Upgrading The Processors On My Early 2009 Mac Pro At A Bargain Price

March 21, 201533 Comments

I’ve been looking at buying either a iMac 4K or the new Mac Pro but both are so expensive I just kept putting it off. I have two Macs right now. An aging early 2009 Mac Pro with two Quad-Core 2.26 Ghz processors model ID MacPro4,1 and a MacBook Pro Retina. Great laptop. Both get the job done but I don’t like editing on the laptop all that much. I ended up making the MacBook Pro Retina my main computer. It’s okay but not ideal. I like a workstation so I started looking at what I could do to upgrade it. Usually upgrades on macs are RAM, PCI cards and graphic cards. Thats pretty much it but then I came across a few interesting videos and articles on upgrading the processors. What? How the heck is that possible. Well it is and the way I did it was so easy I highly recommend it.

I found a couple of options. One was to send the tray with the processors and ram on them to a vender and they would perform the upgrade. This would run around $950 to $1444.95 plus shipping.

OWC CPU Upgrade Program

OWC has a mail it in service

OWC has a Turnkey solution but they don’t offer the speed bump that I was looking for. I want the BIG jump. Two 6-Core 3.46GHZ Xeon X5690.

If I was going the mail the tray in route to get  the12-Core 3.46GHZ Xeon X5690  it would cost $1444.95.

CUP Upgrade $1500

Thats a lot of money and not sure if it’s worth it and the other way is way more complicated. Using the CPU’s with the cap on requires much more complicated modifications Google it and you will read the stories. More on that later.

If you’ve ever built or worked on a computer before that helps and this way is much easier and safer. If you haven’t I would recommend asking some friends that have had experience and let them help, but it really is simple.

I found you can buy the processors, but you have to do some extra stuff to make it fit. The stock ones have a cover on them that makes them taller and that causes issues. If you over tighten you could damage the chip and the board basically destroying the computer and making it really expensive to fix. Here is what I did.


DN Computers sells a kit for my 2009 MacPro 4,1. I went for the fastest processors I could get. The 12-Core 3.46GHZ Xeon X5690 SLBVX. The kit was $549.99. From what I’ve read my MacPro 4,1 model happens to be a very good candidate for this upgrade. If you have this model you are in luck too!

DN Computers is offering readers of my blog a $10 discount. Use code ERIKNASO at checkout. I asked them what other options are available.

I have 2 basic CPUs that I’d recommend.  The 3.46GHZ or the 3.06GHZ.  The only reason I might suggest the 3.06 is if you’re worried about the extra heat from the 3.46 (possibly if you have a really high end graphics card or run the computer in a warm/hot area), it also saves a little bit.

I do continually restock, and would be glad to do other CPUs if requested.  I only stock these two at this time:



Thanks again.

DN Computers

New CPUs (1 of 1)


The other way is way more complicated. Google it and you will read the stories. If you ever built a computer before this way is super easy. If you haven’t I would recommend asking some friends that have had experience and let them help but it really is simple.

DN Computers doesn’t have the all the CPU options in stock. You will need to check with them to see what’s available.

New CPU under old ones. The cap removed. You can see a outline where it was attached

New CPU under old ones. With the cap removed you can see an outline where it was

Why buy the kit? Because they prep the CPU for you by removing the IHS cap on the processor so it doesn’t require any modifications during install. It’s a direct CPU swap. I don’t know how they get the cap off. It’s not something you can do yourself.

CPU with IHS cap

Here is the same CPU with the Intel cap on the processor.

Removed Quadro 4000 and replaced with stock Mac video card

Removed Quadro 4000 and replaced with stock Mac video card

Un order to perform the firmware update I  had to put a stock Apple video card in because with the Quadro 4000 installed the firmware update wouldn’t take. Not sure why. if you don’t have your original video card you can find them on eBay. I believe any stock card that shipped with your Mac model would work. After the update is done the Quadro 4000 gets reinstalled.

USB Drive with firmware

USB Drive with firmware

First step. Flashing the firmware to version MacPro 5,1. This is a must in order to get the Mac Pro to work with these new processors.

Screen Shot 2015-03-19 at 7.09.03 PM

Screen Shot 2015-03-19 at 7.08.46 PM

The process is simple. The kit includes a USB drive with the firmware on it. Just run it from the USB drive and follow the on screen instructions.

Unplug the computer and remove the tray that has the two CPUs and RAM installed on it. Super easy to take out.

CPU Tray out and ready for install (1 of 1)

Unscrew Heatsink (1 of 1)

Use the supplied hex driver to remove the heatsinks. I didn’t take my RAM out. Yes I probably should have but I’m careful. I did use a antistatic matt 😀

Heatsink with CPU stuck to it (1 of 1)

When I lifted the The CPU it was stuck to the bottom of the heatsink. DO NOT try to install the new one that way.

Heatsink with CPU wiggle off (1 of 1)


Heatsink with CPU off (1 of 1)

I wiggled it off carefully and put it aside.

CPU Frame removed (1 of 1)

On the top of the CPU is a frame. This is a little riser I think. Put it aside and take note how it goes on. The frame has two notches so it’s easy to reinstall when the time comes. Then did the same to the second CPU.

Heatsink clean up (1 of 1)

Half done (1 of 1)

I then cleaned off the old thermal paste with the supplied pad on both the old CPU’s and heatsinks. Repeat on the second CPU.

Now we are ready to put it back together!

Thermal Paste (1 of 1)

Thermal Pasted CPUs Ready To install (1 of 1)

I then put a little thermal paste on each CPU and it’s ready to go.

CPU Frame Ready To install (1 of 1)

The new CPU fits perfect. Just line up the notches and it plops right in. Put the frame back and it’s ready for the heatsink now.

Heatsink Fan Plug and board input (1 of 1)

This part was where you don’t want to screw up. but with these CPU’s I didn’t have to worry about over tightening and damaging the board or the CPU. The only thing I have to worry about is lining up the plug on the heatsink. Once it’s lined up it all slides together super smooth.

Heatsink Fan Plug line it up (1 of 1)

Heatsink tighten down (1 of 1)

Tighten up the four hex screws on each and done. By the way the screws don’t come out of the heatsink. They are spring loaded so it takes a little wiggling to set them.

With the tray ready to go I just put it back in and plugged the power cord in and powered up the Mac Pro.

Screen After Firmware Update And Rebooted (1 of 1)

It worked!

The new system was up and running.


The new processors show up in “About This Mac” as an Early 2009 but in the “System Report” it shows it now as MacPro5,1 instead of MacPro4,1.


After running a few bench scores with Maxon Cinebench R15 I easily doubled the speed and added a few more frames per second too. Not bad for $550.

This was so simple and the results are well worth it. I just doubled the speed of my old Mac Pro giving me at least another year of editing with Premiere Pro CC on this 2009 Mac Pro. Now that I have the new firmware I could also upgrade the RAM to DDR3 ECC 1333MHz but I dont think I will. At least for now……

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I'm a broadcast DP In San Diego. I enjoy sharing what I'm working on and testing new equipment. This blog is also part of giving back. I've learned so much from so many people.

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Sites That Link to this Post

  1. Upgrade MacPro Early 2009 | Studio Kurashi | May 27, 2016
  2. Need or want? The iMac Pro dilemma - Newsshooter | January 4, 2018
  1. Kenn Bell says:

    Wow, that’s incredible! I think that will be a Summer project for me. How long did the whole procedure take?

  2. Ralph Frattura says:

    I’m in the exact same boat, so thanks for sharing! (Now to work up the courage…)

  3. Sam Holder says:

    This makes me WANT an old mac pro! Great writeup!

  4. Mark Yamamoto says:

    That’s a great result! Thanks for the information. My Mac Pro is a 5,1 and I’ll have to look out for processor upgrades like this DIY.

  5. E. Weingartner says:

    I am impressed I’ll look into my old MacPro and see what model # i have ,great to read your article

  6. brian mclean says:

    Thanks for the post! Very interesting. The DN computers website has loren ipsum fake text for their shipping and customer service page. It worries me about the legitimacy of the website.

    Sounds like your experience was positive however, I might consider doing this, I’m scared id screw my computer up at the same time!

  7. Steven says:

    Thanks for posting this. I have the same 2009 Mac and have been thinking about this upgrade for a couple of years now. The processors were just too expensive. The price now is just too good not to try it, so I am taking the leap. One question, does the machine run extra hot? Did you have to do anything to change your fan speed?

    • Erik Naso says:

      Seems to run fine with no heat issues. Fans are really calm even when rendering. I also have a NVIDEA 980 installed and 3 WD Black drives inside as a RAID0.If you live in a hot environment it might be better to get the next model down. It really made a big difference. Make sure to use the code ERIKNASO to save a little cash!


      • Steven says:

        I did the upgrade and all seemed to go as you described. However once I rebooted, some of my memory modules were not showing up. Do I need to zap the PRAM or reset SMC? Just wondering if that would fix the problem or if something else strange happened in the process.

  8. I just ordered mine, Erik! I’m doing a complete overhaul on my main edit suite MacPro Tower machine. Definitely didn’t want to go the Trashcan™ route. Really looking forward to this upgrade. Cheers for such an awesome article!!!

  9. Claus says:

    Hi Erik, thanks for the guide…

    Have you tried this with the single processor?

    Do you know if I can go with the X5690 for the Quad 2009?


  10. Rich Morin says:

    Because I was purchasing a machine specifically to be upgraded, I had the liberty of waiting for a 2010 model to show up at an acceptable price. This made the installation simpler and provided a bit more protection against incompatible OS changes. (Flashing the PROM gets a bit too close to Hackintosh territory for my taste. 🙂 In any case, the upgrade went very smoothly.


  11. John McCormick says:

    Have you tried adding USB 3.0 ports to the machine? I am entertaining doing this upgrade to my 4,1 MP but the lack of USB 3.0 ports and thunderbolt make it feel like I didn’t quite get to where I want to go. I don’t expect to solve the thunderbolt problem but the USB 3.0 problem is one I would need to solve.

    Thanks for sharing this information.

  12. Rafe says:

    Q: I have two older MP’s:
    1st it 2007 (i believe):
    Hardware Overview:

    Model Name: Mac Pro
    Model Identifier: MacPro2,1
    Processor Name: Quad-Core Intel Xeon
    Processor Speed: 3 GHz
    Number of Processors: 2
    Total Number of Cores: 8
    L2 Cache (per Processor): 8 MB
    Memory: 16 GB
    Bus Speed: 1.33 GHz
    Boot ROM Version: MP21.007F.B08
    SMC Version (system): 1.15f3
    Serial Number (system): 4074703E0GP
    Hardware UUID: 00000000-0000-1000-8000-001D4F455664

    Second is Early 2009 model:
    Hardware Overview:

    Model Name: Mac Pro
    Model Identifier: MacPro3,1
    Processor Name: Quad-Core Intel Xeon
    Processor Speed: 2.8 GHz
    Number of Processors: 2
    Total Number of Cores: 8
    L2 Cache (per Processor): 12 MB
    Memory: 14 GB
    Bus Speed: 1.6 GHz
    Boot ROM Version: MP31.006C.B05
    SMC Version (system): 1.25f4
    Serial Number (system): G8804335XYL
    Hardware UUID: 9CDEC786-128B-5A54-90AB-8D60CC396797

    Would these kick-ass upgrades work on either older MacPro?
    Most Appreciated,


  13. Moses Kravitz says:

    Great article!
    Did you really get the 2 x 3.46 kit for $549.99?
    Now it’s closer to $900

  14. Alberto says:

    can the same be done for the 2008 model?

  15. Paul says:

    I’m debating splurging on a maxed out iMac 27″ 5k (About $2,500, after a $500 Craigslist sale of my Mac Pro and old LED monitor) or upgrading my Mac Pro 4,1 the way you have ($500 for processor, plus 4GB video card).

    Obviously saving money is good, but I don’t want to throw good money after bad.

    Any advice or regrets?

    • Erik Naso says:

      The upgrades got me through a very tough edit so no regrets. The only issue I’m having is the new wifi card I installed doesnt seem to work as well as Id hoped and IO is an issue since the the best I can get is USB 3 and Esata. Would like Thunderbolt.

      • Paul says:

        Thanks, Eric. Stumbling on this blog led to a lot of research on my Mac Pro’s true potential with a few upgrades. I’m torn on whether to upgrade the 1009 Mac Pro or sell it and get a pimped out iMac.

        So far, advantages of the iMac:

        + Neat, all-in-on solution
        + Incredible monitor


        – minimal upgradability
        – looking at $3k
        – You can’t use the monitor on another computer

        Mac Pro upgrade
        + About half the price
        + Parts like video card, blade SSD, hard drives can all be moved over to a new system some day if the need arose.
        + If I buy a Dell 4K monitor for the Mac Pro, I can use it with a laptop
        + Infinitely changeable, upgradeable, expandable — well, except for that Thunderbolt part

        – Doesn’t have the sexy 5K monitor
        – Clunky big case, though inside it’s a work of art
        – It becomes a bit of an unsupported Frankenmac

        I think it comes down to money, the form factor, and the monitor. I’ll decide in a couple of days for sure.

  16. Dragi says:

    I have tried to upgrade mu 4.1 mac in a simmilar way. Flashed my board to 5,1 but apon instaling procesors 2x 6cores westemere, comp wont go, just have two red light shining next to procesores. When i put back my old procesors everything works fine.

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