macOS El Capitan on a 2006 or 2007 Mac Pro

These vintage Mac Pro desktops only officially support up to macOS Lion. Bad Apple! Fortunately there’s a very slick workaround:

The easiest approach for a clean install is to put the boot HD in a USB dock, plug that in to a working Mac running current macOS, format it with Disk Utility (GUID partition scheme), and use the createpikeinstallmedia script to put the installer directly on the drive. Swap it back into the Mac Pro, power up, and let the installer run. Note that 12GB RAM or more is required. As we had a few 4GB DDR2 Registered DIMMs lying around this was not a problem.

We picked up a vintage 2006 Mac Pro with dual 3GHz dual core Xeons and 7600GT video card for $25. macOS thought that there’s only 8MB video RAM (there’s really 256MB) so we swapped in a (circa 2011) Gigabyte Radeon 6670 that was lying around. Swapping in quadcore Xeons would be interesting but hardly required. Fun project.

Testing HDs with smartmontools

smartmontools is great for diagnosing HDs and SSDs, especially from live Linux distros like GParted. You can run:

Linux:  smartctl -t long /dev/sda
Windows:  “\Program Files\smartmontools\bin\smartctl.exe” -d ata /dev/sda -t long

from the command line to start the test. Replace /dev/sda with the relevant drive. Use the –scan switch (two dashes) to display available drives.

Linux:  smartctl -l selftest /dev/sda
Windows:  “\Program Files\smartmontools\bin\smartctl.exe” -d ata /dev/sda -l selftest

to display progress. Windows users must use an Administrative command prompt. Results can be displayed with

Linux:  smartctl -a /dev/sda
“\Program Files\smartmontools\bin\smartctl.exe” -d ata /dev/sda -a

In particular, look for reallocated sectors, ID #5 in the list. If the RAW_VALUE is not zero I’d replace the drive. I’m more forgiving for SSDs. HDs are far less reliable in general and reallocating sectors can wreck their performance.

GSmartControl is a GUI for smartmontools. The Windows version is especially useful. Most live Linux distros don’t include it. I’m just scratching the surface of what smartmontools can do. Be sure to read the documentation, etc.

Under Windows, using -d sat instead of -d ata allows the use of my USB SATA dock. YMMV.