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New Mac Pro Graphics Cards… In Older Mac Pros

Our back room gurus tested the NVIDIA GeForce GT 120 and the ATI Radeon HD 4870 graphics cards from the early 2009 Mac Pro in the 800MHz and 667MHz Mac Pro models with varying success. The quick results are: GT120 functions, in both ports, in 800MHz Mac Pro.

Mac Pro ‘800MHz Memory Bus Models:
4870 – Works A-OK via its DVI port. No-go via the miniDisplay Port.

GT120 – Works like a champ with both DisplayPort and DVI Port.

Mac Pro ‘667MHZ Memory Bus Models:
No go with either of Video Cards from the new Mac Pros.

We’ll have more details later, but there’s a preliminary first look summary. If you have an 800MHz Mac Pro now – the GT120 ought to become a nice option all around… And the 4870 maybe too for those wanting that super video performance while not needing it to support two displays.

Update note 3/17/09 should note that testing was done under OS X 10.5.6 and was done with a Mini DisplayPort straight into a new display.UPDATE 8/27/10 We tested the Radeon 5870 and 5770 graphics cards with all model year (2006-2010) Mac Pros…see the results at this revealing post!

OWC Larry
the authorOWC Larry
OWC Founder & CEO
Larry O'Connor is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Illinois-based Other World Computing (OWC®). Starting as a one-man business in 1988, O'Connor has provided the leadership and vision to establish OWC as the leading provider of technology products and services today.
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  • Hello, I am currently looking to upgrade my card, but I am on the 667MHz, Model Name: Mac Pro
    Model Identifier: MacPro1,1
    Processor Name: Dual-Core Intel Xeon
    Processor Speed: 3 GHz
    Number Of Processors: 2
    Total Number Of Cores: 4
    L2 Cache (per processor): 4 MB
    Memory: 8 GB
    Bus Speed: 1.33 GHz

    I primarily use 3D apps specifically Maya, what would you guys suggest as the best upgrade for me, since the 8800 blooows with the new 10.5.7/8 release? I would need to have 2 displays as well.

  • Thanks for the reply. I’ve found the link I was looking for now.


    In the text at the bottom of the page:

    “We also got the Radeon HD 4870 to run in the 2007 Clovertown first generation Mac Pro. A close colleague has one working in the 2006 Woodcrest first generation Mac Pro.”

    And reference in the graphs:
    300 = 3.0GHz Clovertown 8-core (2007) Mac Pro with 16G of RAM

    If the HD 4870 doesn’t work in 2007 8-core machine (as your tests found out), what is “the best” card that will work and run everything in Snow Leopard for that machine, does anyone know?

    Is there anyone who can run a test in an 8-core 2007 Mac Pro and a HD 4870 now that 10.5.7/8 is available and has the drivers to run the card built-in?

    I have the currently have the ATI X1900 XT 512MB.

    Anybody else with “1st Generation” 8-core machines in the same situation as me? Has anyone solved it?

    Ideally OpenCL compatible is the plan.

  • Hi Chris, i am about to make an investment on the Nvidia GT120 and the blog confirms that the card is compatible with 800mhz mem. bus. and i really want this upgrade because this card supports open cl on osx 10.6 + affortable. but i’m concerned when i upgrade to snow leopard will the card still function? i need some moral support. please let me know. thank you.

    • Unfortunately, we don’t have the final release of Snow Leopard (we have to wait, just like everybody else), so we can’t test compatibility outright. However, what we can do is look at the information we do have and make a best-guess conclusion.

      We have already established that the card works in the 800 MHz machines in 10.5.6. This is mostly a hardware compatibility (800MHz, and/or PCIe 2.0), with the only requirement on the OS being the appropriate drivers.

      Apple generally isn’t in the habit of dropping video card support, especially for cards that come with units they sell. Furthermore, this card is specifically named as being compatible with Open CL, so we know that support for it in Snow Leopard is promised.

      With both hardware compatibility and software compatibility reasonably established, it is a fair assumption that this vdeo card will work with your computer under Snow Leopard.

  • Does the Radeon HD 4870 now work in 1st Generation Mac Pros with 10.5.7 or 10.5.8??

    Model Name: Mac Pro
    Model Identifier: MacPro2,1
    Processor Name: Quad-Core Intel Xeon
    Processor Speed: 3 GHz
    Number Of Processors: 2
    Total Number Of Cores: 8
    L2 Cache (per processor): 8 MB

    I’d like to buy the card, but can’t verify if it does work properly.

    I want a card that will have full Snow Leopard compatibility in my Mac Pro, which is no slouch and doesn’t really need replacing just to get full graphics Snow Leopard compatibility.

    Any confirmation that the card works would be amazing, thank you.


    • As far as anything we’ve heard, the answer is still “no” as reported in the article.

      Unfortunately, that model Mac Pro (and the model before it) do not have the PCI Express 2.0 slots that the later models do.

      In other words, even if you could get one to run a display, you would likely wind up running into bandwidth problems down the line.

  • Okay, got it solved. Indeed, the monitor’s DVI port was damaged. I got a new monitor and it is working with the same DVI cable and the ATI 4870 card. By the way, if anyone is in the market for a large cheap monitor, the Hyundai W242D 24″ 1920×1200 monitor is a very good deal at $250. Thanks again for your help Chris.

  • This extra information certainly points to potential damage of the display or cables. Even with an overheating situation, I would not rule out something getting “fried” along the way – if I had to hazard a guess, it would likely have been the DVI port on the display.

    However, the only way to be sure would be through the steps I mentioned above. Unfortunately, since this doesn’t seem to be an option, all we can do is make educated guesses and proceed from there.

  • Thanks for the tips and for replying so quickly, Chris.

    I don’t have another DVI display, cable or working card to test with, but I’ll try the zapping you mentioned.

    Do you think it is possible that the DVI cable or DVI input on the monitor could have been damaged when my x1900 fried?

    Everything was working via DVI with my old ATI x1900 card a few days ago, but one day I started up the computer and both monitors stayed black. I took a look at the card and found the air intake was clogged with fuzz, so I guess I fried the card. The fan had been running constantly, so I’m not surprised. I wish I had thought to clean the vents.

  • Your problem can be broken down into one of three possibilities.

    1.) There is an issue with the DVI cable.
    2.) There is an issue with the display.
    3.) There is an issue with the card.

    To test these, you wold want to:

    1.) Try a different DVI Cable.
    2.) Try a different DVI display with the card.
    3.) Try a the display (via DVI) with another DVI-enabled computer.

    Basically, it’s the process of elimination. However, there may be the unlikely case in which there seems to be nothing wrong with the individual components. In that case, you may want to try zapping the PRAM and/or the SMC unit.


    Of the two, the former is most likely to be the culprit, possibly being set to something outside the display’s capabilities. Doing this should set it to something generic, allowing you to set the display correctly.

  • I have a 4870 in my 2007 Mac Pro and it is working, but I had to use a VGA adapter on the DVI output and go VGA to my LCD monitor. Luckily the monitor has both DVI and VGA inputs. Using a regular DVI connection didn’t work for some reason.

    I am also using the mini display port with a VGA adapter to an old CRT at the same time and it is working well. Just wish I could get DVI to DVI to work.

    Anyone have suggestions?

  • yes it works in my 2008 MP and i just realized that the previous 2600HD does not support open cl on upcoming snow leopard. but gt120 does. so…. i wonder if gt120 will still work on 2008 model after snow leopard installation.

  • alright i finally ordered mine, i’m wondering if i can have both gt120 + the ati 2600 installed at the same time to support more displays. please let me know. really appreciate it.

  • great, def will upgrade soon. but/and just to update, if you do have apple care at the moment the upgrade to the nvidia gt120 does void the warranty. (since this part is not approved by apple)

  • The compatibility of the cards as listed here is not processor-dependent, it is tied to the motherboard itself.

    Whether it is a single- or dual-processor “800 MHz” bus machine, the logic board is the same, so your machine should have the same compatibility as its dual-processor cousin.

  • question: now im aware that the gt120 works with the 800 MP but im wondering if it will work with my single processor quad core Mac Pro ‘800MHz Memory Bus Model. also will this affect my apple care warranty?

  • thanks everyone for all the info! i look forward to hearing any updates on getting a mini display port working with a 4870 on a MacPro 1,1.

    my old 23″ cinema display crapped out on me last night and i would like to use the new 24″ ACD if possible. but i’m using a MacPro 1,1 and am in the same boat as everyone else without a mini display port.

    i’m hoping 10.5.7 will be released very soon with drivers that will work with the 4870. making the 4870 compatible with any MacPro.

    anyone know of a place to order the 4870 that can ship it out pretty quickly? the apple site lists a 4-5 week shipping estimate that is way too long of a wait for me.

  • Ruminator wrote:
    “I have a 4870 (flashed) running in my Mac Pro 1,1…both DVI ports work.
    If you would like a copy of the driver installer, email me.”

    I too have the MP 1,1 build, and am very interested in how you got this to work. But since your emial address wasn’t in the post I can’t reply. My email is danm.kelly@gmail.com, could you please send me the info?

    Has anyone else been able to contact Ruminator??

    Thanks all, very informative blog.

  • One last question – and i am not a Motion expert… but if it can use more memory, how come you’ve not made an upgrade to the Memory? I don’t know that it can use more… but no matter how fast everything else is, if memory is a bottleneck at any level – more benefit from all parts will exist when you’ve got more memory there. And on the hard drives – those are setup as a RAID-0 Stripe or just spanned/JBOD? If they are not Striped, you’re not benefiting from them performance wise any differently than just having single drives.

  • The ATI Radeon 3870 is a far better option for those kinds of applications:

    While the 8800GT happens to be just a little faster for OpenGL games – the 3870 is faster for the Core Accelerated video functions such that Motion, Aperature, etc use. The 3870 was specifically has tuning for such applications according to ATI when this card was first made available to us.

    As for why things slowed down under OS X 10.4.x and later – the whole OS now engages Core video functions which hit the GPU (your video card) and performance of that GPU for Core functions now make a bigger difference.

    All said – both the 3870 and the 8800GT run much cooler and are extremely reliable (a lot of X1900s had overheating issues) compared to the X1900 Mac Pro OEM cards.

  • Hello Rominator,

    I have the 2007 2.1 2 cpu Quad-core (core?)

    I have used the ATI x1900 as Apple recommended on initial purchase… It seemed to run ok with MOTION graphics at osx9.x, then on upgrading to 10.X Tiger, it slowed dramatically for me or appeared to.

    Work demanded I leave the mac pro for a while and now on my return, I am still convinced Ive been sold a 5k bathtub.

    Recently spoke with Apple re a graphics upgrade.. “The 8800GT is the best one for this model”…. What?
    So I bought it, installed it, to find I then needed to purchase 10.5.6 (Leopard),, so bought this,, installed,, fitted the 8800. Then it was recognised,,, but with ALL the tweeks Ive tried I see “”NO”” improvement other than noise reduction… and I believe its slower than my ATI X1900 card. This is luducrous for such a ‘supposedly’ high end machine.

    I have 12GB RAM, with Motion set to use between 75-85% of the RAM,, 4 disks equalling 4TB (3GB/s 32MB cached internal drives)…… Am I missing something.. or is my name Earl?… No respect to Earl.. I actually like the guy :)

    Rominator, would you mind to supply me with the flashin procedure for the 4870. I would do it myself, if Apple will play this rather ignorant game with it’s clients.


  • I have the GT 120 installed with the 8800 GT on a 2008 Mac Pro and they work flawlessly together. They also work together perfectly in bootcamp with Vista 64-bit using the most recent Nvidia driver. I have not tried the mini displayport on either OS but it is recognized by both.

  • waowwww…cool…..i have a bad news that my ACD 23″ is broke up and it cant be fix….so the only way i will buy LED display..thx andreas…ur apple is so great…hehehe

  • I recieved my GT 120 and Apple 24″ LED Display today and installed them in my MacPro 2008.

    First I took out the old ATI 2600 XT and installed the GT120 in Slot 1, then I connected both the 24″ LED and my old 20″ ADC (with Apple DVI—>ADC convertor) to the GT 120, both work nice together.
    After that I installed the ATI Radeon 2600 XT back in slot 2 and put the ADC on one of the DVI-connectors of that card, this also works fine.

    The Screen’s built-in camera and speakers also work nicely

    Concluding: you do NOT need to buy the expensive 4870 if you want to connect a 24″ to your Mac Pro 2008, the GT 120 works fine (and is cheaper).



  • to andreas…thx u so much for the answer then i will buy it too..how about it works? i just put the graphic card into a slot? or i must instal driver and etc?? thx u

  • Hi Rominator,

    ymmd, can you send me the information about the right 4870 card, flashing and drive?
    That would be nice,

    thanks a lot

  • I have the 2007 2.1 8 Core as well. If Apple keeps being stupid and will not sell me a 4870 I will flash one & keep $250.00 this is dumb

  • Why Apple doens´t say it not will work is becuase they have not tryed, this answer did i get from Apple Sweden.

  • To auri..
    Yes i have the Mac Pro 2*2,8 Ghz from 2008 with 800 mhz SDRAM.

    I drive this with 2 GeForce GT 120 cards that Apple sad only works for 2009. And 2 new LED 24″ Apple Cinema Display.

    Tried to connect the 23″ Alu to DVI also and it work lika a charm.
    This will take up 2 PCI slots but the computer handle 2 Graphic card like one in settings so it works the same when i drived 2 Cinema 23″ on the original ATI card with 2 DVI on it.

    the card is 100% silent… and my experience is that this card is fast, maybe not for 3D games but that i have my PS3 for :)

    Just wanted som extender for the Display Cable but i think this will be available soon.

  • to andreas…

    so its working for 2008 macpro?
    u buy a graphic card geforce 120t and 24 led cinema display, right?

    if ok i will buy too…because my 23 ACD is broke up….and i want buy 24 LED


  • so what is the final answer? is that the GeForce GT 120 card can be used for 2008 mac pro??

    i need an answer please….thx

  • Rominator:
    I am interested in how you got the card working! I have the first 8-core-3GHz version 2,1. Currently with x1900, looking to upgrade to the new HD 4870. There is no email displayed for you, so if you could please email me on tufta@hotmail.com?

  • Great to see you all found this blog and particular post. Intent of post was just to give a quick insight as to what cards would work in previous model Mac Pros. As noted, we’ll have much more on this subject at a later date.

  • I’ve been running a HD 3870 in my 2008 Mac Pro 2.8 and it works flawlessly and much faster than the ATI 2600 XT. I was forced to go this route as I use Apple’s “Color” app (part of the FCP Studio 2 suite) which will not work (launch) with two cards installed. Apple never mentioned this when I ordered two of them for my video workstation. Therefore, disappointed to hear that the HD 4870 will only work with one monitor on the 2008 Mac pro’s unless Apple gets Color working with dual cards. I imagine ATI will correct this and come out with a retail version that will drive two DVI ports, just like they did for the HD 3870. In the meantime, the 3870 is a good card and is now quiet (noisy as stock because ATI wanted to make it a single slot card for a wider base, increasing noise from a smaller fan) once I replaced the fan with a passive cooler (since the bottom PCIe2 slot has room for a dual space card) it is now super quiet :-)

    I’ll wait until makes the HD 4870 available as a PC/Mac retail card, like the HD3870 and comes down in price and works with my 2 Cinema HD 23″ DVI Displays and Apple Color.

  • There is an installer available online that allows you to place the 10.5.7 drivers on 10.5.6.

    I have a 4870 (flashed) running in my Mac Pro 1,1…both DVI ports work.

    If you would like a copy of the driver installer, email me.

  • I run the ATI Radeon HD 3870 in my mac pro 667mhz model. I works great, very quiet and very very cool to the touch, unlike the older ATI 1900xt which was an heat generator and loud. Plus for only $219.00 you cannot beat that option. It plays all the new games great so i hope this gives you guys an option that you didn’t have before!

  • i Want to buy 2 Apple 24″ LED to my Mac Pro 2008 DDR 800
    could i buy two of GeForce 120 ?

    Please let ne know…
    Is there any chance that i will damage my Mac Pro ?!

  • I hav been looking for someone that should try this out, i have a Mac Pro 2008 and want 24″ Led, but go for ATI card when you can get GeForce card for a better price…

    This is really nice review for me… i just hope this works :)

    Is there a chance to get 2 Geforce 120 card and 2 Cinema 24″ with Mac Pro 2008 ??

  • I just love how we 667Mhz Mac Pro owners are left out in the cold when it comes to video card upgrade options. These machines are fast and stable with lots of life left in them, why are we being ignored when it comes to better video cards?

  • Bummer, I was looking forward to getting a 4870 for my 667Mhz Mac Pro. I guess I’ll either have to wait for ATI to release a version on their own or just stick it out with my GeForce 8800GT.

  • I posted a comment but it seems to have disappeared.

    There should be no expectation of the 4870 functioning without OSX 10.5.7 installed.

    What OS are you testing with ?

  • Hi,

    Are you saying that even with a Mini DisplayPort-to-DVI adapter, you can’t get two DVI monitors running with the 4870? Or have you only tried the MDP straight out?


  • For the 2008 (800MHz) Mac Pro, his seems to be the OPPOSITE of what Apple will sell you for previous Mac Pro models. Namely, you can buy the 4870 for either the 2009 or 2008 Mac Pro, but the GT120 is only sold as compatible with the new 2009 Mac Pro, according to the Apple Store site. Here, you get the GT120 to work with both 2008 and 2009 models, but the 4870 only partly works with the 2008 model. Apple does not offer either as compatible with the 2006 (667 MHz) model.

  • I have a 2008 MAC PRO–do we know when the HD 4870 and drivers will be available for purchase–I have a single 30″ Apple Cinema Display and do not need a second display.

  • Can you amend the article to indicate what OS was being run on the machines, and clarify which cards work in the Gen1 (2006 / 667MHz bus) systems ?