Monday, January 19, 2015

Upgrading the unupgradeable: video card options for the Quad G5

Now that the 2015 honeymoon and hangovers are over, it's back to business, including the annual retro-room photo spread (check out the new pictures of the iMac G3, the TAM and the PDP-11/44). And, as previously mentioned on my ripping yarn about long-life computing -- by this way, this winter the Quad G5's cores got all the way down to 30 C on the new CPU assembly, which is positively arctic -- 2015 is my year for a hard disk swap. I was toying with getting an apparently Power Mac compatible Seagate hybrid SSHD that Martin Kukač was purchasing (perhaps he'll give his capsule review in the comments or on his blog?), but I couldn't find out if it failed gracefully to the HD when the flash eventually dies, and since I do large amounts of disk writes for video and development I decided to stick with a spinning disk. The Quad now has two 64MB-buffer 7200rpm SATA II Western Digital drives and the old ones went into storage as desperation backups; while 10K or 15Krpm was a brief consideration, their additional heat may be problematic for the Quad (especially with summers around here) and I think I'll go with what I know works. Since I'm down to only one swap left I think I might stretch the swap interval out to six years, and that will get me through 2027.

At the same time I was thinking of what more I could do to pump the Quad up. Obviously the CPU is a dead-end, and I already have 8GB of RAM in it, which Tiger right now indicates I am only using 1.5GB of (with TenFourFox, Photoshop, Terminal, Texapp, BBEdit and a music player open) -- I'd have to replace all the 1GB sticks with 2GB sticks to max it out, and I'd probably see little if any benefit except maybe as file cache. So I left the memory alone; maybe I'll do it for giggles if G5 RAM gets really cheap.

However, I'd consolidated the USB and FireWire PCIe cards into a Sonnet combo card, so that freed up a slot and meant I could think about the video card. When I bought my Quad G5 new I dithered over the options: the 6600LE, 7800GT and 2-slot Quadro FX 4500, all NVIDIA. I prefer(red) ATIAMD in general because of their long previous solid support for the classic Mac OS, but Apple only offered NVIDIA cards as BTO options at the time. The 6600LE's relatively anaemic throughput wasn't ever in the running, and the Quadro was incredibly expensive (like, 4x the cost!) for a marginal increase in performance in typical workloads, so I bought the 7800GT. Overall, it's been a good card; other than the fan failing on me once, it's been solid, and prices on G5-compatible 7800GTs are now dropping through the floor, making it a reasonably inexpensive upgrade for people still stuck on a 6600. (Another consideration is the aftermarket ATI X1900 GT, which is nearly as fast as the 7800GT.)

However, that also means that prices on other G5-compatible video cards are also dropping through the floor. Above the 7800GT are two options: the Quadro FX 4500, and various third-party hacked video cards, most notably the 2-slot 7800GTX. The GTX is flashed with a hacked Mac 7800GT ROM but keeps the core and memory clocks at the same high speed, yielding a chimera card that's anywhere between 15-30% faster than the Quadro. I bought one of these about a year and a half ago as a test, and while it was noticeably faster in certain tasks and mostly compatible, it had some severe glitchiness with older games and that was unacceptable to me (for example, No One Lives Forever had lots of flashing polygons and bad distortion). I also didn't like that it didn't come with a support extension to safely anchor it in the G5's card guide, leaving it to dangerously flex out of the card slot, so I pulled it and it's sitting in my junk box while I figure out what to do with it. Note that it uses a different power adapter cable than the 7800 or Quadro, so you'll need to make sure it's included if you want to try this card out, and if you dislike the lack of a card guide extension as much as I do you'll need a sacrificial card to steal one from.

Since then Quadro prices plummeted as well, so I picked up a working-pull used Apple OEM FX 4500 on eBay for about $130. The Quadro has 512MB of GDDR3 VRAM (same as the 7800GTX and double the 7800GT), two dual-link DVI ports and a faster core clock; although it also supports 3D glasses, something I found fascinating, it doesn't seem to work with LCD panels, so I can't evaluate that. Many things are not faster, but some things are: 1080p video playback is now much smoother because the Quadro can push more pixels, and high end games now run more reliably at higher resolutions as you would expect without the glitchiness I got in older titles with the 7800GTX. Indeed, returning to the BareFacts graph, the marginal performance improvement and the additional hardware rendering support is now at least for me worth $130 (I just picked up a spare for $80), it's a fully kitted and certified OEM card (no hacks!), and it uses the same power adapter cable as the 7800GT. One other side benefit is that, counterintuitively, the GPU is several degrees cooler (despite being bigger and beefier) and the fan is nearly inaudible, no doubt due to that huge honking heatsink.

It's not a big bump, but it's a step up, and I'm happy. I guess all that leaves is the RAM ...

In TenFourFox news, I'm done writing IonPower (phase 1). Phase 2 is compilation. That'll be some drudgery, but I think we're on target for release with 38ESR.


  1. Your photo spread... is interesting. :)

    I've got a couple of posts coming up on G5Center which address some of these - nailing down which SSDs that exist out there are actually compatible on G5s and a suggestion about a cheap source of flashable Quadros (for $40). I had no idea about the Quadro cards being so cheap. Most of the ones on eBay are actually flashed cards, and it's actually pretty simple to flash one, though you need a PC. (I did flash a 9800 years ago for my G4.)

    As to the SSD and write endurance, you'll be fine. Your mechanical hard drive won't wear out like an SSD, but it can also decide to up and fail in a moment's notice anyway. I've seen tests, like the one below, that suggest that an SSD, on under pretty sizeable writes, can still last for 10+ years. And by that time, you will either want a new SSD anyway (as prices fall) or have migrated away from your G5.,3124-11.html

    Of course, the trick is finding a current or previous gen SSD that will work. I just installed a OWC 120GB in my G5, and it's definitely faster than the 60GB Corsair SSD that used to be in there. I can mark off the Intel 520 as being incompatible, from my own experience, but supposedly even the Samsung 840 EVO, which is a nice drive, works well in a G5. The second trick is making sure you get a solid drive and not flaky stuff from OCZ or Kingston.

    I imagine an SSD would add a nice kick of speed to some of the work you do on your G5.

    1. Considering I'm still using my G5, I'm pretty bad at estimating when I'll migrate away. ;) I do use an SSD for accelerating compiles, which I have in a SATA drive toaster so I don't have to worry about compatibility, but I don't trust it for OS X without TRIM. The SSHD was a consideration, but I've already got these drives, and they're working well. I still think there's too many gotchas even now with finding an SSD that works (as you point out). Maybe that'll change by the time my next swap is due.

    2. And for the record, both my Quadros are Apple OEM parts (not flashed). I try to stick with those.

    3. Yes, my 7800GT is Apple OEM too. Don't blame you on that - it is nice to be safe. But you have me intrigued about the Quadro now since I drive a decent size display (1680x1050). I've noticed sluggishness even with some older FPS games like Medal of Honor.

      The problem with the SSHD is that the SSD portions are typically miniscule. If they had some of those available with 64GB SSDs built in instead of the paltry 8 GB options, it would make a lot more sense. Those are the closest we G5 owners will get to the Fusion Drive experience.

      By the way, I put the old Corsair 60GB drive in my Mac Mini G4, and it really is worth it. I don't think I would spend a lot of money on a SSD for a G4, but it definitely gives it extra pep. TenFourFox runs pretty well on that machine, even with its 1 GB of RAM limit. Keep up the good work.

  2. Well that's funny, I was going to pick up a Quadro FX 4500 today for my Quad (50 € from a classified ad).
    I picked up my Quad for 50 € too a few months ago, it had 2.5 GB RAM and 2 250 GB drives. When I opened it, there were 6 RAM sticks in it but the OS only found 4 so I reseated them and I now have 4.5 GB :)
    I removed one of the hard drives in favor of an Intel 320 180 GB SSD so the Quadro will be its last upgrade I guess.

    On the TenFourFox subject, thank you for your amazing work.
    Regarding ad blockers, there a new kid on the block (if I may say): µBlock
    It has had its first official release for Firefox a few days ago. I have been using it for a few weeks with unofficial releases on TenFourFox, Firefox and Safari (on Intel), it works well.

  3. Luigi posted in the comments at PPC Luddite, that he got a Radeon 6570 running on his quad G5. I'm not sure I believe him, but maybe it's just a software/driver issue which Linux could potentially solve? If possible, it seriously raises the bar.

  4. I have X1950XT in 2 GHz G5, Pci-e, works like charm.

  5. I've once read that you could also flash a 7900GTX into your G5. I don't know if it's actually possible (nor do I have the resources to try it) but I just thought you might find this interesting. Also, there was once another version of the hacked 7800 ROM you mentioned that was instead based on the Quadro FX's firmware rather than the 7800GT. I'm not sure where you could find it now though.

  6. Yesterday I did a gift to my old beloved Power Mac G5 dual 2.5 Ghz (late 2005): 8 Gb of Ram (4 x 2 Gb). I already had 6 Gb installed. My G5 did not see new rams... So I unfitted every ram block and fitted again them exchanging their positions and now: 14 Mb of Ram working!!!

  7. My Power Mac G5 improvement: Apple alluminium keyboad (wired), Apple Magic mouse (bluetooth), 14 Gb of Ram, flashed Nvidia Geforce GT (256 MB), 120 GB SSD HD Samsung EVO, 1 TB Maxtor Sata HD. Next buy: flashed Nvidia Quadro FX 4500 (512 MB).


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