Testing OWC’s Legacy SSD in a Blue & White Power Mac G3

This review has been a long time coming. I’ve had some problems with my dual 500 MHz Mystic Power Mac G4, which was going to be the second Mac tested with the 40 GB OWC Mercury Extreme Pro SSD Legacy Edition. Working with my 350 MHz Blue & White G3 has taught me a few things that have helped me with the Mystic, which will be my next test machine.

Blue and White Power Mac G3First lesson: If you have a Revision 1 Blue & White, you can’t boot from a slave drive no matter how many times you try. It’s so long since I even had this Mac powered up that I’d forgotten it had the Rev. 1 logic board. (Rev. 2 fixes that problem.)

Second lesson: Read the documentation. The Sonnet Tempo Serial ATA PCI card requires third-party drivers in the Blue & White, so I couldn’t boot from any SATA drive, since those drivers aren’t loaded until the system is booted up.

Third lesson: Don’t run benchmark tests while Spotlight is indexing your hard drive. It makes a huge difference. Disable Spotlight or wait until it has completed indexing before running your benchmarks.

The 1999 Blue & White G3 has one significant downside: It has FireWire, but it can’t boot from it, so that eliminated a lot of benchmarking possibilities. That’s a shame, because 400 Mbps (50 MBps) FireWire is a much faster protocol than 266 Mbps (66 MBps) ATA-4.

My Blue & White G3 is overclocked to 350 MHz and has 320 MB of memory. It has an ATA-4 drive bus, which limits drive performance. I bought it from Wegener Media years ago to use as a home file server (the second hard drive would have been the shared volume), but its been retired ever since I got a second Power Mac G4. (I now have three.)

The Blue & White requires Mac OS 8.5, and supports right up through OS X 10.4.11 Tiger. I am primarily interested in OS 9.2.2 and 10.4.11. I ended up creating clean installs for each operating system with all Apple updates on one drive, then cloned that to other drives and the OWC Legacy SSD.

Tested hard drives include an 8 GB Maxtor Diamond Max 90845D4 (ATA-4, 5400 rpm, 512 KB buffer), a 40 GB Seagate Barracuda (100 MBps ATA-6, 5800 rpm, 2 MB buffer), and a 60 GB Maxtor Diamond Max 6Y060P0 (133 MBps ATA-7, 7200 rpm, 8 MB buffer). My hope is that I’ll be able to transfer the 8 GB drive to my Beige Power Mac G3 (and perhaps a 333 MHz iMac) and have it running OS X 10.4 (fingers crossed), which is not officially supported on that hardware – hardware that will only boot from a partition 8 GB or smaller.

Testing with OS X 10.4

I have tested several different drive configurations, as well as four different memory configurations, and made some interesting discoveries.

In all cases, I booted the Blue & White from the drive to be tested, then shut down the Mac and rebooted.

8 GB Maxtor Hard Drive

Xbench 1.3 turned in a result of 19.40 in its disk benchmark. Startup took 60 seconds.

I used TextWrangler 2.3 to search an archive of Low End Mac, the same one I used when benchmarking the Dual 1 GHz Power Mac G4. Doing a search though all those files for a specific word or phrase is something I do regularly. I used the phrase Tweet this article in my search, and TextWrangler completed the task in 8:40 – 520 seconds.

40 GB Seagate Hard Drive

Xbench 1.3 rated this drive at 32.29 in its drive benchmark, two-thirds higher than the 8 GB Maxtor.

60 GB Maxtor Hard Drive

I found this 7200 rpm ATA-7 drive in my Beige G3, so I decided to repartition it for use as a boot volume on those few G3 Macs that require a boot partition smaller than 8 GB. The first partition is 7.4 GB, with the balance set as a “work” partition. I then used Carbon Copy Cloner to clone the SSD to the first partition. A 7200 rpm hard drive with an 8 MB buffer is as close to SSD performance as any IDE drive I have.

Xbench gives it a disk score of 36.83, 14% higher than the 40 GB Seagate Barracuda. Startup time is 58 seconds, about the same as the other hard drives.

SSD

Because of the inability to boot from a slave drive, I did initial SSD testing on the second bus, the one used for the optical drive. This is a 16.7 MBps ATA-2 bus. Startup took 49 seconds. The Xbench drive score is 40.93, almost 27% higher than the Seagate Barracuda and over twice as fast as the Maxtor Diamond Max.

Moving the SSD to the faster ATA-4 bus, the Xbench disk test turned in a score of 63.82, a 56% improvement over the slower bus, and the drive achieved speeds over 29 MBps on some tests. Startup took about 48 seconds, so no real improvement there.

When I used TextWrangler 2.3 to search an archive of Low End Mac on the SSD, it completed the task in 7:38 – 458 seconds.

I remember back in my OS 9 days thinking that 300 MHz was really all the speed anyone needed unless they were a real power user. By way of comparison, my dual 1 GHz Mirrored Drive Door Power Mac did the same task in just 149 seconds, over three times as fast as the 350 MHz Blue & White.

Testing with OS 9.2.2

Virtual memory was set at 400 MB for all OS 9.2.2 tests. Tests were run with 24-bit video, except for SpeedRun, which required scaling back to 16-bit video.

8 GB Maxtor Hard Drive

This was a decent drive in its day, and MacBench 5 turns in a disk score of 1216. Speedometer 4 gives it a disk score of 3.901, and Speedometer 3, 19.70. SpeedRun gives the drive a score of 436. Startup took 71 seconds – nearly 20% longer than booting OS X 10.4.

40 GB Seagate Hard Drive

This was a very good drive in its day, and MacBench 5 turns in a disk score of 1768 – a bit more than 45% higher than the Maxtor. Speedometer 4 gives it a disk score of 4.955 (27% higher), while Speedometer 3 rates it 29.745 (a 51% improvement). SpeedRun scores the drive at 449, just a bit ahead of the 8 GB Maxtor.

60 GB Maxtor Hard Drive

I remember what a speed demon this was when I got it to replace the stock hard drive in my Beige G3, and it has stood the test of time. MacBench 5 reports a disk score of 3360, a whopping 90% higher than the 40 GB Seagate Barracuda. Speedometer 4 rates the drive at 3.774, while Speedometer 3 reports a score of 35.279, almost 19% higher than the Seagate. The SpeedRun drive score is 454, just a bit ahead of the Seagate. Startup time was an impressive 48 seconds – faster than the SSD!

SSD

As noted above, I ran the first tests of the SSD on the 16.7 MBps optical drive bus, just because it was easier to have two bootable drives. I later tested with the faster 33.3 MBps ATA-4 bus, which shaved an impressive 34 seconds from startup time.

Bus              16.7   33.3
MacBench disk    3382   4444 - 31.4% faster
Speedometer 4   4.656  4.003 - tested twice
Speedometer 3   36.12  52.31 - 44.8% faster
SpeedRun          452    474 - 4.9% faster
Startup time       86     52 - 40% faster

Curiously, the SSD scores lower than the 40 GB hard drive in Speedometer 4 – and slower on the faster bus than on the slower one. Perhaps an anomaly in the way Speedometer 4 works, as in all the other benchmarks the SSD is faster than any of the hard drives.

The SSD is 32% faster than the 60 GB Maxtor according to MacBench, 48% faster in Speedometer 3, and 4.4% faster in SpeedRun, a test which reports the least difference between drives.

What About More RAM?

I ran the above tests with 320 MB of RAM, the amount installed when I took the Blue & White out of storage. By borrowing some RAM from my Mystic Power Mac G4, I was able to test other memory configurations using Xbench with OS X 10.4:

RAM       320 MB  512 MB  768 MB    1 GB
CPU         9.81   10.08    9.55    9.09
Threads    14.67   14.88   14.79   14.75
Memory      7.10    7.55    7.59    7.26
Quartz     16.28   16.59   16.57   16.52
OpenGL     23.43   28.12   28.20   28.26
UI          7.15    7.35    7.57    7.49
Disk       63.82   68.42   68.41   69.04
Overall     n/a    12.84   12.80   12.51

Note that although some scores fluctuate, probably due to background system activity (even though Xbench was the only program running), the disk score improves every time we add more memory. In my years using OS X, I have always found that a computer with a memory upgrade – even a small one – feels faster and more responsive.

Wrapping Up

I had no problems with deep sleep, something I saw a few times on the MDD but didn’t keep track of.

Kudos to the folks at Other World Computing for addressing the relatively small market for “legacy” SSDs – there are a lot of old Macs and PCs with IDE out there. If you can get by with 40 GB, the $130 cost could make this very attractive. (OWC also offers 60, 115, 240, and 480 GB legacy SSDs.) There is also a line of legacy SSDs for notebooks, and I’ll be testing one of those as well.

I hope to test the OWC Mercury Extreme Pro SSD Legacy, the FireWire 800 card, the SATA card, and the SATA hard drive in my dual 500 MHz Mystic Power Mac G4 next and compare those results with those of the dual 1 GHz MDD Power Mac G4.

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