Mac Pro Log

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.

Mac Pro

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.

I also installed a 4 TB SSD in the other bay via a 2.5 to 3.5-inch drive adaptor for archived projects.

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:

SSDs

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 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 15, 2020 – Upgrades Update

Apple has put the wheels on sale for $699. Maybe I should launch a Kickstarter.

The fabled Radeon Pro W5700X can be ordered as of today. The base 580X GPU has really been rough for me while editing video, so I’m looking forward to upgrading.

April 24, 2020 – An Upgrade, Told in Two Photos

MPX Box

W5700X installed

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 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: