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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  • newrigel - Monday, September 01, 2008 - link

    I own both and my mac smokes my PC's and I have the latest and greatest PC's made!!!
    For audio, the Mac rules because I can audition an audio file within the file hierarchy and with windows I can't so...
  • greylica - Tuesday, September 12, 2006 - link

    I Guess Fully Buffered Dimms, with a new controler that can cut latencies will do it just fine, and sooner or later we will have a situation where every part of theh computer can achieve higher performances by a number of serialized and specialized controllers, memory then can serve as a memory controler/memory module and report to the system as well as aa SCSI device. Remember in teh past years you can buy an external memory controler that serve as a SCSI card, with special functions.
    May intel will be giving you to the future in this way cause chipsets, specially north bridge with all those functions into the same package, and the nightmare to be pinning dedicated MTRR to adress memory sets into the same motherboard with only three layers, and diverse other issues caused by cost limits in this type of config with much more RAM.
    May Intel can be wrong too, AMD haves a controller dedicated into every processor with NUMA ( Non Uniform Memory architeture ), but again we have a pin count to make a hell with Growth of RAM in the computer world if we use memory like we are using until now.
    We have two sides of the story now, and, in the two cases, we have to have a dedicated controller to count memory and acess it, may be a dedicated controller with numa, or a dedicated controller over a north bridge that is nearly the same thing, except the aproaches. A Nort Bridge that servers every processor or processors that serves each other passing data as needed on Numa.

    Every memory now will be serialized to achieve the growth of the use, and we will use more and more RAM.

    FB Dimms not scares me, what scares me is that the other manufacturers will delay to start using it.

    And I really prefer Registered ECC or FB Dimms as they are reliable, did you use memtest in every memory that you have ? I use.
    One bit error and I turn back to guarantee. I don´t have time to waste with a defect that every time appears different...

    Good Vibes.
  • vailr - Tuesday, September 12, 2006 - link

    Isn't there a bios size difference between Mac vs. PC video cards? The Mac cards use 512 K bios chips, while PC cards have only 256 K. Thus, trying to flash a PC video card with a Mac version bios won't work. The extra 256K has something to do the video card's compatability with the EFI bios.
    Another question: PowerPC Macs could boot from an external firewire HD (but could not boot from USB). PC's can boot from external USB HD's, but not from firewire. What's the external bootable HD situation with the Mac Pro? Is the Mac Pro's EFI bios configurable? Haven't seen any screenshots of the Mac Pro's EFI bios setup.
  • JarredWalton - Tuesday, September 12, 2006 - link

    I believe some PC cards will have the same size BIOS chips, but if not you need to get a hacked BIOS where someone has stripped out some extras to fit a 512K BIOS into 256K. I think I've heard of it being done, but honestly I haven't ever tried it - I don't have any Macs, unlike Anand, Derek, and a couple others. Reply
  • waamatt - Tuesday, September 12, 2006 - link

    I think the high speed DDR2 + Core 2 Duo combo outperforming certain tasks on an FB-DIMM and Xeon (Dual Core) system is precisely the reason we won't see a plain ol' Mac tower anytime soon. I'd love one, but if something you want to do can be done better on it than on their pricier system, they'd just want you to buy an iMac. Hopefully advancements will be made with the whole FB-DIMM system to allow for lower latency and generally better performance, sooner than later.

    The GPU thing is a bit annoying with Macs, but it IS getting better. The number of options is growing, and the ability to keep up with new/relatively new cards is definitely better than it was, say, 3-5 years ago.

    That said, I wouldn't consider buying a Mac Pro until about the third revision as I'd like to see FB-DIMMs improved and better clock speeds on quad core processors. Plus, that sort of provides time to work out any other minor kinks in the system.

    Over all, this trio of Mac Pro articles was excellent for the way it discusses the technologies used as opposed to just going, "Ooh, aah, pretty Apple!" (Actually, does anyone other than Apple do that?)
  • MonkeyPaw - Tuesday, September 12, 2006 - link

    I wonder how well Vista RC1 would run on the MacPro? Reply
  • blwest - Tuesday, September 12, 2006 - link


    I've been reading your site for years. This article was excellent in pointing out the limitations and strengths of FB-Diimms. I'm coming to a point in my life where I'm still very interested in technology, performance and the technical aspect of things.

    However, do not have the time to research individual parts, etc like I used to back in my college days. I think Apple produces a quality product with an appreciation for attention to detail. This article helps us to understand the technology, how it works and how to DIY upgrade the Mac. FWIW, the Apple case is even much higher quality than my $400 Lian-Li PC setup I run my server (linux) on. Apple has finally given us weekend warriors a sytsem to tinker with and upgrade!

    As always I take information from your article and use deductive reasoning to extrapolate what is and isn't applicable to my situation.

    I agree with the previous poster's comment, Apple sells this system well below what you can piece it together on your own--or what Dell sells.

    The final point I'd like to make is that this is a Professional system, not a gaming system. If you're into creativity, using your computer for pictures, movies, online chatting or web development--the mac's for you. If you're into running MS Office, business apps or games, then XP is for you. I no longer have time for games and prefer to use my home system for saving my family memories, communicating with friends/family and not having to pop my case open to clear my cmos in order to accomplish these things.

    Thanks again for all that you do.

  • yacoub - Tuesday, September 12, 2006 - link

    Is that Motley Crue - S.O.S. I hear playing?

    It's the saaaame old, It's the saaaame old situa-a-tion...

    Gaming: Windows PC, video work: Mac.
  • greylica - Tuesday, September 12, 2006 - link

    Yesss, the same old situation, Mac for vídeos and a PC for games, Microsoft and others when the Mac was not X86 always tried to put them on the Vídeo maker market, 2000 and XP takes place in an big users base, but they are always telling you the same thing, use a Mac. Windows is limited.
    I´m the Ceo of Grey Silica Brazil. I´m specialized to work with Blender (A Now GNU program to 3D content Creation for films and presentations ), and tested every possibility of those "dream machines" when they are on the market with their S.O.s. All I have experienced is that windows XP is a shame compared to 2000, 98 is a never think software for 3D services, although I have to use some times in 1999. Some capture cards simply doesn´t function on NT or even 2000 because of drivers.
    But leaving this question I Guess when 2000 was launched Microsoft did a very Good O.S.
    XP introduces spywares to the market, as Hackers wanted too to sell information to others to make money, the same thing as Microsoft does with their partners. You register your software to activate it and a Database Knows what machine you have, the memory you are using, the programs you have installed, the VGA card, etc, etc.
    Windows XP takes this information to sell to others and everybody knows that, course, you have to accept to use... Linux is still on the road, money mekes this world, pressure to not gave information to linuxers is a bad, bad thing.
    Well, Win 2000 now takes those information too, when you download Windows Update services, and WGA have to be installed to 2000 too in some cases. OK. When needed. But it happens now, and not when 2000 was launched. 2000 is not a bad example for hackers.
    If I am a hacker, course that I will think in the same way, I will create my own .net passport with the information hacked or stolen from them, if they buy Nvídia, tell my partners " Buy Nvídia, they sell well !".
    It´s a PC world created, not a MAC bad example. My admiration for the Mac world too, like Anand, Mac not created this monsters of vírus and spywares, they did not do this bad example to humanity collecting data in this way and serving as a sample to hackers.
    The other major problem is limiting the users, 64 Bit can use 128GB of RAM or more, Vista is 64 GB caped, and blogs are saying 4GB is for the kernell. UAU !!!
    OMG !!! 4GB for the kernell, astounting.
    Why they want to limt the users, when Mac and Linux are on the other road ?
    Obvious... To sell other S.O.
    Windows will be a Game console System in few years this way, not an S.O. great to work like they ever swear to you.
    Compare XP to 2000... They can do exactly the sa thing, but 2000 does it better and faster, complimentary software do not leave you to oblivion, Who needs I.E. 7 ehwn Firefox is better and oppen ? Who needs simple compacted folder included in explorer when 7-zip opens more files than you can imagine ?
    Who need My pictures when corel snapfire is better ?

    2000 is the best windows. Fill him with the right software and you will have the most powerfull windows ever.

    Leave MAC for MAC OS-X or Linux, when they gave you hardware that is capable of 128 GB, the OS will achieve this and will not limit you. Will you use Vista knowing this ?
  • bobsmith1492 - Tuesday, September 12, 2006 - link

    Well, thank you for the enlightenment. I will never use Vista now that I know I cannot use more than 64GB of RAM. Reply

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