Upgrading anything other than memory or hard drives in a Mac is ridiculously frustrating. Most of Apple’s machines use mobile CPUs soldered on to the motherboards, which makes swapping chips an impossible affair. And the ones that don’t use mobile chips have other supermodel quirks associated with them, like being lidless.

Upgrading Mac video cards has always been an unreasonable pain. Mac versions of PC GPUs have always been ridiculously overpriced and taken far too long to come out. Apple still sells an ATI Radeon X1900 XT upgrade kit for the Mac Pro, for $399. Do I even need to point out how disappointing that is?

Lately Apple has been getting a bit better with GPU releases. The 8800 GT and even more recently, the Radeon HD 4870 have both been build-to-order GPU options directly from Apple. Even more awesome is that once Apple officially supports a conventionally PC video card, it just takes one user to dump the ROM from the Mac version and now we all have a way of hacking PC cards to become Mac editions.

In a completely surprising move however, EVGA has released a GeForce GTX 285 Mac Edition. Prior to this release, all 3rd party video card upgrades were branded either by ATI or NVIDIA - Apple doesn’t really support the upgrade market the way the PC industry does. What EVGA has done is given Mac users a very high end GPU option that they can buy from Apple.com or through a handful of other online vendors.

Why do you even need a GeForce GTX 285 Mac Edition? The hardware is identical to what you get (for $100 less) when you buy a PC card, the difference is in the packaging and firmware.

These cards are only useful in the Mac Pro, but the standard video card in any Mac Pro doesn’t require any additional PCIe power connectors. If you upgrade to a more power hungry video card, you’ll need one or two cables that connect the small PCIe power connectors on the Mac Pro’s motherboard to the connectors on the video card itself. These come in the GTX 285 Mac Edition box.


What's in the box

The other change is firmware. In order to get your PC video card to work under OS X it needs firmware with a few EFI hooks in it. It’s not a huge change, but for whatever reason the PC specific cards don’t have it. Now you can do some Googling (or Binging) and find ROM dumps for various PC cards that will enable Mac operation, or you can buy a card that comes EFI equipped from the factory.

EVGA is offering the latter, a GeForce GTX 285 with firmware that will allow it to POST and function under OS X without any modifications. It’ll also work just fine in Windows using Boot Camp.

The price is a bit hefty at $449.99, especially considering that you can buy the PC firmware enabled GTX 285 from EVGA for around $330. The EVGA bundle does come with the two necessary power cables, which you’d have to buy separately if you were going the hack-your-own route; they absurdly retail for $30 a cable.


Looks can be deceiving, one end is a normal PCIe power connector, the other end is tiny PCIe power

Unlike some earlier ATI Mac Edition cards, the GTX 285 ships with the exact same clocks as the PC version. The card even looks identical, the PCB even has a useless pair of SLI bridge connectors on it.

The bundle comes with a driver CD (yes, you’ll be needing it), a pair of power cables and a lone DVI to VGA adapter. Using VGA on a Mac, I’m pretty sure, is some sort of sacrilege but you can do it thanks to EVGA.

The card itself has two dual-link DVI outputs on it; there’s no support for mini-DisplayPort so owners of the new 24” LED Cinema Display are out of luck. The advantage that the EVGA card has over the two current BTO options on the Mac Pro is that you do get two dual-link DVI ports, something that you don’t get out of either of Apple’s options. Furthermore, it’s quite disappointing that Apple doesn’t offer the EVGA card as a BTO option on the new Mac Pro - it’s easily the most powerful GPU officially supported by Apple, yet it’s barred from coming pre-installed on the most powerful Mac.

Installing EVGA's GeForce GTX 285 Mac Edition
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  • bohhad - Saturday, July 18, 2009 - link

    Will installation instructions be standard on all hardware reviews? Being Anandtech readers, I'm sure most all of us have no clue how to even take the sides of our cases off. Or was this a 'special' feature for our equally 'special' Mac-using members? Reply
  • utdman53 - Saturday, July 18, 2009 - link

    Cost of a Mac pro configured with the two Xeon @ 2.93 is $6000.00 or more. What an absolute waste of money to match a core i7. If you want a computer that bad I'll build you one and myself one with that money.

    In life there are but kings and pawns, Apple clearly lives off the pawns.
    Reply
  • archer75 - Wednesday, August 19, 2009 - link

    I was looking at the price of the processors and ram and newegg and believe it or not it's cheaper from apple. We are talking about workstations here and as they go the mac pro is indeed priced well. Reply
  • ViRGE - Saturday, July 18, 2009 - link

    Bear in mind that you're looking at a workstation system. The price on any of those is astronomical, it's not just an Apple thing. The chipset costs a small fortune, the Xeon processors cost a small fortune, etc.

    Apple's is still more expensive yet, but not by whole orders of magnitude like it is when comparing it to a desktop system.
    Reply
  • ipay - Saturday, July 18, 2009 - link

    I'd say there are clever people and stupid people, and that Apple makes its money from the latter. Reply
  • thurston - Saturday, July 18, 2009 - link

    Why is the $100 price premium ridiculous? It seems to be in line with Mac pricing in general. Reply
  • JimmiG - Saturday, July 18, 2009 - link

    "The first step to install the card is actually to install the drivers. If you fail to do so, you’ll be greeted with a kernel panic once you get the card installed and fire up the machine."

    That made me LOL after seeing those ads about how Macs don't need drivers and how they're so easy to use. At least a PC will load up Windows even without drivers. In fact, since Vista, it will even work at fairly high resolutions and in full 32-bit color. Just another example of how Apple's advertising is based on lies, exaggerations and misconceptions.
    Reply
  • sprockkets - Tuesday, July 21, 2009 - link

    But, but, I thought Macs just work and used "The World's Most Advanced operating system"! Reply
  • 529th - Saturday, July 18, 2009 - link

    The 4870 is also a working GPU for a Hackintosh. Also sold in the new Mac Pros. Apparently it is supported in Leopard 10.5.7 OS X Reply
  • psonice - Saturday, July 18, 2009 - link

    Any chance of some core image tests of some kind? CI has traditionally been nvidia's very weak spot (ATI 2600 outperforming nvidia 8800 anyone?) and it's important for some apps. Reply

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