The Low End Mac Mailbag

Unreliable Macs, Future Apple CPUs, Replacing a Mac Plus Mouse, and More

Dan Knight - 2008.08.12 - Tip Jar

1.42 GHz Dual G4 Reliability

From Peter Hata:

Hi Dan,

Unfortunately, the used Dual 1.42 (FW800) G4 I recently bought from Power Max for $589 has proven to be unstable. I thought it was a bargain, since it was well over $100 cheaper than most of the other Dual 1.42 G4s on the market - however, I'm now wondering if it was cheaper because something was wrong with it.

Without going into all the details, after extensive testing of the RAM (with Rember), resetting the PRAM, NVRAM, and logic board, safe booting and booting from a fresh pristine system (OS X 10.4.11), the G4 still will experience odd application crashes and even kernel panics regardless of whether I'm running Rember, Digital Performer, Safari, or even the Finder.

I'm not a technician, but it seems this Dual 1.42 FW800 G4 may be a "lemon", may have some kind of logic board or power supply problem. PowerMax's warranty allows me to exchange this one for another one, and at this point - and I did speak to the PowerMax sales rep, who was unable to offer any other troubleshooting advice - my only option seems to be to return it.

Currently PowerMax has a bunch of other Dual 1.42 FW 800 G4s, as well as Dual 1.25 FW 800 G4s. I have to get a G4 because my Mark of the Unicorn 2408 Mark III audio interface uses an internal PCI (not PCIe) card. Have you heard or experienced anything "troubling" about the Dual 1.42 G4s in general? I know this one does generate a lot of heat out its backside. Everything else being equal, would you say I should try to "downgrade" to a dual 1.25 FW800 G4 (which are about the same price), because they tended to be more reliable/stable than the dual 1.42s? Or, if there's really no reliability difference, I should go for the faster (by maybe 10%) dual 1.42 G4?

Thanks for any advice,
Peter Hata

Peter,

I don't know of any Power Mac G4 reliability survey similar to the ones MacInTouch did for the Power Mac G5 and iBooks and PowerBooks. I have suggested that we team up with MacInTouch for regular (maybe quarterly) reliability, as their reports have been an awesome resource, but nothing has come of it. We'd need someone really good at collecting and analyzing data who also has the time to do it. (If anyone is interested in it, please email me!)

It's a whole different architecture, but in every case the fastest G5 Power Mac of each generation was the most troublesome model, while the midrange model was generally the most reliable. I can't say that would necessarily apply to G4 Power Macs, but it's possible the 1.25 GHz FW800 model would tend to be more reliable than the 1.42 GHz one.

One thing I found when troubleshooting a couple of flaky Power Mac was that RAM was the issue. I ended up pulling out every stick, then added one at a time. In the end, I think it was 3 bad sticks of the 8 among the two computers. I'd suggest going that route rather than trusting Rember before sending yours back.

Dan

iMac G5 Repair Extension Program

From Claudio Miranda:

Hi Dan,

I just noticed the LEM Mailbag email from John Cheseldine regarding his iMac G5 troubles. This is nothing new. The issue stems from faulty capacitors that made their way into many logic board designs from Apple and other computer manufacturers during that time.

My iMac G5 has already been sent in to the Apple Store for logic board and power supply replacement twice this year under the Apple iMac G5 Repair Extension Program.

Also, if you check out the MacInTouch website on the iMac G5 failures, you'll see that it's not only the 1st generation iMac G5 that is affected by this, but all revisions of the iMac G5 according to iMac G5 owners writing in, even to this day. Mine is a 2nd generation, 2 GHz 17" iMac G5 with the ambient light sensor, and my serial number was not in the range of listed serial numbers. Regardless, Apple replaced the parts at no cost to me even though my warranty had already expired. However, it was within the 3 year period since I purchased it, which is one of the stipulations for being covered under this program. However, Apple has been known to make exceptions for those beyond the 3 year period of initial purchase (a happy customer is a loyal customer).

There was also an article that was mentioned in a 2005 Mac News Review entry on LEM that linked to the Popular Mechanics article investigating if the iMac G5 was running too hot. This article was the additional proof I needed to show the Apple Geniuses that I was having this exact problem.

Hopefully this information will not only help John with future iMac G5 problems, but others as well.

Thanks,
-Claudio

Claudio,

Thanks for the information. With all of the problems we're seeing with new hardware (MacBook Pro screen issues) and the Repair Extension Programs (I've benefited from the eMac one), I don't think Apple has the reliability we used to expect. It's a good thing Apple has great customer service!

Dan

MDD Dual G4, Five Years and Still Working

From Luke Rademacher:

Howdy Dan Knight.

I still make an effort to check out Low End Mac at least once a week. This week, after getting back from a family vacation, I've been reading with interest various articles on your site about G4 towers.

In 2003 I was working for a good paying imaging/publishing company, and my old but reliable B&W G3 with 500 MHz G4 upgrade was on its last leg. I knew I wanted something good for all the Photoshop work I brought home from work, as well as editing scripts for video production work, editing digital video, and even just having fun. The B&W G3 was no longer doing the job. I bought new in November 2003 a MDD Dual 1.25 GHz G4, I got it with the Nvidia GeForce 4 Ti 128 MB video card and 1 GB of RAM. Also I bought AppleCare for the first time in my life. The computer came with Mac OS X 10.3, a DVD/CD-RW drive, an 80 GB hard drive, and I bought a new HP photo printer too to help with Photo printing work. Over the years I upgraded the RAM to 2 GB, and added a dual-layer DVD±R drive, OS X 10.4, iLife 04, Photoshop CS, Final Cut Express, a 120 GB hard drive, and then next a 250 GB hard drive.

A lot of things changed since then. Like being laid off January 2004 from the company I thought I had a secure job at. The MDD Dual G4 saved me some and helped me keep afloat doing freelance for almost a year when the unemployment ran out. When I got a great temp gig doing advertising work for Kmart in 2005, again the MDD Dual G4 saved me.

The MDD Dual G4 started to suffer from some sort of major Kernel Panics in January of 2006. Then a slew of hardware failures. AppleCare saved me each time. It was supposed to run out by Christmas 2006, so I was making sure I used my AppleCare anytime my MDD Dual G4 even showed a sniffle. In March 2006 the computer seemed to have a major meltdown. AppleCare saved the day, and the Apple techs at my Detroit area Apple Store did some major repair. In the end AppleCare saved me about $1,400 worth of trouble . . . the MDD had a new motherboard, video card, dual processor card, and a power supply. Of course no one tells you at first, but I learned later none of it was new parts, just refurbished. I didn't care as long as it worked.

Well 2007 came, and my AppleCare had expired, and once again my power supply died. I was very miffed and short of cash. I had to drag out the old B&W G3 and use it till I could figure out what to do with the MDD's dead power supply. Very lucky for me, about a month before I had bought a replacement keyboard (I had spilled Coca-Cola on it in a late night gaming session), a new trackball, and this thing called Apple Pro Care. I called up the Apple Store, dragged my MDD Dual G4 into the store, and Pro Care paid for a new power supply for the Mac.

So far, it'll be five years with this MDD Dual G4 for me come November 2008. And the Mac is running strong for the most part. It has OS X 10.4.11 on it. I often ponder if I should attempt to buy Leopard and install it. But since I still got 4 old favorite OS 9 apps I use for my freelance imaging design work, I usually nix the idea. I don't do the video production work I once used to do, so I no longer push the MDD through its paces. However I still drool over the idea of popping one of those Sonnet Dual 1.6 GHz G4 cards in there.

Every so often I window shop at the local Detroit Apple Store, and I wish Apple would release a midsize Mac tower again. Although I think I am ready to buy a MacBook for doing work on road trips etc., I hate that the Mac Pro is way over my budget, and the Mac mini and iMac seem too limiting.

Well one question I do have: I got an empty 120 GB hard drive in my Mac I don't use. If I were to buy Mac OS X 10.5.x, could I install it on that empty drive and dual boot when I needed? Also could I still use a hard drive I use for Data on my OS X 10.4 be used to store data produced in OS X 10.5? My MDD still has the stock 80 GB hard drive with OS X 10.4.11 with the OS and all the main apps I use, then I have a 250 GB hard drive that has all my saved data, iTunes music, movies, videos, iPhoto libraries, etc.

Sorry for the Lengthy email. I tend to do that when I get excited and talk shop about my Mac experiences,

Peace,
Luke R.

Luke,

Thanks for the tip about Pro Care. At $99 a year to cover up to three Macs, I'll have to ask the next time I visit the Grand Rapids Apple Store. Not that I've had any problems with my 1 GHz Dual G4, but my eMacs are another story.

Anyhow, yes, you can have multiple internal drives with different versions of the Mac OS, and you can access anything on any mounted drive whether you're running Tiger or Leopard. Like you, I work with Tiger because I'm still using (and loving) Claris Home Page, but I have Leopard on a second drive - external in my case - so I can play with Leopard whenever I want to.

Dan

Apple's Future Chips

From Scott Cook:

Hey Dan,

I think it's pretty obvious Apple is currently developing their own chips. Apple chips will almost certainly appear in Apple devices, including computers, as soon as possible. There are a few things we know for sure. Apple has been badly burned by chip companies multiple times. Apple bought their own chip design company recently. Apple always tries to do everything bigger, better, and sooner than their competition. Apple always keeps secrets about what they're doing. Apple always goes for the huge shock of a major change with a lot of fanfare.

Changing to Intel was one of these big, shocking secrets that took us all by surprise. It was good for Apple in several ways, including luring in Windows users as Vista came out. By the time the new Apple chips are appearing in computers, Apple will have won all the Windows users they're ever gonna get. Some consumers will stick with Windows and refuse to change to Apple no matter what.

Windows will probably decline in market share by the time Apple chips appear in computers in quantity. This is perhaps a year or more away(?). I predict Intel Macs will be obsolete in the next few years and be replaced by Apple's own chips. This would be in character with the shocking changes we've seen from Apple in the past. Never mind what Apple is saying or not saying and examine their capabilities. The safe bet is that Apple will continue to attempt to do everything they're capable of . . . and then some.

Scott Cook
Reluctant Radio

Scott,

That's an interesting idea. Now that Apple has embraced x86 and given Mac users the ability to run Windows on Macs, I can't see them abandoning the architecture. However, that doesn't mean Apple is married to Intel. AMD is just the biggest and best known alternative, but there are several companies (such as VIA) going for niche markets as well.

With its own chip designers, Apple could create unique designs that would still be compatible with Windows while at the same time giving Macs an edge. I think that's a viable scenario.

Dan

Apple No Longer Wed to One CPU

From Timothy Sipples:

Dan,

I disagree at least a little bit. I have long thought that Apple's "Intel only" announcement was primarily aimed at the developer community. Apple wanted as many application developers as possible, as quickly as possible, to create "Universal binaries" for Mac OS X.

That goal has been achieved. But Apple is even more committed to a multi-instruction set Mac OS X strategy today than it was two or three years ago. As you point out, the iPhone and iPod Touch run Mac OS X on ARM processors, and Apple (probably) just licensed the ARM processor architecture. Mac OS X Leopard still fully supports PowerPC. Tiger and Leopard still support 32-bit x86, which is quite different than 64-bit x86, yet another instruction set that Apple fully supports.

In other words, the costs to support more than one instruction set are already sunk, and Apple shows no signs of wavering from a "fit for purpose" processor choice when it designs new machines. Yes, there's a big cost to support the second instruction set (after the first). That's the whole Universal Binary architecture, multi-instruction set compiler technology, etc. - and it's all sunk. The cost for supporting each additional instruction set is comparatively trivial.

This flexibility is a major competitive advantage for Apple (and for Linux as well). Think about Apple's history: why would Steve Jobs ever want to become dependent on a single processor vendor again? Apple TV, for example, is a prime candidate to receive a fit for purpose PowerPC, Intel Atom, or ARM processor in its next revision. I also expect Apple to turn its AirPort, Time Capsule, and iPod product lines into Mac OS X-based devices under the covers, using PA Semi's single chip skills. PowerPC is an excellent fit in that category because of its high penetration in embedded applications, and so is ARM. And why shouldn't the Xserve line enjoy some IBM POWER6 5.0 GHz quad core parts? Mac OS X Server would run beautifully on such machines, and IBM certainly reigns supreme in server processor design. PowerPC also dominates game consoles, and Apple might be interested in that someday.

The fact that products like VMware Fusion and Parallels Desktop run only on x86 processors is a feature, not a bug. For those customers who want those products, they'll be available, mostly for products called "Macintosh". But the Mac OS X development ecosystem is already much bigger than just Intel, and the non-Intel options are growing. Develop for Mac OS X natively, and you get access to a much bigger market than just x86.

It's this multi-CPU strategy that makes perfect economic sense. And it's exactly what Apple is doing. I think it's quite smart, and they've got tremendous flexibility now. I cannot see Apple surrendering that flexibility.

Timothy Sipples

Timothy,

You make a lot of good points. Apple doesn't need to be wed to a single vendor or architecture, although it would be too much to ask of longtime customers for Apple to transition to yet another CPU family for the Macintosh. But in devices like the iPhone, iPods, and Apple TV, it doesn't really matter to the end user.

Dan

Windows Media Player & Macs

From Randy Hinson:

Dear Dan,

I'm a Mac user since 1996 and a big fan of Low End Mac. My original Color Classic II, Performa 5400 all in one, and current G4 400 all work just fine, and none have ever been serviced. My G4 "Sawtooth" still serves my daily computing needs of office suite, photo processing, and web surfing. I am running the last version of Tiger, 10.4.11 with one gig of RAM.

My computing problem that is driving me to either upgrade or migrate over to the Dark Side (ugh!) is the ability to view content composed in Windows Media Player format. As a Medical Imaging Professional, there is a wealth of online continuing education content available from my professional organization and equipment vendors, but it is all streamed in Windows media.

I have tried the Flip4Mac plugin and VLC media player with very slim results. The only other option that I have tried is booting backwards into Panther, where the old Windows Media Player 9 is available. One of the vendor sites still doesn't work, because it requires v. 11 of the player. How are all these college students supposedly switching over to Macs if the online courses of most universities are streamed in Windows media?

Of course I can buy a new iMac or MacBook for $1,199, add a copy of Windows Vista for $175 and up, then buy all that antivirus software I don't need on my Mac and install it, because I'd be booting into Windows occasionally. All that, just to be able to take a couple of online courses.

Help me Dan, any suggestions?

Sincerely,
Randy Hinson

Randy,

Welcome to the hell of proprietary, single-platform standards. Windows Media Player for Mac stopped at version 9, and while Flip4Mac lets Mac users view most WMP content, it's not a 100% solution.

Going Intel might be your best bet, as I have seen reports of WMP 9 and 10 running on Wine, the free Windows compatibility layer. No word on WMP 11 though.

User share by operating system, August 2007 to June 2008

Your best bet is to contact these shortsighted companies and let them know that Windows is losing market share while the Mac is growing, so they should be developing cross-platform, not limiting themselves to an operating system that now has less than 90% user share on the Internet.

That might get their attention.

Dan

Leopard on a 700 MHz iMac G4

From Jonathan Eddy:

I was reading your "Unsupported Leopard Installation" page to see how Leopard could do on my older iMac, and now that I completed the install, here's my report:

(CPU/RAM) Hardware Overview:

  • Model Name: iMac
  • Model Identifier: PowerMac4,2
  • Processor Name: PowerPC G4 (2.1)
  • Processor Speed: 700 MHz
  • Number Of CPUs: 1
  • L2 Cache (per CPU): 256 KB
  • Memory: 640 MB
  • Bus Speed: 100 MHz
  • Boot ROM Version: 4.3.5f1
  • Serial Number: QT2155P7MAY
  • (Graphics) NVIDIA GeForce 2 MX:
    • Chipset Model: GeForce 2 MX
    • Type: Display
    • Bus: AGP
    • VRAM (Total): 32 MB
    • Vendor: NVIDIA (0x10de)
    • Device ID: 0x0110
    • Revision ID: 0x00b2
    • ROM Revision: 1057.008.1
  • Displays:
    • iMac:
    • Display Type: LCD
    • Resolution: 1024 x 768
    • Depth: 32-bit Color
    • Built-In: Yes
    • Core Image: Software
    • Main Display: Yes
    • Mirror: Off
    • Online: Yes
    • Quartz Extreme: Supported

To install, I hacked an image of the 10.5 Install DVD (sparseimage method on 10.4.11 with xar) and restored the hacked sparseinage to a partition on an external FireWire drive. I haven't tried Time Machine (no room on my other FireWire drive), DVD Player now won't even open (this is expected - in 10.4, it would open and then not work, since the internal is a CD-RW drive - my only DVD drive is an external), Front Row works flawlessly, and VLC 0.86f works great.

700 MHz iMac G4 running Leopard

BTW about VLC - someone else on your page reported dropped frames on an older PowerMac with an old 16 MB card while playing a DVD. I can almost guarantee that's because the hardware just isn't up to the task - I see 56% CPU usage and ~250 MB RAM usage (with top -u) on my iMac while playing decrypted VIDEO_TS files, which could eat up resources and cause frame drops in VLC.

That's about it. If you need to know anything else, ask.

-Jonathan Eddy

Jonathan,

Thanks for sharing your experiences.

Dan

Replacing a Mac Plus Mouse

From Gavin Morrison:

Dan:

I have an old Mac Plus with music MIDI data that I need to transfer. I have found everything I need except the mouse with the original multipin connector. Do you know where to find something like that?

Thanks,
Gavin

Gavin,

Apple used the same mouse on the Apple IIe and the first four Macintosh models; it also works with Lisa. It's not easy to find, but Google located KP's Surplus, which claims to have 95 brand new Apple DB-9 mice in stock at USA$24.95 plus $5.95 shipping.

One alternative you may want to look into is creating a substitute pointing device, as documented in The Amazing Mac Plus Mouse. It essentially replaces the mouse with a click button plus buttons for up, down, right, and left.

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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