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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  • SiliconDoc - Saturday, July 18, 2009 - link

    Yeah... boy a GTX285 seems pretty weak.
    (good lord!)
    Reply
  • psonice - Saturday, July 18, 2009 - link

    Well, a radeon 2600 is very weak compared to a gf8800. Yet it kills it in core image tasks (probably bad nvidia drivers, seeing as core image is based on GLSL, and the 8800 is way faster for that).

    My advice for people running CI heavy apps has been "avoid nvidia" for the last year or two, I'd like to know if that should change :)
    Reply
  • Lanska - Saturday, July 18, 2009 - link

    On MacOSX there isn't too enough games, but World of Warcraft from Blizzard is availaible. So you can test GTX 285 as a game accelerator card for Mac. I think many Mac gamers want to buy it as a game card, but not to display more windows in Photoshop or similar. After all you can even compare perfomance of World of Warcraft in Mac and in Windows on the same MacPro system (in Windows for more competition truth you can also use OpenGL mode instead of DirectX, as Mac version is OpenGL only).

    Game have testing command /timetest to benchmark system.

    World of Warcraft client for both systems can be freely downloaded from Blizzard, trial accounts are also availaible. So you willn't pay any charge for testing, but this review will be more interesting, without games game card review not so nice :)
    Reply
  • sprockkets - Tuesday, July 21, 2009 - link

    You think WoW needs a GTX anything? Reply
  • ipay - Saturday, July 18, 2009 - link

    It always sends me into fits of laughter when Anand acts surprised at the absurd price premiums on Apple products - as if Apple's strategy from their inception has been anything else than putting shit in a box and selling it as gold to gullible idiots with lots of money.

    I also got some kicks from reading the description of how to install the video card (something that any self-respecting PC owner can do in their sleep), as well as the fact that the Mac motherboard uses an Intel chipset of some sort.

    Keep the lulz coming Anand, I really appreciate it!
    Reply
  • sprockkets - Tuesday, July 21, 2009 - link

    Laughter?

    More like his credibility.

    Stuff like he still hasn't done any more research into why a MacBook "Pro" has better battery life under OSX than Windows, or why we should spend $2k more on a Mac Pro just to add a video card that can work with a $100 motherboard. I'm sure the average Mac user spends $2400 minimum on a machine for OSX, only to have to dual boot anyhow Windows to play Crysis, adding another $100 to the price, minimum.

    "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."

    Yeah, might have something to do with the fact that EFI sucks and PCs are better off without that crap. And even if EFI becomes standard in "PCs", Apple will just change the way OSX works to again kill it from working on any hardware.
    Reply
  • rpmurray - Tuesday, July 21, 2009 - link

    I can't help rolling on the floor when some dipwad blames Apple for the high prices of third-party add-ons. Especially when that same company sells it cheaper for the PC, which just goes to show you who's gouging whom. Reply
  • afkrotch - Friday, August 28, 2009 - link

    Actually, it all boils down to being Apple's fault. They make a platform that they locked down a ridiculous amount. They then charge a premium for the trash and this causes elitist bitches to buy it, while no one else cares.

    Because there is such a small platform of users, companies have to charge a markup for having to make a product for a minimal amount of users.

    Personally, Nvidia and AMD should just let Apple rot. Let S3 make their graphics cards.
    Reply
  • sprockkets - Tuesday, July 21, 2009 - link

    If you are used to buying Macs with pointless markups you are used to buying Mac accessories with pointless markups. Reply
  • Dainas - Saturday, July 18, 2009 - link

    Anything that says apple on it is soo overpriced that there are many many forums dedicated to finding or making pc stuff that doesn't say apple on it work. The evga gtx 285 mac might actually sell boxed as they are only slightly insulting. Reply

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