If there is a good example of the classic ‘good news bad news’ situation, NVIDIA’s latest graphics card for the Mac Pro has to be it. The good news: the Fermi-based Quadro 4000 which was previously available only to PC users has come to the Mac Pro. The bad news? OS X will not support its advanced OpenGL 4.1 features.

Read on to find out more.

Hardware upgrades for the Mac are rather uncommon, but there is no doubt that they do exist, albeit in extremely small quantities and variety. And even then, most of these upgrades are only available for the much more expensive Mac Pro: this is due to the fact that the iMacs make use of notebook components, most of which are not readily available off the shelves.

But every once awhile, aftermarket hardware upgrades do make their way to the Mac, and the latest one to do so comes in the form of a professional graphics card: the NVIDIA Quadro 4000, which is based on the recently-launched Fermi architecture.

The Quadro 4000 is essentially the same card that PC users have had for a while already, and sports near-identical physical properties, although its specifications are slightly varied. Hiding under that huge heat-sink is a GPU which has 256 CUDA cores and boasts 2GB of GDDR5 memory on a 256-bit memory interface. The difference comes from the fact that the PC-version has more output options: while the Mac version of the card comes with only one dual-link DVI port and one DisplayPort, the PC version sports two DisplayPorts and the capability of 3D output, a feature which is conveniently missing from the Mac version.

OpenGL support for the Mac version of the Quadro 4000 differs slightly as well: while the PC version of the card supports OpenGL versions of up to 4.0, the Mac version tops it off by featuring OpenGL 4.1 support. However, OpenGL4.1 support is lost on OS X considering that Apple had always had a policy of writing its own drivers for the hardware that goes into its machines, and its current driver stack only supports the dated OpenGL 3.1 specifications. NVIDIA has even stated in its product page that the only way to enjoy full OpenGL 4.1 support on a Mac will be to Boot Camp into Windows and install its (NVIDIA’s) own official drivers.

Hard-core enthusiasts would also realize that the Mac version has no SLI support, though this is probably due to the nature of the Mac Pro’s chassis, which is ostensibly not designed for dual graphics cards.

In addition, the Quadro 4000 for Mac has some hardware restrictions. Mac Pros with the model identifier MacPro1,1 and MacPro2,1 are not compatible with the card, and even then, users with a compatible Mac Pro must be on the at least the fifth Snow Leopard version update, aka OS X 10.6.5.

But if OpenGL4.1 is not a priority for your needs, the Quadro 4000 for Mac will fit in nicely as a top-notch powerhouse for other uses such as other CUDA and OpenCL. And it is can be yours, if you are willing to drop a cool US$1,199 for it.

Reference: NVIDIA