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I have a Mac Pro, early 2008 model with a Quad Core Intel Xeon CPU.

Since 2008, I have installed the graphics card upgrade kit that Apple started selling around mid 2010, the Nvidia GTX285.

I'm curious: what is special about a "Mac" graphics card that standard graphics cards don't have?

Since the transition to Intel CPUs, aren't the internal components of a Mac even closer to those of a PC?

Would a standard graphics card work in a Mac Pro, and if not, why?

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First guess I would have is drivers. –  fideli Nov 9 '11 at 17:19
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up vote 1 down vote accepted

Update (more correct answer): The Mac Pro's EFI booting method is the big reason that special graphics cards are needed. Special firmware instructions must be present on the card in order for it to work properly with EFI. See this article for more information.

Original (weaker) answer: The biggest thing with putting any 3rd party hardware into a Mac is the driver support. If the driver isn't built into OS X, it's the hardware manufacturers responsibility to write the driver and get Mac certified. Apple has been pretty picky about blessing drivers in the past. If it isn't Apple approved, you're on your own with support. The stuff Apple sells you is generally the same thing, except you pay the premium because it's Apple blessed (and thereby supported by them).

You can find lists on the Internet (i.e. like this one) that will list compatible cards for specific versions of OS X (or specific Apple hardware).

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That link is very interesting, thanks. However, it seems to be geared towards people building "CustoMacs" or "Hackintoshes". I read somewhere that a possible reason standard cards wouldn't work in a Mac is that they require different boot systems. Is this true? Would these cards work in an actual Mac Pro as well as a Hackintosh running OS X? –  Jasarien Nov 9 '11 at 19:55
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@Jasarien I just edited the post with a more accurate answer! Sorry I didn't nail it the first time! –  Trav Nov 9 '11 at 20:16
    
Very informative article, thanks. –  Jasarien Nov 9 '11 at 21:06
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