The Low End Mac Mailbag

Some G4 Macs Not Sweet Enough for Leopard, Low Cost Notebooks, SE/30 Repairs, and More

Dan Knight - 2008.06.03 - Tip Jar

Digital Audio Not Sweet Enough for Leopard

From Benny Li:

Hi Dan,

I have been an avid reader of Low End Mac over the years, but Carl Nygren's recent article about DA G4s on Leopard struck a wrong chord with me. I found his experience with upgrading an old Mac to work with Leopard interesting, but at the same time he brought up some points regarding speed that may not apply to everyone, since speed is subjective.

Carl has access to a stash of spare parts to hotrod the DA G4 to install Leopard and run the newest Mac OS adequately. But what about the some of the apps we use from day to day? iLife? Google Earth? Office? VLC? QuickTime Player? Flash plugin? iChat AV? Preview? (I kid you not, transit system maps can be huge.) How do you define "handle the latest and greatest operating system"?

I have a Yosemite G3 being used by my parents and a Clamshell iBook G3 that I use to browse the Web or read PDFs wirelessly. While they work for their intended light duty usage, I would not consider them to have enough grunt to be used as "sweet Tiger machines". They no longer have the performance needed for the apps I run on a regular basis, so I end up finding niches for them.

For long term value, Carl uses the example of the iMac G4 and the Power Mac G5 running Leopard adequately in stock configurations. However, the stock iMac and the 1.8 GHz G5 came with 256 MB of RAM! In 2005, I upgraded from a Mercury 400 MHz PowerBook G4 running Tiger to a dual 1.8 G5 that came stock with 256 MB of RAM. From personal experience, performance was miserable in Panther and Tiger, since the hard drive was grinding away due to the lack of RAM! CPU performance was strong in Photoshop CS, but as soon as I stepped beyond my 256 MB of RAM, things would slow to a crawl. 512 MB was better, but it became noticeably responsive over the PowerBook after I pushed it up to 1 GB, the amount installed in the PowerBook. However, someone else with a different workload may find the stock 256 MB or doubled 512 MB adequate.

A similar situation would happen to the 2004 Dell if we were to load Vista onto it without upgrades. I've watched a friend try it, and Vista ran like molasses. Scavenge some DDR SDRAM, a video card (if we had a Dell with an AGP slot - some did, some did not), a newer hard drive, and a Combo drive. The result would be "adequate performance" in Vista, albeit without the glitz.

My Yosemite looks nothing like the way it arrived from the factory after all the upgrades I put in, so I can admire Carl's Hotrod DA G4 as a fun project. But while the DA G4 was a sweet machine for its time, it is not the sweet Leopard machine for the rest of us.

Benny Li

Benny,

Speed is objective, otherwise there would be no benchmarks. What is subjective is how much speed is adequate for your needs. Carl's needs are modest - he loves using vintage Macs and a Lombard PowerBook. By comparison, a dual 533 MHz G4 is an absolute powerhouse. If felt the same way when upgrading my Mac Plus to 16 MHz, putting the first G3 upgrade in my SuperMac J700, and when moving from a 400 MHz Titanium PowerBook to a 700 MHz eMac. And from there to a 1.25 GHz eMac, and later to a wonderful used dual 1 GHz Power Mac G4. With each increase in processing power, I've seen an increase in productivity and a decrease in waiting.

My wife moved from a 1.25 GHz eMac to a 2.16 GHz 15" MacBook Pro. Since she lives in Word and Camino and sometimes works in Excel, she didn't see a big difference in performance. Office 2004 runs under Rosetta, and the Internet connection is a bigger bottleneck than Camino. While the eMac was in for repair, she got spoiled by the notebooks portability far more than its speed.

Different people have different thresholds for acceptable performance. My late 400 MHz PowerBook G4 was quite acceptable under Tiger - thanks to a 5400 rpm hard drive and 768 MB of RAM. I don't know that I'd want to run Leopard on it, although it would have been fun to try. I do have Leopard on an external 7200 rpm FireWire hard drive connected to my Power Mac, and I hope to find the time to try running the 1.25 GHz eMac and dual 450 MHz Mystic Power Mac from it.

Most of my work involves email and the Web. YouTube slowdowns aren't a big concern of mine, but I do want good performance with Geni (my 20th great grandfather was born about 780 years ago) and Yahoo Mail. Geni's bottleneck is its server, followed by Flash, which it uses to draw family trees. It runs very nicely on my dual 1 GHz G4 but draws those trees much faster on the MacBook Pro. (I think a 17" MacBook Pro with a hi-res 1920 x 1200 display is probably the ultimate genealogy field computer, as you want as much display space as possible for the trees. Not low end, and way beyond my budget, but I can dream.)

In terms of decent Leopard performance, I don't think any G4 Mac shipped with enough RAM to run it decently - 512 MB isn't enough for people who use more than 1 or 2 apps. Sufficient RAM is probably more important than CPU speed, and I'd put a fast hard drive ahead of a CPU upgrade for improving overall system performance. A better video card is at the bottom of the list.

We've had reader reports from people who find Leopard on a 350 MHz G4 adequate - and those who think 1 GHz isn't enough speed. With sufficient RAM (1 GB or more) and a 7200 rpm hard drive, I suspect a 500 MHz G4 would feel a lot more responsive than a 1.2 GHz iBook G4 with just 512 MB of RAM and a stock 4200 rpm hard drive. There are just a lot of variables.

I'd like to find the time to do some serious testing - run the eMac, 500 MHz dual Power Mac, and 1 GHz dual Power Mac under Leopard with different amounts of RAM from the same hard drive - but that's going to be a very time consuming process. I'm in no hurry. (I'd also like to try different AGP video cards, but all I have is what came stock with the Power Macs. If any readers have something different they'd be willing to part with cheaply, I'd like to explore that area as well.)

In the end, only you can decide how sweet a Mac is sweet enough for your needs.

Dan

Upgrading a 350 MHz AGP Power Mac

Dan

I have a higher end MacBook. But I am primarily a hobby low-end Mac user. (It's more fun fixing stuff up).

I am fascinated by my project Mac G4 and am reading your articles. However, am curious about possibilities of upgrading the CPU on my 350 G4 AGP. The 350 MHz doesn't kick in too much excitement and was wondering if you know what CPU I can make quick change so that other parts remain the same (ram, fax etc.). Are there CPUs I can purchase to replace the current 350 MHz without changing many of the other parts.

For example, can I purchase a 800 MHz CPU (chip) and replace in my current 350 MHz G4?, or do I have to change motherboard, ram etc.

Do you sell any of these CPUs or parts.

Thx

Rgs
Isa

Isa,

You can't just buy a CPU chip, but you can buy CPU upgrades (these include a mounting card and heat sink) ranging from 1.0 GHz to 1.8 GHz to replace the CPU in your 350 MHz "Sawtooth" AGP Power Mac G4. Current prices from Other World Computing range from $175 to $498 (for a dual 1.8 GHz upgrade). FastMac makes CPU upgrades for your Mac ranging from 1.4 GHz ($250) to 1.4 GHz dual ($420).

Bang for the buck, I'd take a close look at the 1.6 GHz NewerTech upgrade, which OWC currently sells for $230. That's going to give you at least 4.5x the processing power of your 350 MHz CPU for a pretty reasonable investment.

None of these require any other changes in the computer's configuration, although a faster hard drive (the stock hard drive was not fast) and upgrading RAM can also make a very big improvement in performance.

Dan

Really Low End Notebooks

From Steve Lubliner regarding Disposable Notebooks:

The tricky part would be finding the balancing point where features, performance, and price are all optimized. Too little RAM or too small a hard drive would seriously hinder sales, but too much would put the price too high. I could definitely see Apple doing something along these lines with a MacBook Lite (based on the MacBook): remove the optical drive, solder 2 GB of RAM to the logic board, put in a 160 GB hard drive, use a 2.0 GHz Core 2 Duo CPU and integrated graphics, include a high power USB port for an external SuperDrive, slim it down below 1" thick (should be easy without an internal optical drive), and sell it for $699.

Mac users with no notebook or outdated notebook computers would line up in droves, use it for 2-3 years, and then migrate to a newer version. FireWire and USB 2.0 provide easy access to more storage with external hard drives and flash drives. Schools would go nuts for them as well.

Dan,

I cannot agree with you on this one. Enough recent vintage used and certified MacBooks are available, including a built in optical drive, in the market for not much more than your $699 stripper. If price is truly critical, good G4 iBooks and other G4 powered machines are available at substantially less dollars. I think the used market is a deterrent to the cheap new market. The automotive analogy was the Yugo and early Hyundai. Would you rather have bought a new one of them at the time or a year or two old Honda?

To me, a cheap laptop computer is one that is under $300. Maybe what the country needs (or at least the Mac users) is an updated clamshell iBook or Tandy 102 (with a bigger, color display) using a previous model MacBook motherboard with 1 GB of RAM, built-in AirPort, a PC Card slot (allows flash drive to be used as an additional hard drive or maybe ROMs with hard loaded applications or operating system), and an 8 or 16 gig flash memory hard drive (no electromechanical hard drive), selling for $300. Users can connect optical drives and large hard drives via the USB port(s). Don't emphasize thin, make it rugged (think Clamshell iBook and Tandy 102) and with low power consumption (allows smaller, cheaper, and lighter batteries for the same operating time or maybe even AA batteries like my Tandy 102).

Steve Lubliner

Steve,

Used Macs are where the best value is, but most people aren't willing to invest in old technology no matter how perfectly adequate it may be for their needs. And refurbs are the second-best value, especially combined with a model transition. I've been buying used Macs for ages and refurbs since the 2002 eMacs were being phased out.

There are a lot of different directions Apple could take in producing a low-cost notebook: a slightly stripped MacBook, and oversized iPod touch, go into the 10-12" niche, etc. I don't think they'll follow the Tandy 102 path, although AlphaSmart has done a great job marketing a keyboard with a 6-line text display. I reviewed one in 1999, and I still think it's a brilliant device for people who just want to write.

The more I think about it, the more I suspect the future lies with "the cloud", using any device that can connect to the Web and run Google Docs and Spreadsheets, for instance. Store your work on the Net, access it from anywhere, eliminate the need for a lot of memory in low-end portables. Then it will hardly matter whether you're running a G3 notebook, a Linux laptop, or a Windows portable - as long as it supports modern Internet standards, you're good to go.

Dan

Old SE/30s Last and Last

From John Black in response to Old Macs Last and Last:

"Gary,

"That's a great story indeed. It's a shame that old Macs eventually die. My SE/30 hasn't worked in a few years, but I refuse to part with it. Someday I'll probably get it fixed. It was a wonderful machine in its day.

"Dan"

As I read the letter from Gary about his SE/30 and then your response, Dan, I had to chime in that I too have an SE/30, and it works. Sometimes I have to boot twice because after disuse the display will come up with pattern instead of an image. The second boot though brings it back to normal operation. I've got some RAM sitting around that I want to add to it. It's got 8 MB now, and I can take it to 24 MB with what I have on hand. I bought this $6,500 computer for $1,500 in 1992, and it served as our main computer for about four years, until it was replaced by a used IIci with hi-res 13" monitor.

One thing I wish I hadn't done. Back in about 1995, as I recall, before the original Daystar went under, I found out they were selling SE/30-specific processor upgrades to 40 MHz for only $95, installed on the logic board and returned by mail. They had been selling for $399 or thereabouts prior to that. I should have bought as many as they had, as I could have maybe tripled my money on that purchase. I bought only one, however, and it made the SE/30 fly. It was almost too fast. I had to scroll cautiously, because clicking on a scroll arrow would shoot to the opposite end of the window almost instantaneously. I decided later that I wouldn't need the 40 MHz 030 processor and sold it on eBay. I'd love to have it back. I also had a Micron color card, though not the grayscale adapter. I found it in pre-eBay days on AOL's sales board for $50. I sold it later too, as at the time, with three children in Christian school, I was looking for every way I could to make money.

I hold onto the SE/30 because it is a unique example of lots of power in a tiny footprint, and it still can be used for basic needs.

John Black

John,

Thanks for writing. Mine is pretty much stock, but with an ethernet card added. Back when I worked at ComputerLand of Grand Rapids, I has an SE/30 and a 9600 bps modem on my desk - those were the days!

Dan

Low End Mac Ads and SE/30 Repairs

From William R. Walsh:

Hi Dan!

I wanted to write in to your site today about two things, one good and one displeasing.

I guess I'll start with the displeasing first. :-) It's about your advertising. I noticed a while ago that Low End Mac started using advertisements from ContentLink that were "inlined" into the text on your pages and would appear whenever the mouse moved over highlighted areas in the text. I found these annoying but tolerable . . . and certainly a damper on my enjoyment of the Low End Mac web site. (Low End Mac is one of the very few sites I found impressive and interesting enough to warrant a donation I made a few years back. That's how much I like reading it. I've even written in with commentary to articles and other user-submitted letters at times. If could spare it, I would certainly donate again!)

Well, today I got a ContentLink ad that contained a Flash-based advertisement for Best Buy inside it. This is nothing less than a severe disservice to some, if not all of your "low end" readers, of which I am one. Many older machines have a Flash plugin installed even if it is a performance drag, just because it is so hard to reject. In some cases, the Flash player plugin has already been included with the operating system, as it is with some later releases of Mac OS X. I'm sure you can imagine what kind of problems the sudden appearance of a Flash-video based ad causes for lower end hardware that is being used to visit your site.

Anyway, I'm hoping you could take a moment to have a word with your advertising provider to see if there is any way you might be able to reject the ads that have multimedia content in them. (I'd like to hope that maybe the ContentLink ads would go away altogether, but I suspect that's hoping for too much. :-))

Now, for the better stuff. I saw that in your reply to Gary Jackson that you had a Macintosh SE/30 that quit working and that you'd like to get around to fixing it some day. The good news is that if you own a soldering iron, it may be all you need to fix your SE/30. These machines have a so-called "analog board" that contains the power supply (and audio speaker) for both the high voltage CRT and the low voltage computer parts. I don't recall if the SE/30 had a fan in it or not (the later Classic models that replaced it do), but the analog board gets very hot in operation, and the solder joints on various components go bad. When that happens, you get a machine that does anything from powering up some of the time or not at all. I rescued an SE/30 from work that was like this, and spent about half an hour reworking the bad solder connections on the analog board. When I was done, it powered up like a champ and is still running to this day, although the CRT is getting weak.

Some other components (typically the flyback transformer (the thing that plugs directly in to the side of the CRT) or even the CRT socket itself) that are on the analog board or connected to it also fail, but these are much less common failures.

Finally, in response to Kevin DeMers' question about removing Mac OS 9 from his computer, you suggested just trashing the System Folder for Mac OS 9. That won't work, as Mac OS X "protects" the System 9 folder. If you try to Trash it, you get a message stating that files are in use and cannot be deleted.

The only way I've found to reliably and permanently delete an unwanted System 9 folder (or a Classic folder) is through the terminal using commands like this:

cd /
sudo rm -rf 'System Folder'
sudo rm -rf 'Applications (Mac OS 9)'

That will definitely remove any trace of an unwanted Mac OS 9 or Classic folder from a Macintosh that has one. Note that this bypasses the Trash and deletes the files directly. It should also be said that anyone entering these commands should carefully check their typing, as a mistake could be disastrous.

Anyway, thanks for taking the time to read this. I hope I didn't sound too critical about the advertising - I know it's important that Low End Mac cover at least some of its operating costs, and I do try to click on some of the ads for that reason - but I wanted to let you know that maybe the multimedia/Flash ads are a bit too much for some of us "low end" users.

William

William,

Thanks for writing and for your support of Low End Mac. It wasn't that many years ago that I was working part-time to make ends meet because site income was far below budget. Thankfully that's no longer the case, although there may a 2-3 months per year where income doesn't match expenses, the good months more than make up for it.

Those inline ContentLink ads play their role, accounting for 5-10% of ad income most months. That's what keeps us in the black, and the multimedia ads pay better than the text ones. I'll admit to not being a fan of inline ads, but it was an economic necessity.

My solution to Flash ads is to browse in Camino and Firefox, two browsers that have built-in Flash blockers - a feature Apple left out of Safari. Fortunately there are programs, such as SafariBlock (free), SafariStand (free), and PithHelmet ($10) that can give you that capability.

As for the SE/30, I'm pretty bad with a soldering iron - and I have received an offer from a reader to do the repair. :-)

Thanks for the info about removing the System Folder. I've never done it myself, and my next project is going to be experimenting with SheepShaver and Claris Home Page (the one Classic app I depend on) on my dual 1 GHz Power Mac G4 with Leopard.

Dan

iSub Working in OS X 10.5.3

From James Little:

Hi Dan,

Would like to let you know that as of installing 10.5.3 on my Digital Audio G4 (Dual 533 MHz), the iSub has started working again - no more choppy audio!

Regards,
James

James,

Thanks for the good news. I know iSubs have been plagued since the release of Leopard, so it's nice to see support restored.

Dan

10.5.3 Fixes Time Machine on Quicksilver Power Mac

From Michael Wenyon:

As mentioned by others on your site, in 10.5.2 and earlier, Time Machine would freeze on entering it with my Quicksilver G4 733 MHz Power Mac (unsupported for Leopard).

After the update to 10.5.3, I can now enter Time Machine (slowly) and get to previous backups, at least of the Finder.

I have the stock video card Nvidia GeForce 2 MX with 32 MB VRAM and 1 GB of ordinary RAM. I backup to a Time Capsule.

My original Leopard installation was via another machine (as described on your site); the 10.5.3 update was via the combo download.

This is very welcome. Thanks for your useful site!

IBM Compatibles

From Samuel Tang:

Hi Dan,

I have been a daily visitor to LEM for years, keep up the good work!

Regarding your Apple Squeezes Mac Clones Out of the Market article; IBM did not know that the PC's RAM BIOS - which they believed would have made it a "closed system" - could have been reverse-engineered by Phoenix to make possible "IBM Compatibles". With the benefit of hindsight IBM would have insisted on acquiring MS-DOS outright from Microsoft as a nonnegotiable part of the deal. In fact, when the first "IBM Compatibles" appeared, IBM did all they could to stop them, but to no avail.

Therefore, the PC platform became a de-facto standard not because IBM wanted it to be, but because anyone with a screwdriver could make one without let or hindrance; this also explains why the PC platform, as it is now, is not "planned", like the Mac, but things just happened to get jury-rigged together and somehow expected to work. At least, the "Mac clones" were official and made with Apple's assistance and blessings.

All the best,
Sam

Sam,

IBM should have known better, but at the time there were essentially two kinds of personal computers: proprietary ones (Apple, Commodore, Atari, Tandy) and CP/M ones, which all ran the same operating systems and software, although they might have incompatible floppy disk formats. It wasn't until 1982, the year after IBM introduced its PC, that the first of the Apple II clones came to market.

Apple used copyright to close down most of the clones, because they pirated Apple's copyrighted ROMs. Laser took a different approach, reverse engineering the Apple ROMs - essentially the same thing Phoenix and a host of others did with the IBM PC.

And now things have come full circle: Since going Intel, Apple's hardware is far less proprietary, making it relatively easy to run Mac OS X 10.5 on non-Apple hardware.

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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