Servicing a Gorgeous Apple Mac Pro 8-Core Beast

My good buddy runs several powerful Apple Mac Pro desktop machines for use in his photographic studio. Perth’s notoriously hot weather and the near 12 hours a day operation gave these machines real beating.

With Paul closing his studio and relocating, I wanted to repair the gruntiest of these machines for him – a 2007 Mac Pro 2.1. This beautiful 2007 Mac Pro is like nothing you have ever seen if you’ve only ever seen inside regular PCs.

Industrial build quality, machined aluminium everywhere, custom high volume ball bearing fans, forced air cooking, massive custom heat pipe cooling for the dual quad-core Intel Xeon enterprise processors, solid capacitors and 105 degree rated parts feature in this machine that was designed for commercial use by imaging professionals.

The Mac Pro was engineered to meet a service life, not a low price-point. The machine is still very-fast even by today’s standards, largely because of the dual four-core Xeon design, but today it is let down by a puny graphics card, slow RAM and a hard drive that died.

I was able to fix this machine by adopting a two-pronged approach: 1 – carefully removing each module, vacuuming all the accumulated dust from every connector and component, vacuuming the RAM and 2 – bypassing the failed hard drive. This second aspect turned out to be the thing causing the most problems.

The old 250 gig drive was the original drive that the machine shipped with. It had an old system installation on it and the computer was trying to boot from that old installation. Years ago, however, we had installed a new WD Caviar Black 1TB drive and installed a new system onto it. Once I was able to force the machine to boot from this newer system and drive, she worked much better.

Once the machine was bootable again, I was able to clear files from the damaged disc and update the system on the good one. The Mac Pro, dead for four years now absolutely purrs once again, running perhaps better than she ever did with a nice WD Caviar Black 1TB drive and soon hopefully, a solid-state drive for the OS and apps, plus a new video card.

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Overall view of the inside of the Mac Pro. Note the beautifully engineered modular design and lack of visible cabling.

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Here we have the RAM board on the left, with slow DDR2 663 MHz RAM. On the right, we have the NVidia GT7300 graphics card, a slug by any modern standards. This card will be replaced with a modern card soon.
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A better view of the RAM board. Note the premium Sanyo Oscon capacitors, heat spreaders and nice layout. These RAM sticks get very hot and there is a beautifully designed forced-air cooling system inside this Mac Pro that directs cooling air right over each stick. They were dusty so it is important to clean them very thoroughly before reinstallation.

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The NVidia GT7300 is a really slow card – it was really slow even when this machine was released!

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Optical drive module…
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One of three custom cooling fan modules. These are not you standard PC case fans either, they are high flowing, very high-quality fans that are almost completely silent in normal operation. This computer runs extremely quietly unless it’s situated in a hot environment or churning through some serious 3D rendering, in which case the fans become more audible.
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Heatpipe cooling towers for the dual Xeon processors. Even these heatsink towers are incredibly well-made, nothing in the Mac Pro has been spared.

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