Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Apple Xserve 2,1 + OS X Yosemite (10.10.5) OR El Capitan (10.11), it's time.

I recently acquired an Apple Xserve 2,1 with the following specifications for the lowly sum of $200 USD.

  • 2 x 2.8GHz E5462 Quad-Core Xeon CPUs
  • 4 x 1GB PC2-6400 800MHz FB-DIMM
  • 3 x 1TB Seagate 7200 RPM SATA drives
  • 2 x Power supplies
  • 1 x Dead RAID battery
  • 1 x Dead CMOS battery (CR2032)

I have also acquired:

  • 8 x 4GB, 32GB total, Kingston PC2-5300 FB-DIMM RAM ($40 USD shipped)
  • 2 x L5420 2.5GHz low voltage quad-core Xeon CPUs ($27 USD shipped)
  • 1 x Gigabyte GV-RX26T256H, HD2600XT, 256MB DDR3 RAM ($24 USD shipped)
  • 1 x BPlus M2P4A PCI-E to M.2 SSD adapter ($55)
  • 1 x Samsung XP941 250GB M.2 SSD (double-sided)
  • 1 x OEM Apple NVidia-based GT120 graphics adapter ($70)
  • 1 x CR 2032 battery ($2)
  • 1 x Apple LSI SAS1064E Adapter (Apple Part number 661-4648, 630-8782, 820-2191) ($20)
I still need to acquire:
  • 1 x im-not-quite-dead-yet RAID battery (maybe not, see LSI SAS1064E above)
  • 2 x 4TB SATA drives (mirrored configuration, data storage)
These machines, by default, require 800MHz PC2-6400 FB-DIMM to run the 2.8, 3.0 and 3.2 GHz E5400 class Xeon CPUs; however, since I'm trying to reduce power consumption, the 2.5GHz Xeon CPUs I acquired only require 667MHz FB-DIMM, thus the Kingston acquisition.  It happened to also cost significantly less than the 800MHz stuff, which provides only a very marginal performance increase.  Unfortunately, this only reduced power consumption to a whopping 255 watts at idle.  Maybe removing the 3 1TB drives would drive it down further, but I wouldn't be too certain it would really matter.  At some time in the process, you begin to ask yourself, "What's the point of this if I'll never reach sub 100 watts?"

In order to make these machines boot OS X Yosemite (10.10.5), a few things must be done:

  • modify /System/Library/CoreServices/PlatformSupport.plist to include the Xserve board ID, 'Mac-F42289C8', and system name 'Xserve2,1'. 
  • remove the OEM X1300 mezzanine graphics adapter and add a NVidia GT120 
  • Pike R. Alpha's YoseFix boot.efi is not required, as the Xserve 2,1 has a 64-bit EFI included

It is beyond comprehension why Apple couldn't simply release an updated mezzanine card or include support (albeit slow) for the X1300 graphics adapter in 10.8, 10.9 and 10.10.  With that, no edits to the PlatformSupport.plist would be required.  Actually, it isn't beyond comprehension, they wanted to drive sales to the new Mac Pro lines, which are fine, but inherently still expensive.  I wanted a 1U form factor, just because I can and it was inexpensive.

I'm still working to determine the best way to flash the video card I have acquired; however, if it appears unlikely to cooperate, I plan to purchase the NVidia GT120 from an Apple Mac Pro and move on.  I may brick the card in the process, so I plan to update this space when the time is right.

Edit: Purchased the GT120 -- I don't have time to muck about with a $25 video card to save $50 right now.

(even) More soon!

Edit: The PCI-E Samsung XP941 SSD and NVidia GT120 are working beautifully now.  I also purchased a very inexpensive USB audio which "just works" with no further tinkering.  Let there be sound!  I had a few small problems with the memory at first, but now it seems to have stabilized after swapping out one bad module.  All that remains is a RAID battery and storage solutions.

Note: To upgrade from 10.10.2 to 10.10.3, the PlatformSupport.plist has changed!  You'll need to boot from your rescue partition, jump into a shell and modify the new PlatformSupport.plist to continue operation.  That file is constantly modified by Apple to keep pace with new hardware releases, or to deprecate old ones (as is the case for the xserve).

Note: To upgrade from 10.10.3 to 10.10.4, the PlatformSupport.plist has changed yet again! You'll need to boot from your rescue partition, enter a shell and modify the new PlatformSupport.plist to continue operation.  The two entries are Mac-06F11F11946D27C5 and Mac-06F11FD93F0323C5.  Alternately, you can simply copy your PlatformSupport.plist back in place if you have it backed up elsewhere.  Proceed with the upgrade regardless of Apple's intentions!

Note: To upgrade from 10.10.4 to 10.10.5, the PlatformSupport.plist has not changed!  You shouldn't need to boot from a rescue partition or modify the original PlatformSupport.plist, though it's not a bad idea to have something ready in case it overwrites it with an original contained in the update.  Mine didn't, but yours may -- act accordingly!

Edit: Could someone please try a Kingstone HyperX Predator PCIe SSD in a Mac Pro or XServe?  I'd like to know if it is capable of booting OSX 10.10.5! (P.S. If Kingston will send me one, I'll be happy to test it against this Samsung XP941!)

Edit: I've now ordered a regular LSI SAS1064E so I can experiment running VMWare ESXi 6.0 U1 natively on this platform, and putting OSX Yosemite inside.  ESXi doesn't support the native RAID, plus my RAID battery is still dead, so I had little interest in reviving it once I found a regular SAS backplane (which SHOULD support 3GBPS SATA II at least) for $20 shipped.  In other news, VMWare ESXi 6.0 U1 did NOT find my Samsung XP941, but would install to a 32GB USB drive, interestingly.

Edit: The Xserve2,1 does fully support ESXi 6.0 U1 with the LSI SAS1064E card, and I was able to install Yosemite within ESXi though the console did exhibit a few issues.  I could correct them, but it's still idling at 240 watts, which is horribly inefficient.  Here's a quick snapshot for the curious!

Edit: This server is now for sale, as-configured, but without the SSD.  I'll include the 2.8GHz Xeons if you want them as well.  Make an offer, I'm a reasonable individual -- do bear in mind that this will come with a RUNNING installation of Yosemite 10.10.5 and/or VMWare ESXi if you so choose!  I will also include the Apple RAID card and original (dead) battery.

Edit (10.01.2015): For OS X El Capitan, 10.11.0 (1), it seems you will no longer need both augmentations in /System/Library/CoreServices/PlatformSupport.plist, you'll only need to add 'Mac-F42289C8' at the bottom in another tag. I'll post a screen shot of the system once I get home.  Unfortunately, this is now an operating-system protected file, so you won't be able to edit it while the system is running without making changes or entering single user mode (most likely).


  1. What hard drives did you end up going with?

    1. You know, it still has the 1TB drives, but I run the primary O/S on the Samsung XP941 SSD. It is blazingly fast.

    2. Thank you. I'm going to be doing this in the next week or so, and was just curious.

  2. Great work here on the Xserve, I created some videos to help out with those interested in making the 2008 Xserve the 'poor mans' MacPro

    1. I saw a few videos on the subject ex post facto, but IMHO, videos are about the slowest way to disperse any real information. Sure, social media "slo-info" craze and what-not FTL, but I simply have zero point zero interest and can read, digest and rearrange information much faster without video.

  3. So, I scored a $40 XServe 1,1 2x2x2GHz, 2GB 667 with an empty carrier... Long story (and about $90 later) I have 32GB ram, a random 80GB drive in bay 1, plus a PATA-SATA carrier to replace the cdrw with an SSD. Good times!

    I'm not going past 10.6 for software and hardware reasons (I'm not too excited about neverending boot.efi replacements, and my main use for this machine is SCSI). That said, since this is already playing the super-noisy-desktop-pc game, I'm tempted to soup up the video performance; not that the X1300 is unworthy - but I don't use the SAS card, and I really like Portal 2. The GT120 seems the best card for the job, but I've heard conflicting stories about the displayport not working, which would limit me to one DVI display. Could you offer any advice?


  4. I wish I could help in that regard - I actually boxed my Xserve up right after El Capitan came out since I put it up for sale and haven't opened it up since so I wouldn't be able to test that out for you. I can't imagine why it *wouldn't* work, but I wasn't out on a mission to turn mine into a multi-display server either. Due to the platform's low PCI-E/X count, I can't imagine it ever being very good for that particular purpose unless you used an expansion card; however, I'm guessing that would severely limit its ability for anything other than 2D output.

    1. For my purposes, the only other card I need in there is a SCSI card for a scanner; which I have. 8 lanes of PCI-E 2.0 won't limit me for video performance given the ancient software I'd try to run on it - so I'm not worried about any performance limitations from the rest of the system. I've already given it a test, for photo editing at 30mpx, it didn't even blink with 2GB of ram; one game that struggles on most hardware gave me about 10fps on the Mezzanine card, so I don't think I have far to go to get a useful system out of this. It's certainly going to outperform any other machine I could build for $150 even with the X1300. Thanks for replying in any case, and your page confirmed some useful information all the same! Hope you get a good price for your server!

  5. I just installed OS X El Capitan 10.11.4 without having to change video cards or muck around with drivers.

    I simply did as instructed and installed with USB adapter plugged into my MacBook Air. Edited the Plist file and put the drive into my server... booted.

    1. Hey Steve, it's good to see that confirmed by someone else. I really liked this server, but the power consumption was just too much unless I planned to integrate it with my HVAC system to help heat the house, ha! Still, it's good to know that it's still usable gear for the latest version of OS X.