The Low End Mac Mailbag

Leopard Compatibility List, Bad Capacitors Kill Macs, 1 GHz G3 Upgrade Resurrected, and More

Dan Knight - 2007.06.26

Expected Leopard Compatibility List

Joseph Burke writes:

I haven't seen this on the site yet, so I thought I would just compile a formal list of machines that I believe will and won't be capable of running Leopard when it is released. The readers may be interested.

Machines I feel with 99.99% certainty will run Leopard out of the box:

Any model with an Intel, PPC G5, or PPC G4 CPU and/or suitable graphics card for running Core Image.

Machines I feel with 99.99% certainty will not run Leopard at all:

Any G3 based model with a closed (not upgradeable) architecture. More specifically any G3 iMac, iBook, or PowerBook. (See "Questionable" at the end of the next section concerning the Pismo).

Machines that may be able to run Leopard through a forced installation using XPostFacto or other trickery:

  • The B&W G3 Power Mac can be upgraded to a G4 CPU and/or a flashed PCI video card from the PC side that is Core Image capable. I am thinking mostly of the Nvidia FX 5xxx and 6200 chipsets. There were no hacked ROMs for the ATi X1300 or X1550 PCI cards the last time I checked.
  • Any beige PCI Power Mac can also be upgraded to a G4 and/or a flashed PCI video card from the PC side that is Core Image capable. (Exceptions here being the 4400 aka 7220, 5xxx and 6xxx series, 7200, 8200 all due to soldered CPUs and CPU upgrades not being recognized by current versions of OS X or XPostFacto)

Questionable, but maybe:

PowerBook Pismo with G4 upgrade.

I'm sure I probably missed some models, but for the most part I think this list covers everything. It is a strange situation that a machine as old as the Power Mac 7500/100 may be able to run Leopard through upgrading where newer machines like the G3 iMac 700 and G3 iBook 900 cannot, but that's what happens sometimes when you buy a machine with a completely closed architecture.

I know some people will take offense with this list because I left their favorite model out of Apple's future plans, but that's an issue to take up with Apple, not with me. Many of the models I listed as not Leopard capable were already obsoleted by prior versions of OS X, so the list of remaining models is nowhere near as large as it seems.

Joseph,

Yes, it appears that Leopard will require AltiVec, so I think your list is pretty much on the money: any Mac built around a G4, G5, or Intel CPU and any that can replace the main CPU with a G4 upgrade. The only possible addition to your list would be a G4-upgraded Lombard. And we'll likely need XPostFacto to install Leopard on upgraded Macs.

As for the Power Mac 7500, it's amazing how upgradable those old PCI Power Macs with CPU daughter cards were - and how long some people continue to use and upgrade them.

Dan

Why Some Mac Die: Bad Capacitors

John Sawyer says:

I'm surprised at Steven Hunter's response to "Why Does a Mac Die?", in which he states:

"There's also the issue of old electrolytic capacitors rupturing (we've seen this on a lot of PC motherboards over the last 3-4 years) from either age or poor manufacturing. I've not seen this on any Apple systems yet, but we don't really have any Macs older than a Blue and White G3 anymore."

You don't need a Mac older than a Blue and White G3 to see this problem. This bad electrolytic capacitor problem also hit the first iMac G5 - it was all over the Mac news sites in 2005. The electrolytic capacitors on many of their logic boards burst, since their electrolytic fluid was made from an incomplete formula stolen from a Japanese manufacturer - it didn't include stabilizers, so the electrolyte was drying out, causing it to turn to gas, which expanded and burst out the top of the capacitors. Lots of manufacturers of all kinds of electronic devices were stung by this - manufacturers of PCs, TVs, etc.

And bad electrolytic capacitors destroyed most of the Mac IIci, IIcx, and SE/30 models, and a couple others too. The rubber stopper in the bottom of the capacitor shrunk, allowing the electrolyte to leak out and eat into the logic board, eroding circuit board traces. I've worked on hundreds of these, and in most cases, that's what you find - there aren't too many of these working any more.

I started fixing Macs in early 1985, and bad electrolytic capacitors are one of the things that fried most of the first Macs (that, and bad flyback transformers, and solder joints that cracked on the power/analog video board) - I fixed hundreds of them, and had employees who fixed hundreds more. The bad electrolytic capacitor in the original Macs was the large capacitor in the horizontal drive section of the video circuit, at the top of the analog/power board - Apple chose a capacitor that wasn't able to handle the current and/or heat it was exposed to, so that it eventually burned out. I don't know what its exact failure mode was, but possibly the electrolyte dried out there too. This remained a problem through the original Mac SE - the capacitor Apple used in the video circuit in the Mac Plus and the Mac SE wasn't much better than the ones they chose for the earlier Macs, since I fixed hundreds of those too. Since Apple buys parts in large quantities at the beginning of a production run to lock in a low price, it may be that Apple just kept using the poorly-spec'd capacitors until they used them up.

As far as tin whiskers go, I've never seen that on a Mac, and I've inspected plenty of bad Mac logic boards for signs of damage - not that one would necessarily be able to see such thin shorts, but if there's a visible sign of damage (which is rare), usually it's a charred chip. But most logic board damage isn't visible - usually it's an internal chip failure, usually either the processor chip or a failed custom chip, since custom chips aren't made in the same quantity as standard chips, and they're not made for long before they're replaced with a different design, and so they don't go through as rigorous a design and manufacturing shakeout as standard chips.

John,

Thanks for sharing your experiences with old Macs. Now I have a good idea why my SE/30 no longer works. And my late production run Mac Plus did go in for service once to have a bad solder joint repaired.

Dan

1 GHz PowerForce G3 Upgrade Card Back

Hello Dan, I'm a big fan of the site and a subscriber to several Google Groups.

I just liked to see if you knew that the PowerLogix PowerForce G3 upgrade card [for the beige and B&W G3 Power Macs] seems to be sold by Other World Computing again. What I find peculiar about it reappearing on their website (have no idea when, haven't checked it in months) is that they removed it because I believe PowerLogix ran out of supplies of the G3. It's not only cheaper than the similar G4 upgrades by Sonnet, it also doesn't lower the bus speed of the computer.

I've been a Mac user for a long while and believe in the "low end" philosophy.

I would greatly appreciate a reply but understand if you don't have the time to write one.

Edward

Edward,

Thanks for the heads up. The new version of the PowerForce G3 is "only" 1 GHz, not quite as fast as the former 1.1 GHz one, but it's also quite cost effective at US$160. As OWC points out, the only difference between a G3 and a G4 upgrade is that the G4 has AltiVec, which the classic Mac OS doesn't take advantage of (although some applications do) and which isn't necessary for OS X (at least until Leopard ships).

What's most interesting is that OWC is also positioning this as an upgrade for the "Yikes" Power Mac G4, the only G4 Power Mac without AGP support. Give up a 350 MHz or 400 MHz CPU with AltiVec for a 1 GHz CPU without it.

It's all a matter of tradeoffs. OWC is also selling a 500 MHz G4 upgrade from Sonnet for US$149. For video work, this would definitely be the better choice because of AltiVec. Looking ahead to Leopard (Mac OS X 10.5), G4 is the only way to go, and it provides Core Image support in Tiger as well.

If I were using a B&W G3 daily, I'd definitely consider the 1 GHz PowerForce upgrade.

Dan

Panther Install Tip

Joe Schmeaux writes:

Hi Dan,

I recently had the same problem as Kevin De Mers [see iBook G3 Won't Boot Past Mac OS X 10.2.1] while trying to install Panther on my Lombard. About a year ago, I got a Lombard for $100 on Craigslist. It was running 10.3.9 and 9.2.2, it had a 6 GB hard drive and 320 MB of memory in it. Performance suffered because of the slow, small hard drive and less than maxed out RAM, so I decided to move the 40 GB drive and one of the the 256 MB RAM sticks from my WallStreet to my "new" Lombard. I added the RAM and swapped the drives, and the 40 GB drive (with 10.2 and 9.2) booted without any problems - and curiously, the 6 GB drive booted into Panther on the unsupported WallStreet without XPostFacto or bootx.

I then tried to upgrade to Panther on the Lombard, only to get a kernel panic, rendering the drive unbootable (and I found out later it was unmountable in Tiger on my G4 Mac mini using a universal drive USB adapter I got from OWC - the machine just froze until I unplugged the drive). Unfortunately, I didn't have time to figure it all out then, so I swapped the drives again until just a few weeks ago when I could finally sit down and work on it.

I put the 40 GB drive in the WallStreet and booted into my Jaguar installer CD. I ran Disk Utility to erase and repartition the drive. I then swapped the drives back and loaded 9.2 on the smaller partition of the 40 GB drive now in the Lombard. I then tried to install Panther but got a kernel panic again. I tried once more and got the first CD to install. Then I tried the second CD, and after a few kernel panics, I finally got it installed on the third try, only to have it kernel panic during software updating. Arrgh!

I spent a little time on Google and found something in the XPostFacto support forum (which, of course, I can't seem to find now, in order to provide a link, but it shouldn't matter) in which a guy having the same difficulties removed one of the two 256 MB sticks and was able to install 10.3 on his Lombard. I tried it (after using Disk Utility to erase the partition), and it worked like a charm. I did the install and the updates with 256 MB, and after it was installed successfully, I put the other RAM stick in. It's now working beautifully - I'm typing this on it right now - and the performance with a 40 GB 5400 rpm drive is significantly faster than it was with the cramped 6 GB 4200 rpm drive.

I don't know if this will solve Kevin's problem. He didn't specify how much RAM he has, but if he has more than 256 MB, it sure couldn't hurt to try installing Panther with less (I think 128 MB is the minimum needed to install Panther). If it does work and it keeps running without problems for a while, I'd think twice about visiting that same store for service. Logic boards are expensive. If Kevin's isn't shot, perhaps the service department of that store isn't up to snuff - or worse!

Hope this turns out to be helpful.

Joe Schmeaux

Joe,

Thanks for sharing this tip and your experiences. I've forwarded your email to Kevin.

Dan

Can't Install Tiger from eMac DVD

Otto Schlosser writes:

Hi, Dan. I have a problem that you might have addressed already, but if you haven't, it may be of interest to your readers. I bought a Tiger install DVD on eBay to use on my AGP Power Mac G4. It booted fine from the DVD, started the install process, then put up a dialog stating that it couldn't be installed on this system. I looked at the DVD and it was for the eMac G4. I'm curious why it won't work with another G4 Mac. (I tried to fool it with XPostFacto, but no go.) Is there a hack to enable this, or is this simply a lesson about reading the fine print?

Thanks, Otto

Otto,

There are two kinds of Mac OS install discs - universal ones and ones tied to specific models. The installers on the second kind of disc are tightly coupled to the computer they came with and may not be able to install the Mac OS to other Macs.

Apple does this so someone who has, an older Mac and buys a new Mac won't be able to simply (and illegally) use the install disc to put the new OS, which is licensed to that new computer, on the older Mac.

If the eBay auction never mentioned that this was an eMac install disc, you may have some recourse there.

If you want to run Tiger on your Power Mac, you'll have to obtain a full install CD.

Dan

'About This Mac' Sometimes Misreports Dual Processors

Jon Brumbaugh says:

Dan,

A reader wrote about a year ago [see Have I Been Taken on eBay?] that he purchased a Dual 533 MHz Mac off eBay, and thought that perhaps he'd been took, since "About this Mac" was only showing a single 533 MHz processor. I wanted to share that I had a similar incident when I did a new install of OS X 10.4 on my G4 Dual 500 MHz. After installation, I was checking a few things to make sure everything was displaying properly and noticed that my system was only showing a single 500 MHz processor. I went into the system profiler, and it did show two CPUs. "About this Mac" again only displayed a single. I ran all of my software updates till I could not update it anymore, rebooted, and it finally displayed correctly showing the Dual 500 MHz. I just wanted to share this, as it seems to be a small glitch in OS X that appears to be fixable with the software updates.

Thanks for the great website!

Jon Brumbaugh

Jon,

Thanks for the info. This is news to me. I've forwarded your email to Paul Kindig and will post a link from that mailbag column to your letter in this one.

Dan

What 'Book Should I Get?

Leo LeBron muses:

What machine should I get?

Okay, I have many old machines I collect as a hobby. My primary workhorse is my 400 MHz B&W G3. It's awesome I can run Tiger on a machine now 8 years old, and it's just as quick as ever. However, I have been in need of a portable machine for a while now and have been burning through them as of late. I got a 300 MHz WallStreet to replace my 233 MHz model, but the batteries won't hold a charge anymore. So I got a 400 MHz Pismo, and it complemented my desktop quite nicely.

One problem I had was I was burning through hard drives in the 3 months it was working. First a 40 GB I got from a friend's HP died, so I swapped in the original 6 GB. I was just barely able to fit Tiger and all my documents in there. This was the version with the original AirPort inside, and it had 256 MB more RAM than the seller said it did, and the battery actually holds a descent charge.

However, when the 6 GB HD in the Pismo died, I went out and bought a new one, an 80 GB Seagate. I tried reinstalling Tiger, but as luck would have it, my Tiger DVD was very badly scratched, and installation failed. Luckily, I image all my discs when I get them on my B&W, in case something like this happens. However, I lack a DVD burner at the present time. So I popped the drawbridge and connected the new HD to the secondary IDE bus (disconnecting my Zip and DVD/CD-RW drives). Installation was flawless, and so I shut down my B&W, removed the hard drive, and popped it back into my Pismo, making sure I reconnected everything perfectly. However, upon reboot, I heard the dreaded 4 tones and flashing sleep light (corrupted ROM).

This is where I am at now: Should I buy a new CPU card (the CPU card holds the ROM chip, so that would fix the problem), perhaps getting a faster card, or should I sell the Pismo, as well as the WallStreet? I am sure I could get a few hundred for both machines, as the WallStreet has the much coveted DVD kit, and the Pismo has a sought after original AirPort card (genuine). Add the amount I would get for both machines to some $300 I have set away, and what would be a descent machine I could afford? I need something portable, as I am heading off to college, but also because I use my laptop for on site diagnosis of other people's computers when I go and fix them.

So what is your advice?

Thanks.

- Leo V

Leo,

First off, DVD burners are cheap nowadays. I bought some 1-2 years ago when the 8x SuperDrive in my eMac failed, replacing it with a 16x dual-layer Pioneer drive for US$60. Today OWC (where I got my drives) is selling an 18x dual-layer SuperDrive for US$40. It might be a nice addition to your B&W G3, and I can also recommend NTI DragonBurn as a nice alternative to Toast if you need more capabilities than OS X offers.

What may have happened is that the Tiger installer put the B&W G3's ROM on the new hard drive, which then attempted to overwrite the Pismo's ROM at startup. It may be possible to restore the ROM by booting from an OS X installer or a hard drive that had OS X installed on a Pismo. Maybe.

If not, it looks like replacing the CPU card is your only option for getting the Pismo up and running. There are some G4 options in the US$300-400 range that might even let you run Leopard when it ships later this year.

A good alternative would be a used G4 iBook, where you should be able to get a nice 1.0-1.5 GHz setup for US$600 or so including a Combo drive. You'll have a 1024 x 768 display like you do now, but you'll also have the additional speed of AirPort Extreme ($29 refurbished from the Apple Store), a much faster CPU, and a graphics processor that will run Tiger's graphics much more smoothly. And you'll definitely be ready for Leopard.

Dan

MacBook Pro Design Rooted in Aluminum PowerBooks

Hi Dan,

I wanted to write and say how much I'd enjoyed reading your article comparing your new MacBook Pro with your trusty old TiBook. There were many parallels with my own experience, and it was interesting to see two machines that I know very well from a different perspective.

Like you, my first new Mac 'Book (and in my case, first ever Mac!) was a first generation titanium PowerBook G4 running at 400 MHz, though being new to the Mac at the time (I'd been a long time Amiga user up until '01) I took the plunge straight to OS X from day one and never looked back. That was an excellent machine and would probably have lasted me as long as yours lasted you if it weren't for an unfortunate encounter with a hard floor after I tripped over its power cable around 2 years ago. MagSafe came too late to save it, sadly. Happily my home insurance paid for a replacement in the shape of a late model (summer '05) 1.67 GHz Aluminium PowerBook G4, which is still my main computer today. Two months ago on joining a new company, that 'Book was joined by a 2.16 GHz MacBook Pro, which is almost identical to your new purchase.

What was particularly interesting for me in reading your account of your new machine is how many of the features you're enjoying (the better enclosure design, sleep light in the latch release, backlit keyboard etc.) were also features on late model PowerBook G4s like mine. I've found that what I enjoy most about the shiny new MacBook Pro I use in my office is how it's almost identical in use to the two-year-old G4 that I still use at home. There are a few subtle differences, notably the slightly larger screen and the invaluable ability to run any Windows software work requires through Parallels (I heartily recommend you give Parallels a try when you get chance - it's a very cool piece of software), but in general sitting with either machine just feels very comfortable and familiar. Perhaps it's a case of Apple having got the fundamental design for a laptop of this type right years ago and (sensibly) leaving it untouched since.

Anyway I hope your new MacBook Pro brings you as many happy years as the old titanium 'Book it replaces - I'm fully expecting to get another three years or so out of my Aluminium 'Book, and who knows, maybe that Mac's eventual replacement will be just as familiar when the time comes?

Cheers
Patrick

Patrick,

I have no hands on experience with the 15" aluminum PowerBooks, but from the moment I first saw it, I knew it fixed a lot of problems with the TiBooks - starting with the aluminum look of the keyboard (I never cared for the TiBook's black keyboard). Where the TiBook was thin and attractive, it was also a more utilitarian design. The AlBooks with their more curved edges, wider trackpad, backlit keyboard (on some), and vastly improved WiFi range have it all over the TiBooks.

Apple has lead the way with great notebook design since the first PowerBooks, using almost the same form factor for several years and generally continuing to use a new 'Book design for several models with minimal changes. Every new design is better than its predecessors, and the non-pro MacBook took off in a neat new direction we may see mirrored in future pro models, especially the slightly recessed keyboard and easy access to the hard drive and RAM slots.

Yes, your next 'Book may be very familiar.

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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