An aging Mac Pro 2009 with a FujiFilm GFX

This is not really a photography post per se. It’s about upgrading a piece of equipment necessary for processing images. I guess it also covers an environmentally friendly way to do things. Yes, in terms of reusing and recycling. The equipment in question is my Apple Mac Pro (Early 2009). Let me explain what I’m talking about, I’ll try and  keep it exciting…

We’ll start by the processor upgrade from 8 CPU cores to 12 cores, a USB 3 card and of course a wee bit of RAM

The Story

The big beefy Fuji GFX camera is a demanding beast. Not only in the field to get picture perfect pin sharp images but it also requires a powerful computer back at base to finish the job.

Fujifilm GFX50s

A post-process workflow needs to be smooth and effective. Otherwise, the creativity flow staggers along if you are waiting for things to load and appear on the monitor. My aging Mac from 2009 with its dual XEON processors needs some serious adjustment. The raw files coming out of the GFX are well over 100 Mb each. Processing and rendering the image on screen is computer intensive – i.e slow at present. Essentially RAM, CPU, and GPU all play their part in getting the image reliably onto the screen in a timely fashion.

ON1 Photo Raw Editor
ON1 Photo Raw Editor

Buy a new computer ?

Of course, I could upgrade to the Mac Pro 2013 black “trash can” however what I’ve read and learned is that there’s not much value to it. In fact, for a couple hundred bucks you can have pretty much have the same performance. Okay, without the Thunderbolt option but who cares, I’ve 4 hard drive bays anyway! It’s just not worth spending 3-4 thousands quid on a new machine until Apple produce something better.

[Updated]: The new iMac Pro would be an option, however, I’ll use the Mac Pro 2009 as much as I can for now.

So onto the upgrade for digital medium format photography.

Get Raw Processing Speed Boost

My first port of call was the CPU upgrade. I purchased two Intel Xeon X5690  3.47Ghz CPU’s from eBay. Then some heatsink paste and chemicals to clean the old paste off from the heatsink in preparation for the new CPUs I had just ordered. Also, a necessary tool to release the tall heatsink off the Mac’s motherboard.

All excited, I waited about two weeks for the arrival from China for the Xeon’s. During this time I proceeded to do the firmware upgrade (see below).

What is needed for the first stage :

  • 1 x 3mm Hex/Allen key used to remove the heatsinks to access the processors
  • 1 x USB Drive to update your Mac to the 5,1 firmware (This update is not supported by Apple)
  • 1 x Tube of Arctic Silver 5 Thermal Compound
  • 1 x Chem Pad to clean the heatsink/CPU before installing them
  • 2 x compatible XEON (of course faster than your existing ones)

CPU Upgrade

According to many sources, the Mac Pro 2009 is exactly identical in terms of hardware to Mac Pro 2012 System apart from the faster processors and logic board firmware. So lucky me!  This means it’s straightforward to go from 2.66 MHz (8 cores) to 3.46 MHz (12 cores). Everything should work. That should really make things a lot snappier… Let’s see. now things get technical…  (Fear not it’s worth it in the end)

Updating the Firmware

The following step was taken from – Paul Lefebvre

  • Boot into safe mode and disable System Integrity Protection (SIP) on OS X 10.11 El Capitan by running this command in the Terminal:
    csrutil disable
  • Boot back into your regular account.
    Download the firmware update from Apple and open the DMG to mount it in the Finder.
  • Download the (unsupported by Apple) 3rd party Updater Tool to apply this firmware update.
  • Run the Updater Tool, which recognized the mounted DMG, rebooted and applied the firmware update.
  • Check that everything works and then boot info safe mode and enable SIP:
    csrutil enable
  • After doing these steps my Mac Pro showed as a MacPro 5,1 model, which meant it could now support better CPUs such as the 6-core Westmere CPUs. Now we’re talking!


The Results

All done, wow things work!  So after my upgrade, I had an increase of approximately 60% increase in terms of benchmarking. Also discovered the need for a Fan Control App is apparently required as the CPU fans were on constantly at full blast. To fix this minor annoyance caused by some piece of firmware not getting upgraded or compatible.  Anyway, the Fan Control Application turned out to be really useful to keep an eye on the temperatures of things after the upgrade.

Here are my results before and after. Notice my RAM is still at 1066Mhz  this will be the next thing to swap out.


Before the Upgrade with 8 Cores
After the Upgrade with 12 Cores


Looking at the benchmark score for the 12 core on Geekbench the upgrade seems successful right on par. However, a RAM increase is also needed. I’ve order 32GB (4GB x 8) this should support the CPUs core nicely.  I think it was worth!  definitely!

The bill so far…

My cost of the processor upgrade including shipping to Austria was €237 Euro. The hex key, thermal paste and removal liquid were €22.  Not bad at all for an aging old computer.

USB 3.0 for Image Transfers and Time Machine

The USB 3.0 upgrade on the Mac Pro 2009 is relatively painless It’s just a matter of inserting a PCI-e card inside the machine.

However plugging in and out USB devices you’ve got to reach around to the back of the Mac. This isn’t too accessible.

Tip: There is a solution which I combine by upgrading my time machine to an external drive which has an integrated USB 3 hub. I used one of the Seagate Backup drives. The drive costs about 150 euros on Amazon for 8Tb.

Now the Seagate Backup Drive sits on top of the Mac Pro this allows me to plug in and out my SD card reader easily.

To complete the USB 3.0 upgrade you should use USB 3 UHS-II Reader (See my other blog post.

Next RAM Upgrade

To take advantage of the CPU upgrade and clock speed increase from 1066Mhz to 1333Mhz (20% faster).  I needed to replace my 12Gb of 2Gb x 6 sticks of RAM. I purchase 4x8Gb equaling 32Gb. Now thinking I’d have an increase but not at all. In fact to get the full speed from the Mac Pro I needed actually 6 sticks of RAM another words 48Gb in total. Why because the CPU operates in either triple channel mode or dual channel mode. Obviously, triple channel is the fast option here. So back to eBay, contacted the seller and to purchase additional 2 sticks of the same stuff. Let’s hope the system gets to 1333Mhz, fingers crossed. (So I guess I’ll need to wait an additional week to finish this blog post)

Currently the Mac Pro is running on 32Gb of 1333Mhz RAM in dual channel mode. I ran the benchmark test with the new configuration. Only to learn I lost 1000 points of the previous score when I had 12Gb of 1066Mhz RAM. So triple channel really does matter.  However, the computer still sees the RAM as 1066Mhz  even after the NVRAM reset. Not sure if this is right either way two more sticks will help the matter considerably.

Further upgrades

  1. SSD PCI-e with NVMe for the OS and Scratch disk. Would improve applications and loading of files.
  2. Video Card maybe the Nvidia 10 series or 980 card. But that’s another post which requires more research.

SSD Drive

1 Comment

Leave a Reply