Mac Pro Case Modification and Watercooling

EDIT: The modifying starts at post 18. The first few posts were relating to testing the hardware in the cases before stripping them.

So I got a couple of cheap(ish) 2006 Mac Pros. I mainly got them for the cases, not really planning on using them as computers. My plan was to test them, then sell the internals on ebay.

However, I cannot get them to boot properly. One produced a pretty strong smell, and the power supply makes clicking noises. So that one is boned. The other one I can’t get it to boot anything at all. I have a couple hard drives with OS X on them, but all I get is a white screen. I tried booting an OS X USB I made to install on a MacBook Pro a while ago. Same white screen. I tried a Fedora live USB, nothing.

I can hold Option and get the boot selection screen, but whatever I pick is a white screen. I tried resetting NVRAM. I tired pulling and checking the CMOS battery. I tried each stick of memory individually.

Not sure where to go now. I should bring them back, but the place I got them from was super sketchy. Very uncomfortable. So I’d like to attempt to figure out how to boot these. Any ideas?

@FaunCB might be able to point you in the right direction.

If it was me, I would just list the internals on ebay as is - for spares or repair. It's amazing what people will pay for old broken apple kit - in pure economic terms you're unlikely to get back the time and effort you put in to fixing.

I'd like to see what you do with the old cases, I love them, it's great seeing the different ways people fit new hardware into them.

Who what where.

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Ok so to boot anything more than 10.7 takes a smidge of work, detailed in my article here:

And El Cap is the last OSX that can run on these things because no SSE4. As for linux, you need to run a 32 bit environment, not a 64 bit. The way these were designed, tho 1,1 and 2,1, was with a 32 bit EFI and mode switching built into OSX. BSD has this modeswitching, however I'm not a BSD user so thats about as much as I know about it. With OSX, it has 2 kernels that run. The init kernel is 32 bit and its purpose is to be compatible with the EFI hardware. Its mostly got the AHT and detection software attached to it and opening System Profiler and "About This Mac" actually references that 32 bit kernel. The 64 bit kernel is loaded in with the userland, much like linux, and is "mode switched" out when the boot is done.

In order to boot anything relevant, you'll need to find an old DVD or follow my article above. Luckily its really easy to find an ISO online for the 1,1 to boot off of, but I'll trust you know how google works.

If you want to sell the internals and the mobo is dead for the one machine, everyone who has a MP 1,1 / 2,1 wants the drive cages, ram, and ram cards. Sometimes the processors too. By far, the ram cards and drive cages are the most valuable parts of the entire machine.

Oh and there is a way to get 64 bit windows booting on those machines too but you have to recompile the boot of the image to get the mode switching put in. I don't have the files for that anymore but its simple to just google "How to install 64 bit windows 7 / 8 / 10 on MP 1,1"


Thank you for your knowledge. This is exactly what I needed. It's too bad all this work is essentially for a temporary, purely testing purpose. But, hey, I get to learn something new. I am currently downloading El Capitan on my MacBook Pro right now. I'll let it go overnight and probably work on it more tomorrow night. Yay for DSL speeds from 2004.

The system that smelled actually works and boots. The smell definitely came out the power supply, and it made some weird noises. And I think the room lights dimmed. Now it just makes a very quiet clicking. So I don't know if I want to let that one run for long periods of time. If I can test the working system, and prove that all the components work, I will swap the power supplies and test the other system. If that works I will think about asking the place I got these from if they have a spare power supply. They're worth $50 to $100, so I'll probably do that.

So, yeah. What I want to sell from each system is the motherboard, RAM, RAM riser cards, power supply, and the CPU(s). The DVD/CD drives are probably not worth anything. The fans and shrouds might be worth something, but I may want to use them in the future. I want to keep the hard drive caddies. The video cards (Nvidia 7300GT) may be useful down the road.

My goal for these enclosures is to convert them to ATX. Maybe do some heavy duty water cooling. I wonder if a normal ATX power supply will fit in the place of the original proprietary power supply.

So, I made some progress. A little progress. But all is not well.

I followed the instructions in your thread for making a bootable USB that will boot and install on a 1,1 or 2,1 system. This worked, and I can boot to the USB.

Unfortunately it does not work properly. I get to the point where it looks like it is installing, then the computer resets. On the next boot I get to the OS X Utilities screen, where I have the option to reinstall OS X El Capitan, I can use the disk utility, among a couple other options of no use. I think it is booting to a recovery partition left on the drive I am trying to use.

No matter how many times I boot to the USB it does not install. Just for kicks I tried "reinstalling" El Capitan from the recovery partition. It downloaded for hours and hours (again, DSL), then for whatever reason it downloaded again for hours and hours. When I came back it was at the Utilities screen again, apparently having rebooted without doing or installing anything.

So, not sure. The only thing I didn't do from the other thread was upgrade the firmware to 2,1. I don't even know whether I have a 1,1 or 2,1. Would that do anything?

@FaunCB I guess I will try to do the firmware update, but the mega link to the tool requires a decryption key.

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ugh well I'll get you the key in a little bit. It'll be an edit on the page.

Well the link is updated now. Not sure why people couldn't get it, it worked initially.

Am I correct in assuming that to update the firmware the tool must be run from within OS X on the system that needs to be updated? If so, I can't do it. I don't have a working OS X to boot this system to yet.

Well you can always try an older version :stuck_out_tongue:

Of OS X? I have been trying to figure out how to legitimately get my hands on an older version, but it appears to not be possible. Unless you know where to get a copy. I have checked craigslist, and there's a couple people that want like 20 bucks for a DVD of old versions.

I'd rather do this without spending more money. It's frustrating that Apple deliberately made this difficult.

I am downloading one from the bay of pirates.

Well, I finally got stuff to happen. For some reason my dumb ass was trying to install Mountain Lion, which apparently doesn't work on 1,1 systems. Oh well. I got Lion installed and I verified specs and that everything shows up in system report.

So, there we go. The second system boots and runs, but the power supply definitely buzzes. So I will see if they have a replacement or something.

Now to strip them.

Edit: Is it worthwhile to upgrade them to 2,1? I mean, at least whoever buys the motherboards will be able to install at least Mountain Lion on them then, right?

No, the only thing that the 2,1 rom will get you is the ability to use xeon 5355 or 5365 processors (for 8 cores total). You can't flash it to do 64bit EFI or anything like that. Lion is the last MacOS to run without fiddling with boot files. Getting El Cap running is pretty trivial though and it runs ESXI 6.0 out of the box and the latest Ubuntu with a little fussing.

I bought a 1,1 new back in the day for video editing and still use it as a file and virtualization server for home lab experiments. I don't leave it on all the time, though. The damn thing uses crazy power. I've kept it all this time mostly because people notice the case. I'll probably do what you're doing in the not too distant future. So much thick, shiny silver anodized beauty.

As I mentioned earlier, 2,1 lets you install any OSX really, I just happened to do El Capitan (scroll up).

El Cap doesn't need 2,1. I've never bothered to flash my 1,1 and I run ElCap no problem.

It helps my machine at least. It only detected 8 GB of 16GB of my ram.

I think I have decided to just leave everything as-is. I have already mostly stripped one system, and tomorrow I am going to see if I can get a replacement power supply. If I can sell the components I am thinking of selling I will make more money than I actually bought the systems for, so that's cool. We'll see if it works out like that, though.

I am thinking about getting both cases lightly media blasted and re-anodized. They aren't in as good of shape as I was hoping. I am hoping it won't be too expensive, but if it is I will have to figure out a different route to get them to look better. These things are incredibly difficult to disassemble. And to fully disassemble the case there are bunch of nuts and funny little screws to remove. I was thinking about doing a complete disassembly guide with pictures/video and document it on here. Maybe put it on ifixit or something too.

My ultimate goal with one of these cases is to do an AMD Threadripper build, with full water cooling. I am pretty sure a full ATX motherboard won't fit, so hopefully m-ATX motherboards are an option with Threadripper. I really want to keep the upper chamber an actual separated chamber. Along with that, I also would like to keep the really cool hard drive system these have. This leaves me with a pretty small area for the motherboard and water cooling components. I might be able to stuff the reservoir in the upper chamber.

Lots of stuff to plan. Lots of money to save up. Maybe this will become a build log of sorts. Anyway, thanks everyone for the help and suggestions.

I just (almost) got done completely disassembling one of the two cases I have. I wasn’t working on it constantly since my last post, but all in all I’d say I have spent about 10 to 15 hours working at it.

They are incredibly, unbelievably, ridiculously difficult to take apart. Absolutely absurd. Those little nuts I mentioned in the previous post? I have a little bag with 39 of them in it. It might be 40 and I lost one, I don’t know. I used a 6mm 1/4 inch socket to get them out. They are nylok style, too. And those “funny little screws”? Yeah, 58 of those little bastards. Philips, too, so that makes them hard to get out because they are in the most insane locations. There were a few other strange fasteners in there too, as well as a handful of normal aluminum rivets. The hard drive cage sled / side panel mechanism shelf thing was extremely difficult to figure out. Took me about an hour of fiddling to get that out.

But now I have it about 99% disassembled. Six major pieces. The last part that needs to be removed is the latch on the rear panel that releases the side panel and hard drive sleds. I can’t figure out how to get the pin out. I was wondering if anyone knows how to do this? Here’s a picture:

So, if anyone knows of a way to get that out I’d be grateful. It doesn’t slide left or right, even with some good pressure pushing it. Maybe I’m just not providing enough pressure, but I don’t want to bend things.

Other thoughts floating around my head:

Motherboard mounting. There’s virtually no way I can install standoffs because the left side panel (looking from the front) is actually what the motherboard mounts to. I don’t know if the aluminum is thick enough for me to drill (rather shallow) holes and tap them with enough threads to make a secure connection. This is how it’s done from the factory:

My solution, possibly, is to use a square piece of (relatively thin) aluminum, mount the stand offs on that, then figure out a way to attach that to the main side panel permanently without it showing on the outside. Maybe use some of the existing standoffs. Would require a lot of precision measurements Maybe, by some freak of chance, some of the existing standoff mounts actually line up with the ATX standard. Unlikely, but would be cool.

The other thing I am thinking about is motherboard size. I am pretty sure a full ATX won’t fit. Maybe micro ATX, not sure.

So, yeah, stream of thoughts. Is there interest in this? I plan on starting to take things out of the other case and planning the water cooling system and experimenting with motherboard mounting and PSU placement.

EDIT: Figured out the pin. There’s a philips screw accessible from the rear through a hole (visible in the above picture between the “prongs”). Loosening this takes pressure off the pin, allowing it to slide. Here’s a picture of the lever and pin in all it’s apple glory:

So I took some pictures of the not-torn-apart case and used inkscape to get an idea of loop layout. I have never done a custom watercooling loop, so this is all new to me. Watched many watercooling related videos over the years, though.

Because I took the other case completely apart I was able to get some pretty precise measurements of some of the areas I was wanting to put radiators, namely the upper area. I am almost 100% confident I can fit a 120mm radiator vertically up there. Horizontally there is more than enough space. The PSU will have to go down in the bottom corner, and I’ll have to make a shroud of some kind for it. Pump placement isn’t ideal, as I would like it in the upper area if possible.

Does this look like it’ll work? My concern is the “stacking” of the radiators in the top. Flow will make it so the warmest fluid will be in the rearmost radiator, and as it goes through the others it becomes cooler. The radiators I am looking at are these:

The system will probably be Threadripper (if mATX boards are a thing) or Ryzen. Not sure about video card yet, Vega or 1080. The actual parts of the system are a long way off, and I am thinking about getting placeholder parts to test with.

Ideas? Suggestions?