The Low End Mac Mailbag

Road Apple Nominations, OS X 10.5 on MDD Power Macs, UMPCs and Apple, and a Broken Power Button

Dan Knight - 2007.10.12

We've received a lot of email about the "Bastard Offspring" column published on Thursday (subsequently removed at the correspondent's request). We're holding them for Monday, when we'll publish an exceptionally long Mailbag column. dk - Tip Jar

Road Apple Nominations

From a reader who wishes to remain anonymous:

Dan,

Some Road Apples not featured in your list that I think should be are the following:

No FireWire ports meant backup was slow and cumbersome and made installation of Mac OS X 10.4 absurdly difficult in these models:

  1. The iMac G3 Rev C, Rev D, and 350 MHz models. Rev A and B at least had a Sonnet upgrade available for them to go to FireWire, which the others did not and Mezzanine slot possible video card add-on meaning an external display could be added to be able to overcome firmware updates blinding your iMac forever to have no display.
  2. The iBook G3 300 MHz, 366 MHz, and 466 MHz.
  3. The G4 Mac mini - not able to be upgraded beyond 1 GB of RAM meant for many applications, it came with insufficient RAM.
  4. All Core Duo and Core Solo processor Intel Macs. Not until the Core 2 Duo did Apple's Macs regain their 64 bitness. It was two steps down from the G4 and G5 which were 64 bit. This meant Rosetta had no G4 nor G5 optimizations making Rosetta much slower than the Macs that preceded them in the same lineup. And Leopard won't be able to run at full speed.

Sincerely,
anonymous

Anonymous,

Our original definition of Road Apples was Macs that were deliberately compromised for no good reason (or no reason other than marketing).

iMac Rev. A-D

In many ways, the iMac was the successor to the earliest Macs: It was designed to be expanded through peripherals not internally. Although the 233 MHz iMacs had a mezzanine slot, Apple never supported its use, and eliminating it helped keep the cost of the Rev. C and D down. Apple's only big design mistake with the tray-loading iMacs was that you had to disassemble the whole thing to upgrade RAM.

I can't fault these iMacs for not including FireWire, as there were no Macs with FireWire when the first iMac came to market. Adding FireWire would have necessitated a motherboard redesign, which Apple postponed until the tray-loading "Kihei" models came to market. (The Sonnet Harmoni upgrade (US$200) puts a 600 MHz G3 and FireWire into any Rev. A-D iMac, not just Rev. A and B.)

The tray-loading iMacs were never supported in Tiger, making it a moot point. There's not enough reason to call these Road Apples.

iMac 350

That said, I'll give you the iMac 350. It uses exactly the same motherboard and case as the 400 MHz and faster slot-loading iMacs, and leaving out FireWire was a marketing decision that made it easier for Apple to bump buyers up to the next model.

Clamshell iBooks

In retrospect, we can fault the early iBooks for a small screen and having only a single USB port, but at the time it wasn't really considered compromised by anyone. Two USB ports would have been nice, and the second generation clamshells gained FireWire.

Mac mini G4

The entire Mac mini design was and still is compromised by Apple's (read: Steve Jobs') decision that it had to be as small at practical, forcing the use of more costly, sometimes slower notebook components. And not leaving enough room for two sticks of RAM. And making it seem ridiculously overpriced compared to less costly, more expandable (not to mention uglier) Windows PCs.

As it was designed for the consumer market, though, I can't say that a 1 GB RAM ceiling is a real drawback. At least it didn't surrender 64-80 MB of that memory for video, as the Intel-based Mac mini does.

All First Generation Intel Macs

There are costs to being an early adopter, and Intel's failure to make the Core Solo and Duo 64-bit processors was one of them. That said, the Mac OS has never been a 64-bit OS, although Tiger does have a little 64-bitness about it (it can access more than 4 GB of RAM, but no program can access more than 4 GB). [Corrected from reading 2 GB.]

This won't ever be a factor for the vast majority of users, as Tiger is a wonderful operating system and Leopard will transparently run on both 32-bit and 64-bit hardware. The only Macs were we can expect this to be a factor are the Mac Pro and Xserve, both of which were delayed until Intel had released the 64-bit Core 2 CPUs.

I will have to sit down and write Road Apple articles about the 350 MHz iMacs and the Mac mini....

Dan

OS X 10.5 and Mirror Drive Door Power Macs

From Joe Leo:

Hi Dan,

Thanks for the article on the Power Mac G4s. It's comforting to know that it's still a contender for the latest and greatest from Apple, I mean, OS X v 10.5.

It's the first "big purchase" I ever made . . . applied for a new credit card just so I could get it. At the time, I was doing lots of video work, and the tools I had just weren't cutting it anymore. I went for the top of the line (at the time) 1.42 GHz, Dual Processors and got it from Power Max in Oregon, as an Apple Certified Reconditioned unit. (Went from a Power Mac G3 AIO, to an iMac G3 400 MHz, to the Pismo PowerBook, then to an iMac G4 800 MHz that was purchased for me, then to the G4 MDD).

I had the chance to get a single processor Power Mac G5, which I think was 1.6 GHz. The G5 dual processor was beyond my range ($). But I wanted to run OS 9 in native mode, since I had a lot of those applications still in use, so I went for the G4 line. And I didn't like how the G5s looked, not to mention how the monitors didn't match at the time. But?? I was misinformed! The ones that ran OS 9 in native mode were the newer ones that Apple had released without the FireWire 800.

So I was bummed, but you know what? That machine was what immersed me in the world of OS X (now that I think of it, I should really be writing about this on "my" site, ha ha). Why? I hated OS X at the time. I believe it was still Jaguar. I liked the eye candy of OS X but found it hard to navigate. Sounds like a bluff, but no kidding. And since this was my new computer, I was forced to learn it and get used to it.

The iMac G4 that was bought for my use, prior to that big purchase, was a huge step from all the ones I had, but even that wasn't cutting it either (800 MHz) and that was why I took the plunge. You can guess which OS that I preferred to use on that iMac G4 . . . Mac OS 9!

Of course, the Dual MDD is starting to show its age with newer applications that must use Intel processors, or even those that can run on PowerPC chips but require the G5s. But for "average/everyday" things, it's still blazing fast! I just hope that when I do get Leopard that it will still be snappy. It's maxed out at 2 GB of RAM, has various drives in it with different buses (PCI cards), and I plunked down $400+ for an ATI Radeon 9700 card so that I could run Motion for my video projects.

Like you said, getting high-end video cards is hard. I searched eBay, the Internet, for weeks until I got a solid hit. It was ApplePalace.com that had my video card, and it cost a pretty penny. (All the ones on eBay were fake, in that in order to use it, you had to flash it, or wasn't even compatible, and I didn't want to take a risk.) There was no way I could've asked for the upgrade when I bought it, because it was a reconditioned unit. Thankfully, they had the OEM part in stock.

I've been tempted to see what I can do with upgrading the processor, but at this time, nothing really beneficial for the price, as you pointed out too.

Anyway, long live the Power Mac G4 for its elegance, style, and shape. And? For forcing me to use OS X. If not for that purchase, I probably never would've enjoyed the world of OS X and quite possibly would still be using OS 9. Seriously! Or at least, G4 Macs in Classic mode, fearing to ever touch OS X. =)

Joe Leo,
Columnist
PBCentral.com

Joe,

Thanks for writing. You bring back memories of my own transition to OS X in the version 10.2 era. It ran nicely on my late 400 MHz PowerBook G4, but it was very different and not as responsive as OS 9. Today I can't imagine going back to OS 9.

There is no economic reason to upgrade your 1.42 GHz machine to dual 1.8 GHz, as you would lose the Level 3 cache and gain very little real processing power. At $600 and a gain of maybe 25% on the most optimized applications, it just doesn't make sense.

I plan on using my dual 1 GHz Power Mac G4 for quite a while. I'm sure I'll put Leopard on a partition just to play with it, but it won't be my production OS for quite some time. The usable lifespan of these Macs is just incredible!

Dan

UMPCs a Threat to Apple?

From John Pugh:

Dan,

Love the site! Still humming along on a 400 MHz iMac, but I'm eyeing my wife's G4 PowerBook with envy these days.

Regarding "UMPCs a Threat to Apple?"

I'm with you all the way - I'd be the first in line if Apple would release a stripped-down tablet with flash-only memory 8 hours of battery life. Throw in a SD card slot for additional memory, WiFi, and Bluetooth and I'd be in heaven. All the pieces are in place, and I think the market is more than ready for a what would essentially be a beefed up iTouch.

My wife and I paddled the Mississippi River in 2005, and I did a fair amount of my rough drafts for my book using an old Handspring PDA and folding keyboard. I've also thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail, and wrote a series of newspaper articles while on both trips. I'd love to have a better system of writing and sending in photos while out on an expedition and have seriously considered going the Palm Treo / folding keyboard combo for the next trip.

If you're interested, you can check out everything we used for Writing on the River online.

Take care,
John Pugh

John,

Yeah, all the pieces are there. The way Apple has always been defining markets (Lisa and Macintosh, Newton, iPod, iTunes, and now the iPhone) and generally becoming the player to be reckoned with, if and when Apple decides to produce something between the iPhone/iPod touch and MacBook, you can bet they'll redefine the Tablet PC and PDA worlds in one fell swoop.

As cool as the iPhone's onscreen keyboard is, I think the limiting factor is how small a keyboard you can comfortably type on.

Dan

Dan,

I agree on the keyboard size - I'd hate to type anything other than a short email on them. I've had great luck with the Targus folding keyboard to punch out some real writing. You can't beat putting your whole writing system in a couple of pockets and hacking out a few hundred words anytime you get an extra couple of minutes. Make it play pretty with Google Docs, and I don't think I'd ever use a laptop for day-to-day use.

Taking electronics on these long expeditions is always a mixed bag. It's great to get words on (virtual) paper and out in the public's hands in almost real time, but man the other issues are a pain - battery life, recharging, weatherproofness, and of course the money to buy it all. I'd much rather replace a $200 PDA than a $2,000 tablet.

My world for a 2007 Newton!

Take care,
John

John,

I think the ideal for portability would have a screen no bigger than required for the keyboard and a small touchpad. :-)

Dan

Broken Power Button on iMac G3

From RolfWrenWalsh:

Dan,

First, I just want to say I've been visiting your site for years and absolutely love it. However, I need your help with my iMac G3. Hopefully you can help.

I just got my iMac yesterday, and after testing everything worked, I swapped hard drives, for a newer, faster 80 GB.

After getting it all put back together, I plug it all in, and press the power button. Nothing, and the button seems jammed. No big deal, I thought, I'll just take it apart real quick and fix it. Lifting the iMac up, I hear a bit of rattling inside. I'm thinking, "Oh, it must be that loose screw I lost. I'll probably need that." I open up my iMac and see thousands of tiny pieces of plastic everywhere. Turns out, the plastic that goes with the spring (inside the iMac case) to press the power switch, was completely destroyed.

Any idea what I can do? This is really upsetting me.

I did a little research on Google, and broken power buttons don't seem to be rare on iMacs, especially the first generation of slot-loading models. One suggested fix is to use a USB keyboard that has its own power button. Science Man actually recommends putting a sticker over the power button so you will be forced to use the one on the keyboard.

If you don't have such a keyboard, We Love Macs sells the onCue Start-Up Key, a USB device, for $14.99 (a used keyboard may be cheaper).

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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