CPU Upgrades for the Color Classic

Reviews and comparisons of the MicroMac ThunderCache Pro and Sonnet Presto accelerators for the original Color Classic.

  1. MicroMac ThunderCache Pro vs. Sonnet Presto comparison
  2. MicroMac ThunderCache Pro review
  3. MicroMac ThunderCache Pro v. Sonnet Presto benchmarks
  4. Also see Benchmarks: Mac Color Classic with Presto

MicroMac ThunderCache Pro (50 MHz 68030) vs. Sonnet Presto ‘040

Jon Dockery reports:

Mac Color ClassicFor the record, all of this relates to a Color Classic with 10 MB of 70ns RAM and an 80 MB hard drive, running System 7.1 with the 3.0 update.

Last summer, I ordered a MicroMac 50 MHz ThunderCache Pro w/FPU, hoping to add some muscle and SIMM slots to my old Color Classic. Despite being told the accelerator would be in stock and ready to ship in 5 days, it took 2 months for the board to arrive (apparently the boards were full of defective components which they wanted to double check – bad sign).

When the board finally came, I installed it, and it couldn’t read the floppy drive. I called MicroMac and – surprise, surprise – it had bad components. No problem, they say, ship it back and we’ll turn it around in a couple of weeks.

sad MacUnknown to me, there are 100 other equally bad boards sitting at MicroMac waiting to be repaired. Three months later, I get my board back and reinstall it. It runs for five days, then overheats and fries some of the components – first the FPU goes, then a monster crash (the first sad Mac I’ve ever seen in my life). I talk to the sales manager – “Give it another shot,” he pleads.

Six weeks later the board returns, looking like a Radio Shack kit gone horribly wrong. A giant heat sink has been glued to the top of the CPU, individual jumpers have been soldered like snakes across the top of the board, the component chips are covered with pencil marks and paint. I figure what the hell – I’ve already wasted seven months. I install it, and it runs for seven days, overheats, crashes, and won’t reboot. More sad Macs. I guess I should just be happy it didn’t kill my Mac on the way down.

After some ugly phone calls, Pacific Mac in Seattle finally agrees to take it back and refund my money, given that I had never been in possession of the accelerator for the full 30 days (thus meeting the terms of their return policy). The guy at Pacific Mac eventually confesses that they’d had so many returns on MicroMac products that they’ve stopped carrying them and had considered legal action, as MicroMac wouldn’t take back any of their defective stock.

The only explanation I ever got for any of this from MicroMac was that the LC version of the accelerator added an auxiliary fan which they couldn’t shoehorn into the Color Classic. All I can say is make sure you know what the return policy is if you order anything from MicroMac.

On to the Sonnet Presto ‘040 w/FPU, $100 cheaper but lacking the SIMM slots and incompatible with the “thousands of colors” mode. The board is compact and extremely well made. It turns the Classic into a veritable pocket rocket – fast fast fast! Everything works beautifully, except for one little snag – the accelerator hates browsers. Navigator 2.0 & 3.0, Explorer 2.0 & 3.0 – they all freeze up faster than you ever thought possible (though there is the occasional system bomb to provide variety to your day).

After a joyous week of playing boot-and-shoot with Extensions Manager, I finally determine that the accelerator will only work dependably with a browser if all INITs are disabled except for the PPP, MacTCP, and Presto driver INIT (on good days it’ll work with RAM Doubler as well). I call Sonnet (and, yes, those people are damn hard to get on the phone) and am pleasantly informed that I have an INIT conflict (duh).

Any plans for a Presto software update? (The 2.1 update didn’t help)

No comment.

Ultimately, the Presto is a tough call. No extra RAM slots, no VRAM support, and you seemingly have to reboot to use the browser. On the upside, the thing is damn fast, with the best sustained online transfer rates (sans INITs) I’ve seen in an old machine (I didn’t know a 14.4 modem could move that fast) and a printer that’s running three-to-four times faster than it did with the MicroMac accelerator (I finally know now how the people at Adobe thought Acrobat was supposed to work). As ever, I guess it’s a question of what your priorities are.

Or maybe we could just get Sonnet to actually build the products that MicroMac designs.

I hope this is of help to somebody out there.


Jon Dockery also notes:

The Sonnet Presto 040 accelerator will run 2.0 & 3.0 browsers on the Color Classic, but you must have an Extensions Manager so that you can reboot the Mac with only the Presto, MacTCP, and PPP INITS loaded (anything else and the browser will freeze up). Sonnet seems to have absolutely no interest in fixing this bug.

That being said, the Presto is remarkably fast, driving the modem and the printer 3-to-4 times faster than the MicroMac ThunderCache Pro accelerator (a 50 MHz 68030) and costs $50 to $100 less. However, it won’t support the VRAM slot (thousands of colors) and it doesn’t give you any extra RAM slots (though it supports RAM Doubler).

Reports have it that the newer version of the MicroMac ThunderCache Pro Cache with the auxiliary onboard fan runs fine (the older one I had without the fan overheated constantly and spent most of its time in the shop at MicroMac). If you need thousands of colors, additional hard RAM, or want to rig your Color Classic for a 13″ display, you’re pretty much stuck with MicroMac. Just make sure you get one with a fan, and you know what the return policy is.

For the record, my experience with technical support at both companies was pretty bad. Neither one of them was much help in figuring how to make their products work, so be prepared for a lot self-guided experimentation.

MicroMac ThunderCache Pro (50 MHz 68030)

Andrew Ludgate reports:

This spring I got the MicroMac accelerator, which works wonderfully. My only problem was with shipping. Since I live in Canada, I double and triple checked the shipping with MicroMac (order direct from MicroMac – never buy their stuff in a store). I got the product sent on its way. They said it would take approximately 6 working days to get to me via UPS. Two months, a few emails and phone calls later, I got a credit card bill for the product and a letter from UPS saying that my order was being “processed.” The next week, I finally got the product. It runs like a charm. MicroMac threw in a cooling fan that goes in the PDS panel on the back.

The down side was that I got dinged around $80 by UPS – they charged me the duty (which I knew I was going to be charged ~$38) and a UPS processing fee (MicroMac had already charged me $20 shipping) and a customs clearance fee. UPS could have called me into their office where someone signed the customs order, and I would have only had to pay the duty. However, they didn’t. Neither they nor MicroMac mentioned any of these extra charges to me, and neither gave me the option to clear the package through customs myself, even though this is commonly done.

Final verdict: works great, but way too expensive.

On another note, soon after I got the accelerator installed, I found the Japanese web page (see back issue of Classic Macs digest) which explained how to display 640 x 480 on a Color Classic monitor. I made the adjustments, and that works great, too! Now I can run about 65% more apps than I could before; especially the Macromedia Director type apps. (One note to those considering changing the wiring in this way on their CC: I found that after I rewired, I lost my thousands of colors setting on my monitor; I’ve now got max 256 again. I haven’t tried removing my VRAM yet to see if the screen will operate without it, but on the other hand, QuickTime movies seem to be running just as well as they did when I had thousands of colors and the smaller resolution.)

So, it is possible to have a 640 x 480 50 MHz Color Classic with 24 MB real RAM – and the 640 x 480 trick is free!

Benchmarks: Sonnet v. MicroMac

Jon Dockery posted these results to Classic Macs Digest 971013:

Here are some Speedometer test results comparing the Sonnet and MicroMac accelerators with FPU for the Color Classic. Both sets of tests were done using System 7.1.3 with 10 megs of RAM (the MicroMac also packing an additional 8 megs at the time) and a moderate INIT load (Disinfectant, RAM Doubler, QuickTime 2.5, FWB CD-ROM toolkit, MacTCP & PPP, StyleWriter 1200, and their affiliated INITS, Control Panels, etc.). As my Speedometer test for the MicroMac did not include a disk rating (probably because Speed Doubler was installed at the time), I’ve included Andrew Ludgate’s Speedometer numbers for his Classic under System 7.1.3 (though his did not have an FPU) at the bottom of the posting.

For the record, the Sonnet Presto 040 is running a 25 MHz 040 chip, and the MicroMac ThunderCache Pro Cache a 50 MHz 030.

Performance Rating (Uses Mac Classic as 1.0)

      Thunder Pro  Presto 040
CPU:        12.08   15.23
Graphics:    6.93   10.39
Disk:        n/a*    1.86
Math:       29.11  110.40
Overall PR:  n/a*   20.62

Benchmark Results (Uses Mac Classic as 1.0)

       Thunder Pro  Presto 040
KWhet        51.66  154.02
Dhry          6.68  23.73
Towers        5.74  20.39
Quicksort     8.68  17.37
Bubble Sort  13.86  19.48
Queens       11.80  21.04
Puzzle       10.83  19.62
Permute       9.49  21.96
Fast Fourier 29.00 128.32
F.P. Matrix  29.91 112.43
Int. Matrix   9.48  18.97
Sieve        15.41   8.65
Bench. Ave.  16.88  47.17

FPU Tests (Uses Mac II as 1.0)

            Thunder Pro  Presto 040
FPU Fast Fourier   3.62  6.27
FPU KWhet          3.42  8.70
FPU F.P Matrix     3.60  9.53
FPU Ave.           3.55  8.16

Color Tests (Uses Mac II as 1.0)

       Thunder Pro  Presto 040
Monochrome   1.84** 2.47
2 Bit        1.96** 2.45
4 Bit        2.03** 2.33
8 Bit        1.96** 1.76
Color Ave.   1.95** 2.33

(*) The best times rated for the P.R. tests by Andrew’s non-FPU MicroMac were as follows:

CPU:               12.08
Graf:               6.14
Disk:               0.79
Math:              12.48
P.R. Rating (Ave):  8.08

(**) In one of Andrew’s System 7.1.3 tests (without INITs loaded), the MicroMac matched or beat the Presto’s Color Test numbers. I don’t know if my low MicroMac numbers were a result of an INIT problem, or a VRAM accessing problem. Andrew’s best numbers were as follows:

Mono:      2.46
2 Bit:     2.56
4 Bit:     2.54
8 Bit:     2.31
Color Ave: 2.47

Overall, the accelerators are fairly evenly matched in mundane everyday operations. The Presto starts to take off in arcane mathematical applications and search & sort applications (spreadsheets, Photoshop filters, 300 page text inserts, etc.), sometimes running 3-to-5 times faster than the ThunderCache Pro. In my experience, the most notable speed difference between the two has been with printer and modem operations, where the Presto seems considerably faster. However, the Presto precludes any extra RAM, eliminates the “thousands of colors” mode, and won’t support any fun experiments with monitor size.

All this being said, our trusty moderator is probably correct when he recommends buying a used ‘040 machine out right. I’ve had headaches with both accelerators, and neither one of them is particularly cheap. I’d doubt that either one of them will be as stable over the long run as a used Performa or Quadra (though a Color Classic is a much more stylish piece of hardware!)

Keywords: #colorclassic #colourclassic #performa250 #thundercachepro #sonnetpresto

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