Getting the Most from Your G3 Mac

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I love G3 Macs, but I’m no fool. A G3 machine in its original Apple-shipped state won’t cut it in today’s computing world – but with a few upgrades and additions you can easily get a little extra usage out of older Macs.

Operating System

You can install any version of the Classic Mac OS or Mac OS X that your Mac supports, but in this day and age, Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger is the best OS for G3 Macs.

This is a much disputed view, but I stand by it. Tiger is much more stable, reliable, and faster than previous versions. A lot of people stick with 10.3 Panther for older G3s, but it is slower. Most G3 Macs support Tiger, although you need to use XPostFacto to install it on some older ones.

The other reasons for going with 10.4 rather than any earlier version of OS X are that some software requires Tiger as a minimum and Apple is still issuing security updates for it. You need Tiger if you want to run the latest versions of Safari and Firefox on G3 Macs.

RAM

Adding RAM to any machine will improve system speed incredibly – even more so in older machines that may have shipped with as little as 32 MB.

If you are intending to run OS X on your G3 Mac, 256 MB is the minimum I would recommend for a comfortable ride – and make that 512 MB if that version happens to be Tiger.

Some G3s have a maximum RAM limit of 256 MB (tray-loading iMacs), 512 MB (WallStreet and Lombard G3 PowerBooks), 576 MB (early Clamshell iBooks), 640 MB (white G3 iBooks), and 768 MB (beige G3s), and the rest can take 1 GB (Pismo PowerBook G3, slot-loading iMacs, and Blue & White Power Mac G3).

The more RAM in your G3, the better your Mac will handle.

Hard Drive

The first G3s were built in 1997, and early G3s were supplied with hard drives under 10 GB in size. While this enough for a Tiger installation, it doesn’t leave a lot of extra room for applications or files.

These are also slow drives – usually 4200 rpm – and at nearly 10 years old they are often noisy. When buying a new drive, bear in mind these machine are not capable of high-end video editing or working on huge Photoshop documents, so your drive doesn’t have to be ridiculously large. Also remember that most G3 Macs can’t take advantage of hard drives larger than 120 GB.

I have a Pismo PowerBook G3 that originally shipped with a 10 GB hard drive (it has just been replaced with a 40 GB drive).

I had an indigo Clamshell iBook G3 that originally shipped with a measly 3 GB hard drive. A minimal install of Tiger will use 1.9 GB, leaving you will little over a gig to work with. I installed a 30 GB hard drive in the Clamshell, giving it so much more space. (DeLocalizer can remove localizations for languages you don’t use, which can free hundreds of megabytes of hard drive space and works with OS X 10.1 and later. Monolingual, a similar program, can cause problems with Microsoft Office and some Adobe apps.)

Larger drives will give OS X and applications more drive space to work with, which improves system performance. A faster hard drive will also improve system speed, as it allows the Mac to read and write to the disk more quickly. Newer hard drives also tend to have larger buffers, which also improves performance.

Desktop hard drives for the likes of the Blue & White Power Mac G3 and iMacs come in 5400 and 7200 rpm, as opposed to the original 4200 rpm drives they usually shipped with.

I have two 20 GB IBM Deskstar hard drives in USB 2.0 cases hooked to my Intel iMac, one is a 5400 and the other is a 7200 – the rate at which they copy files is noticeably different.

Modern laptop drives usually come in 5400 rpm, as opposed to the 4200 rpm drive that came in G3 PowerBooks and iBooks. (I have yet to use 7200 rpm laptop drives, as these seem to be limited to high capacity drives.)

See How to Clone Mac OS X to a New Hard Drive for step-by-step intructions for moving everything on your hard drive to a new one.

Optical Drives

All G3s can have their optical drives upgraded, and some are easier than others: some are user upgradeable and some are not.

A lot of G3s shipped with CD-ROMs, some had CD-RW and even DVD-ROMs in some later iMacs and PowerBooks. Only the later G3 iBooks shipped with Combo (CD-RW/DVD-ROM) drives.

DVD burning can be added to all of them. I have added DVD burners to PowerBook G3s and Power Mac G3s, to name a few.

Add-on Cards

With new hardware standards and new ports, your aging Mac can lag behind if it can’t be updated.

With the exception of iMacs and iBooks, all other G3s are expandable. Power Macs take PCI cards, including ones that support “big” hard drives (over 128 GB) – and the IDE drives are fairly easy to get to.

PowerBooks have a PC Card (a.k.a. PCMCIA) slot for adding extras. PCI cards and PC Cards can add FireWire, USB 2.0, SATA, and wireless options.

Graphics Cards

The graphics cards in some G3s can be upgraded. The Blue & White Power Mac comes with a 16 MB PCI card; it can be changed for higher spec’d PCI video card. There were a couple of third party graphics cards for some of the PowerBook G3 range.

Higher spec’d graphics cards can reduce stress on other components and improve video performance.

Unfortunately, iBooks and iMacs don’t have upgradable graphics.

Processor Upgrades

If you seriously want to up the power of your G3, you may be able to add a processor upgrade. Not all G3s have this option, and many processor upgrades are no loner being made, so you would have to find a secondhand one – and even now they can be expensive.

Processor upgrades include faster G3 chips and G4 chips. G3 and G4 upgrades are available for PowerBook G3s, and G4 upgrades are available for tray-loading G3 iMacs.

Conclusion

G3 Macs are still great in this day and age. Will a little upgrading – putting in some new drives, adding more RAM, changing the video card, upping your operating system, or even changing the processor – these can be great little computers.


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