Installing Windows XP, the Right Way

When we first reviewed the Mac Pro, we of course tried to install Windows XP on it. 

Although Apple's Bootcamp beta now allows you to install Windows on a separate hard drive, you'll need to physically remove your OS X boot drive before beginning the install process otherwise you'll be greeted with the following error:


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Even with Apple's updated Bootcamp 1.1 beta release, we encountered serious performance issues with SATA drives under XP; the fastest transfer rate attainable, regardless of drive used, was only 3.9MB/s, which obviously made the system very slow.  Video and CPU performance was fine, but with I/O performance so low the system was a very poor performer in most applications. 


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Thankfully, some clever OS X/XP users figured out the cause of the problem: the Intel 5000X drivers must be slipstreamed into the Windows XP SP2 install CD and loaded during Windows setup, not after, in order to avoid the problem.  We couldn't find a reason why this was true, but after following the instructions posted here (and later mirrored here) our SATA problems went away. 

The fix is simple; you need to download and extract the Intel chipset drivers for the 5000X, as well as the SATA drivers, and use a tool such as nLite to slipstream the drivers into your XP SP2 install CD.

If you've done it correctly, your SATA drives should now operate in Multi-Word DMA Mode 2 instead of PIO Mode when viewed in Device Manager. 

With Windows XP now working at full speed on the Mac Pro, we run into another hurdle in making the Mac Pro the perfect XP/OS X workstation: the video card.  Apple only offers three video card options for the Mac Pro: a GeForce 7300 GT, Quadro FX 4500 and a Radeon X1900 XT.  The problem is that the first option is a fairly low end GPU, and the remaining two are fairly expensive upgrades at $499 and $399 respectively.  It would be much nicer if we could simply use a PC video card in the system, as it would greatly expand the possibilities for upgrades and do so at much better prices. 

PC video cards will actually work in the Mac Pro under Windows XP, they will not however work under OS X or during any of the pre-boot period of starting the machine (e.g. you will not be able to see the startup disk selection screen if you hold down the Option key while the system starts).  If you install a PC video card in the Mac Pro you'll simply get a black screen until Windows starts loading, at which point everything will look normal.  We used this fact to our benefit by running all of our Windows XP game tests with a regular ATI Radeon X1900 XTX.  Interestingly enough, when we tried to use a Radeon X1900 XT 256MB, we got a lot of display corruption as you can see from the screenshot below:

We couldn't do anything to get rid of the corruption, and aren't sure why it happened only with the 256MB X1900 XT. 

On the OS X side, if you try to boot with a PC video card you'll simply get a black screen from start to finish.  We've tried ATI's Radeon X1900 XT as well as the new GeForce 7900 GS (the GPU supports OS X, but the cards themselves do not) and had no luck in OS X.  As soon as Mac versions of these cards are readily available, users should be able to rip the firmware off of one and work on putting it onto a PC card.  Until then, your video card selection for the Mac Pro is going to be quite limited. 

Great News: Quad Core Works Windows XP Performance - The Test
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  • mostlyprudent - Tuesday, September 12, 2006 - link

    I have to agree with the first part of your post. I read the article and thought.."Why?". I have always understood the appeal of a Mac to be that you could upack it and get to work. If we start talking about running other OSs on a Mac or hacking software/drivers for better hardware supprt, then why pay the premium for a Mac? Reply
  • michael2k - Tuesday, September 12, 2006 - link

    Because a Mac is cheaper than an equivalently configured dual dual-core Xeon workstation from Dell orr HP? Reply
  • greylica - Tuesday, September 12, 2006 - link

    I see the rendering results and I Think its really will be a dream machine for 3D Rendering and not a gaming dream machine like allienware ( Now dell ) is, and therefore are a bunch of problems into running XP in this hardware that is not related here, XP is caped to the switch of 3GB and limited to 2GB per app, it´s nearly impossible to compare XP with Mac OS-X, the other downside is that I Didn´t see any review tolding you that you can read XP partition under Mac OS-X or even write to it.
    I Have so many doubts that windows Vista will not be caped in some way after seeing that the switch can really prejudice us to upgrade to another OS that MS is trying to sell.
    I will only switch my opinion about Microsoft when they finnaly release a patch to solve this caped windows in relation to this memory issue under adressing really what the hardware can do. If Mac OS-X haves 16GB of memory, XP only will see 3GB and 2GB per app, PAE ( Page adress extension ) is a nightmare for users and a dream for Microsoft.

    They are saying for all of employees now:
    - Memory Issues ? Push them to Vista !!!

    And it is not all, I discovered that windows 2000 is stronger than XP under heavy loads, and abandoned XP to rendering services, Linux, Mac OS-X and 2K are the best choices if you are a 3D professional and you hve a good workstation.

    Mac-OS-X have its own problems too before 10.3/10.4, it´s limited too to 2GB per app. But right now this is completely solved, giving to you all of your machine.

    I Have certainty to tell that professionals will really benefit from 2- quad core clovertowns under 3D content creation.

    XP was not designed to meet professionals demands, its a S.O. to play games.
    Then, do not polute your Mac, and do not buy a mac to use XP, use a budget computer that deserves XP if you wish to use this.

    If you are a pro, use windows 2000 instead of XP, it´s faster, reliable, secure.
    Windows 2000 helps your productivity. Course... Without the cosmetics...
    Reply
  • Pirks - Tuesday, September 12, 2006 - link

    Are there any decent 64-bit rendering apps like Maya/Lightwave/etc that run natively on XP x64? Reply
  • splines - Tuesday, September 12, 2006 - link

    After seeing what you've said about wishing for a C2D/DDR2 Mac, I'd be interested in how the new iMac C2D with perhaps the 7600GT option stands up in gaming to a comparable PC. Sure, it's nowhere near as configurable (or as boast-worthy) as a Mac Pro, but it does seemingly offer a solution somewhere in the middle.

    That said, the 24" iMac is the only one currently supporting a 7600GT upgrade, and it does boost the price a bit. On a cost - performace ratio, in GPU-limited applications the Mac still seems to be overpriced compared to a PC.

    For interest's sake, however, it's something I'd read carefully.
    Reply
  • JackPack - Tuesday, September 12, 2006 - link

    Just wondering, what's the stepping on the Clovertowns used? Reply
  • Imaginer - Tuesday, September 12, 2006 - link

    I am not entirely convinced of the apple craze. I still prefer my own customability of my system and XP is really not a bad OS to work with. That and I am cheap and really dont want to shell out money for the apple package deal they have going. Reply
  • Calin - Tuesday, September 12, 2006 - link

    I just want to tell you that the MacPros are workstations - and their price reflect that. You buy one for lots and lots of reasons, the last of them are games.
    Those are used to make money - and in some cases, having twice the horsepower lets the employee that use them work twice as fast.
    I do prefer my own customability of my system (even if I barely used it), and XP is (now) not a bad OS to work with. But MacPros are for me just as much as an SGI Octane would be (very useful for tasks I wouldn't touch with a barge pole)
    Reply
  • tuteja1986 - Tuesday, September 12, 2006 - link

    <b>I just want to tell you that the MacPros are workstations - and their price reflect that. You buy one for lots and lots of reasons,</b> the last of them are games.
    Those are used to make money - and in some cases, having twice the horsepower lets the employee that use them work twice as fast.
    I do prefer my own customability of my system (even if I barely used it), and XP is (now) not a bad OS to work with. But MacPros are for me just as much as an SGI Octane would be (very useful for tasks I wouldn't touch with a barge pole)

    What the hell are you talking about :*(

    Windows Workstation with the same spec that cost cheaper could do everything that Mac workstation could do :*( only real real reason i would buy a new Mac pro if i was Video editing.
    Reply
  • Calin - Tuesday, September 12, 2006 - link

    Assuming you want a workstation capable of accessing 16GB of RAM (and using two processors), your options are a bit more reduced. There was an article on Anandtech, and the Mac Pro (the most expensive) was just a couple of hundred dollars more expensive than the sum of its components (and operating system I think). Reply

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