From an old Mac mini to an even older Mac Pro

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.

Conversation 15 comments

  • ErichK

    Premium Member
    14 August, 2017 - 10:44 am

    <p>I've owned two Mac minis. Bought them new. I thought they were nice, but sold the second one after I decided that I wasn't interested in keeping up with Mac anymore. But now that I just purchased a refurbished Dell to put Linux on, I'm once again tasting that feeling of branching out to beyond Windows, and I'm tempted to buy a used Mac laptop or something like that. Don't know if that's going to happen though.</p>

  • jimchamplin

    Premium Member
    14 August, 2017 - 2:16 pm

    <p>Freaking sweet! Is the 2010 Pro going to be supported on High Sierra?</p>

    • Darmok N Jalad

      14 August, 2017 - 6:30 pm

      <blockquote><a href="#166555"><em>In reply to jimchamplin:</em></a></blockquote><p>Basically, if your Mac supports Sierra, it will also support Hogh Sierra. And while the 4,1 doesn't technically qualify, the firmware trick makes it appear as a 5,1. Apple really does t do much to thwart this sort of thing, so I suspect I won't have any trouble. </p>

      • jimchamplin

        Premium Member
        14 August, 2017 - 10:00 pm

        <blockquote><a href="#166613"><em>In reply to Darmok N Jalad:</em></a></blockquote><p>I'm… very curious, if I could get a used 4,1 it would ruuuuuule</p>

  • skane2600

    14 August, 2017 - 5:41 pm

    <p>I was given an old mac mini from a client 7 or 8 years ago for a gig. It still works but pretty limited now because I can't upgrade the OS and few apps still support it. One advantage of Windows IMO, is that vendors are not as likely to force you to upgrade your system as often. </p>

    • Darmok N Jalad

      14 August, 2017 - 6:32 pm

      <blockquote><a href="#166607"><em>In reply to skane2600:</em></a></blockquote><p>Not sure what you mean, these two machines are 7-8 years old and will still get the latest OS. In the case of the Mini, its hardware was becoming the real limitation, not the software. </p>

      • skane2600

        14 August, 2017 - 8:58 pm

        <blockquote><a href="#166614"><em>In reply to Darmok N Jalad:</em></a></blockquote><p>The newer MacOS versions require newer hardware and the application program vendors won't support the old OS version. Typically on Windows the vendors will support their applications on older OS versions. I guess I was off on the number of years. I looked up my mini and it's circa 2007, so it's more like 10 years old.</p>

        • Darmok N Jalad

          14 August, 2017 - 9:55 pm

          <blockquote><a href="#166657"><em>In reply to skane2600:</em></a></blockquote><p>Yeah, that's such an old device that I can't imagine the experience would be very great. The GMA950 graphics alone would be a killer.</p>

        • jimchamplin

          Premium Member
          17 August, 2017 - 2:38 pm

          <blockquote><a href="#166657"><em>In reply to skane2600:</em></a></blockquote><p>Newer releases of macOS need a 64-bit EFI and those first Intel Macintoshes were 32-bit :(</p>

  • jimchamplin

    Premium Member
    15 August, 2017 - 11:36 pm

    <p>Use this tool… https://www.crystalidea.com/macs-fan-control It will give you more control over the system fans in your box! Aaaaaaaand, there's a Windows version for Boot Camp too!</p><p><br></p><p>Don't download it from cnet or some other halfass site. Only from the Crystal Idea site. Don't support download aggregators.</p>

    • Darmok N Jalad

      16 August, 2017 - 5:06 pm

      <blockquote><a href="#166888"><em>In reply to jimchamplin:</em></a></blockquote><p>I already have that one. 🙂 </p><p>I'm not sure if I need to mess with it, as the fans stay at the low end of the speed range, and they never really go any higher, even under load. From what I read, Mac Pros try to run quietly. The heat sink is massive on the CPU, so that probably helps.</p>

      • jimchamplin

        Premium Member
        16 August, 2017 - 7:04 pm

        <blockquote><a href="#167038"><em>In reply to Darmok N Jalad:</em></a></blockquote><p>I've always wanted to experience one in person, myself. For years I ran Power Macs, but I switched to the Mac mini after the Intel switch because the price of entry for the pro desktop had jumped so much.</p><p><br></p><p>I'd started with a Power Mac 6500 back in the late 90s, then went to a G4 for college in '00 and neither of those were over $2000 new. But with the G5, 2 big ones was pretty much the entry level. Then the Mac Pro jumped to over 2 grand, so it was mini for me!</p><p><br></p><p>Part of me misses having the cool desktop standing there but at the same time… Now I don't think about it. I just plug it in and forget that the thing is there.</p>

        • Darmok N Jalad

          16 August, 2017 - 9:13 pm

          <blockquote><a href="#167048"><em>In reply to jimchamplin:</em></a></blockquote><p>The 2009 certainly still has some power, which I guess is why they cost over $2000 back then. With the 16GB of RAM and a basic SSD, it's very fast at doing everything I've thrown at it. There's room to grow, as you can still upgrade to more modern GPUs than the GeForce GT 120 (or the "upgraded" Radeon 4870), and 6-core 12-thread Xeons are going for anywhere from $40-100 on eBay, depending on what speed grade you want (and if you upgrade to the 6-cores, you can also add faster RAM). Will it be the fastest you can get? No, but I can't even get a motherboard and high-end CPU for what I paid for this thing. Your Mac mini will definitely use less power, but I guess that's a price I'll have to pay. 🙂 It's funny, but I haven't really gotten excited about a technology purchase in a while, but for some reason this project has brought back memories of the good ol' days of tinkering and upgrading.</p><p><br></p>

          • jimchamplin

            Premium Member
            17 August, 2017 - 2:36 pm

            <blockquote><a href="#167058"><em>In reply to Darmok N Jalad:</em></a></blockquote><p>I miss all that. The old Mac way was upgrades. I had a PowerBook 1400c that was originally a 166MHz model, but a processor upgrade took it to a 500mhz G3 and I used it with OS X Tiger (via XPostFacto) until 2001!</p>

  • Darmok N Jalad

    16 August, 2017 - 6:39 pm

    <p>My wifi card arrived today. Interestingly enough, you just need to buy the adapter, the Mac Pro already has a place for it, and the antenna wires are there and waiting (in 2010, WiFi was integrated). I just dropped in the Airport Extreme adapter, plugged in the antenna leads, and upon reboot, it was ready to go right away. </p><p>Honestly, the USB adapter I had worked surprisingly well, but it didn't even have 802.11n support, and it was nice to free up a USB port. </p>

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