The Low End Mac Mailbag

Pros and Cons of Vampire Video, Another Way to Install Leopard, Looking for EasyShare, and More

Dan Knight - 2007.11.29

Vampire Video in the Modern Age

From Ed Hurtley:

While your article does accurately reflect the condition of integrated graphics for the previous generation of integrated video, the GMA 950 (sadly, still used in the mini), it does not apply to the X3100 graphics used in the latest MacBooks. The three big differences between integrated graphics and discrete graphics:

  1. As mentioned, integrated graphics almost always uses main system memory instead of having dedicated memory. Once upon a time, Intel did offer dedicated memory modules for their integrated video, but I haven't seen it even as an option since 2000.
  2. Integrated video generally does not have a "Texture and Lighting" unit, relinquishing this functionality to the main CPU. This is where the new X3100 is superior. It has a T&L unit, just like a discrete video card.
  3. Because they are integrated, they tend to be designed to be inexpensive to produce, and therefore, are relatively "underpowered" by modern standards. However, the X3100 should be at least an equal for the old Radeon 9200 that was in the mini G4 and the last generation iBook. (In addition, even the GMA 950 has pixel shaders, making it Core Image compatible, where the Radeon 9200 did not have pixel shaders, so wasn't Core Image compatible.)

With better drivers, X3100 should be able to reach the performance of low-end discrete video, at significantly reduced cost (for Apple). But, of course, integrated video will never be even a close match for the midrange video Apple uses, much less high-end video of the expensive Mac Pro add-in cards or PC cards.

Ed Hurtley

Ed,

I don't have a MacBook, and I'm not a 3D gamer, so I have no way of knowing how well the integrated Intel graphics works - or how the X3100 GPU compares with the older GMA 950. I have to depend on the findings of others. Bare Feats has tested the last two versions of the MacBook head-to-head for 3D graphics, and their findings are mixed:

  • X3100 is much better in the Halo and Unreal Tournament benchmarks.
  • X3100 is a bit better at Warcraft, Quake, and Doom benchmarks.
  • X3100 is no better at the Prey benchmark.

In non-gaming benchmarks, X3100 handily beats GMA 950 - almost twice the score in the Cinebench 10 flyby benchmark. Still, in every case the MacBook Pro, with dedicated midrange graphics, runs circles around the MacBooks with their integrated graphics.

For most people most of the time, integrated graphics are good enough. The problem comes primarily in 3D gaming, and perhaps Apple's biggest stumbling block is that they provide no way for users to add a better graphics card to the low-end Macs with integrated video. If someone with a low-end Intel Mac wants to move into 3D gaming, it's a lot cheaper to buy a Windows PC than a $1,200 iMac or $2,000 MacBook Pro.

Dan

How 'Vampire Video' Works

From Wesley Hayato Tomatsu:

Hi Dan,

I read your article about integrated graphics and, as usual, enjoyed it. You raised some questions about integrated graphics, and I wanted to take a shot at answering them.

The term "integrated graphics" only makes sense from a manufacturing standpoint. From a graphics rendering standpoint, discrete GPUs from AMD/ATI and Nvidia are far more integrated because they handle more of the rendering pipeline. Integrated graphics chips offload much of that work to the host CPU.

This creates two distinct but related problems that contribute to slow performance. The first is the host CPU may not be fast enough to handle these offloaded rendering tasks in addition to a game's other processing needs (texture setup, AI, music, sound, etc.). The second is that the drivers for an integrated graphics chip needs to "fake out" a game by advertising functionality that the chip itself does not support and then silently offload that functionality to the host CPU.

The first issue is mitigated (but not completely resolved) by the introduction of multicore CPUs which can devote one core for offloaded graphics rendering tasks. The second issue is by far the biggest hurdle with gaming on Intel's integrated chips. Many games simply won't run because of it, and the added complexity contributes to slow performance.

What hardware processing integrated chips can handle is actually sufficient for most day-to-day tasks, which is why they're perfectly adequate for most non-gaming tasks. In some rare cases, they may actually be better - for example, hardware-assisted video decoding is usually more robust on the cheaper graphics chips because they're meant to be paired up with slower processors.

It's also worth noting that one of the most important features absent from Intel's integrated chips is hardware vertex shading. Support for hardware vertex shading was added to their X3000/X3100 chips and recently, Intel debuted beta drivers for Windows XP that finally enabled this functionality. You can see these new beta drivers in action on this YouTube video. Hopefully, with the right drivers, the new MacBooks with X3100 integrated graphics can get in on the gaming action.

Cheers,
Wesley

Wesley,

Thanks for the info. We Mac users have a lot of learning to do, since we've been spoiled by dedicated GPUs for so long.

Dan

Vampire Video Generally Good Enough

From Mike Gruszczynski:

Dan,

As always, kudos on presenting great discussions of both new and old Apple hardware.

I just thought I would give my two cents on the vampire video discussion. As an owner of a late '06 Core 2 Duo MacBook, I've grappled with the effects of the integrated chipsets on these computers. Of course, I would love it if Apple provided dedicated graphics, but I have been more than pleasantly surprised at the real- world performance of this little beast. Although this computer is mostly used for grad school-related projects, I still somehow find the time for games of many stripes.

A good example of this - this computer can handle both Call of Duty (which runs in Rosetta) and Call of Duty 2 - which surprised me when I first tried it. Frame rates are relatively high, though obviously not close to what a MBPro would handle, but more than acceptable. In addition, I've found that many recent games run great on my Windows XP partition (though interestingly, Call of Duty 2 on the PC side doesn't support the graphics hardware).

So, all in all, I'd agree that while it would be nice to have the nicer graphics hardware, it is also a good thing that these machines are affordable, especially for those who are stuck in school forever (and forever without money). And I'd also like to note my weariness toward benchmark tests - in actuality, I think these machines are capable of much more than laboratory tests let on.

Again, great job on the site, and have a great Thanksgiving!

Mike G

Mike,

Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Benchmarking has its strengths and weaknesses, and one weakness of many 3D gaming benchmarks is that they use higher screen resolutions and have more features enabled than people with low-end graphics processors are realistically going to use.

For those who want the highest resolution and all the graphic embellishments enabled, dedicated graphics is the way to go. For the rest of us, integrated graphics should be good enough for everything but high-end 3D gaming.

Dan

Vampire Video Is Pretty Good

From Jeff Wiseman:

Dan,

A couple of things about the the video discussion, but first a little info.

  1. I am not a gamer (last game I bought and enjoyed was Civ II) and think that "shooters" are best left to dedicated hardware.
  2. My main computer is is a 1.83 MacBook Core Duo, 2 GB RAM, driving a 20" monitor, and the internal LCD, on my desktop.
  3. My previous computer was a 1.25 G4 mini, driving the same monitor.
  4. I also have a 1 GHz eMac set up for some photo and DVD work.

Three things struck me about the Integrated Graphics article that I would like to comment on.

First, when Apple was comparing the mini to budget PCs, most of the budget models were single core and came with 2 RAM slots with one 512 MB module installed. My in-laws bought a couple of different PC models in the first 6 months after I bought my mini, and the video performance wasn't good compared to the mini. Even when the PCs were upgraded to two 512 modules, the performance still lagged.

The second thing is how does the MacBook video compare to the model it replaced, i.e. the iBook G4? This would be a more realistic comparison than comparing to higher model laptops or desktops. I know my MacBook seems to have better graphics performance compared to my Mac mini, the eMac, or the iBook G4/800 it replaced. I find the graphics more than adequate in daily use, no matter what the Xbench scores.

The third thing is what the Xbench scores are referenced against. The base is a 100 when run on a 2 GHz Dual G5 with a GeForce 6800 Graphics card. Running Xbench on my MacBook gives the following results: Quartz 117.77, OpenGL 218.00, UI 156.57

Personally, I think this is pretty good for what was the low end of the Apple laptop line a year ago.

Jeff Wiseman

Jeff,

Thanks for writing and sharing your experiences. I had a Windows laptop for a couple years, so I know how bad integrated graphics can be - just using Windows (or Linux) was excruciatingly slow.

In computing history, I think 2006 will be seen as the year Apple took two big steps forward, and one step back. Going Intel made it possible to run Windows on Macs, as well as to directly compare the hardware. Making dual-core processors mainstream leveraged that and the strengths of Mac OS X as a multiprocessor-ready operating system. And reintroducing "vampire video", which Apple had long since abandoned, is the step backwards.

The problem is twofold: low-end graphics processors vs. midrange in the MacBook Pro and iMac, along with the use of system memory vs. dedicated video memory. I wish Apple had gone with a low-end GPU from ATI or Nvidia along with dedicated video memory, as the GMA 950 video used in low-end Intel Macs (prior to the Santa Rosa MacBook) is only just adequate - and Leopard is more graphically demanding than Tiger was.

Still, for most users most of the time, integrated graphics is plenty good enough. Just avoid the demanding 3D games.

Dan

Integrated Graphics: What's Not to Like?

From Marc Speyer:

Hi Dan,

It seems to me that for the rest of us computer users (i.e. non-3D gamers), vampire video is just right.

You said:

In the end, it really depends on what you do on your Mac. If you do 3D gaming, avoid integrated graphics at all costs - the frame rates are abysmal. For regular work, however, it's not so bad - and it probably shaves at least $100 from the price of your computer. Unfortunately, it also eats up 80 MB of RAM (GMA 950) or 144 MB of RAM (X3100), which means you'll want to add more RAM to your computer, increasing your costs.

What's not to like? 80 MB of vampire usage RAM? I also wonder - and I have not looked into this - about the benefits in power usage with vampire video laptops. Setting aside your point about Apple's hypocrisy around integrated graphics, I would have imagined you celebrating this significant cost-saving approach for the rest of us.

All my best,
Marc

(been reading your excellent stuff on and off for years now.)

Marc,

It's a tough call, and I'm learning more about "vampire video" all the time - like how it offloads a lot of work to the CPU. That's not so bad for a dual-core processor, but it helps explain why the Road Apple Core Solo Mac mini is reported to have horribly slow graphics.

In terms of keeping prices low, that's a benefit of integrated graphics. I can't even speculate how much power they might save, but it should be less than with a dedicated CPU that has its own RAM.

Dan

The Cheapest Way to Get Into a G4 Mac

From Russell:

Dan:

I have posted this to the AppleFritter forums too, but though it might make a good article for Low End Mac.

I would like to get into something more than my 180 MHz PowerBook 3400 and am wondering: What would be the cheapest way to get into a G4 Mac? Would a G3 Blue & White (my favorite look) with a G4 upgrade be cheap? Would a stock G4/400 or so work for everyday use and be on the low end?

Something to consider: Use of modern large hard drives; will an additional card be needed?

RAM: With 1 GB the standard these days, DDR2 really cheap, and older RAM pretty expensive, would it make sense to buy a newer machine that can take newer RAM? Are there some kind of "RAM adapters" that allow newer RAM in older machines like there were in the old days?

I haven't done a lot of research on it yet but have realized my 17" 1.67 GHz G4 PowerBook ($800 to 1,000 on eBay) is just a budgetary dream at this point :^(

Thanks a lot for your website.

Russell

Russell,

The most reasonable way to get into a G4 Mac is probably the first generation AGP Power Macs, the Sawtooth models. No gigabit ethernet. Often problems with dual-processor upgrades. But a lot cheaper than a Blue & White G3 with a G4 upgrade. Current prices are $110-130 for 400-500 MHz Sawtooth models. And they'll handle drives to 128 GB with no trouble.

RAM is expensive: $80 for 1 GB, and around $170 for 2 GB. If you plan to max out RAM and want a big hard drive, a used 733 MHz Quicksilver might be a better choice. Currently $269 from Baucom, you can bring RAM to 1.5 GB for just $75, you also get gigabit ethernet, a better video card, a faster memory bus, and I've heard some of compatible with "big" hard drives. You also get quite a speed boost.

Either would be a good choice, but if you can swing it, the Quicksilver will serve you better in the long run.

Dan

Thank you very much for your informed opinion. This has pretty much been my conclusion too, as I hope to do some small video work in the future. To upgrade a Sawtooth to minimum QS specs would cost more than a Quicksilver!

And as long as I stay away from the Mirror Drive Door models, aftermarket processor upgrades are possible, and they keep getting more efficient and a little bit cheaper all the time (though I would have a hard time justifying $700 for a dual 1.8 GHz unless I really liked my current setup!)

Another interesting factoid I thought you might like from where a guy was adding an old G4 to a rack server:

<http://www.macmod.com/content/view/874/192/>

"I know that some people will be balking at the fact that the machine clocks at 400 MHz. One has to remember though that the G4 is a very powerful processor (for its generation). With OS X the system really is just as responsive as the 1.8 GHz Celeron / Windows XP system it's replacing. However, in the future if we need more power there are plenty of socket-based upgrades available for this system. If desired we could even bring the system up to a Dual G4s running at 2.0 GHz. For now though, the system is fast enough."

400 MHz Mac = 1.8 GHz Windows. Sounds pretty good!

Russell,

The author of that article is on to something. Back in 1999, that late Rodney O. Lain proposed that Apple should market the G4 by "Pentium equivalent" MHz, as AMD was doing with its line of processors. By his estimation, a 400 MHz G4 has comparable power to a 1.7 GHz Pentium III.

Dan

Angry Reviews?

From Gerard Daniels:

Maybe its just me, but lately you're reviews seem a bit angry. Core Duo mini a Road Apple? Maybe you're trying to provoke fans?

Although your suggestion to use a FireWire drive may be good for some of you're sponsors, there are not many low-budget FireWire drives available. And who buys a Mac mini - especially used minis! - for 3D gaming? I've used integrated graphics in both Macs and PCs - and for watching or recording video, even HD, even streaming over the Internet. They have been just fine.

Also, you mention opening up the mini and changing CPUs - how about a hint about transplanting the unit into a different case entirely? I'm planning on using a full-size SATA drive with my mini - it will require hacking the case if I can't find an alternative case/cover. Some help with a cover or case replacement would be much preferable to this repetitive whining about "vampire video." And it still will be cheaper than a CPU transplant.

Cheer up, little trooper!

Gerard,

I think it's a mistake to offer a consumer computer that doesn't do well what a fair number of computer users do - play games. And I think it's a mistake to design a consumer computer that's more expensive than it needs to be - and more compromised.

Maybe that sounds angry. I'm certainly disappointed that Apple doesn't offer a true low-end consumer computer. In my book, that would be a bit bigger than the Mac mini yet still smaller than most "desktop" PCs on the market. It would have integrated graphics to keep costs down, along with an AGP 8x or PCI Express slot for adding a dedicated video card for those who find the integrated graphics lacking. It would have a 3.5" hard drive, an internal power supply, one more expansion slot (PCI or PCI Express), and have room for a second optical drive or second hard drive. And it would sell for no more than the Mac mini.

FireWire drives can be cheap or expensive. If you want the best drive in the best enclosure with the most interfaces, you can pay a small fortune. If you want a 250 GB drive in FireWire only or FireWire/USB enclosure, you can get if for well under $100 (or buy the drives and enclosures separately and put them together yourself, as I've been doing since the days of SCSI).

As a longtime Mac user, I'm surprised that while so many make companion hard drives for the Mac mini, nobody has built a bigger enclosure to house the mini with a 3.5" drive. MicroMac once built an expansion chassis, the LC Power WorkStation, that did something similar to the Mac LC.

Good luck with your project.

Dan

Leopard via NetInstall

From Noble Brown:

I'd just like to add my own report that the DVD hack for unsupported machines also works with a Leopard NetInstall image. You simply open up the image and edit it in the same fashion as you would the DVD. Hold down "N" at boot, and it works just like any other NetInstaller. No problems with it so far, outside of an 800 MHz iMac G4 having the white screen issue mentioned on your site and a Gigabit G4 refusing to boot (KP saying platform not supported) until the firmware was updated. Several more went off without a hitch.

Noble Brown

Noble,

Thanks for sharing your findings. I've never worked with NetInstall, so it never would have occurred to me.

Dan

Problem with Leopard on an Upgraded MDD

From Jack Curry:

Hey Dan

Regarding Ted Irving's blue screen after upgrading to Leopard, this has been an issue with people for a while. I ran into a similar problem when installing Leopard on an iMac; everything works just fine now. I don't know if Ted's experiencing the same issue, but it couldn't hurt to try Option-C as laid out in this Knowledge Base article. Just boot into single user and follow the instructions:

<http://docs.info.apple.com/article.html?artnum=306857>

Hope this helps!

-Jack

Jack,

Thanks for the tip.

Dan

Unsupported Leopard and Video Cards

From Lee Farrell:

Hello Mr. Knight,

I've written in a few times before and am still as avid a reader as ever of your site. I recent put Leopard on my Dual 500 MHz Power Mac G4 (Gigabit Ethernet) with 896 megs of RAM and am loving it. It boots fast, performance is snappy, and the system actually seems a bit faster than it was under Tiger! There's only one thing that bugs me about it, and that's its video performance.

This G4 still has the stock Rage 128 Pro 16 meg card in it, and let me tell you, the graphics in Leopard suck on this card. From going between Spaces, to Exposé, to even bringing up the Dock (I used the terminal hack to get the non-reflectorama dock BTW), everything that's in any way graphical in the system is sloooooooow. I'd really like to get a better video card for this wonderful machine, and I was wondering if you had any suggestions, as I know nothing about video cards.

Thank you, and long live LEM!

Lee Farrell

Lee,

I've done a little research in this area, but I'm far from an expert. The lowest-end cards that support Core Animation are the Nvidia GeForce FX5200 and the ATI Radeon 9600, both of which are currently offered by Applemacanix on eBay in the $80-90 range.

If you don't want or need full Core Animation support, you can buy a Radeon 7500 AGP for $30. That should run circles around your Rage 128 graphics.

Dan

Leopard on a Quicksilver 2001 and Others

From Peter Lawrence:

Hello Dan,

I wanted to drop you a line outlining my experiences with installing Leopard on various machines.

1. What unsupported Mac(s) have you installed it on? Quicksilver 2001

  1. How much RAM? 1.5 GB (3 identical Kingston 512 MB Modules)
  2. How fast a CPU, and what brand, if it's an upgrade? Originally, it came with a 733 MHz G4, but now it has a dual 1.6 GHz PowerLogix G4.
  3. What video card does your Mac have? GeForce 6200. 256 MB VRAM, dual 17" LCDs.

2. Which installation method did you use, a modified installer or installing from a supported Mac? I put the DVD in the drive, held down "c" and launched the installer. Simple as that.

3. What doesn't work? Especially check out Time Machine (which requires a second hard drive at least as big as your main one), DVD Player, Front Row, and VLC. Time Machine works (albeit, a little less slick than iBackup, which I've used for the past 6 months). DVD player and VLC work as they should (that is, as they did under Tiger). I haven't tried Front Row.

4. How does performance compare with Tiger subjectively and objectively?

  1. If you have a chance, run Xbench and Geekbench (before and after would be nice) and let us know the results. Geekbench: 1179 under Tiger, 1175 under Leopard. Certainly within the confines of statistical anomalies.
  2. Have you made any changes to your Mac since installing Leopard - more RAM, a better video card, a faster hard drive? How has that improved things? I upgraded my HD before installing Leopard, as the original 40 GB was starting to cause issues. I put a 60 GB IDE Seagate Barracuda 7200 RPM drive in there, and the machine is happy. For whatever reason, that machine eats boot drives every 6 months or so.

I've also installed Leopard on my iBook G4 (1.33 GHz, 1.25 GB RAM, 60 GB HDD, 14") and my friends PowerBook G4 (1.5 GHz, 1.25 GB RAM, 80 GB HDD, 12"). No hassles there, but these machines are both supported. The Quicksilver's menu bar is translucent, whereas the iBook and PowerBook's are not. (Go figure, eh?). I have a NetDisk enclosure, which I used NDAS Utility under Tiger to access, and that no longer works under Leopard.

I do like Leopard, but there are teething issues.

Cheers,
Peter

Peter,

Thanks for sharing your findings. So far every report I've seen of "unsupported" Mac with a faster than 866 MHz CPU upgrades says the stock installer works just fine.

That NDAS networked storage sounds like quite a step up from traditional servers and NAS, and the price is very attractive. I hope Ximeta will get a Leopard-compatible driver out the door soon.

Dan

Elimination of Classic in Leopard Was Premature

From Joseph Burke:

I just wanted to say that Apple's decision to eliminate Classic support in Leopard was premature. Leopard was compiled to run on G4s and G5s as well as Intel machines, and there are still plenty of G4 and G5 owners who use Classic. Apple should have waited until they phased out PowerPC support entirely to eliminate Classic mode, as it's already unsupported on Intel machines. That would have made much more sense.

Joseph,

I couldn't agree more. That's why I'm sticking with Tiger for production work, although I hope to get Leopard on one of my Macs before the end of the year.

Dan

Road Apple Nomination: Kanga PowerBook

From Joseph Burke:

I was just wondering since the PowerBook 5300 and G3 MainStreet are on the Road Apple list, why is the G3 Kanga not there as well? The PB 5300 was really a 5x0c with a PPC upgrade. In the same way, the G3 Kanga is a 603 based 3400 with a G3 upgrade installed. It was insanely expensive compared to the first generation WallStreets and is the only G3 Mac not to be certified to run under any version of OS X. This machine was obviously only released to fill a gap in production between the 3400 and the WallStreets. I pity anyone who shelled out the $5,700 for the Kanga when the MainStreet was released only six months later at $2,295 - and even without the cache, it was still a better machine. This is a machine full of compromises that should never have been released and should be considered on a par with some of the worst Macs ever.

Joseph,

The PowerBook 3400 and "Kanga" G3 are on our short list of candidates.

Dan

DropStuff Has Been Dropped

From Colin Kraft:

Dan,

I've been setting up my luxurious new mini, and I decided to do a clean install and then pick and choose what I wanted to copy over to the new machine this time. I decided to compress some files I rarely use.

I've used Stuffit Lite, which contained DropStuff and Stuffit Expander, for years. However, I was surprised when I was unable to find Stuffit Lite anywhere. Aladdin, which became Allure, which now seems to be Smith Micro, doesn't appear to offer Stuffit Lite anymore. If you sign up to be spammed, you can download Stuffit Expander v12.0, which only unpacks files. If you need to stuff something, it looks like you need to be prepared to shell out $79. That's a shame.

I did some research and found a feature I had overlooked for the past three years while I was using Stuffit Lite. If you are in Finder, you can simply right click on a file and select Create Archive, and that will create a .zip file presumably using gzip, which comes with OS X.

I also found that you can zip from Terminal using ditto:

ditto -c -k -X file file.zip

If you then double-click on file.zip in Finder, the OS unzips it for you.

I have to now question the value of the StuffIt line. Although it may be better integrated, I don't see how to justify the expense. The one exception may be if you need to get a file to a classic OS. In that case, better hope you still have your floppies. : )

-C

Colin,

StuffIt was the de facto standard on the Mac for ages, but the industry standard Zip compression scheme has replaced it in the OS X era. Just another way OS X saves us money.

BTW, you can created and unzip Zip files in the classic Mac OS with MacZip, which is also free. It even works on old 680x0 Macs.

Dan

EasyShare for Older Macs

From Niles Mitchell:

Dan,

Love your site and have been visiting it for years. First time writing, and I have a question.

Have you ever heard of EasyShare? It's a AppleShare compatible piece of software that allows an older to Mac to serve files on a network. It's requirements are any Mac with System 3.2 and Finder 5.1. On the surface, this would include the Mac 128k and 512k/512Ke! These machines can't serve files using just AppleShare (Although the 512k/512Ke can connect to a server) so this would be big find to get hold of. Unfortunately, the link on <http://home.earthlink.net/~gamba2/system6a.html> to download it no longer works. Have you ever heard of this, or used it? If so, do you know of an alternate place to find this software? I have found very little about it on the web. It would make for some very neat experiments with Mac networking.

Thanks!

Niles,

I can find EasyShare 1.2 on the Internet, but it requires Mac OS 8 or later and a PowerPC Mac. Google has been unable to find anything earlier, a tactic some software makers use to prevent people from using earlier versions of their software which may be free or less costly.

Perhaps a reader can help out here.

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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