In December 2019, I upgraded to a Mac Pro. Inspired by Shawn Blanc’s CJ-7 build thread, I thought I’d record what I do with (and to) the machine here.
To learn more about my other gear, check out this page.
December 19, 2019 – Unboxing
The machine shipped several weeks earlier than expected. Here are the specs at unboxing:
- CPU: 3.3 GHz 12-Core Intel Xeon W
- GPU: AMD Radeon Pro 580X 8 GB
- RAM: 32 GB 2933 MHz DDR4
- Storage: 4 TB SSD
I’m using it with the LG UltraFine 5K display, not the Pro Display XDR. It’s totally fine.
December 20, 2019 – Initial Upgrades
I had a couple of things ready to go when I set up the machine:
- Purchased AppleCare+ for a shockingly low price of $299.
- Upgraded RAM to a total of 96 GB, with RAM from Apple.
I also ordered the Promise J2i hard drive enclosure. It was way too much money, but the design is very clever It slides into place easily, and the included cables were easy enough to plug into the machine’s logic board. I set up the included 8 TB hard drive for Time Machine.
I have no doubt cheaper drive mounting options will surface over time, but these are early days.
December 23, 2019 – Hard Drives Are Bad
The 8 TB drive that came with the J2i is incredibly loud. Even with the tower under my desk, I can hear it clicking and chunking away as Time Machine runs. Yikes.
I don’t want to dismount this drive when I’m working, as I want Time Machine running at all times, so until I can work something out, I’ve put in another 4 TB SSD to backup the machine. The internal drive is also 4 TB but has almost 2 TB free, so I have some breathing room for now … and yes, I could have done this a couple of PCI cards, but the J2i is here, so YOLO, I guess:
January 3, 2020 – Small Hard Drives Are OK
I found a 5 TB spinning hard drive on Amazon and popped it in the J2i for a bit more room for Time Machine. The drive is taller than standard drives, but as the carrier was meant for 3.5-inch drives, it wasn’t a problem mounting it. It being 5400 RPM is a bit of a bummer, but if it stays this quiet for a long time to come, I can forgive the slow speed for a backup drive.
With the tower under the desk, I can barely hear the drive when it’s being written to, but even if I start typing, the sound fades away easily. I think this is going to be workable.
January 9, 2020 – Internal Clones Set Up
I have installed two 2.5-inch 4 TB Samsung 860 EVO SSDs in the Mac Pro via a couple of OWC’s Accelsior S PCIe Adapter cards. I have set up tasks in Carbon Copy Cloner to use one of the drives for cloning my 4 TB boot drive, and the other is going to be a clone of my 4 TB “Archives” SSD, which is connected via SATA, as outlined above.
Both have been neatly labeled:
I will still be running Time Machine and making off-site backups via Backblaze and a set of external USB hard drives that I store elsewhere, but internal, nightly clones mean I can recover from a drive failure more quickly than ever before.
Turns out, all of these PCI slots are handy.
March 10, 2020 – Dust Check
Opened up the tower to check on dust collection. There was a slight collection on the fan blades already, but especially the blower that sits beneath the RAM slots. Some compressed air took care of it quickly.
April 24, 2020 – An Upgrade, Told in Two Photos
July 1, 2020 – More Storage Woes
For months, I’ve had four 4 TB SSDs running inside the tower:
- Internal SSD
- “Archive” SSD, of old projects
- Nightly clones of each
In addition to this, I had that 2.5-inch 5 TB spinning hard drive installed for Time Machine. Everything was almost out of space.
I’ve redone all of this.
First, I installed the very expensive 8 TB SSD kit from Apple, replacing the 4 TBs I had out of the box. The physical installation wasn’t too bad, and it gave me a chance to clean out the inside of the Mac Pro, as this thing is really like collecting dust.
The post-install process was also pretty easy, but a little scary. I had to hook up my Mac Pro to my MacBook Pro over USB-C and restore its firmware using Apple Configurator. I was pretty nervous about this going wrong, but it only took a few moments. Then, I installed macOS and migrated my data to the new 8 TB volume.
This let me move my entire “Archives” collection to the internal SSD. I’m still running one 4 TB Samsung SSD on a PCI card to keep a bunch of old software and random other things internal, so a second 4 TB SSD is still installed to clone it nightly.
I finally bit the bullet and installed two 3.5-inch spinning hard drives in the Promise J2i:
- 12 TB for Time Machine
- 8 TB for nightly clones of my boot drive
I can hear these drives if it’s silent in my office, but if the A/C is running, I can’t. I’d love to keep everything silent, but with my storage needs, it’s just not possible. I put the Time Machine lower in the case, which helped I think.
This was a time-consuming and expensive change, but now I’m set with plenty of free space for the foreseeable future.
July 10, 2020 – Sweet, Sweet Silence
One nice thing about a Mac Pro? When you have to re-index your iCloud Photo Library, you can’t hear it:
August 1, 2020 – A New Display
I bought a Pro Display XDR and uhhhh, it’s awesome.
It took about two days for the larger size to feel normal.
September 5, 2020 – We Rollin’ Now
Hey, it was for a good cause!
September 30, 2020 – Internal RAID
I’ve been having issues with the 2.5-drive PCI cards I’ve been using, so I’ve moved both of my 4 TB SSDs to a Sonnet RAID card:
One of these drives was my volume for old Apple software and other tech tools; the other was its nightly clone. Now, I am running the two drives in RAID 1, so they are a mirror of each other, showing up as one volume in macOS. The files on this volume are being backed up to Backblaze as well as my off-site backup drives, which I update every month or so.
Say it with me: “RAID is not a backup!”
January 20, 2021
Speaking of backup, I’ve published an update to my backup strategy, but you can see the gist of it here:
With the obvious exception of the off-site drive, all of those volumes are internal to the tower, as outlined in previous updates. The boot drive is made up of Apple parts, while “Intersect,” my long-term storage volume is actually two 4 TB SSDs on a RAID card. The Time Machine drive and Internal Clone are both spinning hard drives.
November 19, 2021
8 TB SATA SSDs are finally here, and I came across them on sale at Amazon. They are still crazy expensive, but I have grown tired of hearing the spinning disks clunk away in the Mac Pro. At my old desk, the tower was on the floor, but my new desk is a sit/stand job, so I’ve opted to put the tower on a small side table so the cables running from it to the desk have less far to travel. (Sadly, this meant the wheels had to come off)
So here’s the current storage situation:
- Internal boot SSD: 8 TB
- Nightly internal clone: 8 TB SSD
- Time Machine: 2x 8 TB SSDs, striped on the Sonnet card
Everything is fast and silent once again, and all my data is on the internal boot drive, being backed up to other SSDs on an ongoing basis. Just don’t tell this tower that my new 14-inch MacBook Pro is more or less just as fast at most tasks.
March 8, 2022
Today, Apple announced the Mac Studio and I ended up ordering one to replace the Mac Pro.
Here are the specs I went with:
- Apple M1 Max with 10-core CPU, 32-core GPU, 16-core Neural Engine
- 64 GB unified memory
- 8 TB SSD storage
The M1 Max will already be faster than this machine, and I didn’t think the extra $1,000+ to get an M1 Ultra machine was worth it in my case. Once it arrives in early April, the tower will be for sale.
April 4, 2022
Aaaaaand the Mac Pro has been shipped to its new home:
Don’t miss my exit review of the 2019 Mac Pro.