Mac Daniel's Advice

Adding Modern Ports to Older Power Macs

Korin Hasegawa-John - 2001.07.16

One of the great things about older PCI Power Macs (and clones) is that you can easily add support for more modern interfaces - USB, USB 2.0, 160 MB SCSI, and FireWire. This article looks at adding these to older Macs. All of these interfaces are available on PCI cards, but if you have a NuBus based Mac, you're out of luck, since nobody seems to make USB or FireWire cards for them.

Most of these interfaces require at least Mac OS 8.6, but check the box to see. You need a Mac-specific card for USB 2.0 and 160 SCSI You just need Mac OS 8.5.1 for USB and 8.6 for FireWire. Be sure to enable the FireWire or USB extensions in the Extensions Manager.

With any of these cards, you have to open your Mac's case. If you aren't comfortable with this, get a friend to do it for you. Of course, if you have an upgraded PPC machine you are probably comfortable with opening your Mac's case.

If you have a 9500 or 8500, be forewarned that the case is very tricky to open. 7x00 series and x600 series are very easy to open. Once you've got the case open, find an available PCI slot. There are 3 to 6, depending on your computer. The slots are white and about 1/4 inch wide and three inches long. Take out the space filler bracket at the back of the computer (you need a little screw driver) and plug in the PCI card. Make sure none of the gold connectors are showing. Screw the PCI card's bracket down with the screw from the space filler bracket and close up the case.

USB is the easiest and cheapest interface to add. It gives you support for mice, keyboards, printers, webcams, scanners, digital cameras - you name it, and it's probably available with a USB interface. Many people, when adding USB cards, mistakenly think that the card has to say Mac-compatible on the box. This isn't the case. I got a card from Best Buy for $12 that had no mention of any OS but Windows 98 on the box. I plugged it in, and it worked fine after I installed Apple's USB drivers from the OS 9.1 CD.

FireWire is a much faster interface than USB, so FireWire cards cost more, usually about $50. FireWire is used for mega-sized external storage, tape backup, digital camcorders, and more. Again, you don't need a Mac-specific card. Just enable the FireWire and FireWire Support extensions, and you're set.

USB 2.0 - I don't know a whole lot about it, except that it's roughly FireWire speed USB. It uses the same connector as USB 1.1, so all the old USB stuff will work with it. I don't think that there are any Mac peripherals available for USB 2.0 yet. The card costs roughly $60, and must be Mac-compatible on the box.

160 SCSI - This is the holy grail of fast hard drive interfaces. It has a transfer rate of 160 MB (yes, that's MegaBytes) per second, twice as fast as FireWire. It is used for RAID and high-end image, sound, and video editing storage. If you are a mere mortal, you don't need this. A 160 SCSI card from Adaptec costs about $350. A 9.1 GB 160 hard drive costs $200, so unless you have a bulging wallet, don't go here. As with USB 2.0 you need a Mac-compatible card.

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