From an old Mac mini to an even older Mac Pro

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So I’ve been tinkering around with a Mid-2010 Mac mini since the first of the year. It was a relatively cheap purchase off eBay, and a bit of PC recycling at that. Even though we’re talking a 2.4GHz Core 2 Duo (Penryn) and NVIDIA IGP with shared memory, the Mini actually didn’t do too bad for daily browsing and general use. I did a few minor upgrades, like maxing the RAM to 8GB, and I added an SSD to boost load times. Streaming an HD feed from MLB.tv would come close to maxing both cores, but it still respectably streamed an HD feed without stuttering. I don’t know how the previous owner treated the device, but it still performed like the day it was made–the DVD drive and original HDD still worked, and the fan was still completely silent.

While all that is good and fine, I got to looking into a Mac Pro for my next adventure. Still, my needs are not so great that I was willing to pay a huge sum for one, but I wanted one that could take the latest version of macOS. 2010 (5,1) was the oldest model to meet that qualification, but the price on even a base model was a big jump from the 2009. Then I got to reading about the 2009 (4,1) model…

Basically, the 2010 was almost identical “under the hood” to the 2009, and some industrious soul on netkas had created a simple script to allow the firmware to be updated to the 5,1 model. People seemed to have good success with it, so off I went to macofalltrades.com and bought a base 2009 Mac Pro with a 2.66ghz Xeon (boost to 2.93GHz) for $330–they even offered free ground shipping on this 50lb beast thanks to a coupon code. Coincidentally, this was also my first ever 8-thread CPU, and 16GB of tri-channel DDR3 isn’t bad either. With the script and firmware update in hand, flashing to 5,1 was no problem at all. I then pulled the SSD out of the mini, made a Fusion drive, and then got Sierra up and running. A quick restore from a backup was all I needed to get back to where I left off the day before from the mini. Pretty painless, and this thing still runs great. One oddity is that it has no wifi card built in, but I have a USB-based one to get me by until I can order the Apple version to go inside.

FYI, one other reason (actually, the primary reason) to update the firmware is to make the machine eligible for the newer 6 core 12 threaded Westmere Xeons. I may do eventually, as they are only selling for about $50 on eBay. I may also eventually upgrade the graphics card from the paltry GeForce GT 120, but that’s another day as well.

I must say, it was kinda fun to do this project. Like the geek equivalent of restoring an old car. 🙂 My only disappointment from the sale was that the case has some pretty good dings and scuffs, so you can tell it’s used, but wow, these Mac Pros are built like tanks.

On a related note, when I sold that mini on eBay, I got $9 less that what I originally paid for it. Apple stuff seems to have great resale value.

Just thought I’d share my adventure for those who might be looking at trying a Mac but didn’t want to drop big bucks on a brand new one.

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