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!

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30 Responses

  1. Otrova Gomaz says:

    Hi Paul,
    Now you can also upgrade to Maverick with Tiamo boot.efi, besides using a radeon 7970 without flashing.

  2. slowtiger says:

    Thank you so much for this article! I’ve just replaced the X1900 with a HD 4870 (for just 170 €), and my MacPro 1.1 from 2007 started without any fuzz! Without you, I never would’ve dared to try that.

  3. Guillermo says:

    Hi Paul,
    I have a Mac Pro 1.1 (I cannot use the 4870) so I got a Ati XT1900. Works fine but it is very noisy and loud. My Mac Pro sounds like an airplane. Do you know any solutions for that?
    I’ve heard that I could use also the Quadro FX 4500 and it looks less loud,
    Any suggestions will be helpful,
    Thanks a lot,
    Guillermo

  4. paul maudib says:

    Hi Paul, excellent post really helpful.

    My x1900 recently died took 5 years to do so but it finally gave up. My question is I am still running os tiger 10.4.11, from what research I’ve done I can only replace the x1900 with another x1900, will the 5770 work on os tiger 10.4.

    Thanks in advance. Peace.

  5. Harry Plum says:

    Fairly useless story. You do not share which Mac Pro you have, which means that we have to guess whether your personal anecdote portends failure or success for us.

  6. OddyOh says:

    Hi Paul, thanks for this blog post, lots of good info here.

    I have the same Mac Pro, and the same ATI card, but the fan on it is dying. I blew the dust off it with a can of compressed air, which helped, but not enough.

    Problem is, all the new video cards take up two slots, whereas my current one is just a single slot. I’m also running an NVidia card, so I can run 4 monitors in my recording studio.

    Basically I need a new video card that only takes up one slot, and provides connections for two screens. Or a double slot video card, that can provide for four screens. Time for some research!

  7. SmokinX says:

    Hi Fogafra,

    Just downloaded and installed Aperture 3 since version 2 was working perfectly for me.
    Version 3 is working too, so I don’t understand your trouble. Is there something specific in Aperture that isn’t working? Perhaps a recent update fixed this?

    best, SmokinX

  8. Fogafra says:

    Hi,

    Same problem over here with the 1900xt card on a MacPro1.1 2,66.
    I tried to switch with an ATI 5770 … everything worked perfect… exept Aperture.
    Aperture will not support this card, so this is not working for me !!!
    Has anyone tried an other card with beter performance and using Aperture?

    Will a 4870 be compatible with Aperture (and CS5)?

    Anyone?

    best, Frederik

  9. SmokinX says:

    Hi Paul,

    Just like to add this for future readers: I own the same MacPro 1,1 2x 2,66 GHz Dual-Core Intel Xeon with 7GB ram. I’ve bought the ATI Radeon HD 5770 from Apple which is perfectly compatible.

    I score a 1119 now on NovaBench which strangely states my CPU at 2000MHz.
    (http://novabench.com/compare.php?k=&n=smokinx&s=)

    I would love to hear your current NovaBench score too.

    best, SmokinX

  10. Trevor says:

    Hi! Paul

    I also have the Mac Pro 1.1 with 512 MB ATI Radeon X1900 XT card

    Up until this summer the 512 MB ATI Radeon X1900 XT was running fine
    Then I started to notice it would start crashing while watching movies

    So I investigated to see what could be wrong
    Once I took the side cover off
    I noticed it was quite dusty inside the computer
    So I started cleaning
    Upon closer inspection of the Video card
    I noticed the front screen, where was air intake for the fan
    Was clogged with dust
    So gently with the vacuum, cleaned and unblocked the front screen
    Now it’s works fine again

    And finished cleaning the rest of the computer
    I dismantled most every thing that is self serviceable
    Another tip, take your computer outside of the house to clean it
    As I also used compressed air to blow things out, in the hard to reach areas
    Now I do this cleaning service to my computer every 6 months

    The amount of dust accumulation will differ from household to household
    My computer is in a carpeted room and sits a foot off the floor

    Thanks, I hope this helps

    T

  11. lo says:

    hi paul.

    thank you for your info. I am trying to install a radeon x1900. it comes with a large 6pin connector that is split into two large 3 pin connectors. I assumed this was for pc installation as I can not find the connectors on my mac pro 1.1.

    do I need to connect these? if so, could you let me know where on the mac they go. I just don’t seem to be able to find them.

    thank you.

    lo.

  12. Father Damian says:

    Hello Paul

    I just got in a Mac Pro1,1 dual 2.66 GHz, 8GB ram and the 1900XT to replace my G5 that passed away. I also purchased a GForce 8800GT. (still in the box)
    The reason for the 8800 was the hope to run Adobe CS5 better/faster.
    (especially Photoshop)
    (Primarily: large files 100-400MB, Smart Objects, Reduce Noise and Unsharp Mask).
    I am finding out that the 8800 might not have been the best choice for Pro Apps.
    (better for games)
    After finding this site and reading all the posts I was hoping for a little help on deciding the most appropriate card for my needs. 1900XT, 3870, 4870 or 8800GT.

    Any input would be appreciated.
    Thank You.
    God Bless.

    • Paul Joy says:

      To be honest I really don’t know which would be the better option. The 4870 worked for me upgrading from the 1900XT but I don’t have any experience with the other cards.

  13. newbiez says:

    Hey All

    I have a 1.1 667 MHz quad core (2×2 core each), and i went also from a x1900xt to a hd3870 instead of the 4870, and as now i can use the mac perfectly fine without errors.

    The new version of leopard (Snow leopard is the latest at the moment) support the enw drivers, since the machine is the same, what changes are

    -procesor speed
    -bus speed (and the video card has to support it since it is the way that the card talks with the rest of the chips)
    -standard for the PCI-E, that is 1.0 in the 1.1 mac pro and 2.0in the newer ones (if i recall it the first with 2.0 were the late 2008)

    Every card made for mac pro works with earlier version (but must be made for mac, otherwise is a pain since you gotta flash the EPROM on the video card, and you need a pc to do so; plus screw your warranty and can brick the new card); the only problem is related to the performance: a new card will not be performant on a 1.1 because the bus and PCI-E standard limitations.

    Anyway you get some boost in performance, expecially because the x1900 was a DX9, while now the new cards are DX11; while on the mac side, you will get mroe horse power for FCP or other 3d apps like C4d, but for the rest, the machine will not give you that big boost that you would expect :)

    I speak based on tests that i did on my poor machine (sorry for making you go trough so many bad tests :P); so i am sure of what i am saying ;)

    What i am not sure of is if cards newer than the 4870 will work on a dinosaur like the 1.1 (coming from a pc world, where you change almost entirely the machine every 2 years, my 1.1 is still running solid since june 2006 :D); but conceptually if they are marked for mac pro, they should run….now if it is worth to change your card with a newer one to get limited performances enhancements for 300-400 dollars is up to you.

    I am about to start a new journey to see if there is any option other than the 4870 to replace my 4670; so probably i will post here my results soon, if you are interested :)

    Great job Paul BTW

  14. Giovanni says:

    hi Paul,
    for now, my solution is:
    “smcFanControl”
    bye.

  15. Giovanni says:

    hi Paul,
    I have the same problem…
    tnx for your “post”
    bye from Florence, Italy.

  16. Michael Brassert says:

    I have a new 4870 in a Mac Pro 1.1. It seems to be working fine and is an improvement over the 7300 that came in the machine, Hardware test only recognizes 256 Vram instead of 512. I notice better performance in apple color and FxFactory filters for FCP but i have been experience memory and graphics related crashes. I suspect that is because the card is not compatible with 667 MHz ram. i am not convinced that the 4870 is a good choice for Mac Pro 1.1 Apple has agreed to take it back and I am looking for a 3870 or a GeForce 8800.

    • Paul Joy says:

      Thanks for sharing that Michael, there’s obviously some differences between machines as mine is still fine and the system profiler shows the full 512MB of VRAM.

      • Michael Brassert says:

        It says 512 in SYS profiler but run the Hardware test and see what it says. I don’t think this card can work to its full potential in a Mac Pro 1.1. The question is..Is it better than the original OEM card?

        • Paul Joy says:

          It’s certainly better than the X1900XT I had in there previously. Plus I replaced the X1900 due to it failing, which seems to be a very common fault so I’d say buying the newer tech is a wiser choice.

          What hardware test are you referring too?

  17. Nathan says:

    Great article Paul! I’ve been considering for a while as well. I did read somewhere however that the Mac 1,1 (1st Gen) will only address 256mb of the 512mb of RAM on the card. I am not sure how accurate this is…

    Anyway, my main concern isn’t so professional as yours (I work in audio, so video isn’t nearly as important). I’m looking to upgrade from the x1900xt to the 4870 because of gaming under Windows using Boot Camp. While the x1900xt does a solid job for gaming in Windows, I’m still not getting the amazing performance that, quite honestly, the $350 price tag (when I bought the x1900xt originally) should merit some awesome performance.

    Have you had any experience dual booting with Boot Camp and doing any gaming with the 4870?

    Thanks again for your article, I’m highly considering getting this card now!

  18. Paul Joy says:

    I’ve not tried the minidisplay port – DVI adapter so can’t help there.

    I’m using Snow Leopard on my Mac Pro 1,1 with the ATI Radeon HD 4870 and all works fine.

  19. Basil says:

    just wanted to bump this for a response coz i reaaallly want to upgrade my ailing x1900xt as well. :)

  20. Philip VD says:

    Hi I just ordered the 4870 for my mac pro 1.1 .

    I also had problems with the x1900 (strange artifacts and lines.
    The y would pop up most of the time while running Tiger and fcp 5.
    Then a few weeks ago I upgraded to snow leopard and the new FCstudio (3).

    Now in SL the card problems are comming up all the time (much like in your story)

    I also experienced crashes of SL:
    Everything would just stand still, no moving mouse or keyboard reaction.
    Is this crash related to the faulty x1900?
    Or could it be a HDD issue ?

    Anyway I had some questions about the 4870 and the use of it in Macpro 1.1 :

    1) I have 2 20inch samsung screens connected on the MacPro thru DVI. Has anybody used the minidisplay port to DVI adaptor on the 4870 ?

    2) Can anyone confirm that the card works well under Snow Leopard in a MacPro 1.1

    Thanks alot for your story. It is nice to see a good written article about the problem instead of browsing trhu the forums.

    It is painfull to see apple not supporting there costumers of the 1.1 versions. this is supposed to be THE upgradable mac and we as costummers can not take confidence in wath apple tells us. I value the advice of users more than the advice from apple.
    Since the Iphone apple’s most concern is the famely user instead of the pro users. And the only reason why apple is where it is today is because of us pro users.

    thanks alot,

    Philip

  21. Mlke Proctor says:

    Hi Paul,
    I have the Mac Pro 2X3 GHz Dual-Core Intel Xeon with the 1.33 GHz Bus speed. Apple says you need a 2.8 GHz Bus speed to use the Radeon HD4870. I trust you more than Apple. Is your Mac Pro the model 1.1 with the 1.33 Bus speed with 3 GHz Processor speed? I hope it is because then I’ll be convinced.

    Thank you,

    Mike

    • Paul Joy says:

      Hello Mike
      Mine has the 1.33 Ghz bus (2.66 Ghz Dual-Core). The 4870 is still working nicely.

      Model Name: Mac Pro
      Model Identifier: MacPro1,1
      Processor Name: Dual-Core Intel Xeon
      Processor Speed: 2.66 GHz
      Number Of Processors: 2
      Total Number Of Cores: 4
      L2 Cache (per processor): 4 MB
      Memory: 8 GB
      Bus Speed: 1.33 GHz
      Boot ROM Version: MP11.005C.B08

  22. Hakon says:

    Thanks for the info!! My mac 2 X 2.66 dual core intel xeon with the same card has just started to crach just like yours. Some very stange lines and colour boxes are all over the screen from now and then, it kind of looks like old pc-crashes.. :) Thanks again for writing your story!

  23. Paul Frederick says:

    Good to know! I love hearing about people successfully beating “the system”! I often find that manufacturers recommended hardware is very conservative. I have an older Power PC MAC from 2005. It wasn’t suppossed to be able to edit XDCAM EX footage according to “the specs” but I’m able to without a hitch! Just can’t use clip browser, I use XDCAM transfer to imort footage from the cards. Actually, I never even tried to use Clip Browser, maybe I will install it after all!

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