOD occurrences.

    We were then lead to believe that perhaps it was a power supply issue, where heavy tasks we’re basically cooking the motherboard and causing the machine to seize up. So we purchased external power supplies to run as dedicated power to the card. It seems to have helped reduce the amount of BSOD occurrences slightly, but not completely eliminating them.

    We’re currently on the latest release of Adobe software using the 2017 versions of Premiere and After Effects heavily.

    Have you experienced any of these types of symptoms from your system? Any help/insight would be much appreciated!

    Here’s our setup:
    Model: Mac Pro (Mid 2012)
    OS: 10.11.5 – Running on PCI-e 480GB Sata SSD
    Video Card: NVIDIA GeForce GTX 980 (4096M MB)
    Processor: 2 x 2.66GHz 6-core Intel Xeon
    Ram: 128GB DDR3
    Power Supply: Corsair CX Series CX750M

    We have the latest NVIDIA and CUDA Updates installed.

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      Hi Brett (sorry for the delay… just realized all site-wide comments were disabled due to a bug). Fortunately for us, we’re not experiencing that problem. In fact, our Titan X is still running strong to this day on a daily basis, 24/7. Are you still experiencing the same issue? For what it’s worth, it sounds like nVidia is going to be releasing Mac drivers for nVidia cards. Not sure if that will ultimately help or not, but maybe key on the lookout for that.

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