Miscellaneous Ramblings

Upgrading the StarMax 3000

Charles Moore - 2001.01.26 - Tip Jar

This week I received queries from two readers requesting information about upgrading their Motorola StarMax 3000 computers, a model that has not had a very high profile in the Mac orbit recently.

I'm guessing that significant numbers of these units are reaching the age where they are being recycled to second or third owners, who are in turn interested in improving their performance and capacity a bit.

The StarMax was Motorola's offering in the short-lived official Mac clone era of the mid-1990s, arbitrarily snuffed by the returning Steve Jobs shortly after he took over again at Apple in 1997.

It is fair to say that the StarMax is the least well-regarded among the big three Mac clone brands, being more oriented toward consumers than the machines marketed by competitors Power Computing and Umax. This is not entirely prejudice. The StarMax 3000 was handicapped performance and expandability wise by Motorola's utilization of Apple's Tanzania motherboard, which it shared with the Power Mac 4400 - not one of Apple's more stellar pieces of work.

Substantive criticisms include the fact that Tanzania has a modest 40 MHz system bus, is limited to supporting a maximum of 160 megabytes of RAM, and uses nonstandard 168 pin, 3.3 volt EDO RAM DIMMs, which are more expensive and harder to find than more popular RAM modules.

Tanzania was also based on the Power PC 603e chip, and it is not conventionally processor upgradable, although Sonnet has found a way to engineer G3 and G4 processor upgrades that fit in the Tanzania's cache slot.

On the positive side, the StarMax is a solidly built machine that was originally sold with a whopping five-year warranty. As an inexpensive and modestly powered PPC Mac, it bears consideration. Other World Computing offers stripped-down StarMax 3000s for $90 at their used computer Build To Order store, however, you are looking at several hundred dollars more than that by the time you get one usably tricked out.

The StarMax 3000 supports G3 upgrades up to 300 MHz. With two 5.25" drive bays, two 3.5" drive bays, and five PCI slots, the StarMax 3000 is admirably expandable and has plenty of room for upgrades without need of external devices. There is also a factory IDE internal bus that allows you to use inexpensive internal IDE hard drives.

The StarMax 3000 shipped in these configurations:

  • 3000/160. 160 MHz 603e processor, desktop (DT) or tower (MT)
  • 3000/180. 180 MHz 603e processor, desktop or tower
  • 3000/200. 200 MHz 603e processor, desktop or tower
  • 3000/240. 240 MHz 603e processor, tower only

There is 1 MB VRAM standard on desktops, 2 MB on towers. VRAM can be upgraded with 2 MB 3.3-volt EDO DRAM or a 4 MB SGRAM card. (3000/240 ships with 4 MB VRAM.)

Ports:

  • ADB port for keyboard and mouse
  • PS/2 keyboard port
  • PS/2 mouse port
  • two miniDIN-8 GeoPorts on back of computer
  • DB-25 SCSI connector on back of computer
  • PCI slots: 3 on desktop, 5 on tower

The PS/2 ports are an interesting wrinkle, allowing you to use PC keyboards and pointing devices without adapters.

The Motorola StarMax 4000 is much the same as the StarMax 3000, but ships with a factory installed 604e processor, which is faster and more desirable. The StarMax 4000 also supports G3 upgrades up to 300 MHz. With two 5.25" drive bays, two 3.5" drive bays, room for up to 160 MB of RAM, and five PCI slots. Like its 3000 stablemate, the StarMax 4000 lets you take advantage of the factory IDE internal bus and use internal IDE drives.

Other World Computing offers these used StarMax units:

  • StarMax 3000/180 Starting at $90.00
  • StarMax 4000/200 Desktop Starting at $110.00
  • StarMax 4000/200 Starting at $110.00

There is a 45-day warranty on the actual CPU. Orders of $250 or more may be shipped UPS Ground for free if delivery is within the 48 continental United States.

For more information, visit Other World's Build To Order page.

Here's a sample system workup:

Basic StarMax 3000/180 computer - $90
G3/300 processor upgrade card - $245
64 MB RAM - $249
12.7 GB Quantum Fireball IDE hard drive - $90
Used Apple ADB mouse - $10
Used AppleDesign keyboard - $10

That works out to a grand total of $694, and you still need a monitor, which gets you into the same territory (and likely beyond) as a new basic 350 MHz iMac. You end up with a slightly slower processor and a much slower system bus, but a larger hard drive and much greater expandability and connectivity with those three or five PCI slots, drive bays, and all those ports.

However, my friend Jim recently found a nice used StarMax 3000 with 64 MB of RAM for Cdn$450 (US$300}, which represents a pretty good value, and he says it's a very scintillating speed boost from his old Power Mac 6200/75.

Jim wants to upgrade his RAM, and asked for some leads. Here are a couple of places to try: ramseeker and Memory To Go.

There are a few caveats about StarMax RAM. (info from the Low End Mac StarMax 3000 page):

These machines shipped with 16 MB standard in desktop configuration, 32 MB in towers, expandable to 160 MB using 3-volt 60ns or faster EDO DIMMs (older 5-volt DIMMs are not compatible). Peculiarly, RAM slot 3 addresses only a single bank of memory, unlike dual-bank slots 1 and 2. While you can use any DIMM up to 64 MB in slots 1 and 2, you should only use a single-bank DIMM in slot 3. This limits slot 3 to 32 MB. Except for the earliest towers, every StarMax ships with a single-bank DIMM in RAM slot 3 (some early towers shipped with a double-bank DIMM).

Dennis Smith writes:
Charles,

Saw your upgrade article of Oct 19th 2000 on the web. I have a StarMax 3000 to which I am about to add 64 MB of RAM. Maybe I should add the G3/300 upgrade card while the case is open. Can you point me towards best prices and installation instructions? I am now retired and still a beginner in this area. Since I do mainly modest word-processing I am not sure if I really need to upgrade the present 2.5 GB hard drive which may be a more complex job. Any advice would be appreciated.

Thanks,
Dennis

Hi Dennis;

Check here for upgrade cards on the OWC site (use the "processor" pull-down menu) or view the Crescendo L2 profile on Sonnet's site.

Upgrade card installation is quite easy. Instructions come with the Sonnet upgrades.

There's room for an awful lot of word processing files on a 2.5 GB HD. You're the best judge of whether you're running out of space.

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Charles Moore has been a freelance journalist since 1987 and began writing for Mac websites in May 1998. His The Road Warrior column was a regular feature on MacOpinion, he is news editor at Applelinks.com and a columnist at MacPrices.net. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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