The Low End Mac Mailbag

iMac 350 a Workhorse, Priority of Level 2 Cache, Confusion about Macs and Microphones, and More

Dan Knight - 2007.10.17

iMac 350 Not a Road Apple

From Bill Brown:

Yo Dan,

The writing has been on the wall for some time: LEM is going to slap the "road apple" label on the iMac 350. So be it.

But I will give a bit of a rearguard appreciation of the iMac 350 for what it is. Up at the senior center, we have but one iMac 350 in our collection of maybe 23 or so gumdrop, teardrop, fruit flavored, or whatever you wish to call the early iMacs. Ours run from the 233s through the 500s. We have no Dalmatians or Flower Powers.

Our one 350 is very special. It is the first Mac we ever bought new when they were brand new. The cheapest iMac was the best we could do. Plunked down right out of the box into the midst of three putty Macs and three beige peecees, that shiny iMac 350 was no road apple. It was a screaming doer. The wow factor went on for a couple of years. Today, it is a just another fruit flavored iMac among our several used for training.

No FireWire, you say? FireWire in those days defined high-end Macs. My, how times have changed when, of all people, Low End Mac should castigate a low-end Mac for not being born with a high-end feature. Yes, FireWire would be nice now. But back then we had nothing to poke into a FireWire hole.

It screamed with Mac OS 9.0.4 teasing us with Aqua, the future of Mac OS X then. And it runs Tiger now. Speaking of now, up here at the senior center, we are a pedestrian lot and so are our needs for Mac. Our one iMac 350 cannot be out-typed by anyone (neither could our SEs when we still had 'em not that long ago). It does online handling all email and Web surfing tasks with ease, decent speed, and elegance. It can sort the snapshots and make the grandkids look good in iPhoto while listening to Neil Diamond in iTunes. Can't burn Neil Diamond, but that would be stealing music; Steve said "Don't steal music."

We are seeing seniors with iPods these days. Yet the iPod wasn't anywhere near existing when the iMac 350 came and went. I sure wouldn't fault an iMac 350 now for not supporting an iPod now. That would be silly. Nice if it did support the iPod, but silly to fault it for not.

No Target Disk Mode? Dan, I went to my files reading one of your recent emails to me where you commented that most LEM people have only one Mac. Uhh, you can't do Target Disk Mode with only one Mac, so LEM cannot fault a Mac of the still early FireWire era for not having FireWire thus not being able to do Target Disk Mode. Not and be LEM, fella - oops, you are the publisher; yes Dan, you can do anything with LEM you like. ;^)

We did bump up the memory of our iMac 350 so it would comfortably do Tiger. At about year two, it's OEM 6 GB hard drive died, which we replaced with an 80 GB just because they had gotten so cheap. The only thing cheaper was a 40 GB at maybe $10 less, so 80 it was.

We even plugged in one of those Edimax USB wireless things we read about in LEM for $68. We plugged it right in to that nearly useless second USB port on the keyboard. Now this iMac 350 is even wireless. That oughta be some credit against the lack of FireWire.

Our iMac 350? She's no road apple. She's a working lady.

Bill Brown

Bill,

Road Apples are Apple's compromised designs, and the greater the compromise, the worse the rating. The much maligned x200 series rates four in terms of overall badness, yet they can be productive machines and some people never run up against the compromises Apple engineers made. A "one" rating is hardly bad at all; it basically means that we've identified one area where the design was compromised that we believe anyone buying that Mac should know about.

In the case of the two 350 MHz iMac models, it's the lack of FireWire. FireWire arrived with the Blue & White G3 in 1998, and Apple considered it a replacement for SCSI, which had been standard on all Macs since 1986 or so. Thus two of the three iMacs introduced in October 1999 had it - and one didn't.

The lack of FireWire doesn't make these horrible computers. In fact, we think they're quite competent performers. But the lack of FireWire is something the modern iMac buyer should be aware of, as they might want to attach an iPod, an iSight camera, or an external hard drive or disc burner. And it can be useful for troubleshooting as well. (I was able to run Disk Utility on my second eMac yesterday this way because the computer won't run reliably when booted, but Target Disk Mode works just fine. The problem isn't the hard drive.)

With the exception of the x200 Road Apples, where the problems are at their worst when the computer is used with a modem or on a network, all of the Road Apples are very usable computers. We just want people aware of their limitations before making a buying decision.

Dan

Level 2 Cache Far More Important than Level 3

From

In my comment about the ranting of an Intel hater, I also had a section on L2 vs. L3 cache.

Obviously, if you have identical L2 caches, the processor with L3 cache will be faster. But for processors where the difference is small L2 with large L3 vs. large (but not quite as large) L2 and no L3, the one with large L2 will win. As a former employee of Intel's Enterprise Server group, we saw this regularly. Back in the days of the first generation of Pentium 4 and Xeon, there were Xeon processors available with 256 KB of L2 cache, but with off-die half speed L3 cache up to 2 MB, while the equivalent-core Pentium 4 had been updated with 512 KB of L2 cache. The Pentium 4 was faster for most operations, even though it had only 2x the L2 cache and was completely missing the L3 cache.

Intel still has both L2 and L3 cache processors in some of their "multiprocessor" Xeons that are based on the older Pentium 4 (the ones that haven't yet been transitioned to Core 2-based architecture.) They added the L3 cache because it is easier to add 12 MB of slower L3 cache than it is to add 4 MB of L2 cache. It takes a significant amount of L3 to balance even a slight upgrade in L2. That is why Intel went with such "outrageous" amounts of L3. Because moving from 2 MB L2 to 4 MB L2 would have produced more benefit for the vast majority of applications, but it is easier from an engineering standpoint to add a lot more L3. So they cram in the L3 to make up for the shortcomings of L2.

Also note that AMD takes a completely different approach. They put the main memory controller in the same die as the processor core and do away with L3 completely, and even use a very small L2. This makes main memory faster than going through a conventional front side bus and chipset. But it is a compromise based largely on inferior manufacturing ability to Intel. (I'm not being Intel fanboy here; it is a documented fact that Intel is the best foundry company in the world. When I worked there, it was a major achievement that Intel had finally produced a 100% "good" wafer, with no bad parts on it. Now they do that regularly, while almost no other foundries can produce 100% good wafers on even an inconsistent basis. It would be a big marketing factor to say you can create flawless wafers on a regular basis.) The lack of ability to produce large dice easily means it makes sense for AMD to use a smaller L2. If AMD could regularly produce large dice (which is indeed the proper plural of "die"), then I'm sure they would go back to having large L2 caches. (They did for a while, but couldn't make enough money off them.)

Ed Hurtley,
President & CEO
Rent-A-Geek, Inc.

Ed,

Thanks for sharing your findings. Not too many Macs have used L3 cache, and the model nowadays is a faster path to system memory along with a fairly large L2.

Dan

Demystifying Mac Microphones

From Derrick Pohl:

Hi,

I've just spent a frustrating couple hours trying to figure out what kind of external microphone will work with a slot-loading 500 MHz G3 iMac and a 2002-era eMac.

I turned first to Low End Mac, and undoubtedly the desired info is buried in the site somewhere, but seems to be in the form of passing mentions scattered through many articles and reviews.

Apple.com is not much more useful.

One thing I found is that this is a common area of confusion and frustration as expressed by many similar inquiries on various Mac forums.

The upshot is that an article surveying the external microphone compatibility situation for Macs over the past decade or so would be an enormously useful resource that does not appear to currently exist in the Mac website universe. Or if such does exist, it is extremely hard to find.

Just to give you an idea of what I mean, there seems to be the following possible external mic scenarios on Macs over the past decade:

  • PlainTalk-compatible minijacks, which power the PlainTalk mic's built-in preamp from the minijack itself via the extra 1/8" extension on the special PlainTalk plug that contacts an internal power connector
  • line-level mic input minijacks that can power a PlainTalk mic as above, and can also be used with any mic provided the level is boosted through some form of preamp
  • line-level mic input minijacks that require a preamped mic to boost the level, but which are not compatible with PlainTalk mic's (e.g. the eMac mentioned above)
  • no analog audio input at all, requiring a USB mic
  • mic input minijack that will work with an unamplified mic, the same as PC's, allowing use of any PC-compatible mic

An article that clearly indicates which of the above categories (and any others that might exist) applies to each Mac model over the past decade would be a blessing to all vintage Mac users trying to figure out what kind of microphone and/or headset they can use with their older Mac.

It would be additionally excellent if the article included some discussion of the pros and cons of connecting a mic/headset via USB vs. the analog sound input in models where both are possible.

For example, in my case, both the iMac and the eMac appear to require a preamped mic to boost the level to "line-level". Though I haven't yet priced the options, my guess is that USB mic/headsets would end up being cheaper than preamp device + unamplified mic/headsets, or in the case of the iMac, a PlainTalk mic. But what if there are non-monetary considerations that would strongly favour one solution over the other, such as audio quality or technical glitches or other compatibility issues?

I hope my example and the details I've given above help clarify the great need for a comprehensive and concise article addressing this vexing issue.

Thanks, and feel free to get back to me with any questions you may have about anything I've written.

- Derrick

Derrick,

No, you didn't miss an article on Low End Mac. It's one area we've never researched, but with the rise of voice chat software and podcasting, I can see that it's an important area. I'll post this in the mailbag in hopes that someone can point to such an article or would be willing to undertake compiling this information for publication.

Dan

Leopard Won't Install on G4 Yikes

From Sascha:

Just to let you know, I own one of the very first G4 models, the Power Macintosh G4/350 with PCI graphics.

It happened that I found a copy of Build 5A559 on my doormate, and I wanted to see if it installs. It doesn't.

At bootup from the DVD with pressing 'c' on the keyboard, you see the grey Apple screen and a few seconds later the lines written: 'No drivers found for this platform : PowerMac 2,1 '

That's about it; there is no workaround (I tried those, like replacing OSINstall.pkg with the Tiger one and all other known tricks). My guess is that this will happen on all PCI graphics based machines, because it seems that only AGP chips are supported.

It's a shame to see this rock-solid machine (which runs Tiger at no problems with memory maxed out and a Quartz Extreme PCI card in - it does iPhoto 5, Photoshop CS, and even Poser 6 is possible) suddenly turned into "an obsolete computer".

I hate to say it, but with this decision Apple will see lots of boohs. Why not have they included a setup that will check for capabilities and let the OS itself or the user decide what feature to turn on or off?

Greetings from Germany

Sascha

Sascha,

Thanks for writing. We don't expect the Leopard installer to work with any unsupported models, but we have heard that drives that have had Leopard installed in a supported G4 system have been put in some unsupported models - and Leopard runs just fine. However, we don't yet have specifics as to what models these have been, and it's possible that Macs without AGP graphics won't work at all. We'll start collecting that information when the official version of Leopard is available.

Dan

Comment Doesn't Make Sense

From Jack Beckman:

Our guess is that all Mac designed around a G4 CPU will be able to run Leopard, the likely exception being the "Yikes!" Power Mac G4, which essentially grafts a G4 CPU onto a motherboard designed for the G3 processor. It seems very unlikely that the beige Power Mac G3 will be able to run Leopard even with a G4 upgrade, but there's a fair chance that a G4-upgraded Blue & White G3 could work.

The above makes no sense to me. A Yikes! is a Blue and White G3 "upgraded" at the factory, basically. Why would you guess that a B&W with a G4 would work when a Yikes! wouldn't? I'd be more inclined to think that the presence of the G4 is the important part - that Leopard has G4-specific code in it that a G3 can't execute.

In any case, I won't be spending any time trying to get it on my Yikes! - it runs just fine as a backup DNS server with Panther.

Jack

Jack,

Our guess is that if any G4-based Mac won't be able to run Leopard, it's going to be the Yikes! Power Mac, as it's the only G4-based Mac built around a motherboard designed for the G3. At the same time, we believe that the Blue & White G3 with a G4 upgrade is the G3-based Mac most likely to be able to run Leopard. I don't see where that doesn't make sense....

Dan

Finding BBEdit Lite

From Melissa Seibert :

Dear Dan-

I would love to try the older version of BBEdit Lite but cannot find a source anywhere. Can you help?

Thanks
Melissa

Melissa,

It's not easy to find. The links at MacUpdate and VersionTracker no longer work, but I found BBEdit Lite v6.1.2 available for download on the System 7 Today website.

Dan

Low End Until the End...

From Michael:

Hi Dan,

Love the site and enjoy reading the articles, even the occasional rants :) too.

I just wanted to share on my 2 cents and my choice for switching to Apple computers. In the past I was an avid user of the fab PC platforms. I've been playing, and occasionally seriously work on my PC machines. I love to reuse old hardware and make old decaying systems even better than they originally where. I love to use the term resurrect for what I can do to a system, and I love to "squeeze" every bit of potential out of a system and it's hardware.

However for the longest time I had felt something strangely drawing me away from PC regime and Microsoft based products. I was never one to be religiously infatuated with companies or their missions, hell, I even blasphemed the Apple name and computers a few times. In my 15 yrs of tinkering with PCs and "resurrecting" them, I have avidly used Linux systems, modded versions of Windows systems, and even odd end operating systems.

However this all changed approximately 2 years ago when I went into a local Goodwill computer store. I met a salesman there named Ryan who, after much talk about computers and the like, I found was an avid Mac user and fan. A couple of conversations later I finally decided to dive in and I bought an Old G3 Blue and White. Since then I have never been the same when it came to preference. Even though it was a B&W and was slow, I loved it, I loved it. I loved the OS (10.1), I loved the hardware, and I loved the fact that I saw an immediate difference when I maxed out it's memory.

It's now been 2 yrs since that system, and I now own a G4 mini and a G4 iBook. I use every bit of them, and I love them as much as I love my hobby, what I consider to be one of my life's passions. I read about all the people who post about gaming and hardware specs and speeds and what they have to say. I guess in my heart the games, hardware and specs are only as good as the amount of love you have for the platform you choose :)

-Michael

Michael,

I cut my computing teeth in a different era, but I was the same way with PC hardware. Back in the day, I was a DOS geek, squeezing out a few more percentage points of performance here, a bit more there. And then I started really using the Macs at the computer store where I worked. Once I got used to the differences - and they were vast in the pre-Windows era - I came to like it more and more. Within 6 months I sold my PC, and I've been using Macs ever since.

Yes, it's something akin to love. The Macs let me tinker if and when I want to, but mostly they just let me get to work. My few Windows PCs are a whole different story, always calling out for some update or tweak.

I'm glad you found the Mac world - and Low End Mac.

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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