Miscellaneous Ramblings

My Convoluted System Upgrade Path

Charles Moore - 2002.06.24 - Tip Jar

It's almost exactly a year since the G4 Cube I bought slightly used from Dan Knight arrived. I had decided that with OS X an operative reality in the Mac orbit, I needed an OS X capable machine. The fact that OS X refused to install on my WallStreet 233 (a mystery that remains unsolved) cemented my resolve, even though the WallStreet was just a little more than two years old at the time.

I figured that the Cube would make a good all OS X box, and the price was right, so I told Dan to send it, and last June 25th, the box arrived.

The Cube was very fast compared with the old WallStreet. OS X installed with no drama and ran well, thanks to the 576 MB of RAM Dan had installed. The satellite speakers had great sound, and the Cube looked cool, although there was a lot more cord and cable clutter than I had anticipated.

The whole rig was also a lot bigger than I had expected, once I had it installed in the work area vacated by the WallStreet. The fact that I was using a 15" CRT monitor commandeered from my Umax S900 setup didn't help. It just didn't fit comfortably in the space I wanted to use it in.

I had planned to purchase a flat screen LCD for the Cube as soon as my budget would stand it, but the whole setup would still be more bulky then I prefer. After an experimental test flight, I reverted to the WallStreet for production.

I tinkered with the Cube off and on over last summer, mostly in OS 9.0.4, because that OS supports iListen. I couldn't get ViaVoice Millennium Edition to install successfully on the Cube.

By fall, I had decided that while there was a lot to like about the Cube, I was really a PowerBook guy, and I advertised the Cube for sale in some online classifieds. To my surprise, one of the very first responses was from a guy who asked whether I would be interested in swapping the Cube for a 500 MHz Pismo. Would I?

This seemed like an ideal plan, since a Pismo had been my first choice when I decided to upgrade from the WallStreet. A deal was struck, the Cube was boxed and shipped, and the Pismo arrived in excellent condition with not a mark on it, including Zip and SuperDisk expansion bay drives. It had a 20 GB hard drive - the same capacity as the Cube's drive, but only 256 MB of RAM. Another factor important to me was that the Pismo supports analog sound in, and the Cube didn't.

I partitioned the hard drive four ways; installed OS X, OS 9.1, and OS 9.2.1; transferred my files; installed applications; and I was in business. I found the Pismo significantly faster than the WallStreet, although not as much so as I had anticipated, given that it has more than twice the clock speed and a 50% faster system bus.

It is definitely not as fast as the 450 MHz G4 Cube, and I think that is partly attributable to the slower PowerBook hard drive. In OS X, I have found the Pismo's Finder response annoyingly sluggish, and upgrading the RAM to 640 MB didn't really help much with that, although it did speed things up markedly in OS 9.

I used the Pismo for three weeks last fall as my production machine running OS 9.1 to check it out, then reverted to the Wall Street, and dedicated to the Pismo to my OS X learning odyssey. My projected timetable was to switch to OS X for production work by February or March, but it hasn't worked out that way, and I still find OS 9 more efficient and faster for getting my particular style of work done, even on the old 233 MHz WallStreet with its modest 192 MB of RAM.

So here I am, a whole year after taking my system upgrade plans, still working mainly on the same machine that I had going into the process. That is, until this week. My daughter has been away at school since last September, so I have been using the computer desk in her room as a second office and workstation for the Pismo and my OS X endeavors, with the two PowerBooks networked via a long ethernet crossover cable. However, she arrived home for the summer on the weekend, so I have had to vacate.

I am now using the Pismo for production again, still mostly in OS 9.1, and it does provide a nice speed boost from what I'm used to with the WallStreet. I have mixed feelings about the 1024 x 768 14" screen. The extra real estate is nice, but I find the 800 X 600 12.1" screen on the WallStreet easier on the eyes when working with text, at least in OS 9. This does not seem to be a problem in OS X.

Am I happy with the upgrade? While it didn't turn out exactly as I had planned, the answer is yes. The Pismo is a superb computer and a more satisfactory machine all-round for me than the Cube was, although the Cube's speediness was great.

The Pismo hasn't missed a beat reliability-wise since it arrived here last October, carrying on the rock-solid tradition of the WallStreet. It has been used almost daily over the past nine months, although with substantially fewer hours than the WallStreet.

Perhaps one of those 500 MHz Newer Technology or PowerLogix G4 Pismo processor upgrades would be the ticket. However, what I would really like is an 800 MHz or 1 GHz IBM Sahara G3 processor upgrade for the Pismo, which would offer substantially better all-round performance than the 500 MHz G4, as well as low power consumption and low heat generation. Now that would be something to get excited about.

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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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