Apple updates: upgrades and (more) repairs

Back in late June, I told you about my wife’s recent birthday present to me, an Apple Mac Pro, specifically the MacPro6,1 model commonly known as the “trash can” (officially the “cylinder”):

Unfortunately, shortly after I submitted that particular writeup for publication, I learned via Apple’s early-June announcements at the yearly Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) that the 2013-2019 era Mac Pro only had a couple of years of operating system life left. MacOS 14 “Ventura”, which exited beta just last week as I write these words, doesn’t work with it. So, even optimistically assuming Apple holds to its historical latest-plus-last-two (sorta) support cadence going forward, the final operating system (MacOS 13 “Monterey”) that works with the MacPro6,1 will drop off the support list in the fall of 2024. Officially, at least. Hold that thought.

Nevertheless, I’ve gone ahead and actualized at least some of the upgrade aspiration that I alluded to in my earlier coverage. The memory update was, as forecasted, a no-brainer once I got the outer case off the system (which was also a no-brainer). Right now, I’ve got two more used 16 GByte DDR3 ECC DIMMs (which together cost me only $40 plus tax on eBay) installed, running error-free and at full 1866 MHz (PC3-14900) speeds alongside the two that (eventually) came with the system. I’d also acquired four 32 GByte DDR3 ECC registered DIMMs (for $240 plus tax total, used on eBay), which only run up to 1066 MHz (with a 4-to-8-core CPU; only 800 MHz with a twelve-core CPU), but I haven’t installed them yet, far from doing any A/B performance comparisons between the two memory option sets.

The SSD upgrade wasn’t much more challenging, thanks in no small part to the fact that I intentionally don’t update to the latest operating system releases right away (quite the contrary: I just moved my systems to MacOS 11 “Big Sur” recently, right before MacOS 10.15 “Catalina” fell off the support list commensurate with the MacOS 14 “Ventura” release). The system shipped with “Big Sur”, whose “Signed System Volume” feature initially gave Bombich Software’s Carbon Copy Cloner and other drive copy utilities booting fits, but they’d thankfully gotten sorted out by the time I tackled my project. Here’s the original 512 GByte SSD, made by Samsung albeit with an Apple-proprietary connector, that came with the Mac Pro:

To mate an industry standard M.2 SSD to that proprietary interface required the intermediary signal translation delivered by this inexpensive adapter:

I went with Intel’s latest and greatest 2 TByte 670p Series NVMe M.2 SSD, a decision which involved a bit of dice rolling—all the upgrade coverage I’d come across to date had used the prior-generation 660p—which at the time (they’re less expensive now…sigh…) set me back $189.99 plus tax at Newegg via eBay:

Here’s the new SSD with the interface adapter attached:

And here’s the entire assemblage installed:

The old SSD went inside an OWC Envoy Pro 1A USB3 enclosure, left over from a prior system’s SSD update (which I’ll discuss next):

Note that the “activity” LED in the corner of the PCB had gone awry at some point (I’m guessing a severed cold solder joint), which thankfully didn’t affect fundamental functionality:

I tethered the SSD-inclusive enclosure to one of the Mac Pro’s USB3 ports, booted off it instead of the (currently erased) new SSD already in the system, which I first initialized:

ran a cloning session:

I restarted the Mac Pro to boot from the internal SSD instead, and all was good!

Although the new drive is working well, I’ll keep the original SSD around for two primary reasons, one predictable and the other quite important. Predictable first: if I ever get rid of the Mac Pro, I’ll put the original drive back in it first since, after all, I can alternatively use the industry-standard-interface new SSD with a different computer. Now important: it turns out that firmware updates will only complete successfully if an “official” Apple drive is in the system. Apple stopped shipping the MacPro6,1 only three years ago, so additional firmware updates are conceivable albeit unlikely. If one is released, I’ll temporarily put the original SSD back in, upgrade the BIOS, then swap the new SSD back in the precursor’s stead.

My final to-date Mac Pro upgrade is more modest albeit no less meaningful. As you may have already noted from one of the prior photos, the Mac Pro currently sits on top of a subwoofer (which, come to think of it, might not have been a wise move if the computer was HDD-based). To keep them both from getting scratched, I’ve added a Newer Technology NuPad Base to the bottom of the Mac Pro:

Alternatively, brackets are available from companies like Redco and Rocstor that enable secure mounting of the Mac Pro to the underside (or side) of a desk or other surface.

And as for that potential processor upgrade that I also mentioned last June? Although I have picked up a used Intel Xeon E5-2697 v2 twelve-core CPU ($70 plus tax used on eBay), I haven’t…err…mustered up the courage to tackle the procedure yet…gulp…

Now let’s turn our attention to my early-2015 model 13” Retina MacBook Pro, which coincidentally is also scheduled for software-induced “obsolescence by design” in two years or less. Back in mid-2021, I shared with you the story of “the laptop that turned into an egg”:

My workspace surface isn’t exactly flat…truth be told, I normally stick a checkbook under one corner of my laptop to even it out even when it’s not swollen…so all seemed to be well for a while. However, when trying to use it (specifically on the airplane seat tray, which was flat) while on my first post-pandemic-lockdown business trip earlier this year, I was unable to ignore the reality that it was beginning to swell again. Sigh.

Thankfully, the senior customer support rep I eventually got telephone-routed to saw that I’d only recently had the batteries replaced already and proactively offered to “comp” me the re-repair. We decided it made most sense for me to take the “egg” to a local Apple Store; lingering supply chain issues were leading to replacement-parts availability uncertainty especially for “vintage” systems like mine, and if I were to instead send it in to the central repair depot, it might sit there for a long time. Instead, she said, if the local store didn’t have the parts on-hand they’d give the computer back to me to continue using until parts arrived and a timely repair was possible. All of this was important because this is my primary work system.

Her theory and my reality unfortunately diverged once I arrived at the Apple Store. It turns out that due to staffing constraints, the only systems being locally repaired were desktop computers and other like-large-and-heavy devices. All mobile gear (including laptops) was being alternatively shipped from the store to the aforementioned central repair depot, with return shipping either to the store or directly to the customer. The Genius Bar rep ran a full diagnostic on the system, which checked out fine (as with its predecessor, appearances aside, this swollen battery still seemed to be operating normally), boxed it up, and shipped it out the next day.

A backstory before proceeding with this one: the OWC Envoy enclosure that I showed you earlier was originally bundled with a 1 TByte OWC Aura Pro X2 SSD (still third-party but in this case with a native Apple-friendly proprietary interface) that my wife had bought me as a gift to upgrade the 256 GByte SSD that originally came with the MacBook Pro. After the laptop came back from repair the first time, I went ahead and updated the SSD in conjunction with an operating system upgrade (thereby preserving the original SSD’s stored files and data in case the software update went awry). I remembered after handing off the system to the Genius Bar rep this time that I hadn’t swapped the old SSD back in first; I recalled with consternation that Apple sometimes balked at “non-standard” computer configurations. However, since this wasn’t an under-warranty repair and had nothing to do with the SSD, and especially since the system had already passed in-store diagnostics, I hoped there wouldn’t be a problem.

Those hopes were dashed the day after the system shipped (and only two days after I dropped it off, to Apple’s credit) when I first received an email indicating that the computer had arrived at its destination and, shortly thereafter, another email indicating that “we need to hear from you”. The technician had discovered the non-Apple SSD and wanted to now charge me nearly $1,000 for the repair. I got back on the phone with my support rep and we strategized a plan:

I’d decline the repair and have the system shipped back to me as-is
She’d initiate a new comp’d repair request and have shipping materials sent to me
Once I received the computer, I’d swap the original Apple SSD back into it and send it back in for another repair attempt (with the qualifier that since the repair depot had already documented that the system had a third-party SSD in it at some point, they might not accept it for a free repair this time…also, the paperwork I received when I got it back indicated that if I re-submitted it for repair with the exact same reported issue, I might get charged up to $100 for a diagnostic next time).

When the computer arrived, I took it out of the box and flipped it over. The previously slightly curved bottom surface was now completely flat. Strange. I removed the bottom cover. The batteries looked brand new and not swollen at all. More strangeness. On a hunch, I re-assembled the bottom cover, flipped the computer back over and put it on a flat surface. Hmm…no wobbling. I booted the computer and checked the battery stats in the System Info utility. Zero logged charge cycles. Apple’d gone ahead and replaced the battery pack after all!

From now on, I’m going to try to remember to unplug the laptop from its AC adapter each (over)night when I put it in standby, to discharge the batteries a bit and forestall another swelling situation for at least as long as the system remains Apple operating system-supported. And to that point, by the way, referring back to my earlier “hold that thought” comment, the hacker community has already made notable progress in getting “Ventura” running on legacy hardware like my Mac Pro and MacBook Pro. So, they may end up with even more longevity!

Thanks for reading the story of my early, surprise NiMH Christmas present, along with details on my earlier Mac Pro enhancements. As always, I welcome your thoughts in the comments!

Brian Dipert is the Editor-in-Chief of the Edge AI and Vision Alliance, and a Senior Analyst at BDTI and Editor-in-Chief of InsideDSP, the company’s online newsletter.

Related articles:

Technology bets don’t always pan out
Obsolescence by design hampers computer systems
Question your assumptions: Diagnosing computer disruptions
Apple’s 2022 WWDC: Generational evolution and dramatic obsolescence
Do lithium-ion batteries follow Moore’s Law?

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