You can’t take the computer geek out of me

Posted on 26 May ’11 by Earl

Meandering Passage was started five and a half years ago with no real concept of being more then a personal journal and I certainly didn’t foresee it lasting as long as it has.

From personal musing, some of which are embarrassingly terrible, it became a technical blog focused upon Apple Macs, applications and networking. It was during that period some of my most popular “how-to” posts were written, one of which has attracted over 110,000 views to date and still draws several hundred new views a month.

Then came my reborn interest in photography, both making photos and posting them with written word here, and once again Meandering Passage changed course. If nothing else can be said, I had a premonition when I name this blog.

Apple Mac Pro
Apple Mac Pro

The computer-geek in me still lives. I like building and setting things up, making them work and then finding out how to make them work better.

My main home computer for a number of years has been a 2006-2008 Mac Pro 1,1 that I purchased refurbished. I’ve added memory and larger hard drives since but with greater demands of modern applications and my own desire for quick response times it’s grown a little tired, or at least I’ve grown a little impatient with it.

Of course I’ve looked at Apples latest offering of Mac Pros. I like a tower computer/workstation for home use because they have a longer life expectancy with upgradable, memory, disk space, video graphics and other cards. However, the price Mac Pros are selling for now is not for the faint of heart…nose bleed territory, as in high.

So I fell back to the concept of making what I had work better through focused upgrades and I’m happy to report the results have been excellent. I’m not going to go into how-to details as there are plenty of good instructions available via a Google search, but here’s the basics of my upgrades.

CPU Upgrade: I found a used match pair of Intel Xeon X5355 2.66GHz CPUs to replace my default Intel Xeon 5150 2.66Ghz CPUs. Yes, the new ones are the same speed as the old ones. The upgrade comes from the newer X5355 CPUs having 4 cores per chip vs. the 5150 CPUs 2 cores per chip. The X5355 also has a larger memory cache (8m vs 4m). This resulted in doubling the total CPU cores from 4 to 8 which translates to bit more processing power and speed.

Boot Drive: The price of Solid State Drives (SSD) are reaching a reasonable price and they are many, many times faster in reading data then standard hard drives. I installed a 2.5 inch, 240GB SSD drive as the primary boot drive. I used an OWC mounting kit allowing it to be placed in the unused 2nd CD bay of the Mac Pro leaving the four main drive bays unchanged. Wow…what a difference this made. Applications load many times quicker and they often operate faster once loaded — Adobe Photoshop takes about 10 seconds to completely load now. Installing and updating applications or the operating system is extremely quick as well.

User Home Directory(s): Even with no moving parts a SSD can “wear out.” Most of this wear occurs writing data to the device. I moved my Home Directory and it’s subdirectories (Library, Documents, Movies, Music, Pictures, etc.) to another drive (the old boot drive). It turned out to be a simple process and caused only a few minor and temporary mapping issues. Moving these folders put less wear/writing to the SSD and allows for a smaller SSD boot drive requirement which translates to a cost savings.

So with these changes and upgrades the old seems NEW — at less than a fifth the cost of a new Map Pro. A bonus of taking my old Mac Pro apart to do these upgrades is I got to blow out all the dust clusters and bunnies from those hidden points not reached by my regularly cleanings. The Mac Pro even runs a couple of degrees cooler now.

The best upgrade or change I made — the SSD boot drive for sure.

What Others Are Saying

  1. Eric Jeschke 26 May ’11 at 3:49 am

    Hi Earl,
    Good to hear you got some more life out of your computer. Especially in this “disposable world” of ours where electronic gadgets have shorter and shorter lifetimes.

    • Earl 26 May ’11 at 11:11 am

      Eric, Certainly even before these upgrades this computer was not terribly slow but my perception of it was that it had lost it’s prior “zip” and as we know, perception is reality. I received triple the enjoyment from this project — once from the satisfaction of doing the upgrades, second enjoying the improvements from my labors and third as you state delaying the disposable cycle for at least a while. Thanks!

  2. Markus 26 May ’11 at 4:27 am

    Earl, I recently did a similar thing with my Ubuntu Desktop. Additionally to a quadcore cpu with a silent cooler – which plays nice with bibble when converting raw files, I got an 80+ power supply, its wattage adapted to the requirements, not illusions, plus 2 vibe fixer frames for the disks.

    Now it’s a joy to sit at the computer, in all silence, and even the pianissimo passages of the music I sometimes listen to clearly float through the air to my ears.

    Eric of course is right – prolonging lifespans of (not only) electronic items is an excellent way to sustainability!

    • Earl 26 May ’11 at 11:23 am

      Markus, yes, it use to be performance was all about clock frequency and getting as many operations-per-second from the single core CPU. Now it’s about have multiple cores to parallel and multi-thread processes.

      I understand and appreciate the concept of a quiet PC. The Apple Mac Pro doesn’t have fans directly on the CPU, they use cooling towers with positioned case fans to circulate air over. My Mac while not absolutely quite is barely a whisper in normal use.


  3. Don 26 May ’11 at 11:13 am

    I’m glad you have the interest and ability to upgrade so successfully. What a machine will do is all that matters. A very interesting post.

    • Earl 26 May ’11 at 11:30 am

      Don, full disclosure…not all my upgrade attempts have always been so successful. Those are the ones I seldom write about! ;-)

  4. NR | ExPlanet 26 May ’11 at 12:32 pm

    Good job Earl! I’ve always believed that buying components with as much future upgradeability is the best way to save money when it comes to technology. Few things I never skimp out on are Motherboards and Power Supply when building a new machine. While you can never truly keep up with the pace of which things get upgraded.

    SSD drives are definitely the way to go! The prices are dropping and the sizes are getting bigger and bigger. I’ve been using SSD drives for 3 years or so and I can tell you I will never go back to a regular drive for frequently accessed files and programs.

    I have 2TB’s of disk drives in a RAID 1 config used for archiving and storage..but that’s all I ever use them for.

    • Earl 26 May ’11 at 3:54 pm

      Hi NR,
      Wow, sounds like you’ve been enjoying the speed benefits of SSDs for a long time. Have you ever had a failure or any errors on one?

      • NR | ExPlanet 27 May ’11 at 10:56 am

        Funny that you ask me this now Earl, I actually had my first array failure / error this morning lol! I haven’t had time to fix it yet, but I will go at it as soon as I get home. I’ll keep ya updated :p

  5. Markus Spring 26 May ’11 at 1:19 pm

    Earl et. al., the step to an SSD for sure is something I am lusting for. Instead of the OS however I’d like to use it for all those cache files the raw converter (bibble in my case, but I guess Lightroom does the same) needs when browsing through a large number of images. Here I think a SSD really could shine.
    I discussed the possibilities to speed up my computer in the bibble forums, and there one guy hinted me to problems SSDs at least initially had:
    Things should have grown better by now, but caching and temporary files definitely stress a disk more than the relatively static use from starting the operating system or specific programs. It’s something to keep in mind, and for now I decided to wait for some more time and improvements in technology.

    • Earl 26 May ’11 at 3:53 pm

      Markus, I’d heard of some of similar early problems but a gage I use to determine when/if a product is ready for general use is when manufactures start using or offering them for general production machines. Apple began offer them as standard in their Macbook Air Laptop over a year ago (my wife has one) and now they’re options on the rest of their lineup of computers. I believe in the last year a lot of improvements have been made and Apple seems to be willing to bet their bottom line on them. I was careful in selecting a brand that had excellent user ratings.

      We’ll see how this works out long term but I am very hopeful for a positive result.

  6. Ove 26 May ’11 at 1:53 pm

    Nice to read that you managed to bring youth to your trusty Pro. Such a well-engineered computer is supposed to live a long life. And thanks for a very good advice, to upgrade with a SSD drive.

    • Earl 26 May ’11 at 3:57 pm

      Ove, As I was taking the Mac Pro apart to do these upgrades I was amazed how well engineered everything was. A wonderful and efficient design for sure. I don’t have long term reliability experience with a SSD but my initial impressions are very good. It gives a wonderful speed bump for any disk intensive process.

      • Markus Spring 26 May ’11 at 5:01 pm

        Earl, the engineering and craftsmanship that goes into Apple computers meanwhile is rare in the computer world – the cheapo Chinese/Korean/Indonesian parts-conglomerates for sure are not designed as a whole anymore.

        • Earl 26 May ’11 at 8:46 pm

          Markus, that becomes very apparent when you see how one part complements and functions with the others in Apple systems. It brings about a sophisticated simplicity in design.

          • Markus Spring 27 May ’11 at 1:00 am

            Yes, in a certain sense Apple has developed further and applied to technical items what was the Skandinavian design of the 60′ and 70′ of last century. Pricewise it’s out of reach for me at the moment and also I don’t like their closed-shop politics and label philosophy, but functionality- and design-wise they only give reason to admire.

  7. Mark 27 May ’11 at 10:35 am

    When I first got my MacPro 3 years ago now (wow, has it already been that long?), I had a bit of sticker shock as well. But when I got it, and especially when I first opened it up just to add extra drives, I was quite impressed with the design of this thing. It seems like every little detail had a lot of thought into it, and made the Dell tower I upgraded from seem like a Commodore 64. It was a true example of you get what you pay for.

    What I like most about it is here I am 3+ years later, and needing a new computer hasn’t even crossed my mind. I could use some hard drive space here and there, maybe a SSD, but overall, it is still a fine performing machine.

    I have been intrigued by all I have read about SSDs, but haven’t put in much time thinking about how much application space I need. I have a 500 GB HD as my boot now, and it is about half full. But when I look at the documents and other folders that are also on it, I could easily off load at least 50 GB or more to another drive.

    Did you do a fresh install of OSX or just cloned your old HD to the SSD?

    • Earl 27 May ’11 at 11:28 am

      Mark, I cloned the old HD to the SSD using an application named SuperDuper. I’ve used SuperDuper for years and it’s still my main utility for scheduled backups. SuperDuper can do a complete copy and make the new drive bootable…very simple.

      I’m backing-up/cloning the SSD to an internal backup HD each night so if there’s ever a failure with the SSD it’s just a matter of changing the boot drive and I’m working again. This was my backup process with the old HD as well.

      I think in many cases you get what you paid for and the Mac Pro is the most well designed computer I’ve ever worked on.

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