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Silver-Colored Mac Pro Q&A - Updated May 23, 2013

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How do you upgrade the processors in the "Early 2009/Nehalem" Mac Pro models? How are the processors mounted?

Please note that this Q&A explains how to upgrade the processors in the "Early 2009" Mac Pro models (model identifier MacPro4,1).

EveryMac.com also provides processor upgrade instructions for other Mac Pro models -- the original and "Early 2008" (MacPro1,1, MacPro2,1, and MacPro3,1) and "Mid-2010" and "Mid-2012" (MacPro5,1) systems.

Officially, Apple does not state whether or not the processors in the "Early 2009/Nehalem" models can be upgraded.

The memory and hard drives are designed to be upgraded by end-users, and doing so is quite simple, but Apple does not intend for one to upgrade their own processor(s). Consequently, EveryMac.com cannot recommend that one upgrade the processor(s) in a "Early 2009" Mac Pro models themselves.

However, for the technically skilled, upgrading the processors in the "Early 2009" Mac Pro models is quite possible.


Photo Credit: Apple, Inc. (Early 2009 Mac Pro)

Identification Help

If you're not sure if you have an "Early 2009" Mac Pro or another model, the A1289 Model Number is insufficient as this identifier is shared by multiple subsequent Mac Pro lines.

However, the "Early 2009" Mac Pro models can be identified collectively by the Model Identifier in software and externally by EMC Number. More details about each identifier is provided in EveryMac.com's extensive Mac Identification section.

To locate the model identifier, select "About This Mac" under the Apple Menu on your computer and click the "More Info..." button. If the Mac Pro is running OS X "Lion" (10.7) or later, click the "System Report" button after clicking "More Info..." as well. All "Early 2009" Mac Pro models share model identifier MacPro4,1.

The EMC number is located on the rear of the system in small type. As hand noted by EveryMac.com, each "Early 2009" Mac Pro model shares EMC number 2314.

Specifically, these are the systems in the "Early 2009" Mac Pro line:

Mac Pro

Subfamily

Model ID

EMC Number

"Quad Core" 2.66

Early 2009

MacPro4,1

2314

"Quad Core" 2.93

Early 2009

MacPro4,1

2314

"Quad Core" 3.33

Early 2009

MacPro4,1

2314

"Eight Core" 2.26

Early 2009

MacPro4,1

2314

"Eight Core" 2.66

Early 2009

MacPro4,1

2314

"Eight Core" 2.93

Early 2009

MacPro4,1

2314

EveryMac.com's Ultimate Mac Lookup feature -- as well as the EveryMac app -- also can identify these models by their Serial Numbers.

Original Custom Processor Options

At the time of purchase, Apple originally offered the stock "Quad Core" model -- the Mac Pro "Quad Core" 2.66 (2009/Nehalem) -- with a single 2.93 GHz Quad Core Xeon W3540 processor as a US$500 upgrade. On December 4, 2009, Apple began offering it with a single 3.33 GHz Quad Core Xeon W3580 processor for US$1200 more and lowered the price of the 2.93 GHz processor upgrade to US$400.

Apple, likewise, offered the stock "Eight Core" model -- the Mac Pro "Eight Core" 2.26 (2009/Nehalem) -- with dual 2.66 GHz Quad Core Xeon X5550 processors or dual 2.93 GHz Quad Core Xeon X5570 processors for an additional US$1400 or US$2600, respectively.

It is fairly straightforward to upgrade a slower system with one of the faster processors that Apple offered new at the initial time of purchase.

Processor Upgrade Instructions (Most Straightforward Options)

All "Early 2009" Mac Pro models have the processors mounted on LGA 1366 sockets and Apple did not impose any firmware restrictions, either. However, as is common with Mac upgrades, significant hurdles apply.

As part of a longer upgrading piece, the hardworking hackers at the always excellent AnandTech successfully upgraded the stock 2.26 GHz Quad Core Xeon E5520 processors in the "Eight Core" model with two 2.93 GHz Quad Core Xeon X5570 processors.


Photo Credit: AnandTech (Unscrewing Mac Pro Heatsink)

Essentially, one needs to slide the processor tray out of the Mac Pro, unscrew the heatsinks with a long 3mm hex key, remove the heatsinks, clean off thermal paste residue, remove the processors, install the new processors, re-apply thermal paste, reattach the heatsinks, reinsert the processor tray, and close up the computer.

However, it is critical to note that the Apple uses custom processors without an "integrated heat spreader" or "lid" and Apple does not make it easy for an individual to be able to purchase these on the resale market (although some may be available through graymarket sources). AnandTech instead installed processors with an integrated heat spreader and upon the first time reattaching the heatsinks killed one of the new processors, the Mac Pro processor board, and one of the heatsinks. This mistake cost nearly US$2000 to remedy.

In a well written step-by-step article, The Mac Observer had better luck on the first try and successfully upgraded a stock Mac Pro "Eight Core" 2.26 (2009/Nehalem) with dual 3.33 GHz Xeon W5590 processors. Although the upgraded processors also had an integrated heat spreader, the author was able to carefully install them without damaging the processors or the system.

Firmware Hack Option

For really adventurous hardware hackers, there is a second option that involves not only an officially unsupported hardware upgrade but also a firmware hack -- or "firmware update" if you prefer -- for the "Early 2009" Mac Pro models.

Skilled hacker "MacEFIRom" from the Netkas Forums has released a utility that updates the firmware in the "Early 2009" Mac Pro (MacPro4,1) models to the same one used by the "Mid-2010" (MacPro5,1) models.

As elaborated upon by ArsTechnica, this later firmware provides support for faster processors and faster RAM as well as enabling audio support on the Mini DisplayPort:

Perhaps of primary interest is that users will be able to install 32nm Westmere Xeons, including six-core variants used in the high-end 2010 Mac Pro, into their older machine. Single-socket machines can use W-series CPUs, while dual-socket machines will need dual-QPI enabled chips including the E5600 and X5600-series chips. (A source who applied the firmware update told Ars that Westmere CPUs are identified with "B1" stepping in the identification code.)
Even if you didn't plan to upgrade the CPU, though, there are other benefits. Some Nehalem CPUs can support 1333 MHz DRAM speeds, but are limited to 1066 MHz on the older Mac Pros. The firmware update will enable the full 1333MHz speed if you have a CPU and RAM combo that can support it. And, the updated firmware will channel audio signals through the Mini DisplayPorts on installed GPUs, making it easier to use with HDMI displays.

This firmware update reportedly is reversible, but proceed with caution. Should you apply any firmware hacks, backup everything first, and be prepared to accept any consequences.

Processor Upgrade Summary

Ultimately, it is quite possible for one to upgrade the stock processors in the "Early 2009" Mac Pro models with faster ones available at the time the system was new or even more modern processors by taking advantage of firmware hacks.

However, due to the fact that Apple uses different processors than those commonly available for resale, even a skilled hardware hacker should proceed with caution. This is most definitely not an upgrade for those with limited hardware hacking experience.

By reading the above as well as the linked tutorials, it is hoped that you will be able to decide whether or not upgrading the processors in your "Early 2009" Mac Pro is something you feel skilled enough to handle or whether it is better to leave well enough alone.

Successfully upgraded the processor in any Mac Pro model? Please share the results of your labor. Thank you.

Also see:

  • How do you upgrade the processors in the "Original/Early 2008" Mac Pro models? How are the processors mounted?
  • How do you upgrade the processors in the "Mid-2010" and "Mid-2012" Mac Pro models? How are the processors mounted?


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