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Can I upgrade the graphics card on a Mac?

Karl Hodge | July 8, 2013
In the vast majority of cases, you won't be able to upgrade the graphics card on your Mac. Sorry about that. There is one notable exception, but even then it's not trivial or recommended for most users.

If you're upgrading a Mac Pro that's a little, but not too much older, then a compatible ATI Radeon card can breathe some life into your machine.

We know that Apple will introduce a new Mac Pro later this year, but what if you are despirate and need to get a better Mac Pro now. One thing you can do is upgrade the graphics card.

How easy is it to upgrade the graphics card in a Mac Pro?
In the vast majority of cases, you won't be able to upgrade the graphics card on your Mac. Sorry about that. There is one notable exception, but even then it's not trivial or recommended for most users.

The only Mac with a clear graphics upgrade path is the Mac Pro. It's easy to get excited at this stage because post-PowerPC Mac Pros have their graphics cards in an easily accessible PCI-e slot. And, the PCI-e form factor is popular in PC motherboard manufacture.

Older, PowerPC era Mac pros used AGP graphics. Again, fairly widely supported in the world of PCs. The problem isn't the availability of cards that fit into the slot your Mac Pro might have - it's driver support.

Support for your chosen graphics card must be built into OS X, limiting you to a narrow band of hardware. You're effectively stuck with cards built around an ATI Radeon architecture or nVidia Quadro - and only those certified for use in a Mac.

In Macs that support video card expansion, the nVidia Quadro is the hardest working replacement for your existing card.

To give you an idea of cost, the Apple store currently carries just four upgrade kits for the Mac Pro. The ATI Radeon 5770 and 5870 were the last cards to ship in the pre-2013 Mac Pro. These retail at £203 and £377 respectively and will run in any Mac Pro with a PCI-e 2.0 slot. That should enable you to give a 2009 Mac Pro an appreciable boost.

Apple also retail two nVidia Quadro cards, the 4000 at £779 and the K5000 at £1829. The price is justified by high-end workstation output.

Ensuring you have the right card is the hardest part. Fitting a video card in a Mac Pro is actually fairly easy. It's similar to upgrading RAM - you remove the old card, slot in the new one and secure it. With nVidia cards you'll need to install drivers but, otherwise, it shouldn't be long before you're ready to enjoy faster graphics and higher screen resolutions.

As for the forthcoming, new Mac Pro... We only know as much as the marketing material tells us at this stage, but the twin FirePro AMD GPU boards appear to bespoke. 

 

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