The Low End Mac Mailbag

Code Doesn't Rust, Core Image and G4 Macs, and a Fallback Plan for Losing G3 Support

Dan Knight - 2007.05.22

Another batch of reader letters on the pros and cons of older Macs, G3 support in Leopard, and how Core Image works. - Tip Jar

Code Doesn't Rust

Ruffin Bailey responds to Other Legacy Hardware Issues:

Dan -

I've enjoyed reading the reader responses on OS X 10.5 and Macs with G3s. Though I tend to agree that there are a lot of people out there with good olde Macs that could use the upgrade (I'm emailing from a G3 clamshell right now), I think it's important for everyone to remember that Apple's a hardware company, not software. iTunes sells iPods. OS X sells Macs.

Part of the reason OS X sells for $129 is so that you'll have to consider upgrading the whole slew to a new Mac mini for $599 retail; the price of OS X becomes a "discount" for a new Mac, in a manner of speaking. If you've got a G3, isn't it worth at least considering laying out the extra $470 for a Mactel with iLife, wireless, etc.?

This is the advantage of providing a cradle-to-grave solution provider, making everything from the OS to the machine: You can force obsolescence and drive sales. Nothing necessarily sinister about trying to make a buck. Think Microsoft wouldn't have you buying new computers every three years if they could sell them?

(I'd also add that code doesn't rust. OS 9 is still an awfully good option for G3s from where I'm sitting. Why do I need the next Mail.app again?)

I suppose the real question is why not compile Safari and Mail to work with G3s so that XPostFacto can continue to be useful? At worst, Apple gets a little application size bloat, it'd seem. As a multiple-G3 owner, I'm more interested in having the potential to run these apps rather than official support. I've seen a few comments on early 10.5 builds on the Net, and it seems like the G4+ issue was slowly going away. Any updates there?

Thanks,
Ruffin Bailey

Ruffin,

Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I don't consider Apple a hardware company, even though it takes the bulk of its income from hardware sales. What drives the hardware sales, as you note, are the Mac OS and Mac-only apps. But Apple makes profits from selling software, music and videos, and .mac services. Hardware is only part of the story.

Dan

Core Image Requires AltiVec or a Supported GPU

Ed Hurtley

While Core Image specifically needs certain video cards to be fully accelerated, functions that work with Core Image will still work without it, much the same as Quartz works even if you don't have a Quartz Extreme video card.

For example, Time Machine works just fine on a non-Core Image video card. Core Animation does not require accelerated Core Image. Just as certain "eye candy" features of Tiger are missing on older video chips, even when those video chips support Quartz Extreme, the same will be true in Leopard. (Notable is the "water droplet" animation when placing a widget in Dashboard.)

To quote the Core Image web page: "For computers without a programmable GPU, Core Image dynamically optimizes for the CPU, automatically tuning for Velocity Engine and multiple processors as appropriate"

However, this does specifically say "tuning for Velocity Engine", which makes it seem entirely likely that G3 support will be dropped.

Ed,

Thanks for explaining how Core Image works whether a supported video card is present or not. The requirement for AltiVec or a supported video card (none of which work in G3 Macs) doesn't bode well for those 4-year-old G3 iBooks, although G3 Macs with G4 upgrades may well work.

Dan

Core Image Requirements, Cheap & Free B&W G3s, AirPort Alternatives

Joseph Burke responds to my comments in Core Image Hardware Compatibility and some other user feedback:

You need to go back and check your own system specifications again. In your latest column concerning Leopard and the G3, you state that the G4 1.0 GHz is the oldest G4 PowerBook that is Core Image capable. The 867 MHz G4 PowerBook has a Radeon 9550 graphics card, which is on Apple's compatibility list.

Further, every G4 machine can utilize Core Image as they all have a vector processing unit. Core Image falls back on AltiVec when a Core Image capable graphics card is not found, so graphics operations will be infinitely faster on a G4 machine with AltiVec than on a G3 without, even a 350 MHz Yikes! Besides, it's not hard or expensive to get a suitable video card if you have an AGP G4. It's a lot cheaper to put in a video card than to buy a new Mac. Also, if the clock rate of the slower G4s is not up to Leopard, then they can be upgraded to as much as dual 2.0 GHz CPUs, which is actually faster than some of the slower G5s. So no G4 machine is going to be left out if Core Image compatibility is going to be Leopard's line of death.

For Tim Larson, try checking Freecycle some time if you want a G3 B&W. I see them there all the time. I'd take them all if I had the room for them. I also see them at flea markets and in thrift shops for $25-$35 each, and nobody buying. The same with the early G3 iMacs, and I have a G3 PowerBook I am going to pick up this weekend that I found on Freecycle. I don't know what model it is exactly, but from the owner's description it sounds like a Lombard or WallStreet. I don't think I'd be lucky enough to bag a free Pismo, but maybe.

As to those bragging about how fast their 1.1 GHz upgraded G3 is, tell me how many of you are there out there? Do you really think Apple or anyone else takes you into consideration when they make their decisions as to keep or drop G3 support? Mr. Cook, the only reason you got $450 for your G3 was on the rarity of the CPU upgrade that was in it. Trust me, a 300-400 MHz model is not worth more than $40-$50 tops. Some Quicksilvers don't get $450 anymore.

For Mr. Ivanoff, try seller llamastyle on eBay if you need an AirPort card. He sells two types of generic wireless cards that fit in the AirPort slot and even identify as AirPort cards in System Profiler. One is an identical card with the same dimensions and appearance as the original (only without the AirPort name on it), and the other is slightly smaller for machines that are too tight to easily fit an original AirPort card.

The lack of any mention of the G3 in the documentation and the inability to install to a G3 machine on developer versions of Leopard tells us everything we need to know. The G3 is already out. Arguing about it now isn't going to change anything. I am sure Apple crunched the numbers and tried running it on a G3 to see if it was worth it, and if a G3 had been able to maintain an acceptable level of performance it would have been in. It obviously doesn't, which is why it likely has been cut.

If Apple released Leopard with G3 support and it was slow or glitchy or left out too many features, you'd all be complaining that Apple sold you a half finished or faulty OS. They are not so stupid that they are going to release it for machines that are too slow to run it. They would be giving themselves a black eye if they did that. It is better for them to cut out G3 support than deal with the fallout if it doesn't work properly on those machines.

Joseph,

I've checked the stats on both 867 MHz PowerBook G4 models. The 12" has Nvidia GeForce 4 420 Go graphics, and the 15" has ATI Mobility Radeon 9000. Neither of these graphics processors are listed as Core Image-capable by Apple.

It is nice to know that all G4 Macs can support Core Image, whether they have a supported GPU or not.

Another factor is that Core Image is already part of Mac OS X 10.4 "Tiger", which runs on G3 Macs. If Tiger has Core Image and doesn't require a G4, there's no reason Leopard needs to have a G4 either. I'm still holding out hope that Apple won't abandon last generation iBook G3 owners just 4-1/2 years after introducing that model - and four years after discontinuing it.

Thanks for the tips you've passed along on acquiring blue & white G3s and AirPort equivalent cards.

Dan

G4 Mac mini's GPU Doesn't Support Core Image

Jeff Wiseman says:

Dan,

Another point against the idea of requiring Core Image for 10.5 is that if 10.5 had not been pushed back, there would have been a bunch of Mac mini owners (me included) very pissed. :-) The G4 mini was discontinued less than 18 months ago, and I cannot see Apple setting the cutoff there. I really expect the cutoff to be at G4, with maybe a 500 MHz minimum speed. Now, Apple may recommend a G5 or better with a Core Image capable GPU, and it may take that for a good user experience, but I really expect 10.5 to be supported on any Mac less than 5 years old.

Jeff Wiseman

Jeff,

It's hard to believe that Apple produced a last generation G4 model that didn't include a GPU capable of supporting Core Image, but you're right about the Mac mini. The Radeon 9200 GPU isn't supported. Just one more compromise to keep the Mac mini cheap instead of making it powerful.

Dan

Continued G3 Support Too Costly to Apple

Pete Tyler writes:

Dan,

Even though I'm a big fan of Apple products (I have a PowerBook 1400c I'm still buying stuff for!), I think there are some potential oversights in perspectives like Mr. Finkenbinder's.

It comes down to two things: It's all about the Benjamin's (is this phrase dated too?), and about perspective.

Frankly, I'm surprised Apple continued G3 support past the ending of Classic. As much as I'd personally like G3 support to kick around a lot longer as well, it may not make financial sense for Apple to do so. Even if Apple charges for calls, every old Mac these folks continue to support represents direct/indirect expense to Apple that could impact the bottom line (I'm actually surprised that a business owner would not seem to notice this). These expenses take such forms as driver patches, support engineer training, etc.

While we die hard fans threaten to walk away if Apple "abandons" us, the truth is for the moment that Apple could replace every lost G3 Mac OS X upgrade customer with an iPod customer in a heartbeat. Some diehards may view their place in the Apple scheme of things as irreplaceable additional revenue stream - but think about it, how many G3 owners can't run iWork and therefore aren't plopping down the extra $99?

I think we have to balance our desire to keep our Low End Macs running with a desire to keep Apple in business. This way they can continue churning out leading-edge products that provide an alternative to the lemming-like experience in the rest of the personal computing world. If need be, maybe other products like Linux would provide viable options where G3s are absolutely necessary (e.g., servers).

There's much more that could be said on this. Maybe if the discussion keeps up I'll kick back in when time permits.

- Pete Tyler

Pete,

Apple was introduced the final versions of the G3 iBook just four years ago. I'd just hate to seem them abandon support for a model that was on the market within the past five years, and that means Apple really ought to build in G3 support. Not for every G3 Mac - they've already abandoned the oldest ones - but at least for the most recent models introduced in 2002-2003.

I know it's a bit arbitrary to draw a line in the sand a five years, but the first G4 iBooks will be just four years old when Leopard is released.

Another thing to recognize, of course, is that these older Macs that shipped before OS X or with early versions of OS X are already providing a far superior OS Xperience than we had in the 10.1 era. Apple has done a lot to optimize the OS over the years, and Tiger is already a wonderful operating system.

If Apple were to continue offering security patches and updates to Mail, Safari, iTunes, etc. for Tiger over the next year or two, perhaps a lot of the complaints about losing G3 support (or, at this time, the probability of losing it) could be allayed.

Apple continued offering 10.2 updates into the 10.3 era and still provides some 10.3 updates in the 10.4 era, so there's hope they will do this.

Dan

A Fallback Plan for Losing G3 Support

John Hatchett writes:

Dan -

I suppose I ought to weigh in on the rumours that Apple is planning to eliminate support for the G3 processor on the new OS X "Leopard" operating system. This is a pressing concern to me, since I just updated my iMac G3/450 DV to Tiger from Panther. We got some new Appletops for our administrators (I manage two computer labs at a local high school) and one of the "old" laptops that was turned in was a Powerbook G3 Pismo. I hope to pull some strings and get this laptop.

So what's an old timer like me to do?

Assume the worst. If Apple kills G3 support, I have to have a fallback plan. My seven-year-old iMac has had several updates during my ownership, including two new RAM chips. When Apple introduced OS X, I replaced a 64 MB RAM strip with a 256 MB one. Just recently a recently, before I changed my OS to Tiger, I swapped a 128 MB chip for a 512 MB. So the old gal started at 192 MB and now has 768 MB. At this point, I can't even update to iLife '06, so it looks like my computer has stopped in time. I will be limited to the software that will work on the my iMac G3/450 DV and not progress into the bright Apple future.

Does this mean that my computer is a 7-year-old hunk o' junk? Nope. I am currently using it as the print server on my wireless network. I also have a LaCie DVD/CD disc burner as well as a LaCie 150 GB external hard drive hooked up to it. What with the three printers, this old Mac looks like a sage green octopus. (I can't hook the Dell printer up to it, but that's because Dell can't imagine a Mac user using their printer. I guess it will have to stay hooked up to the [broken] Dell XPS 200 that my boys use. Dell repair is coming to replace the broken mother board. When I complain to my PC friends, they exclaim in horror - "you bought a Dell?!?!?" Actually, someone bought it for me.)

To me, it is somewhat amazing that a 7-year-old Mac can run the latest OS Apple offers. Imagine the upgrading I would have to do to upgrade a 7-year-old PC to Vista. It would be a selling point if Apple continues to support G3s on Leopard, but I have a feeling that it may be a done deal.

If I get my hands on the Pismo, I could upgrade to a G4 processor . . . I wonder if that combo would operate Leopard?

John,

You make a good point. That "sage octopus" is capable of doing a lot more now than when it first shipped nearly seven years ago with Mac OS 9.0.4 - a whole lot more. And being "stuck" using Tiger isn't so bad. After all, we're all quite productive with Tiger today, and we won't lose any of our current capabilities just because Leopard ships.

Where I see the big problem is G3 iBooks, Apple's last models built around the G3 CPU. The last revision was introduced four years ago last month; I'd just hate to see it not supported in Leopard.

As for running Leopard in a G4-upgraded Pismo, I'd say prospects are good, although it may take some XPostFacto wizardry to get it installed.

Dan

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Dan Knight has been publishing Low End Mac since April 1997. Mailbag columns come from email responses to his Mac Musings, Mac Daniel, Online Tech Journal, and other columns on the site.

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