Mac Pro Upgrade – Mountain Lion, SSD, eSata, USB 3

My main editing computer has been an early 2009 Mac Pro 8-core Intel machine with 14gb RAM and an NVIDIA GeForce GT 120 graphics card, running OSX 10.6.8 Snow Leopard.  It’s been a workhorse but it was getting tired, taking a long time to boot up and do disk-intensive tasks.

I decided it was time to look into some upgrades to speed things up.  The first thing I did was to try using USB 3 on the Mac Pro to get some speedy external hard drives.  I found a Sonnet Allegro PCIe USB 3 card on Amazon.  It works with a 3 tb WD MyBook USB 3 drive getting up to 92mbs sequential write and 85mbs read.  But the two-slot card will only work with one device at a time and the drive will mysteriously disappear sometimes, only reappearing when I reboot.  I give the setup a 5 out of 10 because it works but is a dead-end since I can’t add a hub or another drive.

Next I tried a eSata card to get better speed from my Newer Voyager and NexStar external  drive docks which I’ve been running with Firewire 800.  I decided on a NewerTech MaxPower eSATA 6G PCIe 2.0 RAID Capable Controller Card from OWC because it supports RAIDs and they claimed it would run on the Mac Pro.  Speed increase was not dramatic, but I’m getting about 22% faster read/write from external drives.   I give it 7 out of 10.

I’m kind of late to the party with Solid State Drives (SSD) but from many accounts putting the system and main software on an SSD boot drive would be the best and speediest upgrade.  I decided to upgrade to OS 10.8 Mountain Lion first to see if it was stable, then install an SSD.

I ran Mountain Lion on a separate drive for a couple of weeks, only copying over software that I actually used during that time to see if I could eliminate a lot of the clutter in my Applications folder that I had accumulated over the years.  Plus Mountain Lion was not compatible with some of the old programs so I wanted to see what needed to be updated.  All the main programs I was using — Final Cut Pro 7 and X, Photoshop 5.1, After Effects, Compressor, ClipWrap, MPEG Streamclip, MS Office — seemed to work fine under Mountain Lion.  I had to upgrade Pluraleyes to the new Red Giant version, and I had to update drivers for Matrox Max, the Sonnet Allegro USB 3 card and a few other utilities.

All was good except that if the system went to sleep it would not wake up when you hit the keyboard or mouse, and I’d have to do a hard restart.  I didn’t lose much work because I usually save everything before getting up from the computer, but it was really annoying.  After checking a lot of posts by people with the same problem, I stumbled on a solution posted by Bonfire to upgrade the Nvidia graphics card drivers.  After downloading and installing the QUADRO & GEFORCE MAC OS X DRIVER RELEASE 304.00.05, everything is working fine.

Next the SSD.  I  picked up a Sandisk Extreme 480gb SSD on eBay for about $300.  Mounted it in an Icydock 2.5 to 3.5 converter box.  Loaded Mountain Lion and essential applications and swapped out my old boot drive in bay 1.  Startup time went from almost 2 minutes down to 45 seconds.  It’s reading/writing about twice as fast as my old drive according to Xbench.  9 out of 10 with just a knock for the expense.  I hope SSDs will start to drop in price like SD cards have.

So I’m happy with the upgrades.  For about $400 in parts it feels like a new machine, which will suffice until or if Apple decides to update their Mac Pro line.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *