Replacing the ATI X1900XT in a Mac Pro 1.1

As far as computers go my current mac has to be one of the longest lasting machines I’ve owned. Purchased nearly three years ago it’s still going strong and although I’ve been tempted to replace it a few times the performance gain by doing so just doesn’t seem worth the expense. I’m a big believer in buying the best specified computer you can afford in order to make it last, and that was the case with this mac pro. The machine is an intel Xeon based quad core 2.66Ghz. When it was purchased I opted to upgrade the standard graphics card to the more expensive ATI Radeon X1900XT which offered much better performance in 3D and video apps.

Other than a couple of RAM upgrades and regular hard drive changes my mac has remained the same over the years I’ve owned it but recently I ran into a problem with the X1900 card. I started noticing horizontal red lines which would strangely appear on windows and would remain attached to those windows as they were moved around the desktop, along with these visual issues my mac started to crash regularly, especially on warmer days. After some trawling on the web I discovered that this is a common problem with these cards. Many people advised cleaning the fan and removing unwanted dust, this does seem to help somewhat but the problems were still happening each day. I started using a fan control app to increase fan speeds in my mac which again helped a little but I need a reliable machine to edit on and the card just had to go.

After three years I expected to be able to add a newer faster card to my mac, but after a conversation with an Apple rep it turned out that the only card I could replace the X1900XT with, was another X1900XT, and to make matters worse they still wanted £264 for the part! X1900XT on the apple UK store

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Apple do sell a much more capable card for the newer mac pro’s in the form of the ATI Radeon HD 4870, but it’s listed as only being compatible with machines from early 2008 onwards. Considering that this latest card retails for £280, a mere £17 more than the three year old model it’s also much better value. Radeon HD 4870 on the apple uk store

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I called an apple retailer to ask if this newer card could be mde to work in my older mac pro but they just confirmed apples statement and said that my best option was to purchase another X1900XT.

Not wanting to give in quite so easily I spent a bit of time on google and discovered a few reports of the 4870 working in older macs so I decided to take the plunge and risk it. I also ordered one of the new 24″ displays because the 4870 only has one DVI port so I wouldn’t be able to use both of my DVI based monitors. The 4870 replaces the second DI port with one of apples newer MiniDisplay Ports which can be used with the new 24″ screens.

On receiving the new parts I immediately took the old ATI card out of the mac and inserted the 4870, which unlike the X1900 requires two power connectors to be connected to it. The card is supplied with two of the required connectors though and even though my old card only used one, the mac does have two connectors on the motherboard so it was just a case of simply plugging in the second connector.

I switched the mac on half expecting to see some kind of boot error or visual problem but it booted straight up without issue and instantly felt a little snappier in use. The card has been working flawlessly since installing it and the machine hasn’t suffered from any more of the heat related crashes.

I’m not sure why apple list this card as being incompatible with older mac pro’s, maybe there are some that is won’t work with, or maybe they would rather people just purchased a newer machine! In any case it ll works well and is a much wiser choice than the three year old X1900XT for £14 less!

EX1 mic holder replacement

Like many EX1 / 3 owners I’ve had to replace the mic holder on my camera due to the standard one snapping off. To find out more about my solution click here.

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New gear

I’ve been doing some shopping recently and have a few more gadgets lined up to review. Before going into the full reviews though I thought it might be useful to outline my initial thoughts on these new tools.

SmallHD DP1

I’ve been meaning to pick up a larger monitor for a while now, mainly to help with focussing and to allow clients to get more of an idea of what I’m shooting. The built in screen on the EX1 is great, but it’s usually covered in system data, peaking and zebra markers which mean nothing to most clients.

I ordered the the SmallHD Dp1 with two batteries, a sun hood, neoprene case and the clip on battery holder. I’m not really sure why the battery holder has to be ordered separately as this seems like something that should be included by default though.

Opening the package from SmallHD reminded me of unboxing a new mac, the packaging and presentation of everything is great and a real pleasure to open. I won’t go into too much detail about the DP1 itself as you can find out all about it at www.smallhd.com I’ll just concentrate on my feelings about it for now.

The DP1 is made from solid aluminum, this makes it feel very sturdy. Some of the nicer design features are that it has mounting threads all around it, top mounted connections (which is more practical than on the bottom), and very nice slimline batteries that are also good value, unlike some of todays battery offerings.

The sun hood works well, it is a bit fiddly to fit and remove and has a tendency to hit the screen whilst being fitted which is a bit of a concern though. I like that the screen folds down nice and small when not in use though and think the design of it is really nice.

The biggest downside to the DP1 is that it really doesn’t handle darker images very well, darker tones tend to look blocky and noisy, something that I was quite shocked by, after all the main function of a monitor is that it shows what the camera is recording, which in the case of the DP1 is not necessarily true. I’ve been in communication with SmallHD about this problem and they are trying to resolve it, but as of today the problem still exists.

Another small problem is that the DP1 comes with US chargers only, these do work at 220/240v but in europe you’ll need to have travel adapters in order to use them in our socket types. The DP1 comes with two separate power supplies, one for charging the batteries and another to power the unit, I see this as a good feature as in theory you could run the DP1 from a mains outlet whilst charging the batteries o another at the same time.

In conclusion I would say that if SmallHD can solve the low light image issues then this product will be a winner, if not though then I’d look elsewhere as you really need a monitor that gives a true representation of what the camera is capturing.

Litepanels Mini Plus

After my initial disappointment with the Litepanels Micro I decided to hang on to it because I was desperate for an on camera light at the time. I still think it costs way to much for what it is but I can see the value in having such a light weight on camera light. I’ve also added to my light kit a Litepanels Mini Plus which is a lot more professional than the plastic Micro. Again the light is quite pricey, I purchased the kit that includes a battery and a noga arm, as well as a spare battery and spent over $1,100. The Mini is in another league compared to the micro though and throws a brighter, broader beam of light that makes it ideal for situations where a powered light kit cannot be used.

I’ll post more about the Mini soon.

DM-flat & K-Tek mic mount

After breaking the mic mount on my EX1 in Latvia I decided to replace it with an alternate solution rather then just adding another flimsy Sony mount. I replaced the normal tubular mount with a second hot shoe and purchased one of K-Teks shoe mounted suspension mounts. This all works a treat and is much sturdier than the OEM solution.

More on this soon too.

2009 European H.O.G. Rally – Jurmala, Latvia

Here’s the first video from my shoot for Harley-Davidson at the 2009 H.O.G. Rally in Jumala, Latvia.

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Steadicam Pilot – Sony BP-U conversion

I’ve jut converted my Steadicam Pilot to use Sony BP-U batteries. Click the button below to find out more.

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