How To Upgrade Your Mac Pro Graphics Card

I’ve recently had to make the switch over to Premiere CC on my home Mac Pro, but my old 2009 tower didn’t cut it. You need a Nvidea GPU with at least 1GB of video ram to use its Mercury Playback Engine. So in order to get more life out of my old Mac Pro I upgraded its graphics card.

Not only will a new graphics card give you support for the Mercury Playback Engine and CUDA, but it will also enhance many tools in Photoshop.

 

Upgrading Your Graphics Card On An Old Mac Pro

A few years ago you couldn’t just upgrade your graphics card in a Mac. You could only use very specific cards that were supported by the OS that sometimes used custom drivers. Or you had to buy the way overpriced Mac specific EFI cards.

But today with the new Mavericks OS, Apple and Nvidia have added support for most modern 3d cards. You can literally get just about any card you want, keeping in mind that you have to power it.

How to upgrade your old macpro with a new GPU

My current system. Running like a dream.

 

Powering The Cards – What You Need To Know

A Mac Pro doesn’t have a traditional power supply units like a PC does.

There are however two 6-pin mini PCIe power plugs built into the motherboard. As long as you get a graphics card with one or two six pin PCIe power ports you should be fine. 

Zotac 760 Card Installed two 6 pin power

This only poses a problem if you want a faster Overclocked card. Many of them now have at least one 8pin power ports. I’ve seen many people get the 8 to 6 pin adapter, but that’s risky and you may pull too much power from your motherboard resulting in damage to your Macpro, or an underpowered graphics card. 

 

Using 8pin PCIe Power

8 pin and 6pin PCIe Power GPU on MacPro

If you still want a more powerful card or one that is overclocked there are a few solutions. You can order a Sata Power to Molex, or PCIe adapter, and use one of the ports designed to power your internal hard drives, or your second superdrive. You can run one of these into your 6 pin, and run your 8 pin into a two 6 pin mini split. (which should come with your card)

Or, if you want to play with fire. Get an 8 pin to 6 pin adapter. I’ve seen people do this without problems. I personally wouldn’t.

Your card should come with a 6pin to molex adapter.

 

The External PSU Method – The Feddy Way

I’ve also seen people buy external Power Supply Units, or use an old one from an old PC (we all have one in storage somewhere). This works as well and you’ll just have to sit it outside your box and rig a few plugs to make the power supply constantly on. Just make sure you get one with enough power.

In the comments Freddy has shared with us some information on how he did it this way.

Here is what he used.

PSU: BitFenix Power Supply ATX 750 Power Supply BFP-FUR-750G-KSXK-RP

GPU: XFX Black Edition Double D RADEON R9 290 980MHz 4GB DDR5 DP HDMI 2XDVI Graphics Cards R9290AEDBD

But in order to get the PSU to work you’ll need to bridge 2 wires from the main connector.

 

The Simple Method – What I Did

I personally just bought a card with two six pins to save myself from trouble. I needed my superdrive sata power for my external USB 3.0 card and I was out of hard drive ports.

I would really recommend just getting a card with one or two 6 pin ports on it, save yourself a headache. Each 6pin port will give you 75w as well as the PCI slot which is a total of 225w. 

 

List of Some Available Cards

Keep in mind that all these cards score relatively the same for Adobe Premiere CS6 benchmarks.

But if you game or do other tasks you’ll notice speed differences for sure

 

ZOTAC NVIDIA GeForce GTX 760 4GB

ZOTAC NVIDIA GeForce GTX 760 4GB GDDR5 2DVI/HDMI/DisplayPort PCI-Express Video Card

Adapters 

You might need two of these depending on what was in your computer prior.

Mini-PCIe 6Pin Mac-Pro G5 to PCI-Express 6-Pin

 

I personally use the ZOTAC, and the agency I work for also has put it in all there Mac Pros. No problems so far. 

 

EVGA Geforce GTX 660 3GB

Good solid card.

EVGA GeForce GTX 660 SIGNATURE2 3072MB GDDR5 DVI mHDMI DP Graphics Card

You’ll only need one adapter.

Mini-PCIe 6Pin Mac-Pro G5 to PCI-Express 6-Pin

EVGA GeForce GTX 670 SuperClocked 4GB

Slightly faster than the 760, but more expensive.

EVGA GeForce GTX 670 SuperClocked 4096MB GDDR5, 2x Dual-Link DVI, HDMI, DP

You might need two of these

Mini-PCIe 6Pin Mac-Pro G5 to PCI-Express 6-Pin

 

How To Install

Installing is simple, power you’re computer off and unplug it.

Then you just plug your 6pin to 6pin mini into motherboard and card. And install the card. That’s it.

 

Enable CUDA GPU in Premiere CS6 or CC

There are a couple of ways of doing this, you can check out the forum on Adobe here.

You can download a text file which has links to Adobe CS6 Files. If you’re on CC, just replace the type “CS6” with “CC”

With the new Adobe CC you no longer need to do this. Also you no longer need to use CUDA. Open CL works fine.

 

Only Draw Backs

The only draw back is you won’t get a boot screen. The card won’t be read by the machine until it loads Mavericks with the drivers since it’s a Non-EFI card. (Extensible Firmware Interface) Mac specific cards have special firmware that is EFI so it can talk directly to the hardware. It was a firmware developed by Intel designed to replace Legacy Bios. Apple uses this technology, but Nvidia currently does not. 

 

Using Bootcamp

This presents a problem if you’re using bootcamp. You can no longer boot to different systems with the on-screen interface. You have to go into your systems settings and change your targeted boot drive every time you want to boot into a different system. Not a huge deal, just requires a little more work. And you must have the bootcamp software installed on the PC side. 

 

Additional Downloads You’ll Need

You’ll need the Nvidia Drivers found here.

And the CUDA drivers found here. Only if you want to run CUDA over Open CL. I haven’t noticed a difference.

 

4GB vs 2GB of VRAM

This is a topic nobody really seems to know about or understand. So I’ll just tell you what I know.

The Mercury Playback Engine requires you to have at least 1GB of VRAM in order to work. However, 1.5GB is really what you need to handle a project with any sort of scale.  And I have felt the difference.

Do you need 4GB?

Some say you’ll run out of GPU bandwidth in these lower end cards before you even use all 4GB of memory. I think this is coming from 15-year-old gamers that think they understand this in terms of gaming. It sort of makes sense in the gamer world, your gpu won’t be able to push 4gb of 4k textures fast enough.

I think it’s highly unlikely graphic card manufacturers would make hardware features that are obsolete.

With video, the more vRAM you have, the better you’ll be able to work with high-resolution video. You’ll need 4GB to work with 4k Video and from what I understand, for 1080p 2GB will be fine. 

I bought the 4GB of memory because the new Sony A7s, and that Panasonic GH4 now shoot 4k. And I know I’ll be working with that footage sooner than later.

 

Additional Learning

Configuring Adobe Premiere CC For CUDA and Mercury Playback.

Adobe Premiere CS6 GPU Benchmarks

Changes Adobe Made to CC as of October 2013

More Info About Graphics Cards. This video is about 2 years old but the cards are still relevant. 

Good Luck!

And please feel free to contribute to this guide in the comments below.