More graphics performance.
The bronze Zotac GTX 660 with the geriatric 9800GTX+ in the foreground.
The roar of the tuned V8 in the driveway followed by four loud raps on the door could only mean one thing. Ace computer builder FU Steve was dropping around to regale me with the latest and greatest in the Hackintosh world. When we last saw my Hack, the HP100, it was sporting an overclocked Sandy Bridge i7 CPU running at 4.3GHz, an ancient Nvidia 9800GTX+ graphics card with 512MB of memory, 16GB of 1600MHz RAM and three Dell Ultrasharp displays. Used mostly for my day job of managing money, it is a blast to use with Lightroom 4 and Photoshop CS5, never so much as missing a beat.
But FU was not about to leave well enough alone.
“Come on pal, we’re off to Fry’s in Palo Alto to pick you up a Kepler graphics card.”
“Well, if you got your nose out of your spreadsheets now and then you would know that your graphics performance is indistinguishable from a bilge pump. Both suck.”
Well, it seems fine to me, but who am I to argue with a man who eats silicon for breakfast?
“Before we leave, be sure to download a fresh version of 10.8.2 to your MacBook Air. It takes a while and we will be needing it for the fresh system install we will be doing for the new card.”
A brand new roadster graced the driveway of the modest abode, and a question to FU about cost returned an insouciant “Oh!, a few dozen AAPL shares”. Given that the man has been accumulating these since El Jobso was knee-high to a grasshopper, that translates to ‘Free’, or as close as it gets.
“I had the manifolds ported and polished” quoth FU, as he blipped the throttle to the disgust of all within a couple of blocks.
As we hit the tunnel joining the 92 to the 280, FU hit his usual 120, shifting down as we hit daylight on the most beautiful freeway in the US. After the backfires on the overrun I leaned over and asked:
“So Kepler, Schmepler, why do I care?”
“Because, my dear boy, one day you are going to junk those 1680 x 1050 Dells of yours and get a coupla 27″ 2560 displays. Trust me, you don’t want to be poncing about with that 9800 GPU of yours when you do. Kepler cards are Nvidia’s state-of-the-art and they just came out with the economy priced GTX 660, perfect for all who do not do 3D rendering. Your graphics speed will double.”
I buttoned it, visions of vast outlays dancing in my head as we passed seemingly endless miles of real estate on the east side of the freeway, all belonging to that academic powerhouse – and dormitory for half of Beijing – known as Stanford University. Rumor has it that railroad baron and financier Leland Stanford had offered snotty Harvard a chunk of coin to endow a few buildings and scholarships. They had turned their Brahmin noses up at him and his scruffy appearance, so he built Stanford instead. Old man Stanford would doubtless be appalled to learn that his creation was now the leading repository of Chinese intellectual property theft. Rocketing past the radio telescope and the linear accelerator, we exited on Page Mill Road at a brisk 90 as FU slammed on the binders for the left turn onto Page Mill and Fry’s on the other side of El Camino Real.
“Tell me, FU”, I asked, “what do you do when the cops pull you over?”
“Ain’t gonna happen pal. Ever check my license plate? 11-99 Foundation, dude, 11-99 Foundation. You help the cops’ pension fund along and they look after you.”
Parking in a handicapped spot at the entrance – “They always get the best spots” – FU took a sharp left on entering Fry’s and made for the GPU section.
GPUs at Fry’s.
“I say, FU, shouldn’t I be buying at Amazon? You know how frugal I am.”
“Screw Amazon, mate. Since they started charging us hard-working Californians sales tax, Fry’s has become competitive on price plus we get to rack the V8 out on the freeway.” In truth, it was a perfect California day and there was a light spring in my step. FU was onto something.
“Now here’s the scoop. Nvidia came out with the GTX 660Ti a while back and it’s the bee’s knees for video. But as video is not your thing their latest, the GTX 660, will save you $80 and still double your speed. As for who comes up with their naming conventions I can only think it’s some schmuck in Redmond.”
We had our choice of EVGA, PNY and Zotac and I started reaching for the EVGA – the EVGA 9800 having served so well – when FU stepped in.
“Get a life, matey, get the cheapest one. All use the same Nvidia chips, just packaged in different wild colors for the zit set. Here, grab this Zotac at $229. After the $15 rebate, which I doubt you will ever see, your price with CA sales tax will be $235. Up yours, Amazon. Get yer plastic out.”
It was such a perfect day that even FU noticed, never exceeding 85 on the way back, though he did chuck it about a bit on Canyon Road coming back down through Hillsborough, almost taking out a couple of dowagers out for their afternoon constitutional.
“No prob, dude. Inherited wealth. Parasites. Never worked a day in their lives.” was all I could get out of him.
“Now here’s the thing with these Keplers. They are pretty new and a bit of a pain to install, so rather than go through with that we are going to do a clean OS X Mountain Lion 10.8.2 install on your boot SSD, after checking it’s cloned and bootable to the backup SSD, rather than futz with incremental changes. The long way is always the shortest with these things.”
So while FU proceeded to open the HP100 and pull the 9800GTX+ which has served me so well, he instructed me how to make a bootable OS X installer flash drive using the MBA and TonyMac’s tools, specifically Unibeast.
The new card is considerably shorter, making access to the poorly designed horizontal SATA sockets on the Z68X-UD3H-B3 (rev 12) motherboard easier. Further, though it sports two fans to the 9800′s one, it’s incredibly quiet. Technology marches on. FU took all of three minutes to remove the old card, plugged in the 6-pin power supply to the Zotac, but left the Zotac loose.
“We will boot without a graphics card, using the native HD3000 GPU in your Sandy Bridge i7. Then we will add the tweaks for the new GTX 660 and you’ll be off to the races”.
We repaired to the garden to blow the froth off a couple while the MBA did its thing preparing the flash drive installer.
“The other thing you have to do with the GTX 660 is to be sure to download and install Nvidia’s 10.8.2 drivers. These will come native in 10.8.3 as Apple uses the same GTX 660 in its latest iMac’s (needless to say, these remain unobtainable thanks to another Cook cock-up) and then run TonyMac’s Mountain Lion Multibeast, setting GraphicsEnabler=No in the system options. Forget that and the Hack will not boot. That changes the chameleon.boot.plist file so that it works. After we have HP100 running on the HD3000, we will make those changes, insert the Zotac GTX 660 and off we go.”
I let him ramble on happily, making for another couple of beers. ‘A man has to know his limitations’, as that jerk once put it.
Once the installer was ready, some 20 minutes plus the time to re-download a fresh version of Mountain Lion, it was plugged into an available USB socket on the HP100, booted from and the installation process in the above Unibeast link followed. FU then installed the new Nividia drivers, or ‘kexts’ as Apple calls them, did the GraphicsEnabler=No step using TonyMac’s Multibeast app, restarted and, hey presto! We have the Kepler GPU running.
Here are the theoretical comparison from Hardware Compare:
Thanks to reader PB for the source.
Non-trivial performance increases. Note especially the last metric addressing performance in high resolution applications – meaning with bigger, more pixel-laden displays. This is a key reason Apple has used the GTX 660 in it’s high definition Retina Display MacBook Pro laptops, albeit using the lighter-duty GTX 660M mobile variant. (Can you say ‘overheating’?) In addition to sporting two DVI connectors, the GTX 6600 also has HDMI and DisplayPort outlets so that the USB connector HP100 has used for the third display can be removed and a DisplayPort cable substituted, allowing the enhanced performance to be delivered to all three displays. This remains to be tested.
As the GTX660 uses slightly less power than its predecessor, no changes were made to the stock 500 Watt Antec power supply used by HP100. I’ll publish total real (rather than theoretical) system power use in Part II.
The Zotac GTX 660 in the HP100. Lots of room.
I’ll publish test data in Part II, along with subjective operating impressions using Lightroom 4 and Photoshop CS5.