Mac Pro 5,1 Resurrected

I decided to raise the bar on my workstation and go for something with a little more grunt, and that would be up to the job for the next 2–3 years. Having considered lots of options based around a top of the range iMac, with it’s incredible 5K screen, and the current ‘trashcan’ Mac Pro, I ended up travelling back in time to 2010, so to speak, and purchasing a custom-built and refurbished Mac Pro 5,1. Why? Well, it was quite an easy decision in the end. Performance, expandability and price all duly ticked! And these machines really do still perform well enough today.

Lets get it out of the way, this thing is heavy—just shy of 20kg loaded! Miniaturisation was not a design consideration at this time. They are made from copious amounts of metal. It feels like it will last a very long time—and clearly has! It is easy to expand the capabilities of this machine. The side panel is easily removed to allow easy access to all the important stuff inside.

Basically, my workstation has twin 6-core 3.46GHz Xeon (Westmere) X5690 processors (12-cores / 24-threads), 96GB of 1333MHz DDR3 ECC memory, an NVIDIA GTX 970 4GB graphics card (CUDA and Open CL support), a very fast Samsung 512GB PCIe Flash drive (1,500MB/s read and write speeds), and two dedicated ‘conventional’ WD Black HDDs for archived work and TimeMachine. Not cutting edge, but this is a very quick Mac, with a performance well up with the higher echelons of the current Mac Pro range—and at a much lower price point. It, of course, continues to be easy to expand and re-configure with two spare hard drive bays and a PCIe slot. I certainly don’t feel I’m missing anything at present and feel reassured by its physical presence. The older USB 2.0 ports are still fine for many peripherals, but for faster data transfer, there is a four port USB 3.0 PCIe adapter card. Simples. The only software feature that is missing that I’m aware of is Apple’s ‘handoff’ with files. For me, that’s less of an issue as my workstation is my working platform and I don’t look to work on e-mails or other files across different devices.

I like the trashcan Mac Pro model, but it does have an identity problem. It’s nickname is not without merit. One could readily imagine someone trying to chuck their banana skin in to the top, or eye it up as a plant pot. The new iMac Pro looks a different proposition—but for me and for now—the Mac Pro 5,1 has presence, means business and there’s still lots of life left in this old model.

January, 2016


There is always an aspect of work that emerges out of error, experimentation and/or serendipity.

National Geographic

Since the very first issue in 1888, the National Geographic magazine has been the benchmark for quality researched articles supported by well-crafted graphics.

Relief Shading, Pt I

As we seem to be moving in to presentational modes where 3D (mapping) is becoming ever more commonplace, enabled by software and hardware advances, it is relevant to look back

Swiss National Mapping

Swiss topography has long been regarded as the epitome of this form of mapping, often characterised by the iconic hill shading techniques of the late Eduard Imhof, professor of cartography at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology.

A Monitor for a Cartographer

Screen estate and colour are very important to a cartographer. Maps can be any size from A6 to more than 5m×5m square.

An Open-source World

Over the last few years we have seen the release of numerous mapping platforms/frameworks to allow the manipulation and representation of open-source mapping and other spatial data.

OS Maps – the App

Recently, the Ordnance Survey (OS) updated an app for both mobile and desktop devices that utilises their 1:25,000 Explorer and 1:50,000 Landranger maps—classic OS mapping at it’s best.

Mac Pro 5,1 Resurrected

I decided to raise the bar on my workstation and go for something with a little more grunt, and that would be up to the job for the next 2–3 years.