With all the discussion about new Mac Pro coming, how good the Mac Mini 2018 is as a Pro Tools computer reminded me that a while back I had bought replacement processors for my Mac Pro 5,1 cheese-grater , which I had never got around to fitting. This article will show how to change the processor chips in a Mac Pro 5,1 (Mid 2010) cheese-grater and will show the difference this has made to my Pro Tools computer.
Warning DIY Project - Undertake At Your Own Risk
One of the reasons I have taken a long time to get round to doing this is I was scared that I might break my cheese-grater and that the fix would be expensive.
Whilst we have done our best to be as comprehensive as possible in this article please be aware that if you choose to upgrade your own Pro Tools computer, you do it at your own risk and we cannot be held responsible if it doesn’t work or you damage your computer. You have been warned.
Before You Start
For me it all started with an article and video posted on our sister site Studio One Expert about how someone had taken an old 2009 Mac Pro and turned it into a fully pimped 12 core Mac Pro. In this article they not only change the processors but fit things like PCI-e flash storage all of which gave a very old machine a completely new lease of life. In my case I had already upgraded the graphics card in April 2016, and changed my boot drive to an Angelbird SSD drive. More me the singlest biggest opportunity to improve the performance of my Mid 2010 Mac Pro cheese-grater that I bought in late 2011 was to upgrade the processors.
To get over my reticence I rewatched the video on Studio One Expert that had triggered the idea back in 2017 and then also watch this video which came from the company that supplied the processor chips (more on this shortly).
Note that this video shows how to upgrade a single processor Mac Pro, but all the principles and advice apply to my 2 processor computer, you need to do everything twice and the advice from my research is to get matched pairs of processors.
What Do You Need To Upgrade Or Change The Processors On A Mac Pro 5,1 Cheese-grater?
As you will see from this video and the video in the Studio One Expert article you are going to need the following…
3mm Hex key at least 5” in length - This is for unscrewing and rescrewin the processor heatsinks. It need to be at least 5” long to reach down through the heatsink to reach the bolts, which are held captive in the heatsink.
Thermal Paste Remover and Surface Purifier - With the lint free cloth these are to clean off the old thermal paste and surface Purifier to prep the new processors and the heat sink to take the new thermal paste.
Thermal Paste - To apply to the new processors
Lint Free Cloth - to clean off the thermal paste from the old processors and heatsinks.
Matched Pair of Intel Processors - There are loads of refurbished and second-hand processors out there and some people choose to go the secondhand route, which is cheaper but may not work for sure.
I chose a supplier on Ebay (Mihatsch Trading GmbH & Co known as superfonse2000 on Ebay) who offered matched pairs guaranteed to work with my Mac Pro. In addition they offered a kit that included the 2 processors, the Hex Key, a Chem Pad pack to help with cleaning the processors and heatsinks. All I needed to get was the Thermal Paste Remover and Surface Purifier as I already had a lint free cloth to hand.
At the time I got a pair of X5680 3,33 GHz Six Core Processor but you can get a pair of Intel Xeon X5690 3.46GHz Six Core Processors for £260. Alternatively you could get a pair of Intel Xeon X5675 3.06 GHz Six Core Processors for just £86.
How To Upgrade The Processors On A Mac Pro 5,1 Cheese-grater
Take out the Mac Pro from wherever it is. In my case it is in my computer cupboard. You can learn more about this in my article Acoustic Treatment - What Are We All Doing - Part 3. It is best to unplug everything to make sure there is no risk of turning the cupboard on by accident. I got my computer out into the middle of my studio floor . It was then much easier to take of the side exposing the cards, hard drive trays and the processor tray at the bottom.
Next I needed to remove the processor tray. There are two levers at the bottom. You need to push in the lever at the ribbed end in both cases which will push out the processor tray slightly.
Then you can pull out the processor tray and place on a conventional work surface.
Now we can start to change the processors. First unscrew one of the heatsinks with the 3mm hex key. I found it best to unscrew each screw a few turns at a time until eventually can feel as you turned the hex key the screw was all the way out. Note that will be a lot of turns so don’t worry if you feel you are turning the hex key a lot.
Once you have unscrewed all 4 screws you will be able to lift off the heatsink to reveal the processor in it’s cradle and the underside of the heatsink including the copper plate that comes into contact of the lid on the processor and both surfaces will be covered in thermal paste.
Next you need to clean off the old thermal paste using the thermal paste remover fluid.
But before you do, I found it was much easier to clean the old processor having taken it out of it’s cradle. You will see that there is a bar under a lip. Push down on the bar but don’t let go. Keep hold of the bar and pull it up gently as it compresses a strong spring which helps to keep the processor in place. Once the bar is fully released you will be able to fold out the processor clip cover and then be able to lift out the processor.
Now it is much easier to clean the processor and not get bits of old thermal paste over the processor cage wheich s what I did first time round.
Take the lid of the bottle and put a couple of drops on the processor as well as a couple on the lint free cloth and rub, and the thermal paste wil come off the processor and into the cloth. Make sure you also go round the edges. At this stage I used the chem pad that came with the processors to give the processor and heatsink another clean. Then I used the thermal surface purifier to prep both the new processor and the heatsink.
Now we are ready to put the processor into the the cage. It will only go one way round. See in the photo below, there are two cutouts in the processor pcb that you can see on each side about 3/4 of the way up. There are corresponding lugs in the processor socket so that there is only one way the processor can go in. Then it’s a matter of closing the cage up using the bar until you can hook it under the lip.
Next, it was time to put new fresh thermal paste onto the processor. The consensus from my research seems to be to put a single blog in the middle of the processor lid.
Now it is a matter of refitting the heatsink. I found it easier to locate the fan connector in the heatsink with the socket on the processor tray motherboard and then guide the screws into place. The tighten up each screw a few turns at a time rather than fully tightening each screw one by one, as that could distort the way the the heatsink sits on top of the processor.
Do It All Again
Then it’s a matter of repeating the whole process with the second processor, if you have 2 processors, and then that is it. Put the processor tray back into the computer chassis and hook it back up.
Does It Work?
The moment of truth. Does it boot back up? The macOS chord is a good sign. Then once its booted up check the About This Mac from the Apple menu and check that the computer has recognised the new processors.
I would recommend running the computer up for the first time with the side still off as there are two LEDs on the processor tray motherboard that will flicker red if either of the processors gets too hot. This can happen if you haven’t tightened the screws down enough or if you haven’t used the right amount of thermal paste.
Once you are happy then you are done and ready to test it.
How Much Better Is My Upgraded Mac Pro Cheese-Grater With It’s New Processors?
Before I started the upgrade process, I measured the performance of my Mac Pro 5,1 cheese-grater in a number of ways.
Geekbench 4 app - This is a standard benchmarking app that allows to compare different computers as it undertakes a range of task and comes up with both individual scores for each task and two overall scores. One for single core performance and the second for mutli-core performance.
Cinebench benchmarking app - This is another test that checks both CPU performance as well s how good your graphics card is.
Non Real-time bounce of a Pro Tools session - I chose to use a podcast session and measure how long it took to complete the bounce for a 64 minute podcast and how many times real-time it did it in.
The Pro Tools Expert Mac Power Test Session - This is the session we regularly use on Pro Tools Expert to measure the performance of a computer using Pro Tools.
Mac Pro Cheese-grater Upgrade Results Summary
|Test||2 x 2.4GHz 4 Core||2 x 3.3GHz 6 Core||Percentage
|Processor||Intel Xeon E5620||Intel Xeon X5680|
|Geekbench 4 Single-Core||2108||2809||133.25%|
|Geekbench 4 Multi-core||13414||22885||170.61%|
|Cinebench OpenGL (fps)||47.43||53.93||113.70%|
|Cinebench CPU (pts)||759||1443||190.12%|
|Pro Tools Offline Bounce time (secs)||39||32||121.88%|
|Pro Tools Offline Bounce Speed||95.8||119.8||125.05%|
Where My Upgraded Cheese-grater Mac Pro 5,1 Sit Compared To Other Computers
Below are the benchmarks tests for Multi-Core tests on Geekbench 4 and my upgraded Mac Pro 5,1 cheese-grater would slot in just under a late 2013 3.0GHz 8 core Mac Pro trash can and it would take a 3.2GHz i7 Mac Mini 2018 to beat it. Note that a 3.0Ghz 6 core i5 scores slightly less than my upgrades trash can. Other than a 12 core 2.7Ghz trash can nothing else beats my upgraded Mac Pro 5,1 other than the new iMac Pro machines. Not bad I think?
You can look at the comparison of all the Geekbench tests in much more detail to see what changes I got for each of the Geekbench 4 tests before and after my processor upgrade.
Pro Tools Expert Mac Power Test Session
This is where it gets very interesting. Our The Pro Tools Expert Mac Power Test Session is the session that we use to test Pro Tools computers as it has 128 audio tracks with audio that is edited every second, each with an instance of the Avid Channel Strip and D-Verb. Then there are a number of tracks with an instance of Boom. However with my HDX1 system I could not go about 15 tracks with an instance of Boom before I ran out of Voices, so looking forward to Pro Tools 2019.
With my old 8 core system I could only have 10 audio tracks with an instance of Eleven Mk II on each of them, in addition to the Avid Channel Strip and D-Verb, before my system would not play without getting CPU error messages. Even with 10 instances on Eleven Mk II the counter and the faders were jerky, which is what Pro Tools does when it is struggling. It prioritises playing and processing audio at the expense of the updating the GUI.
After the upgrade I was able to add 15 more instances of Eleven MkII before I got the dreaded CPU error message. Even at that point the GUI was still running smoothly.
How Much Did It Cost?
The processor kit with the matched pair of Intel Xeon X5680 3,33 GHz Six Core Processor CPU Matched Pair for a Mac Pro 5,1, the 3mm Hex Key, Thermal Paste and Chem Pad - 225.80 Euros (£200.49)
Thermal Paste Remover and Surface Purifier - £7.94
Total price - £233.74 UK Sterling (Approximately $316)
Upgrading was nowhere near as hard to do as I feared, once I had watched a a couple of videos and read up on the process it went without a hitch. In fact it was a lot less problematic than any macOS upgrade, which usually breaks something. This processor upgrade just worked. But I was fully prepped and had done my research.
I was amazed at the results. Yes I am aware that there is still a lot of old 2010 tech in my Mac Pro. For example the SATA busses are SATA 2 and not SATA 3. it doesn’t offer Thunderbolt but as an HDX user that isn’t a deal breaker for me and when you look at the Geekbench benchmarks it is performing on a par with the new Mac mini 2018 machines. This is significant for me, as I was seriously considering buying a 6 core i7 Mac mini i7 to replace my cheese-grater that would set me back around £2000 UK sterling. However for a £240 outlay and 30 minutes of my time I have a much improved Mac Pro 5,1 cheese-grater that will last me some time yet.
If you don’t feel comfortable undertaking this DIY upgrade, then there are some other options.
You could buy a buy a processor tray with new processors already fitted and then sell your old processor tray.
You could take advantage of companies like Create Pro who can either do it for you or offer an exchange service, where you send back your old processor tray once you have fitted the new one or the option to send them your old processor tray, they do the job and then send it back to you.
Alternatively if you don’t want any aggro then you can do what Dan did and buy a Mac Pro cheese-grater already upgraded.