Upgrading a Mac Pro 2008 (3,1) with the Sonnet Tempo Pro Plus SATA 6G PCI Card

I’m a huge fan of continuous integration. So I was pretty disappointed when Apple removed the 4-core options for the 2014 model of the Mac mini.

That’s why we bought a used 2008 Mac Pro with 2 4-core Xeon CPUs (Model identifier 3,1) to replace our 2010 Mac Mini, which just couldn’t keep up with the number of of build jobs we were throwing at it.

According to Geekbench the 2008 Mac Pro offers roughly the same multi-core performance as a 2012 4-core Mac mini (Both offer about twice the performance of the top-notch 2014 MacMini).

However, the Mac Pro offers room for 4 internal drives, PCI expansion cards and supports more RAM, that’s why we decided against buying the 2012 Mac Mini, even though our local reseller still has some in stock.

The Mac Pro’s major disadvantage is it’s lack of a SATA 6G interface. It’s older SATA 3G interface offers a theoretic peek throughput of 300MB/s, while modern SSD drives easily reach 500MB/s or more. We thought we could work around this bottleneck by buying an SATA 6G PCI card, but that process didn’t work as smoothly as we thought.

We ordered an Sonett Tempo SSD PCI card, which lets you mount a single SSD directly onto the PCI card itself. This way we wouldn’t need an extra adapter or cables to mount an 2.5″ SSD in the MacPro’s 3.5″ drive bays.

Shortly after having placed the order, I run into this little detail on Sonnet’s product page:

Tempo SSD Pro is recommended for Mac Pro 1,1 2,1 and 3,1 instead of Tempo SSD. These early Mac Pros have PCIe 1.1 slots which will negotiate the two-lane Tempo SSD card down to one lane. These early Mac Pros will correctly negotiate with the four-lane Tempo SSD Pro.

That didn’t sound too promising, but luckily I was able to change our order to a Sonett Tempo SSD Pro Plus – which is twice the price, but also offers room for two SSD drives on the PCI card.

Once the card arrived, we installed it – only to discover that while we could install OS X Yosemite on an SSD attached to it, our Mac PRO refused to boot from that drive. According to the Sonnet support page, our card already comes with the most current firmware. Since the card is advertised as bootable on OS X, we were a little confused.

After a while of digging around, we found a Sonnet blog post from 2013 announcing boot support for their Tempo SSD and Tempo SSD Pro cards, which led us to a firmware update, that was not offered on the Tempo SSD Pro Plus downloads page.

We decided to give that firmware update a shot, and the updater offered our PCI card as a target. It told us the actual firmware update process would be performed during next restart, but much to our dismay, nothing happened during reboot. We were still stuck with a non-bootable SSD drive.

Since the firmware update was created before Yosemite was released, we weren’t sure it was fully compatible. Also, the Mac Pro was booting of an FileVault encrypted hard drive, which could interfere with whatever process the Sonnet updater uses to flash the PCI card.

We booted the Mac Pro from an external, unencrypted drive with OS X Yosemite, run the updater application again, and this time the Mac Pro started into an EFI prompt, asking us if we wanted to update the card’s firmware. After that procedure had finished, we were finally able to boot from the SSD drive attached to the Sonnet card.

Disk throughput went from around 60 MB/s with the internal 1TB hard drive to around 450 MB/s with an Samsung 840 SSD attached to the Sonnet card. That’s still not as fast as 1TB/s a current Mac Pro or Mac Book Pro achieves, but a pretty solid number compared to the money (~1000 €) we invested in this whole project. My only wish is that getting this setup to work wouldn’t have been that time consuming.

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9 thoughts on “Upgrading a Mac Pro 2008 (3,1) with the Sonnet Tempo Pro Plus SATA 6G PCI Card

  1. poomsae says:

    I just finished going through essentially the same experience. Sonnet Tempo, SSD drive, formatted, installed Yosemite…won’t boot from it. *sigh* Shoulda gone SATA.

    Way back in the day I liked Sonnet products. Like…back when Macs had Motorola processors. Sonnet sold me a lot of good upgrade gizmos back then. But lately, anything I try from Sonnet fails. Tonight I also replaced my Sonnet USB 3 PCI card for another brand, because the Sonnet card would freeze my Mac Pro.

    Sonnet, I think we’re into the territory now of “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”

  2. georglu says:

    don’t forget to check your utilities bill from time to time. Vattenfall loves all old MacPro owners!

  3. Jaap says:

    Surely it’s worth fitting another ssd in RAID 0 since that’s what the Sonnet Pro is designed to do, to achieve much higher speed?

  4. Jaap says:

    Following my comment I purchased a Tempo Pro with two Samsung 840 Pro’s for my 3,1 – many thanks for the firmware update tip. I have a throughput of 950MB/s…not that I’m bragging..!

    • iiwas says:

      950 MB/s sounds very good. Pretty close to what a current generation MacPro offers. But I doubt that adding a second SSD will speed up compile times on our Mac Pro. I have the feeling the the CPUs are already saturated by single SSD.

      • Jaap says:

        Yes I expect you’re right – I’m glad I’ll be able to use the card in a later model too. I’m about to install two SSD in RAID0 in the lower optical bay, connected to the two sata sockets on the motherboard, with the intention of using it as a scratch/cache disk for PS and LR -which I believe may be better than using the Sonnet Pro as that is my boot disk (and has my home folder as a separate partition). I also have 4x4TB in two RAID0’s. And I’m adding RAM to 32gb. Not sure if there’s anything else I can do to make the most of it!

  5. bertrand says:

    hello, finally is it a good idea to buy a Tempo SSD Pro Plus with yosemite in a 2008 macpro ?

    I have a dx4 with rocketraid and yosemit break the support. I have to ssd that i cannot use i and try to find a way.

    Regards

  6. Jaap says:

    One thing to note: No bootcamp, not even if the bootcamp volume is not on the Sonnet.

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