The Low End Mac Mailbag

Restoring PowerBook Batteries, MB/GB Confusion, Upgrading a Performa 6300, Road Apples, and More

Dan Knight - 2007.08.20

Restoring Old PowerBook Batteries

Dear Dan -

You recently had a reader write about the three [PowerBook] 520s he picked up at Goodwill (see PowerBook 520c Questions). My message is: Don't throw away those batteries just yet. The 520 series came with Intelligent Battery Recondition software in either the Portables folder or Utilities folder. Use it. Use it again. Hell, keep using it. Eventually the software will stop telling you that you have to take the battery back to Apple.

You are not out of the woods yet. Use Battery Amnesia, a utility written by Jeremy Kezer to completely drain the battery and recharge it. You may have to do this several times (just like Intelligent Battery Recondition), and the battery might come back. I had three old 520 batteries and have managed to recover one, partially recover another, but the third might have to go to the battery graveyard.

Since replacements are $90 or so, it's worth the effort.

John Hatchett

John,

Thanks for the reminder. I've used Battery Amnesia with mixed success - but since the batteries are otherwise a loss, it's worth the attempt. I've also learned that the 500 Series battery is made up of NiMH cells that can be easily replaced. I may have to try my hand at that someday.

RAM Makers to Blame for MB and GB Confusion

Tim Larson writes:

Dan,

First, congratulations on your recent wedding! It is gratifying to hear that you have found happiness again.

Second, if you're going to "force" any industry to report accurately, make the RAM vendors change. They were the ones that co-opted the KB/MB/GB/etc. units and gave them a second meaning that is out-of-sync with what every schoolchild learns these days. Software writers (Apple and GNU included) enabled this by following this new "convention" by reporting capacities in multiples and orders of 1024, so they're just as guilty. We don't need two context-dependent definitions for what "mega" means. I agree that we need to stop the insanity, but the drive vendors are the only ones that maintained their sanity throughout.

Think about it. It's not like the capacity of your "512 MB" DIMM is a nice round number anyway, right? (Round in binary, sure, but not in base-10 terms that most people operate in.) Call it what it is, a 537 MB DIMM. Or be accurate with the units - use the MiB. Deride this "geek" term if you want; that's your prerogative. But don't claim to be a proponent of consistency when you suggest retaining this inconsistent usage of metric prefixes.

Change is hard, but "people are used to it" isn't the best reason to hold on to the old. If most of the world could drop Imperial measures and adopt the metric system in the first place, then surely they can agree on using that system consistently. When you look at it that way, it's not so great a thing to ask.

Third, I missed your first article on Name Munger, but here's an option that might be useful. For those times when you want or need to keep the file name original (funky characters and all) instead of renaming them, NM could display the HTML-encoded version for copying into your web page.

Tim

Disk Utility reports 372.6 GB and 400,088,457,216 Bytes

Tim,

We've had RAM measured in KB in personal computers since 1975 or so. Hard drives started coming into their own about five years later. Modern hard drives commonly have 512 byte sectors (not a nice decimal number like 500), so it's obvious that hard drive makers are familiar with binary math.

For instance, my Hitachi Deskstar 7K400 drive is marketed as a 400 GB drive. System Profiler reports it as a 372.61 GB drive. Disk Utility reports 372.6 GB (400,088,457,216 bytes). Hitachi's data sheet simply calls it a 400 GB drive, which would lead us to believe (following the hard drive industry standard of decimal GB) that the drive stores 400,000,000,000 bytes when it's actually a teeny tiny bit more.

Since hard drives are always used with operating systems, their advertised capacity should be what those operating systems report. Giga may mean 1,000,000,000 in the decimal world, but in the world of computers, GB means 1,073,741,824 bytes.

Drive makers should be required to advertise numbers consistent with the rest of the industry. Maybe the best solution would be to do what Apple does with Disk Utility, which is to report the capacity in binary GB followed by the actual number of bytes in parentheses).

Dan

Mac128.com

Sibley says:

Hi. Love the site. Been working with old Macs since 1984 (when they were new!).

I've set up a site dedicated to the 128K, 512K, and to some extent the Plus, but mainly pre-System 6 Macs that don't have a lot of other options that System 6 and 7 afford. Since there is some helpful info there, I thought it would be a good link candidate for your site.

<http://www.Mac128.com>

Either way, keep up the good work!

Re: Mac mini Officially Dead in My Eyes

Following up on Mac mini Officially Dead in My Eyes, Joseph Burke writes:

Dan

Okay, I didn't realize the mini came with Bluetooth and AirPort Extreme. Apple's own website does not mention that, which is bad for the mini since someone doing the same comparison I just made will come away with the impression that the iMac has them and the mini doesn't, just like I did.

As for being able to get peripherals cheaper elsewhere, yes, Apple is known for being overpriced on peripherals as well as on RAM and hard drive upgrades, but someone buying a Mac for the first time is likely going to want to get everything all at once rather than running from store to store or surfing several websites and paying two or more shipping charges on those items. Most people will gather everything they need into one shopping cart at the Apple Store. There are also going to be those who will believe that Apple peripherals are better to use with their new Mac, in the same way that some drivers of Toyotas will only buy Toyota accessories or replacement parts for their car or truck.

It still doesn't alter the fact that the mini has been behind the curve in terms of price/performance from the beginning - and has continued to lag farther and farther behind the iMac in that regard. Apple can't possibly pack more power or features into the mini and hold the price down, so failing that, it's time to take an entirely new approach to serving the bottom of the market or getting out if they can't squeeze more profit out of it.

Joseph,

You're right, it's not smart of Apple to fail to mention Bluetooth and AirPort Extreme on the Mac mini page. You have to go to their specs page to learn that it includes Bluetooth 2.0 and last generation 802.11g WiFi. One more advantage for the iMac.

Yes, the Mac mini is still a generation behind.

Dan

Upgrading from a Performa 6300

Fred Parker asks:

Performa 6300A tech at Microcenter directed me to your site. I'm only barely computer literate. I have a Mac Peforma 6300CD running OS 8.1. I use it just for work processing. I have an old graphic program and files that use. Since my original printer died, I have been unable to replace it. I'm advised by the tech if I can find a G3 Mac with 256 MB of RAM that it will accommodate a transfer of all my data and the newer system will have a USB port for a newer printer.

Advice?

Thanks,
F

Fred,

If you're otherwise satisfied with your 6300, you don't have to upgrade all the way to a G3 Mac. You just need a Mac with PCI expansion slots, a Mac compatible USB card, and Mac OS 8.1 or later. Oh, and a USB printer with drivers for the classic Mac OS (versions 8.1 through 9.2.2).

If you really like what you have, your best bet might be a Performa 6360, which came out a year after your 6300. It has one PCI slot, which is all you need. It's also faster, supports more colors at higher resolutions, and can use the hard drive already in your 6300.

My suggestion: Pick up a nice used 6360, a copy of Mac OS 8.6 (more stable, better USB support than 8.1), a USB card compatible with Mac OS 8.6, a USB printer with drivers for Mac OS 8.6, and a USB cable to connect the printer to your Mac. The 6360 comes with 16 MB of RAM, which should be enough to run OS 8.6 comfortably.

  1. Install Mac OS 8.6 on the hard drive in your current Performa 6300. If the USB card comes with drivers, install them at this time.
  2. Shut down, remove the hard drive, and use it to replace the hard drive in the 6360 (or another newer Mac that uses IDE hard drives). You'll have all of your files and programs ready for use on the transplanted drive.
  3. Install the USB card in the new Mac.
  4. Put everything back together, power up the new Mac, and you're ready to work.
  5. Next install the printer drivers, connect the printer to your Mac with the USB cable, power up the printer, and print something.

If you have extra cards in your 6300, such as a tuner, they should work in the 6360 as well, giving you one more reason to consider this route.

Let me know how it goes.

Dan

How Big a Market for a Midrange Mac?

Ray Stewart says:

I have to wonder just how many people like me (more or less the likely target of a midrange Mac desktop) there are? Are we really a valid market segment anymore? Apple, it seems, has only two customers: students and professionals. I vacillated for weeks about getting a Mac Pro or a mini, because I don't really need either. My two heaviest apps are EyeTV and iTunes (150 gig library). Either one of them just about swallows my 1.42 GHz mini whole. I see long stretches of latency, especially in iTunes, and that's with RAM maxed and an external FireWire boot drive.

But nothing I currently do except maybe EyeTV really rises to the level of a Mac Pro, so if Apple made such a Mac, I would certainly buy one, especially if it were upgradeable. I certainly took a good look at the new iMac when it came out, but. like you said, I've already got a nice display - and I would much rather have something I can upgrade over time. Also, I've seen a significant amount of negative press regarding the quality of the new iMac screens, and any new equipment that I buy must be a step forward, otherwise what's the point?

My reference to Apple's statements regarding selling more laptops than desktops is indicative of the computer industry as a whole, not just Apple. See Future of computing includes more laptops than desktops.

Who knows how long this trend will last? It seems to me that the trend is being driven as much by fashion as by technology. It's not enough to have an Apple computer anymore; now everyone has to see you with it too.

Ray,

I don't know how big the market is for a midrange Mac, but even if it's a small market, I believe it's a very important one. It's the geek market, the hardware lover market, the "most likely to hack OS X to run on an affordable, expandable PC" market. These users are viewed as experts, the ones you go to for advice before buying a new PC or Mac. Are they going to recommend a Mac mini, iMac, or Mac Pro when it's not the hardware someone would be best off with?

As for laptops, Apple has long been ahead of the curve and passed the 50% notebook mark several years ago. Some say it's because their 'Books are so good. I maintain that the gaping hole between consumer Macs (Mac mini and iMac) and pro Macs is another factor.

That said, I ran Low End Mac from a 400 MHz PowerBook G4 for almost three years between my Umax SuperMac S900 and my first eMac. Were I to find an alternative to Claris Home Page running in an emulation window (SheepShaver works!), I'd try switching from my Power Mac G4/1 GHz Dual to the 15" MacBook Pro that spends too much time sitting beside my desk because Apple doesn't support Classic Mode on Intel Macs and I still depend on one Classic program.

Dan

iBooks and Road Apples

Ruffin Bailey writes:

Dan -

I enjoyed my iBook 500 and love my iBook G4. The latter is the first Mac I've owned that, once I had 1.25 gigs of RAM, ran OS X quickly enough that performance didn't get in my way, even when programming Java. Performance-wise, it's a great machine. Size-wise, it's perfectly portable.

But I should report that the iBook, particularly the G4, is horribly flimsy. I tended to overstuff my computer bag with books, and my first G4 warped so badly it started giving me kernel panics. I was impressed with how quickly the local Apple Store replaced it for me (I did buy it there, FWIW), but I've had to massage my latest G4 plumb once or twice even though I now pack the bag much more carefully - and lightly. I've also had to replace the keyboard. And remember to add to that flimsiness the battery recall and Denmark's discovery of a screen defect.

As a system, or as a carefully carried portable, the iBook G4 is fantastic, but as a road laptop? I wouldn't quite call it a Road Apple, as I like your take that things need to be purposefully crippled to earn the label, like the LC or PB 150*, but it sure as heck has its design weaknesses.

Ruffin Bailey

Ruffin,

Thanks for writing. Charles Moore has weighed in with Are the White iBooks Still a Good Bet or Should You Steer Clear of Them?, published on Monday. I'm still unable to settle on whether I would recommend a white iBook or not. Even after a logic board replacement, there are still keyboard and durability issues.

Dan

An Alternative to Name Munger

Zhao Shenyang says:

Hi, Dan,

I'm a long time reader of LEM. Though I never owned a Mac which can be considered as "vintage", I find the articles from LEM interesting and useful.

I've just read your review of Name Munger 1.5. I've met similar problems before. What I use to do batch file name processing is a utility from ManyTricks called File List. It's free, and I think it's powerful enough to do what you mentioned in your review. The interface is quite clean. You just need to drag files/folders to the main window, apply rules (through the right hand side panel) like find-and-replace, insert/remove characters, change case, and so on. Then after you preview the results, just click the "play" button and it will do the actual file name processing. You can also create droplet or make advanced rules. The only annoyance is that after launched its icon doesn't appear at dock. You can not cmd-tab to the program either. Hence, when there're full of windows on the screen, the best way to drag files to the main windows is using exposé.

regards,
Zhao Shenyang

Thanks for the info. I'll download File List and give it a try.

Dan

Extreme Thanks for LEM!

Rick Nasti says:

Hey Dan, I'm Rick Nasti. The DrRick in my email addy is from when I was the tech director for the radio station at the university that I got my BS and MBA from. This was, of course post-Bronze Age, but not by much. I guess I'm starting to feel as if I'm not the youngest person around any longer. Actually, WKRP in Cincinnati was a "new show" at the time.

Trying to stay on point, I write to tell you how much I enjoy reading your publication. I read a lot of Mac stuff on the Web, but I more often than not feel like a bit of an outsider. I'm used to reading reams of tech publications, with 90% dedicated to my hobby and on and off source of income: vacuum tube based audio gear. I built my first crystal radio when I was 5 years old, and I've been hooked on moving electrons ever since. The focus on tube audio started back in 1969. I wanted to build a stereo amp after I read in Rolling Stone that there would be a movie and soundtrack LP about Woodstock, to which I tried to hitchhike, but only made it about 20 miles (from the New Jersey shore) when I stuck my thumb out as, what I would soon discover was an unmarked state police car, approached. The state policeman asked my name, and he asked if I was related to "The Twins". Luckily, I had overheard my father and uncle discussing "The Twins" not long before, and it sounded as if they were either crooks or cops, so I took a shot and told him they were my cousins. He got on his radio a bit and then told me he was taking me home. I asked if it was illegal to hitchhike, and he told me that when you're 13 and have a pony tail it is - LOL.

So much for staying on point! I'll quickly finish the off point story. The first tube amp I built was to listen to the upcoming Woodstock album. I was and have always been a huge fan of Jimi Hendrix and (surprisingly few people know this) out of all that talent, guess who was the main attraction, the headliner? Jimi, of course. (I'm slowly getting back onto the track here.) The amp was working in time for the album release (albeit with a lot of parts and wires sticking out, up down sideways, etc.). It's hard to design and build something when you're only source of parts is old TV sets from the 50s that started appearing on people's curbs for pickup around that time. I did score a pair of real HiFi (Acrosound TO-300) output transformers from a ham radio pal who was given a pair of Heathkit Mono power amps. He was from another part of town where people had parents and food and stuff like that, so while I was amazed with the pair of amps with separate power supplies (four chassis total), he tore them apart to use the power supply components in a ham radio-related project.

I did the design of the power supply for him - I'd started teaching myself electronic design (engineering, as they call it these days) when I was 8-9 years old. The local Boy's Club library was packed with EE books donated by Bell Labs and the US Army Signal Corps' Signal School at Ft. Monmouth. Given my instant obsession with electronics, I really lucked out in living between Bell Labs and Ft. Monmouth. In exchange for my design, he gave me the output transformers. I used the amp for years in its semifinished state. I didn't finish it until 2000, when I learned I had a brain tumor and the surgery was a 50-50 kind of thing. For some still unknown reason I thought that if I finished that amp prior to the surgery, I would have a better chance of waking up afterwards. I did - and I did. I spent a lot of time finding parts that were of the correct vintage, and I matched my 13-14 years of age build methodology. I still have it and sometimes use it. I named it the "Woodstock Amp". My original workmanship back at 13-14 was so good, and my retro-finishing of it matched to original quality so well, that even I forget from time to time that I really built it in two steps with about 30 years between.

So now back to your wonderful, relaxing, and informative publication. I was Googling "emac bad capacitor replacement" and hit upon some of your dissertations of poor quality or poorly spec'd electrolytic caps in Macs going way back to the semi-early days. You mentioned that you had repaired 100s of Macs and had staff that repaired 100s more. If you substitute "Stereo Component" for the word Mac, your story could be mine. I'd always had a little "radio repair" business. I have the first invoice I wrote, complete with many spelling errors, for the repairs to a neighbor's radio. It's dated 2-3 weeks after my 10th birthday. My sister found it in my fathers papers 8 years later when he died, when again the self training in electronics paid off. He had no life insurance, no savings, etc. His only asset was the small house that my mother actually found and bought the summer I turned 11, most of which he (my father) spent in the hospital. I give my mother much credit for that. The area where we lived had really decayed, I had the broken ribs and concussion to prove it. I've always wondered if she told him about it prior to the day he was released from the hospital. I do recall him being happy about it.

The self training comes into this because my older brother was away in the Air Force, I had my mother, a younger sister, and a younger brother, and my mother got sort of strange after my father died. So, it was on me. I was 18, a senior in high school, and I quit and opened a stereo/electronic repair shop. Hell, I was already a year behind in graduating (because I had failed gym, of all things!) and planned on getting a GED later. I also knew I couldn't make enough at minimum wage working at a convenience store or pumping gas. It worked out well enough that six months later a stereo store that had been bringing me all their repair work proposed a merger. That worked out well, and by the time I was 23, my younger brother and sister were living on their own, and my mother wanted to move to a senior citizens high-rise.

One afternoon, I ran over to the local community college and took the General Education Diploma (GED) test. I had to talk them in to letting me take it without taking the six month course that is supposed to be a prerequisite to it. I passed it, went back to the store, and told my partners that I would be starting college in six weeks. They didn't want to run the business without me (actually, they didn't want to work; they each came from old money and had trust funds, etc.). I spent the next six years going to college and then grad school full time - and managing the "Engineering Department", as they called it, at the local High-End stereo shop. I worked a 40 hour week but with extreme flextime. The owners were very good to me, and we are close friends to this day. That's where the 100s of stereo components I repaired comes from.

Please forgive this absurdly long diatribe about my life's story; it was intended to and is meant to be a compliment and a thank you for your publishing efforts. I started to really enjoy reading your writing very quickly. They have a sort of "back in the day" quality that seemed to hit a lot of subconscious "buttons" I guess I have. I figured out the connection pretty quickly - and what differentiated your writings from 1,000s of other Mac related publications I've read over the years. You, my friend, are a hardware guy! Not the "normal" hardware guy that marvels at the new functionality in a new box, but a real hardware guy, the kind that gets his hands a little bit dusty. A guy that not only knows how it works, but what makes it not work and how to make it work again. A guy that actually does board-level repairs. A real rarity these days, and I'm proud to say, a guy I have a few things in common with.

Near as I can tell, there are not very many of us these days. Nice to meet you!

I do hope that you will forgive me for this tome, this email equivalent to a B-52 complete repair manual. I'm sure could have conveyed my thoughts in a couple of short paragraphs, had I not been so rude and dragged it out just because I enjoyed writing it, and I enjoyed the distraction writing it gave me from the extreme pain from the surgery yesterday on my paper-machete spine, which unfortunately is slowly decaying, and it's not caused by a high ESR or Mt. Saint Helena (the volcano) Capacitor. Too bad, I (or you) could fix that.

Peace,
Rick

Rick,

Thanks for writing. I enjoyed your long tale. Alas, I have to report that I'm not a real hardware guy. I think you've confused me with some of the people writing letters; I'm a disaster with a solder iron.

I love writing, and I try to understand how things work and communicate that so the average user can understand it. And I do have a background in high-end audio and college radio. Just not on the component level; mostly as a user and salesman.

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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