Mac Daniel's Advice

Upgrading a PCI Power Mac

Korin Hasegawa-John - 2001.07.30

Do you want a machine that can play Quake III and Unreal Tournament, run OS X, and not take 6 days to load Internet Explorer? One with more expandability than an iMac? Cheaper than a spanking new G4? Well, an upgraded PCI Power Mac might be in store for you.

In this case, "PCI Power Macs" includes the Power Macs and clones that had PCI expansion slots and a CPU daughter card. Some PCI models, such as the 7200 and G3, don't accept daughter cards.

The best thing about these computers is that they support a gigabyte of RAM, have 2 or more full sized PCI slots, have a free 3.5 inch drive bay, support G3 upgrades to 500 MHz and G4s to 450 MHz, and still only cost $150-200 on eBay.

Getting one of these computers with a lot of memory used to be very important, because RAM for these machines (5 volt 168-pin 60ns FPM DIMM) was very expensive, to the tune of a dollar and a quarter per megabyte. This isn't the case anymore; RAM has gotten very cheap.

Basically, get the cheapest machine that you can find. I recommend the 7500 or 7600 for people planning on doing analog video editing, and any of the others for everyone else. Also, since you probably will be upgrading the computer to G3 or G4, get the lowest clock speed for your model - that can be as low as 100 MHz in the case of the 7500.

More Memory

First of all, buy more RAM. These computer shipped with 8, 16 or 32 MB RAM. Some have already been upgraded, but I recommend going to at least 128 MB if you are not looking to play Quake III or render massive Photoshop files. 128 MB RAM will set you back about $50. If you are doing anything that requires a lot of RAM, you won't be happy with less than 256, which costs about $100. Open up the case (find instructions on Apple's TIL site or ask on the forums) and install the RAM in free slots.

More Power

Once that is done, you probably want a faster processor. Check DealMac for good deals on upgrades. A little while ago, there were 350 MHz PowerLogix upgrades for $130 from Small Dog, which is a very nice price. Follow the manufacturer's instructions for installing the new processor card. Cards from Sonnet are for people who don't want to tinker with bus speeds and DIP switches. Cards from XLR8 and PowerLogix are easy to tinker with and overclock.

More Storage

If you can live with the existing hard drive, you can skip this section.

If you want to add at least 20 GB of storage, get a Sonnet Tempo card and an ATA hard drive. The Tempos card fits in a PCI slot, has two connectors and includes a ribbon cable. Put the hard drive into a free 3.5 inch bay. The ATA card costs about $100, and a 40 GB of hard drive also costs about $100. [Our editor recommends IBM DeskStar drives for speed, reliablility, and value.]

SCSI has merits for anything less than 20 GB. If you look around, you can get a 18 GB Fujitsu 3.5 inch hard drive on eBay for about $120. Again, put the drive in the free bay.

Faster Video

After these upgrades, you have a nice, fast computer with plenty of storage for about $500. It'll run OS X as well. However, about the most advanced games you can play are Unreal and Quake (the original).

To play games such as Deus X, Oni, Unreal Tourney, Quake III and 4x4 evolution, you need hardware 3d acceleration. If you are a hard-core gamer, get an ATI Radeon PCI card. These cost about $180 and deliver very good performance, although nothing like GeForce3. Lower down, if you want OS X support, get a card based on ATI's Rage 128 chipset. It does fine accelerating most games, although performance is not as good as the Radeon. Cards cost $100-130 depending on VRAM and other features.

If you aren't concerned with running OS X, get a 3dfx card. They range from the Voodoo1 and 2 (avoid these like the plague!) to the beast of a Voodoo5 5000. The Voodoo5 series are very good, but be sure to get the Mac version. The 4500 supports 32 MB of VRAM and a single processor, and the 5000 supports 64 MB RAM and dual processors. These cards cost about $100 and are much better than the Rage 128, although there is no OS X support to date and probably won't be.

Even lower down, a Voodoo3 series card can be had for about $40-60. They support 16 MB VRAM and run a core clock speed of 143 MHz (V3 2000) or 166 MHz (3000). The thing with these cards is that you need to flash the ROM for the 3d acceleration to work with a Mac, and you need Mac drivers.

For info about USB, FireWire, et al, see Adding modern ports to older Power Macs.

The PCI Power Macs represent a great value on the used Mac market if you want to do some upgrading. You can get a G3 that will run OS X with 288 MB RAM and a 18 GB hard drive as well as a Rage 128 video card for $650. Not bad. And if you find yourself out of slots, well, help is $500 away in a Magma PCI expansion chassis. :-)

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