The Trash Can Revival Project


On April 5, 2022, I saw a Facebook Marketplace listing of this 2013 Mac Pro. It is listed as ”for-parts” and has a Mikey’s Hookup tag attached to it. For those who don’t know, Mikey’s Hookup is a large Apple authorized seller/repair shop in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

According to the tag, the owner took the Mac Pro to Mikey’s hookup end of 2021. The issue: computer turns on but has no video output. The tag did not show any diagnostics, and the only service they performed was ”data backup”, which they charged $300+ for. As a result, the Mac Pro has been sitting dormant and now the owner is trying to sell it for $100.

PLACE HOLDER FOR TAG

Some background information: The Mac Pro 2013 (model 6,1, nicknamed “Trash Can”) was released toward the end of 2013, replacing the previous Mac Pro tower(5,1 and older, recognizable by their iconic cheese grater design). The 2013 is almost 1/5 the size of the older model, and is 1/4 as heavy(10lb instead of 40lb), features a “unified thermal core” which cools the CPU and dual-GPU with one heat-sink, and relatively high-end specifications for its day. It is equipped with an Intel Xeon E5-v2 series CPU(Ivy bridge, similar to 3rd gen and 4th gen Core CPUs) and two AMD FirePro D300/D500/D700 GPUs(GCN1.0 based, similar to AMD HD7950 or AMD R9 290) . It is a quite iconic machine, however, it does have some major issues, the most prominent and relevant one being the “GPU failure” issue. The unified thermal core, despite its many advantages(small size, less fans, balance thermals when one component is stressed), does not cool the components properly when both the CPU and the GPU are under stress. According to Mac Pro 2013 owners, when both CPU and GPU are heavily used, they can reach 90°C and higher. This temperature is perfectly fine for the CPU but the GPUs prefer a much lower temperature(most GPUs would thermal throttle when they reach 85°C, some even throttle at 75°). As a result of the high temperature, over time, the GPUs in the 2013 Mac Pros would fail.

Back to this particular Mac Pro. Since it has no video output, my first thought was that the GPU has “cooked” itself. This will not be a cheap repair but for the listed price of $100, it is still a great value. In addition, the Trash Can Mac Pro have always been one of my “halo computers” due to its unique design and prohibitively high price. As a result, I immediately Citibiked to the seller’s location and picked up the Mac Pro.

Now that it is sitting on my desk, I did some preliminary inspections. The Mac Pro looks to be in good condition, there are a lot of dust in the vents and through the unified thermal core, and GPU B(the primary GPU, responsible for handling video output and storage) have some “heat marks” on its board. When I plug in the Mac Pro and connect it to my monitor(via my 3-to1 HDMI switch), the switch does not detect any video stream. I was aware that Apple had a service program which would replace dead GPUs in 2013 Mac Pros, but since no information was publicly available, I did not know whether this Mac Pro was covered. I decided that my best option is to have my local Apple Store run some diagnostics and see if they will replace the GPUs for free. Just in case there are some damage to the GPU boards, I decided to take it apart and inspect the GPUs before taking it in, and clean the board with alcohol while its disassembled. After this procedure, I plugged in Mac Pro again and this time, my HDMI switch’s input LED lighted up. It was a exciting moment that quickly turned into disappointment: despite the HDMI switch detecting a signal, nothing shows up on the display. I also tried a Mini-DP to HDMI adapter and got nothing.

A few hours later, I was talking to a Genius at the Apple Store. They informed me that unfortunately the free service program has ended in 2020(these programs only last 4 years, and this particular program was announced in 2016. If your Mac dies due to Apple’s design flaw outside the service program’s coverage, too bad). They can, however, run some diagnostics and potentially replace GPU-B for $260+labor, a surprisingly reasonable cost. A quick look at the second hand market for this computer shows that even the base configuration sells for $600+. So, naturally, I decided to have the Apple Geniuses take a look at it. I left the Apple Store at around 6pm and at around 8, I got a call from the Apple store. They told me that the computer works fine after some dusting. It was a pleasant surprise, so I immediately walked to the Apple Store and picked up the Mac Pro. They showed me that it works on their TV, but when I got home and plugged it into my setup, I still got no video. As a last-ditch effort, I plugged the Mac Pro directly into my monitor through HDMI, and surprisingly, it worked. As it turns out, I probably fixed the Mac Pro when I alcohol-ed the GPU boards and re-pasted them. For some reason, the Mac Pro’s HDMI signal does not carry enough power for my HDMI switch to function. Every other HDMI device I have(from SBCs such as Atomic Pi and RPi to desktops and laptop) outputs enough power to allow my HDMI switch to function, but when plugged into my Mac Pro, the HDMI switch require external power to function.

I also got a chance to check the configuration of this Mac Pro. As it turns out, I was rather lucky and got the highest-end model with a 12 core 24 threads Xeon E5 2697v2 CPU, 64GB of ECC RAM and dual AMD D700 graphics(6GB VRAM each). I immediately started working on giving the Mac Pro some much needed maintenance.

The “Unified Thermal Core”
The CPU board with old thermal paste

A lot of cleaning and re-pasting later, the Mac Pro runs great. In fact, with a slightly raised fan curve and Thermal Grizzly Kryonaut thermal paste, the Mac Pro still operate in relative silence and does not exceed 60°C during CPU or GPU workloads. In fact, even when both the CPU and GPU are stressed, the temperature is still well under control with no component exceeding 80°C.

Here are some more pictures of this magnificent machine:

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