The Low End Mac Mailbag

Choosing and Upgrading a 12" PowerBook, Too Much About Windows, the Blue iMac Blues, and More

Dan Knight - 2007.09.11

My Next Mac: A 12" PowerBook G4

From Travis Jay Patocka:

I have noticed the rise in popularity and the number of articles that have been showing up in LEM as of late. I definitely see this as the "next Pismo". While you articles and information have kept my G3 Lombard running strong, for more than two years now I have been thinking about upgrading to a faster model, namely, the PowerBook G4 12".

Maybe I just haven't been looking close enough in the archives, but have you guys published a G4 12" PowerBook buyers guide? Since the MacBook is definitely out of this high school teacher's budget, I could see the 867 MHz or slightly faster G4 PowerBook 12" in my classroom.

Are there any problems that the 12" G4 is known for? Any logic board issues, exploding batteries that I should know about as I invest in a used Mac that runs the same price as an entry to midlevel new PC? I know that like most things, the laptop will only last as long as it was cared for by its' previous owner.

I am seriously considering not using eBay for this purchase but instead going through one of your vendors that might offer a 30 day warranty. I got lucky with the Lombard that I purchased on eBay, but for the chunk of money I will be spending, I need a bit more peace of mind.

Also, I would be using the G4 mainly for PowerPoint, MS Word and the occasional Web browsing. I like the looks and added horsepower of the G4 12" over the iBook G4 12", so the iBook is out of the question. Any advice that you guys can offer would be greatly appreciated, and I feel as if I should act quickly as the prices only seem to go up on this model of PowerBook.

Thanks again, and keep up the great work!

Travis Patocka

Travis,

Thanks to MacInTouch and its readers, we have the iBook and PowerBook Reliability. It tells us how high a repair rate the white iBooks have (49-72% of G3 models needed repair, 11-38% of G4 iBooks). For the most part, the 12" PowerBook has fared quite well, although I'd avoid the original 867 MHz model as the most repaired of the bunch (46% needed repair).

Later 12" PowerBooks with DVI support did better. The Sept. 2003 1 GHz model only has a 26% repair rate, the April 2004 1.33 GHz model reached 33%, and the Jan. 2005 1.5 GHz PowerBook G4 was lowest of all at just 14% (probably due in part to it being newer than the others).

Keep in mind that this is a self-selecting group, so problems may be reported at a higher rate than occurs worldwide. Also, these are based on relatively small populations - 300 or so for the 12" PowerBooks. Still, it should give us a good indication as to which models are more reliable - and which are less.

Based on these numbers, I'd recommend any of the 12" PowerBooks with DVI support. Prices currently range from $660 to $825, and you can max out RAM for just $72. Or you could buy a refurbished 2 GHz Core 2 MacBook from Apple for $949, which is a very tempting price.

Dan

Dan,

I always appreciate a quick reply, and the numbers give me a pretty good idea which way to go. Yeah, the MacBook is pretty tempting, and I might just go that route.

Now if I could just convince my principal to let me trade in my school-issued iBook G4 for a MacBook, hmmm....

Anyway, you have a great day and thanks for the heads up!

-Travis

Upgrading from an 867 MHz 12" PowerBook

Dan,

I have an original 867 MHz PowerBook G4 12 inch that I'd had for four years last month. I've become very attached to the machine, more than any of the other Macs in my collection, and it sees heavy use every day. I recently added a Hitachi Travelstar 100 GB 7200 rpm drive to replace the original 60 GB 4200 rpm unit that recently went south, and upgraded the memory from 640 MB to 1.12 GB. The performance increase is definitely noticeable. I was wondering if the machine could be further upgraded with a logic board from a later revision. The faster G4 would certainly be nice, as would USB 2.0 ports, which would let me use this machine once again to sync my iPod. Which, if any, logic board from these later 12 inchers would fit my PowerBook? I'm comfortable doing all the work myself.

Jason

Jason,

I don't know if logic boards can be interchanged between 12" PowerBooks, but it's very likely to case. However, it may be less costly to pick up a whole faster 12" PowerBook, swap your drive, and sell your 867 MHz one than buy a logic board.

Dan

No More Windows Articles!

From Eric Van Loock:

Mr. Knight:

For the love of god, please pull the plug on the Fishkin articles. I am an attorney in Alabama and we have enough flack in the legal community when it comes to using Macs. I come to LEM to enjoy articles about the Macintosh platform and other products from Apple.

The last thing I wish to see on this site are articles to do with Windows or PCs. I am sure I am not alone on this issue!

Sincerely,
Eric Van Loock
Attorney at Law

Eric,

Thanks for writing - and for your loyalty to the Mac platform. We don't intend to undermine that in the least when we publish articles about virtualization or the state of Windows today.

Andrew Fishkin is one of a few voices on the Mac Web equally adept at Mac OS X and Windows, and his A Longtime Mac User Reflects on 8 Months with Vista has been widely viewed as an evenhanded, well balanced analysis of Microsoft's latest operating system. It's something Mac advocates need to know about, as we're no longer going head-to-head with Windows 98 or XP.

Like many of us, he also wishes Apple would fill niches they've avoided, because tablet computing is one thing that keeps him in the Windows orbit. I'm sure he would rather be using Mac OS X, but Apple simply doesn't make the hardware he needs.

We're Apple fans at Low End Mac, but we're not a bunch of fanboys. We recognize that Windows is a flawed but adequate operating system that most of the world is comfortable with. We're not going to make many converts by bashing Windows; we may lure people over by pointing out areas where the Mac is superior.

Dan

Slow iMac: Get More RAM

From William Walsh:

I read your most recent Low End Mac Mailbag with great interest, especially the letter from Vincent Williams asking why his 500 MHz iMac could be so slow.

Anyway, in addition to your troubleshooting thoughts, I wanted to suggest the hard disk as a possible trouble point. After all these years, it could simply be slowly failing. Every iMac from that era that I have worked with has had a hard drive with an incredibly loud spindle motor. Checking the SMART status in Disk Utility would be a very good idea - if it says anything other than "verified", the hard disk is or has been in trouble.

A replacement hard drive would be a good investment, even if the system doesn't yet need one. Today's drives are quiet, fast, and much cooler running than the iMac's original drive. I recently put a brand new Western Digital 80 GB drive into a graphite 500 MHz iMac G3, and the difference is really very noticeable. The system is very quiet and much more responsive.

Finally, I might suggest a RAM upgrade to Mr. Williams. Mac OS X likes RAM, and you can put up to 1 gigabyte worth of memory in those systems.

Thank you for taking the time to read this. If you'd like to publish it on the mailbag, that's more than fine with me.

William

William,

Thanks for writing. I've forwarded your email to Vincent Williams. I have to concur with you: Hard drives wear out, something we forget about until it catastrophically stops our productivity.

Dan

No More Blue Dalmatian Blues

Vincent Williams writes:

Thanks for your help. I left it plugged in last night, and when I checked it today, it was like a different computer, much faster than yesterday. It does look like a PRAM battery... The computer must be busy in the background when I first start it up. Thanks again, I'll get a battery and see what happens.

Vince

iMac Upgrade Advice

Hello

My father gave my son a 10 year old iMac G3, It runs good with no flaws that I can find except the Internet and any new programs. He wanted to use iTunes, and it had problems with that also.

Is it worthwhile to upgrade this computer and put in how much? We tried to install AOL into it, and the iMac accepted AOL 5.0 even though it was a 9.0 disc and it told us that it could not run some websites due to the fact that it did not understand them or that the program running it was not to be recognized by the computer?

  • OS 9.1
  • Virtual memory - 120 MB
  • Built in memory - 64 MB
  • Speed - 400 MHz

Can you assist?

Peter Graham

Peter,

The good news is that your 400 MHz G3 iMac isn't 10 years old. The oldest iMacs came out nine years ago, and the earliest 400 MHz iMac came out in 1999 - eight years ago in October. So it's not quite as outdated as you thought.

To run modern browsers and recent versions of iTunes, you need to be running Mac OS X. The oldest version I'd recommend is 10.3, which you can probably buy secondhand inexpensively. (10.4 is generally over $100 and requires that your iMac have a DVD drive, which may or may not be the case.) Investing in a 256 MB module (about $21) should be enough for 10.3, but you'll want to go to 512 MB (two 256 MB modules or one 512 MB module) if you choose to go with 10.4.

Your 400 MHz iMac won't be a speed demon, but it should run comfortably.

Dan

Forget Tiger on a Blue & White G3

From Ronald Lanham:

Dan,

Regarding: "Upgrading a Blue & White G3 to Tiger"

Perhaps you would pass this along to your reader that asked about installing Tiger on a G3 B&W.

From personal experience it is a major waste of time.

I was using a G3 B&W upgraded to a 1 GHz CPU with 896 MB RAM and a faster controller card (VTEK-66) than the motherboard and many other upgrades.

Still with Tiger (I tried every update that came out and pre-purchased Tiger) I repeatedly got SPODs to the point that I felt it was unusable. This was even after totally disabling Spotlight, which was a huge drag on the system.

So, since I had pretty much maxed out my old G3 and it still wouldn't perform even reasonably smoothly . . . I definitely would advise that he move up to at least a G4.

I've heard of others that have tried Tiger on G3 B&Ws and they also felt that they were unusable (unless you really get off on SPODs that last a very long time).

Hopefully this will help your reader and any others that contact you.

I'm now using a G5 and Tiger screams.

Great site!!!!!

Regards,
Ron

Ron,

Thanks for writing. I've forwarded your email to David.

Dan

Tiger on a Blue & White G3: Beware Rev. 1

From Scott Cook:

Hey Dan,

I ran Mac OS 10.4 "Tiger" on my Blue & White G3 Power Mac which was upgraded with an 1,100 MHz Powerlogix G3, 7200 rpm hard drive, and 1024 MB RAM. It ran just fine. I couldn't get the built in DVD-ROM to read the Tiger install disc as I recall. That drive wouldn't read a lot of discs though. I read somewhere that you need a built-in SuperDrive to load Tiger onto a B&W, which is what I had to do. Apparently the Combo drive will not load Tiger. I don't know why, and I've never tried this myself. SuperDrives aren't very expensive nowadays, so this shouldn't be big problem. According to what I've read, the B&W isn't capable of booting from FireWire, so I doubt an external DVD drive will work either.

Be aware that Revision 1 motherboards in the B&W aren't stable with modern IDE hard drives connected to the built in IDE controller. You can get around this by using a PCI controller instead of the built in controller. Some of the 400 MHz B&Ws had Revision 1 motherboards. B&Ws with the Revision 2 motherboard are capable of reliably running modern IDE hard drives.

Scott Cook

Scott,

Thanks for sharing this info. Looks like I'll need to add some notes to our B&W G3 profile....

Dan

Tiger Is Available on CD from Apple

From Keith King:

When I wanted to upgrade to Tiger I found that for like $20 Apple would exchange the Tiger install DVD for the installer on CDs. I've successfully used Tiger on the B&W for over a year now.

Keith King

Leaving the Blue & White G3 Behind

Dave writes:

Dan

Thanks for passing the comments on, Dan. Good to hear that others have tried it before.

I think that I'm talking myself into upgrading to a newer machine because I think I do have a special motherboard (not certain how to check on this) and I could spend the upgrade money from the G3 on a faster machine, especially since I need a more powerful processor to run Flash 8 Pro. Since my Outlook Express bombed a month ago and I haven't used Word in weeks, I haven't been so attached to Classic as I once was.

However, even after reading a great deal about my options, I'm still torn between getting a great G4, a Mac mini, or some kind of laptop, since being mobile with my design work would be an advantage. I've read the comparisons between the G4s and the minis. Are laptops too different to be compared against the tower computers?

-David-

David,

I ran Low End Mac from a 400 MHz PowerBook G4 exclusively for three years. Today I use a Power Mac G4 tower. Only you can decide what best meets your needs.

Do you need portability? If so, you need a notebook. And the last thing you want is a tower.

Do you need a lot of internal expansion? If so, you need a tower.

Can you work with a single display and a relatively small hard drive in the field? If so, you can probably find happiness with a notebook. You can connect to a second display, a huge hard drive, a USB hub, etc. in the office.

I'm impressed with the 15" MacBook Pro, and I could use it exclusively except for two things - one Classic Mode program I depend on and the need for more storage space. Although SheepShaver works, it's not a great way to use Classic apps when you're used to Classic Mode in OS X. I could get by with a big external hard drive in the office.

In choosing, look ahead to Leopard. A slower G4 is going to be hobbled by some parts of Leopard - and that could work to your advantage if you plan on using Tiger for a year or two. As the October release of OS X 10.5 approaches, the prices on G3 systems and low-end G4s should drop in anticipation.

There's just so much to weight nowadays - new and refurbished Intel Macs, used G4 and G5 PowerPC Macs, notebooks vs. desktops.

Dan

Burning CDs for Old Macs

From David Shepherd:

G'day Dan,

Regarding the letter in the Low End Mac Mailbag about burning CDs for use on an LC 575, one thing to keep in mind that those old Apple CD-ROM drives do not support CD-RWs, you must use CD-R discs. However, I find that as Dan Palka said, it doesn't matter what speed you burn the disc at, so long as you're using a CD-R.

Regards,
David

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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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