Recent Purchase of a 2012 MacPro 5,1 - History and Thoughts

Christopher Nielsen mascguy at
Sun Apr 17 15:50:42 UTC 2022

I wanted to quickly share some recent experience with a serious Mac upgrade - for me, at least - which finally removes some barriers for MacPorts development and testing.

But first, some brief history, which folks might enjoy:

My first “real" desktop Mac was a 2005 PowerMac G5/2.7 DP - the liquid-cooled beast - purchased new at CompUSA back in 2006. This was their last 2005-era G5, and they were highly-motivated to sell it, so they dropped the price by $250. They also included free AppleCare, essentially adding another $250-ish discount, making it a compelling deal.

That machine performed well - and also served as a literal space heater, when running at full tilt - and served me well for a few years. It also reduced my heating costs! LOL

Fast forward to fall of 2008: While running some CPU-intensive processes for an extended period, the machine suddenly powered off with no warning. It was as if I had yanked the power cord from the rear of the machine!

“Hmmm,” I thought to myself, as I bent down and took a closer look. I removed the side cover, and inspected the inside, but didn’t see anything obvious. Nor was there a scent of burnt-out electronics, which provided some sense of relief. So I pressed the power button, to see what would happen.

There was a brief sound - perhaps a subtle zap? - followed by a small whiff of smoke expelled from the rear. Since the machine otherwise showed no signs of life - and the smoke was a wee-bit concerning - I immediately pulled the power cord. Then I promptly loaded the machine into my vehicle, and headed to my local Apple store. (Despite living in a smaller city, we thankfully did have an Apple store, which happened to appear just a few months prior. Talk about timing, thank you Apple!)

Anyhow, I carried my PowerMac into the store, and briefly recapped the situation to the techs. So they proceeded to open the side cover, flashlight in hand, and immediately noticed a problem: There was a small pool of green cooling fluid. They chuckled, and explained that this isn’t uncommon. So then they asked whether I had a need for a PPC-based PowerMac, or whether my situation allowed the use of an Intel-based machine.

So I replied with, “Well, I love the machine, and it would be great to fix it. But with the caveat that I never considered the Intel route. Why do you ask?”

The tech then explained that, while they could repair it - and happily would, if that’s what I wanted - it would involve a complete motherboard replacement. (Apparently the PPC CPUs are immediately cooked beyond recognition, when the cooling system fails.) And because of the costs involved, they’d happily provide a shiny-new Intel-based MacPro as a replacement. [Sidebar: Thank Gawd for AppleCare!]

I was a bit flabbergasted, and completely speechless for 10 seconds: This was my pride-and-joy after all! And never expected it to be so far gone, that a full replacement - and a new Intel-based MacPro at that! - would be an option. So once I regained the ability to speak, I smiled gleefully, and responded with, “Well, it’ll be a bit of a sacrifice... but I think a new MacPro would be acceptable...” (Followed by a not-so-subtle wink! LOL)

10 minutes later, they loaded the monstrous black box - containing my dream machine, a 2008 MacPro 3,1 dual-quad-core - into my vehicle. (The box was so large, that it was a tight squeeze!)

I giggled excitedly during the entire 20-minute drive back to my home. But it was still so surreal, that it took a while for it to sink in. “A brand-new, dual-quad-core MacPro?!? Holy crap!!!”

So fast forward to present-day: After plenty of research - and nearly a year of pondering - I finally took the plunge, and ordered a top-of-the-line MacPro 5,1 dual-hex-core, outfitted with the fastest supported CPUs: X5690 Xeons.

And WOW, what an upgrade! I can finally virtualize Big Sur and Monterey - which I wasn’t able to do before - and run multiple macOS VMs at true native speed. (While Parallels worked remarkably well on my MacPro 3,1, the older CPUs lacked certain key virtualization features - including hardware-assisted IO virtualization, nested page tables, etc - all of which significantly impacted performance.)

Meanwhile the increase in the physical CPU core count - combined with HyperThreading - certainly speeds up port build times!

For anyone interested, I purchased mine from iBuildMacs <>. The machine was immaculate inside and out - including the exterior case, which is free of dings and scratches - and they did an awesome job! (That includes the shipping box, constructed with beefy double-walled cardboard… along with excellent molded protection for the machine.)

Anyhow, I’d highly recommend them, based on my experience. And the value is amazing, given the price. (The total was $1,425, plus $75 shipping.)

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