The Low End Mac Mailbag

G4 Mac mini Not a Road Apple, Big Drive Support in Leopard?, Leaking Capacitors, and More

Dan Knight - 2007.11.15

G4 Mac mini Isn't a Road Apple

From Rick Goranflo:

Dan,

I'm sure you're probably up to your ears in emails about the G4 mini being a Road Apple, but I just want to put in my two cents. I think the key to refuting your argument is that "it's a decent little computer for its intended market." For instance, my sister purchased the base model G4 when it first came out for $479 (education discount).

I recently asked her how it's holding up (knowing that there's no way it'd be fast enough for me), and the only complaint she has is that it doesn't have an AirPort Card. All she does is listen to music, surf the Internet, watch movies, and use Office. For her, even after 2.5 years, it's still the perfect machine. She is definitely the intended audience, and since she already owned a monitor, an iMac G5 at the time would have been both overkill for what she needed and over twice as expensive. Also, her birthday is today, and later tonight she'll be the lucky recipient of a FastMac Bluetooth upgrade and that AirPort Card she's been wanting.

Looks like I better get out my putty knife.

-Rick

Rick,

Sometimes I just don't understand the compromises Apple makes. If the Mac mini were 1" taller (perhaps less), there would be room for a 3.5" hard drive, which would have been faster and made the Mac mini both less costly and more expandable. Yet Apple went with 4200 rpm notebook hard drives.

Likewise, if it were 1/2" wider, there would have been room for two memory slots, meaning you wouldn't have to retire the RAM that came with it when you upgrade - and giving it the potential for 2 GB of RAM. But His Jobsness wanted the smallest possible desktop computer with a hard drive and an optical drive, so performance and flexibility suffered.

I think the Mac mini is a cool little computer, and I can only dream of what Apple could have done with a 7" square, 3" tall enclosure. At the very least, it probably would have slashed $100 from the retail price by using a 40-80 GB 5400 rpm 3.5" drive instead of a 4200 rpm notebook drive.

Yes, the Mac mini is adequate, but that's never really been enough for Apple in the past. Most Macs have been better than necessary, although a few have been compromised for the sake of appearance (notably the 20th Anniversary Mac, the Cube, and every version of the Mac mini).

Again, it's not a bad machine - definitely adequate, but the compromises are something every buyer should know before plunking down cash.

Dan

The Headless iMac (a.k.a. the Mac mini)

From Jared:

Hi Dan,

How are you? I have been a huge fan of Low End Mac for nearly 8 years now! I've often wanted to write in to tell my story about my first experience with LEM and the project that was in front of me at the time. Maybe I still will!

But the reason I'm writing today is because of the article I read on the site this afternoon. The G4 Mac mini is a Road Apple?! I couldn't believe what I was reading.

I read through the article three times, trying to ignore the fact that I'm reading in on my Mac mini. And while I do agree with you about the mini having been limiting in upgrades and expansions, I do not agree with it being labeled a Road Apple. For it to be in the same category as the LC, the Classic, the dreaded Power Mac 6200 series, and the PowerBook 5300 just isn't an accurate depiction of what the mini is or stood for.

The G4 mini was everything the Cube wasn't but should have been. It was affordable, small, elegantly designed, not plagued with hardware flaws, and had a broader market right from day one. And it did it's job too: It caught the eyes of all those PC owners who had recently bought an iPod.

In the article this afternoon, you mention that three strikes against it, all of them focusing on the case. As the argument goes, if the case were easier to open, we could put a faster drive in, or Bluetooth, or wireless, or simply add RAM. This was billed as a closed system, and within months, wireless and Bluetooth was standard! A little research prior to buying would have showed any buyer that these were necessary additions. But they were there for the choosing! It's not like the PowerBook 150, lacking a very important port with no chance of adding one later! Every port you needed was there, including DVI and, at the time, the recently adopted USB 2.0.

And this was to be our much wanted "headless iMac," The Mac community really wanted a chance to save money: no mouse, no keyboard, no monitor. It was the best way to experience OS X, and it didn't hold back for the price: No crippled bus to plague us, no stripped down operating system, and no second rate Apple treatment because you only bought a mini. I cannot call the G4 Mac mini a Road Apple.

Thanks for reading, and I do hope I'm not the only email you got about this! ;-)

-Jared  

Jared,

The Road Apples label covers quite a spectrum of computers, from the horrid Power Mac 6200 series to models like the Cube, the PowerBook 5300, and the G4 Mac mini. The worst gets a four apple rating, the "least bad" only get one - and that's where I've placed the Mac mini.

Every Mac mini is compromised for the sake of the 6.5" square, 2" tall enclosure. That's why they can't use faster, less costly, higher capacity 3.5" hard drives. That's why there's only room for one bank of RAM. That's why it uses notebook components, including a more costly, slimline optical drive.

For most Road Apples, the design was compromised to cut costs or keep it from competing with another model. For a few, including the Cube and Mac mini, the design was compromised for aesthetics. The Mac mini was positioned as a consumer desktop, yet nobody else sold a $500 desktop with a slow notebook hard drive, and only the worst Windows PCs were designed with room for only a single back of memory modules.

Lots of "one apple" Road Apples have a real following: Charles Moore loved his PowerBook 5300, I still thing the Mac IIfx was an amazing computer, and there's a whole cadre of Cube lovers out there. The Mac mini is in good company as one of Apple's less compromised Macs, but the point of the Road Apple label is that it is compromised, and potential buyers need to know how those limitations.

Macs that merit only one apple are decent, competent, adequate machines - just less than they should have been. We're awarding the Core Duo the same one apple Road Apple rating today.

Dan

G4 Mac mini No Road Apple

From Henry Harrison:

Hi Dan

Just a quick response to your Road Apple article on the G4 Mac mini - have to say I disagree with you, being an owner of the faster variant from the week of release. Not sure if you are aware that the Bluetooth and Airport Extreme modules were available separately, though possibly not as a user installable part. I bought mine before the modules were available and had them added as soon as they were released.

Agree with your comment re the upgrade to max memory and a 7200 rpm drive. I find it makes a very acceptable server under both Tiger and Leopard.

Now if you had said the same about the Intel Solo version, don't think I'd disagree there. :-)

Cheers
Henry

Henry,

The biggest reason the Mac mini merits the Road Apple label is that, like the iPod, it's not obvious that you can open it up. In the case of iPods, a lot of people don't realize that the battery can be replaced, so they consider it a disposable device. In the case of the Mac mini, they may not realize that it's possible (albeit a bit tricky) to open the case to upgrade RAM and drop in a faster hard drive. I wouldn't consider a fully upgraded (1 GB of RAM, faster hard drive, AirPort, Bluetooth) G4 Mac mini a Road Apple, just the configurations Apple sold.

The AirPort Extreme and Bluetooth modules were only to be installed by Apple or an authorized dealer, not the end user, which is definitely a strike against the entry-level G4 Mac mini.

We'll be posting our Road Apple article on the Core Solo Mac mini on Friday. To eliminate any speculation, it merits a "two apple" rating vs. one for the G4 and Core Duo models.

Dan

Wrong about Maximum Power Mac Memory

From Felix Lizarraga:

Dear Dan,

First, I would like to congratulate you on your great work. I'm a big fan of LEM, and of your expertise (and wit).

This said, I would like to point out that, to my understanding, all G4 Power Macs from the Digital Audio up to the MDD have 3 RAM slots. Sawtooth and Gigabit Ethernet models have 4. I'm no computer wiz, Mac or no Mac, but being the happy owner of a Dual 450 MHz Gigabit Ethernet machine, I know it from personal experience, having maxed out its memory with my own hands. :-)

The confusion might stem from the fact that OS 9 would only recognize 1.5 GB, and perhaps also because Apple tends to understate the amount of RAM its computers can handle. For instance, officially they only supported 640 MB for the 867 MHz 12" PowerBook, but it is well know that it works happily with 1280 MB (mine did), eMacs can take up to 2 GB, Core Duo Intels (or some of them, anyway) can be upgraded to 3 GB, and so on.

I'm curious about how my good ol' tower would run Leopard, but I don't think I'll ever try it. It used to run Panther well, and Tiger has made it somehow faster and more enjoyable, but I think Leopard should be too much for it to handle. My 1.25 eMac will get it, though, if only to see how well it works out. But I'm holding out for now till the first patches arrive and the dust settles down.

Keep up the good work. We need you.

Best regards,
Felix Lizarraga

Felix,

Well I'll be! It's quite a while since I've been inside an early Power Mac G4, but I just hauled my dual 450 MHz Mystic out of storage, popped it open, and discovered that you're right - there are 4 memory slots!

My apologies to EveryMac, who got it right. When I created the Sawtooth and Mystic profiles, OS X didn't yet exist, and Apple's 1.5 GB maximum simply got copied from their website. I've just added a note to Wednesday's mailbag and updated those two profiles to clarify that these computers do support 2 GB in OS X, but OS 9 will only see 1.5 GB.

I'd like to pick up Leopard before the end of the year, install it on one of my external hard drives (80 GB 7200 rpm drives seem to multiply like rabbits around here), and try it with the 1.25 GHz eMac, dual 1 GHz Power Mac G4, and the 450 MHz dual Mystic. From what I've read, I suspect that a better video card will really help the Power Macs with Leopard.

Dan

Maximum Sawtooth/Mystic RAM

From Danny:

Dan,

You stated:

"All G4 Power Macs prior to the Mirror Drive Door model have only three slots for RAM, and the largest module they support is 512 MB. EveryMac got it wrong."

In reality, the 3-slotted Power Macs are only the 133 MHz-bus-equipped models with PC133 memory, which are the Digital Audio and Quicksilvers. All of the Power Mac G4's before that (Mystic two-brains-are-better-than-one, Sawtooth, and Gigabit Ethernet) have four slots, which can use 512 MB DIMMs.

xlr8yourmac's article on bus overclocking clearly show four DIMM slots as well.

I previously owned a Gigabit Ethernet machine that had all four slots filled with 512 MB DIMMs, and I think the reason Apple claimed 1.5 GB on those machines is that OS 9 couldn't enable Virtual Memory on machines with that much RAM. But it certainly is possible to use OS X that way.

Interesting solution to your eMac problems, by the way. One with a dead monitor and the other with a (very) problematic logic board combine to make something useful. The leaky capacitors are bad news, though, and I wouldn't expect the second machine to live very long if it's still actively leaking.

Take care, and thanks again for the great resource on your site. :)

Danny

Danny,

We've already posted a correction on Wednesday's Mailbag. The first two generations of AGP Power Macs do have four RAM slots, do support 512 MB DIMMs, and can handle up to 2 GB of RAM under OS X. However, it's that 1.5 GB limitation in OS 9 that tripped us up. We created those pages long before OS X came out, like Apple, never went back to update things in light of the new OS.

As for the eMac, I'd like to get another year or so out of it, then find a nice used 17" Core Duo iMac to replace it. Waverly doesn't use any Classic apps, and she's jealous of the flat panel display on my Power Mac. :-)

Dan

Big Drives in My Digital Audio - Am I Crazy?

From Dylan Ruark:

Hello Dan,

First, thank you for providing such a valuable resource. Yours is the go-to site for Mac info and links, in my opinion.

Now to my problem. It's not really a problem; it's just a mystery. I have a Digital Audio G4, upgraded with a dual G4 from PowerLogix, the 7448 at 1.8 GHz. I also had a SATA controller in this machine to get around the drive size limitation, a SIIG 4-port bought from OWC. After playing around with Leopard (which installed without complaint, by the way), I decided to revert to Tiger as it just seemed to run better, plus I rather like my iSub.

During all of this messing around with booting and rebooting, I kept getting hitches and gray screens and freezes, so I decided to figure out just what it was, which meant pulling everything I'd added, when possible, to try to find the culprit. Unfortunately, I no longer have any small PATA drives, so I put in a 180 GB drive, knowing that it would register as only 128 GB, but that's fine; I just wanted to eliminate the SATA card as the problem. This drive was connected to the stock IDE controller.

After formatting it with Drive Utility, lo and behold, it shows 172 GB available. What? So, I installed Tiger on that disk and rebooted from it, thinking I must be imagining things, but sure enough, it's still there. In fact, I have two 180 GB drives hooked up to that controller, and they're both showing their full capacity. What's going on?

I'm not complaining, mind you, but it's a bit odd. I even checked the serial number as displayed in System Profiler against that website that has the serial number database, and it's confirmed as a Digital Audio. Am I nuts, or is something else going on? Perhaps the firmware update that was required for the 7448 did it? Have you ever heard of this?

If you like, I can send screen shots; I don't want to presume by sending large files...

Thanks for any insight,
Dylan

Dylan,

I don't have an answer for you, but I can speculate. I know that several Power Macs support large drives on a second IDE bus, but according to everything I've read, they can't see more than 128 GB on the "hard drive" bus without special drivers. My guess is that either a firmware update added big drive support or Apple has revised Disk Utility to add that capability. I've received one other email from a Leopard user who had no problem mounting his big drive even though the third-party driver he had isn't compatible with Leopard.

Kudos to the engineers at Apple if they've come up with a fix for this, as it will be one more reason to consider running Leopard on older Macs.

Dan

Dan,

Thanks for the response. Glad to hear I'm not alone. I hadn't considered the possibility that it might have something to do with installing Leopard. Just to be clear, I am now running 10.4.10 on this machine; Leopard was a bit slow on this machine (lightning fast on the Core 2 Duo iMac), and I don't want to give up the iSub just yet. But it's definitely nice to be able to use all the space.

Thanks again,
Dylan

933 MHz Dual G4

From Lewis Delavan:

Dan,

Re: Jerome Littleton's comment:

"If you post this, I would like to mention beware of any dual 933 G4 Digital Audio Power Mac listed on eBay: it comes up as that in About This Mac, a 933 G4 11.3 which is a 533. A 933 dual upgrade card was manufactured by a third party, either Sonnet or NewerTech (cannot remember)."

It was PowerLogix that made a 933-dual upgrade card for the Digital Audio G4. Here's a description from EveryMac.com:

The PowerLogix PowerForce G4 "133 Series" 933 features dual 933 MHz PowerPC 7457 (G4) processors, each with the AltiVec "Velocity Engine" vector processing unit, 512k level 2 on-chip cache and 2 MB level 3 backside caches. The card plugs into the processor socket provided by AGP-based, 133 MHz bus models in the Power Macintosh G4 series, replacing the original processor card. All upgrade cards in the PowerForce G4 "133" series are designed so that both the bus and backside cache ratios can be adjusted.

I have enjoyed Low End Mac since 2000, or maybe before. In fact, I've used Macs since 1989, but never could afford a computer any kind until I learned enough from Low End Mac to buy a used one on eBay.

Sincerely,
Lewis Delavan

Lewis,

I'm glad we were able to help you become a low-end Mac user. :-)

Thanks for the info on the PowerLogix upgrade. In Littleton's case, he was hosed - the PowerPC 7410 in his "933 MHz dual" was never available anywhere close to the posted 933 MHz speed. It wasn't until later chips in the 74xx family that the G4 reached that kind of speed.

Those upgrade cards can be a great way to put some new life in an otherwise adequate Power Mac.

Dan

Leaking eMac Capacitors

Hi Dan,

Read your LEM article on the eMac swap.

leaky capacitors in both eMacs
Both eMac logic boards have two leaky capacitors in the same location.

You said both eMacs have leaking capacitors. That would explain random crashes. You should replace the capacitors (or have them replaced), and that would probably fix a lot of problems.

Thanks,
Mike Richardson

Mike,

Thanks for writing, but I'm not throwing good money after bad. The buggy eMac had a broken FireWire port, so I suspect the problems were probably due to an intermittent short. The other eMac has been running beautifully for years - until the CRT went black.

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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