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Upgrading an older Mac Pro

I recently purchased two older early-2008 3,1 Mac Pro (A1186) from Craiglist for $400 each. With a few relatively inexpensive upgrades you can breath new life into these older machines. Here's a list of the upgrades I've made to

A faster hard drive for your Mac Pro

The most inexpensive upgrade you can make to an older Mac Pro in my opinion is replacing the hard drive with a solid state drive (SSD). You'll need a few parts:

  1. An upgrade card such as the Apricorn Velocity Solo x2 SSD Upgrade Kit. You can probably find less expensive cards but I wanted the option to attach a 2nd drive to the card
  2. An SSD. I've successfully used both the SanDisk 240GB SSD
    and the Samsung 850 EVO 250GB SSD. I'd recommend at least a ~256GB drive

The hard drive installation is fairly straightforward; mount the card to the upgrade kit and install the upgrade kit inside one of the open PCIE slots inside your Mac Pro. You can install the OS one of two ways:

  1. Clone your existing drive onto the new disk
  2. Install a fresh version of the OS onto the new drive, change your boot disk and restart

I tried both methods (twice each) and found it relatively easy. The only tricky part is with method 1. If your original drive is larger than your SSD you'll need to boot into safe mode and repartition your drive so it's smaller. I partitioned it incorrectly once and ended up wiping the recovery disk. I think it's easier to install a fresh copy of El Capitan from the App Store on the new SSD

Prices on SSD drives seem to fluctuate daily, but for $150 I took a painfully slow Mac Pro and made it usable again. Boot time is comparable to my newer (2013) Macbook Air and wake from sleep is nearly instant. It used to be that more RAM would give you the biggest bang for your buck on a computer upgrade—I'm not sure that's the case any longer.

Hybrid or Fusion drives

If you need a lot of hard drive space—more space than an SSD provides or more than you can afford to buy, you could also look at a fusion or hybrid drive. I have one installed in my Macbook Air and the performance is great. They come in 1TB and bigger sizes.

I'd recommend at least trying a fusion drive over my current setup (software RAID with 4 disks in the drive bay slots) but I can't speak to the speed comparison.

Bonus: Add WiFi for ~$20

Not all early-2008 Mac Pro models were equipped with WiFi. You can buy and install an Apple Airport Extreme Card
for ~$20. The install is tricky but here's a good set of instructions for installing the Apple WiFi card. Protip: Disconnect the computer and put it somewhere on it's side. Don't try and and install it while the computer is upright.

More to come

I still have a few upgrades I need to research and do.

Upgrading Mac Pro RAM

I was fortunate in that each machine came with 12GB+ of RAM already. If yours didn't, you have at least a few options:

  1. Buy from a known retailer such as OWC. A 32GB upgrade is ~$650
  2. Scour craigslist for used RAM
  3. Buy from one of the 3rd party ebay retailers (here) and pay <$200 for 32GB

When I do upgrade RAM I'll try the ebay RAM.

USB 3.0

I ordered a Inateck 4 Ports PCI-E to USB 3.0 Expansion Card but I'm slightly concerned that I've used up both 16 lane PCIE slots (graphics card & SSD card) that I won't see much of an improvement over USB 2.0. I'll update after I upgrade

RAID

I really want to install a RAID hardware card but I'm running out of slots. Until then, I'm trying the SoftRAID demo since Apple disabled RAID in El Capitan. I plan on purchasing 2 licenses if it works out (it seems to be great so far)