Octocore

Ready for another nerd fest? This one’s a doosy.

Back story

About a month ago, I stumbled upon a forum post talking about upgrading the CPUs in the original Mac Pro 1,1 — the Mac Pro I have. In short, going from 2 x 2.66GHz (dual-core chips) to 2 x 2.66GHz (quad-core chips). In shorter, moving from four cores to eight. Shortest, twice the horsepower.

I’d never replaced CPUs before, and especially where the wisdom is you don’t monkey with your Mac; they’re built as they are. Holy, even. I was quite nervous in taking on this task . Lots of new things to touch and play with: CPUs (heavier than they look), thermal paste (WTF?) and a custom-made 25cm long 3mm allen key (thanks dad!).

8 cores.png

Spoiler

It worked. I now have an octocore Mac Pro for a modest sum and some elbow grease.

Why are you telling me this?

I want to document some things I found during the process that I didn’t find in the handful of online resources. The online guides and forum posts were a tremendous help — I wouldn’t’ve had the balls courage to go through with it, but while they documented the process thoroughly, they left out a few things which I think are important, especially to someone who’s never done something like this before. These are only observations, but they might help you if you want to beef up your original Mac Pro:

  • CPUs — The CPUs are quite heavy in relation to how they look. Be careful with them when you get them. When you’re inserting the new CPUs into your Mac, they don’t need to be pushed or ‘plugged’ in to the sockets, they kind of just sit on top of the pins. Think a flat bit of wood resting on a bed of nails. You literally drop them onto the sockets. When you do this, get as close as you can and ease one side down first, like you would close a heavy trap door. Then lower the other side down as much as you can before letting it go.

    I also gently wiggled the CPU in it’s socket before I closed the latch, to make sure it was seated properly.

    Another thing to do is pay attention to the feel and pressure of lifting the latch on the original CPUs. I didn’t do this so when I had to close the latch on the new ones I felt enough resistance that I thought I was bending the delicate pins underneath. I didn’t lift again to see if I had, but my Mac’s running so it must’ve been OK. So remember the pressure of the latch when you take out your CPUs.

  • Thermal paste — I used Arctic Silver 5 because it seemed to have a good wrap in teh interwebs. Read this PDF before you do anything with the thermal paste. This documents how to apply the thermal paste to the Xeon dual- and quad-core chips that I used in my Mac Pro upgrade.

    The most important part in the document (I think) was about ‘tinting’ the heatsink and CPU. Tinting is the process of filling up the microscopic valleys in the metal of the heatsink and CPU cover, so there is no tiny bubbles of air (which is crap at conducting heat). You do not need a lot of paste on this step, one dot a bit larger than a pin head is all that’s needed here. Seriously. With a credit card it spreads surprisingly thin. You’re going to rub most of it off again anyway so the surfaces clean. Anymore paste at this stage will be a waste.

    You should do this to your new CPUs before you seat them in the motherboard! I didn’t read the PDF correctly and I had seated my CPUs already. I didn’t want to lift them out again for fear of damaging the CPU or pins. It can be done while seated, but it’d be much easier (and safer) if you did this part while you had free access to the CPUs.

    Applying the thermal paste (after tinting) can be read about in that PDF, and should be done once the CPUs are seated, so you don’t run the risk of getting it on your fingers.

    Read that PDF again.

  • Extra long allen (hex) key — this was impossible to find in Malaysia, so I had my dad weld me one up and mail it over. This is the tool you’ll need if you can get it. Amazon wouldn’t ship to Malaysia :(

    I used a 3mm (metric) sized key, and you’ll need at least 20cm of length. Some guides say you could do it with a normal sized tool, but I wouldn’t recommend it. If you slipped you’d run the risk of damaging the fins on the heatsinks. Get the tool.

  • Set aside some time — the online guides say about an hour. I took just under two because I was being careful and methodical, and I had the time to spare.
  • Teh internets — Ensure you have some access to the internet when doing this. I had several of the guides in Safari tabs open at once, and was switching between them through the process. Teh internets eased my mind.

Take ‘er easy, Dude

These are the things you should know before you tackle the task. A man wiser than myself once said:

Don’t stress about the brain surgery. It’s more forgiving than you think.

And in retrospect, It’s a pretty straight-forward task. I just let my inexperience freak me out a little. Take your time, stick with the guides, and be mindful when digging around in the guts of your Mac Pro.

Online resources

What’s on the menu?

The dust from the discussions @foxmwoods and I were having about the MacBook Air have settled. The initial excitement has faded (well, not for some) and we’ve become silent while we tweak the Airs to be everything we ever wanted, but no more.

In the spirit of sharing nerdy information, here’s what I have going on in my menu bar (on both my Mac Pro and my Air). Menu bar

  1. Tweetie — my desktop Twitter app of choice. It’s small, quick, and easy. And native. Not much in the way of updates, which I guess could be saying something positive. Recetly, it’s been giving me a “Bad gateway” error on my main timeline almost every time I launch it, which sucks. Also, I can’t delete a tweet, and I can’t view a list of followed people when I want to send them a public or direct message. I’m considering looking for an alternative. Any suggestions?
  2. Dropbox — a must if you use more than one computer. A quick, easy, and so far flawless way to backup and/or sync files between multiple computers. Just drop your file into a specific folder and it appears on all other machines running dropbox.

    I use it almost solely for transferring image files from my Mac Pro (with Photoshop) to my Air (with blogging software). for example, I drop some images I want to post into the folder on the Mac Pro, and when I open my Air down at the pool a fw minutes later, I have that file. Super handy.

  3. BetterTouchTool — an awesome way to customise gestures for your trackpad. Kinda beta, but work well. I especially like the Windows 7-esque window snapping.
  4. ClipMenu — lightweight, system-wide clipboard history. Don’t use it too often, but when I do, I’m really glad it’s there.
  5. Monocle — easily search the websites you want to. A custom keyboard brings up the search field, some custom keystrokes select the page or service I want to search, I type, and hit enter. By default I have it search Wikipedia, but I also have imdb, google image, YouTube, OSX Hints, and Wiktionary, included.
  6. Menu Meters — a real time evaluation of my CPU activity and network traffic. CPU activity tells if something has hung in an infinite loop, as opposed to a heavy use, when no other indicators are shown (I’m looking at you Flash). Network traffic lets me see when I’m uploading/downloading/transferring stuff in the background. Fully customisable. Fully sick. Especially with 8-cores (more on that in a later post)
  7. MobileMe Sync — I know when my shit’s syncing. Also used to manually sync if I add a new contact or bookmarks I need distributed ASAP.
  8. Time Machine — because I like to manually back up after some major work or photo import. Also, I love watching the icon spin backwards when it’s doing its thing. Clever design.
  9. Bluetooth — keep tabs on battery level of my Magic Mouse.
  10. WiFi — piece of mind. I like to know I’m connected.
  11. MenuCalendarClock (for iCal) — replace the standard date/time with a completely customisable clock and drop down calendar. Handy for quickly looking up calendar events. The main reason I use it is to get a succinct display of the date. Why doesn’t OSX do this?
  12. Spotlight — I never use it and wish I could just switch it off. I use Launchbar to search for files and launch apps.

That’s it. I hope you’ve found something you might now use in your menu bar. If not, you can see a very large, but somewhat outdated, collection of menu bar apps on this page. Kudos for the Aussie reference.

The Book


inDesign pages

I’m putting a book of my photographs together at the moment. Essentially the book will showcase the last 2½ years of my personal photography, distilled down to 110 photographs. I’m printing it with the online service blurb.com. Tonight I uploaded the final PDF version for my test print.

That’s the news. Excitement. Stay tuned.

eDinner™ c/o @jamjar

@jamjar had a rad idea which freaked my inbox out with the freak-out-ness of 1000 suns. eDinner™. Need I say more?

Probably. The eDinner™ is Jamjar’s 1000-sun idea to have a real-time webcast dinner between @herself, @myself, @borrrring, @foxmwoods, @diamondwillo, and @jetpackthedog. Using Skype, we’d all cook the same dinner and sit down simultaneously for a real-time dinner party. We’d set some MacBooks up at the end of our tables, switch everything on and away we’d go.

How < blink > AWESOME < /blink > is that?!?

Well, it gets better. For the inaugural, world-first eDinner™, we’ll be having BBQ!1. Another great idea brought to you by the good folk at @jamjar. Is there anything she can’t do?2

The three-hour time difference needs to be accommodated (we’ll be having our dinner at 4:30pm here in KL) but other than that I can’t see a downside. Can you?

Skype, you better not fail us — this will be some historic shit.

SOLD: 13 inch MacBook (semi-pro)

***THIS MAC HAS BEEN SOLD***

I’m selling my MacBook Semi-Pro. I say ‘Semi-Pro’ because this was the first aluminium unibody MacBook Apple released, but it was also the only aluminium MacBook Apple released. Eight months after its introduction, it was given a slight speed bump and an SD card slot and relabelled a MacBook Pro. Seriously. Compare the specs for yourself.

I’m selling this machine because I’ve side-graded to the MacBook Air. There’s nothing wrong with the MacBook I’m selling, In fact, it’s better than when I bought it because I’ve upgraded the hard drive and RAM to make it a workhorse. Why swap? Well, you can read about my reasoning this blog post. Anyway, enough of the soft sell back story.

Specs

Here are the details (the full geek-tastic details available at apple-history.com)

  • MacBook 13-inch (aluminium unibody)
  • 2.4Ghz Intel Dual Core CPU
  • 6GB RAM
  • 250GB Hard Drive
  • 13.3 inch display @ 1280×800 resolution
  • Nvidia GeForce Graphics 256MB
  • SuperDrive (CD+DVD burner)
  • Ports: USB x2, Ethernet, MiniDisplay, Stereo headphones, Stereo mic input
  • Multi-touch trackpad
  • Built-in iSight (video camera)
  • Built-in WiFi
  • Built-in Bluetooth
  • Backlit keyboard (only available on the higher-end model — you can work in the dark!)
  • Ambient light sensor
  • Replaceable battery (MacBook Pros now have the battery inside — you cannot replace it. This machine has a removable battery so you can buy a backup battery if you need it)
  • Aluminium unibody construction (you have to feel it to understand how tough it is)

And here is Apple’s promo video about the MacBook’s design and construction.

Price

The current MacBook Pro (which I think is apt to compare to) sells at $1449 with 2GB less RAM. I’m selling my machine for $900.

It comes with the original OS X install discs, Apple remote control, a neoprene case for the MacBook and power adapter, but no box. I’ll do a clean install of the most current version of OS X so you’ll be ready to go. This Mac comes with a standard Malaysian three pronged plug (original Apple part, not a converter).

Condition

The MacBook is in perfect condition other than two light scratches on the top (seen the pictures). I’ve only taken it out of the house maybe ten times, and always with the case. If you’re in KL, feel free to contact me to arrange a look-see and a play.

Is this Mac for you?

This is a perfect computer for someone looking to get their first Mac, but it’s also great as someone’s only computer. Due to the upgrades I’ve made, it has plenty of storage (250GB) for music, photos etc, and plenty of RAM. It’s a great workhorse Mac with easy portability.

Spread the word

Please forward this page onto anyone you think might be interested, or contact me directly with any questions, or to arrange an inspection.

Thanks
Bart