Lately my Mac Pro has been crashing and freezing with greater regularity. From prior experience with computers crashing, and it being the summer (and a particularly hot one in London!), I had a hunch it was heat related.
Weird artifacts on the monitor display (strange green and pink blocks and lines) clued me in that it might be the Radeon X1900 display card that was the cause of the overheating, and a bit of searching around on the Internet showed that this card has something of a reputation for overheating. The solutions people talk about all seem to revolve around removing fluff from the fan ingest (did that), purchasing after market coolers (not cheap and quite complicated) or buying a new card (even more expensive). I wanted to find something else.
The first step was to confirm that it was heat related. I shut down the computer, opened the case, and let the computer cool down for an hour. When I started it up again the computer lasted longer before crashing than normal. A good clue.
I went looking for a way to see what the temperature actually was inside my Mac Pro. There are several methods for doing this but I found a wonderful free utility called Temperature Monitor. This shows you the temperature for many points within the machine and can graph them over time. A very useful tool indeed.
Although Temperature Monitor did not show a specific temperature reading for the graphics card itself, two readings in particular seemed high and are indeed physically close to the graphics card – the Northbridge and Memory Module B2. Both were up around 80 degrees C which is definitely a little hot.
I used another free utility, the brilliant SMCFanControl to adjust the speed of the fans within the computer. While running the history graph feature of Temperature Monitor I first turned all the fans up to full and immediately saw nearly all temperature readings within the Mac Pro go down. It was amazing to watch. After some fiddling I set the PCIe/HDD fan to a minimum speed of 1700 rpm which brought the Northbridge and Memory Module B2 temps consistently down under 70 degrees. I left the other fans in the end at their default settings.
Since then I haven’t had a single crash and I’ve not spent a penny. I’ve created different profiles within SMCFanControl (Normal, 1/2 cool down, 3/4 cool down, full cool down) and can instantly change the speed of the fans at will, depending on the ambient temperature.
Now if only I could get a speed increase utility for my air conditioner…