Here at work we have a 2008 Xserve and for the past couple years I’ve only used it as a simple file share server since the highest OS that could be installed was OS X10.7 Lion. I would love to use the server for more since it has plenty of HD space and when it comes down to it, the Xserve is still a powerful computer.
A couple weeks ago I decide to get the server running with OS X 10.10 Yosemite by doing a couple upgrades along with a OS X 10.10 modified install. At first I upgraded the ram to 16GB then installed OS X 10.10.3 Yosemite with the help of an article here https://github.com/TMRJIJ/OS-X-Yosemite-on-Unsupported-Macs that explains how to create an OS X 10.10 Install on a USB stick or drive that is modified to install on older hardware. Once I had the modified OS Install I plugged into the server and installed 10.10.3 without any issues until I realized how laggy the video was. This was both local video output and through screen sharing.
I think one of the big reason Apple removed Xserve from later OS’s past 10.7 Lion was due to the video card. OS X has become very dependent on the GPU and since the stock video cards in the Xserve are bottom of the line the cards they just could not handle 10.10 Yosemite. So from here I got looking online to find a fix.
After looking around I can across a video here https://youtu.be/9AZzSgIYIac where “N90X” decided to give this same project a try and he ended up swapping out the video card. With the help of this I was able to track down a video card off eBay that was originally a stock card for Mac Pro's. The card I purchased was a "Apple 630-9643 Mac Pro A1289 NVIDIA GeForce GT 120 512MB Video Card”.
As soon as I received the card I quickly installed it to now find the server running smooth video. Both the card video output and screen sharing ran smooth without any issues. So far everything looks great and you would never know this server was never supported.
The one issue I know of for this setup is OS Updates. If I were to update the server to 10.10.4 when it comes out the server will not boot as the update will replace the “PlatformSupport.plist” file which essentially tells the OS which hardware is approved to run. With that said, theres a quick fix, simply replace it. Just keep a backup of the file and once you do an update you can either throw the server into Target mode and replace /System/Library/CoreServices/PlatformSupport.plist or just add in the server model & ID info. For my setup I partitioned the primary HD and keep the old OS X 10.7 Lion install so I just need to boot into the old OS, replace the file then reboot.
All in all Yosemite works great on a 2008 Xserve after modifying a 10.10 Install and upgrading the video card. From here I will be installing Server App and using more features that Server App offers. It’s a great server for DeployStudio, OS Updates and more.
A few images of the server:
Install of OS X 10.10.3 Yosemite on Xserve
Xserve with upgraded ram to 16GB and the new/used video card
Old Xserve Video Card
New/Used Video Card that was needed to get the server running video properly
Hope this helps anyone looking to do the same.