Miscellaneous Ramblings

WallStreet and Pismo Processor Upgrades: Do They Make Economic Sense?

A 'Best of Miscellaneous Ramblings' Column

Charles Moore - 2004.02.23 - Tip Jar

All of these products have been discontinued. In most cases, the original pages are no longer on company websites. We have updated these links to point to copies available in the Internet Archive.

In some respects, I think the PowerBook G3 2000 FireWire (a.k.a. Pismo) represents the high water mark in Apple portables. Pismos are just plain nice pieces of machinery. I have one, and overall it is my favorite Mac among the many that I've owned. Pismos also offer a number of features that TiBook and AlBooks don't, including greater ruggedness, a removable device expansion bay, and two FireWire ports.

Another reason for the Pismo's enduring popularity is the fact that it, unlike the iBooks and metal PowerBooks, can be processor upgraded. I've expressed skepticism about the economics of processor upgrades in this space in the past, but I will make at least one notable exception in the case of the G3 PowerBooks, which are superb machines that deserve to have their useful life span extended.

Several Pismo CPU upgrades are available, letting users choose between G3 and G4 processors. Aside from price and choice of vendor, the decision boils down to which will suit your needs best - a G4 with AltiVec support or a faster clock speed G3. Depending upon your style of computing and the use you put your Pismo to, the "correct" answer could be either.

But is a G4 or a high-speed G3 better for your needs? Some points to consider:

Are the applications that you use most often AltiVec-enabled (Such as Adobe Photoshop) or make heavy use of FPU computation, or do you do a lot of work with video? If so, you will benefit from a G4 upgrade.

Although even a super-fast G3 chip probably won't speed up AltiVec-enabled applications as much as a G4 would, it will definitely speed up everything you do on your computer, perhaps more than a lower clock speed G4 would.

If you don't plan to use many AltiVec-enabled applications, a faster G3 may be a better choice. If you do a lot of graphics work, video work, or want to run Mac OS X, then you'll find more satisfaction and speed with a slower G4 - AltiVec functions can run up to 7 times faster on a G4 than a G3.

Apple no longer markets any G3 computers, and it can be anticipated that while OS X support for G3s will be continued for several years, developers will likely increasingly make G4 power a minimum system specification.

Daystar suggests that use of OS X may be a deciding factor in favor of a G4 solution over a G3. OS X incorporates some AltiVec optimization, and since the Pismo PowerBook has only 8 MB of non-upgradable video RAM, it does not support OS X's Quartz Extreme, which shifts some of the Finder processing overhead onto the video memory and requires a minimum of 16 MB of VRAM.

While G3 machines that do support Quartz Extreme offer pretty peppy Finder performance, the Pismo may benefit enough in this department from a G4's AltiVec support to make that a deciding factor. On the other hand, most OS X applications are not AltiVec optimized, and if application performance in non-AltiVec (most) programs - rather than Finder response - is a bigger priority for you, then a 900 MHz G3 is likely going to smoke a 550 MHz G4, and PowerLogix (see below) claims that its 900 MHz G3 upgrade outperforms a 500 MHz G4 even in AltiVec optimized functions.

Personally, I have opted for the 550 MHz Daystar MAChSpeed Pismo upgrade, and I'm delighted with the result. It's faster across the board, and I've encountered no compatibility or other bugs or glitches in nearly three weeks of use. The computer works and feels no differently than it did stock except that everything is speeded up.

Pismo G4 Upgrades

Daystar MAChSpeed G4 Pismo

Daystar Technology's new XLR8 MAChSpeed G4 Pismo 500-550 MHz G4 upgrades for the Pismo combine technologies from Daystar and processor upgrade specialists XLR8. This upgrade provides the industry's fastest G4 clock speed performance available for the last generation of black PowerBooks and also features a low-power design that Daystar claims extends battery life and runs cooler than competitive offerings.

The MAChSpeed G4 Pismo is installed and tested by Daystar in a 24 hour turnaround program. Daystar also offers a "weekender" installation program, providing 12 hour turnaround. The weekender program allows users to achieve minimal workweek downtime by sending their PowerBook in on Thursday evening and receiving the upgraded system back on Monday.

"We've worked hard to create an upgrade/program that provides a competitive reason for people to upgrade, rather than 'buy new'," says Daystar president Gary Dailey. "With a PowerBook G5 rumored for late this year or early next, the MAChSpeed G4 Pismo, allows a user to get Mac OS X G4 performance today, then wait for Apple's next generation, once it is proven."

Due to the sensitivity of the electronics within the PowerBook G3 and the need for low-power tuning, Daystar insists on handling the MAChSpeed G4 Pismo as a factory installation, completing all upgrading and testing at its own facility.

XLR8 uses a low power G4 7410 LE Motorola PowerPC CPU, as well as low-power cache components and electronics, extending battery life up to 20%. Daystar claims that his also reduces CPU operating temperatures under the stock higher-power consuming IBM G3 while producing increased processing power over any G3, even ones with higher clock speeds. In my experience with a Daystar 550 MHz upgrade in my own Pismo, I've found that the PowerBook runs both cooler and hotter than it did with the 500 MHz G3 depending upon what tasks are being performed.

The Pismo has a slower system bus (100 MHz) than today's PowerBook G4s, but Daystar notes that while any processor will perform better on a system with a faster bus, the fast backside L2 cache present on the MAChSpeed G4 Pismo minimizes the importance of system bus speed. The cache provides over 75% percent of the performance for the G4 CPU, while the bus accounts for less than 10%. Thus substantial benefit of a processor upgrade can be achieved even with a relatively slower bus.

Specifications

  • System Requirements: PowerBook G3 FireWire (Pismo). Model: M-7572 (original CPU at 400 or 500 G3 with native FireWire Ports).
  • Software Compatibility: Apple Mac OS 9.x or greater, including Mac OS X.
  • Includes MAChSpeed Control for OS 9 & OS X.
  • MAChSpeed CPU: Low-power PowerPC 7410 (G4) running at CPU rated base speeds of 500 MHz and 550 MHz. Delivers full performance, longer battery life than most PowerBook G4s.
  • MAChSpeed Backside Cache: Fast, 1 MB backside at 250 and 275 MHz.
  • XLR8 Point&Scroll Mouse: Includes the fast USB 2-button, scrolling mouse for faster navigation and easier control in Mac OS 9 and OS X.
  • 100% AltiVec Compatibility
  • MVP: XLR8's Multiple Variable Processing technology uses software to customize cache speed for maximum system performance - up to 15% faster than competitive offerings
  • Auto Profiling & Protection Technology: Automated compatibility and performance software that provides full cache and CPU profiling for additional combined CPU and cache speed - without the risk.

MAChSpeed G4 Pismo standard pricing includes all unit 2-day shipping, CPU upgrade installation, testing, MAChSpeed Control OS 9 & OS X installation, and XLR8 Point&Scroll mouse for $289.

24 Hours w/ 250 MHz Cache 550 MAChSpeed G4 Pismo, $329

MAChSpeed G4 Pismo weekender pricing (In on Friday, back on Monday) Includes all unit overnight shipping, CPU upgrade installation, testing, MAChSpeed Control OS 9 & OS X installation, and XLR8 Point&Scroll mouse, $369

FastMac PowerBook 'Pismo' (FireWire) G4 Upgrade

Another 500/550 MHz G4 Pismo upgrade is available from Salinas, California, based FastMac, who have done over 2,000 Pismo CPU upgrades.

In this case, all you have to do is send in your old working processor board to FastMac, and they'll do the rest, installing a new processor and new, faster backside cache. Using your original board not only saves money but also eliminates third party software issues some other "replacement" upgrades can have. FastMac rigorously tests your upgraded board to make sure it's delivering the best performance possible.

FastMac says that for some operations you'll see speeds double, even triple, that of your original processor. Screen redraws will be faster. Scrolling will be quicker, more responsive. Overall performance will increase. Programs that used to get bogged down will fly.

FastMac has been creating and selling upgrade products for a variety of Macintosh computers since 1998

Claimed advantages of the FastMac upgrades:

  • You do not have to send in your entire computer, reducing shipping costs and eliminating any concern about your personal information and data security.
  • Zero downtime. If you can't go without your "baby" for more than 24 hours, FastMac will ship an upgraded CPU to you. You install it yourself at your convenience and then send the original back to them.
  • Lower cost. The FastMac G4/500 is $239.95, and the G4/550 is $289.95
  • The FastMac 550 is a 533 MHz G4 7410 Chip running at 550 MHz, not a 500 up-clocked to 550.

FastMac upgrade specs:

  • Motorola 500 MHz G4 7410 or Motorola 533 MHz G4 7410 running at 550 MHz
  • Upgraded 1 MB Backside Cache
  • AltiVec Velocity Engine
  • Min. System: Mac OS 9.1
  • Supports Mac OS X

There is a 1 year limited warranty and a 30-day no questions asked money back guarantee.

Turnaround time is 8 to 10 days (excluding shipping) from the time FastMac receives your CPU to the time they ship it back. There is also a FastBack Service for an extra $29.95 with a guaranteed 5-day turnaround (excluding shipping).

Prices for the FastMac PowerBook 'Pismo' (FireWire)

  • G4/500 Upgrade: $239.95
  • G4/550 Upgrade: $289.95

PowerLogix BlueChip G4 'Pismo'

PowerLogix offers the Blue Chip G4 Pismo for the PowerBook G3 FireWire laptop, providing the processing power of the PowerPC 7410 G4 chip. PowerLogix claims that tests show the BlueChip G4 Pismo 500 gives the same processor performance as a titanium PowerBook G4/667.

As with the Daystar product, you must send your PowerBook in for upgrading.

BlueChip G4 500 "Pismo" sells for $259 (domestic USA; international pricing higher depending on shipping costs)

Newer Technology NuPower G4 Upgrades

Newer Technology, through its exclusive distributor Other World Computing, also offers G4 processor upgrades for the Pismo.

The Newer Technology NuPower Pismo G4/500 MHz processor upgrade converts your PowerBook G3 FireWire 400 or 500 MHz to a G4/500 MHz.

Key Features:

  • Motorola 500 MHz PowerPC G4 7410 Processor
  • 1 MB level 2 Backside Cache running at 2:1 (250 MHz)
  • Velocity Engine (AltiVec) support
  • Compatible with up to 1 GB of memory
  • Supports Mac OS 9.1 and higher, including Mac OS X
  • 2 year warranty

The NuPower G4 Pismo is fully compatible with all of your existing peripherals and other components.

The NuPower G4/500 MHz upgrade is performed on your own system by technicians at Newer Systems Technology, Inc. Upon purchase of this product, Other World Computing will ship a padded container to your address with detailed instructions on how to dispatch your system for upgrade.

Your PowerBook G3 Pismo must be in complete working condition with a fully charged battery to participate in this upgrade. You will only be shipping your PowerBook for this upgrade, including its CD/DVD drive and a charged battery.

The padded shipping container is prepaid for the outbound service from you using Airborne Express service. Your upgraded PowerBook will be returned to you within 10 to 12 business days using the same shipping method.

At this time, this upgrade is only available online for US domestic customers. If you are outside of the USA and would like to purchase this upgrade, please contact one of OWC's sales team by email and they would be glad to quote the additional shipping costs for you.

The NuPower G4 Pismo upgrade sells for $289.

Pismo G3 Upgrades

PowerLogix BlueChip G3 'Pismo'

PowerLogix is currently the only manufacturer of PowerPC G3 750FX processor upgrades for the PowerBook G3 Pismo.

The Blue Chip G3 Pismo for PowerBook G3 FireWire laptops provides the processing power of the PowerPC 750FX G3 chip to give your Pismo a performance boost for less than the cost of a new PowerBook G4. PowerLogix tests show the BlueChip G3 Pismo 900 outperforms their G4 500 MHz even in applications that use AltiVec. Add the advantage of "on the fly" CPU speed reduction to save battery life, and PowerLogix says it's no wonder they are selling the G3/900 by a margin of 4:1 over their G4/500 CPU upgrade.

The BlueChip G3 Pismo is a service that PowerLogix provides which upgrades your G3/400 or G3/500 to a G3/900. This involves sending your processor card to them, where your CPU is swapped. PowerLogix supplies a shipping container and pays for inbound and outbound freight (USA and Canada only; international freight is additional.)

You must have a working CPU module in machine prior to ordering. If your current processor card is experiencing cache issues, the G3 900 MHz may solve your problems, as the original cache circuit on the CPU card is no longer used with the 750FX CPU; instead, the on-chip L2 is used.

Turnaround from the day PowerLogix receives your CPU card is about 5 business days. Note: This process will technically void any AppleCare warranty. In the case of warranty service, PowerLogix warrants the processor card. Apple service techs are trained to do module exchanges, not chip swaps; in practice AppleCare warranty service other than the processor card should not be affected, but PowerLogix cannot guarantee this.

Specifications: Processor: PowerPC 750FX @ 900 MHz, 512k of on-chip L2 cache running at 1:1

BlueChip G3 900 "Pismo" sells for $349 (domestic USA; international pricing higher depending on shipping costs)

WallStreet G3 Upgrades

There are also processor upgrades available for the PowerBook G3 Series (a.k.a. WallStreet).

Current WallStreet processor upgrade choices include:

Sonnet Crescendo/WS G3 and G4 Upgrades

The Crescendo/WS is compatible with your existing hardware, software, RAM, and peripherals. The Crescendo/WS integrates with your system software, supporting Mac OS 8.1 (G4 requires Mac OS 8.6) through OS X (10.1 and higher).

Features:

  • 500 MHz PowerPC G3 or G4 processor
  • AltiVec-enabled (G4 only)
  • 1 MB level 2 backside cache
  • Supports from 32 to 512 MB RAM
  • Only G4 upgrade that fully supports sleep mode under Mac OS 9.x and earlier
  • Installs without reformatting or repartitioning of hard drive
  • 100% compatible with existing hardware and software
  • Installs in minutes with Sonnet's "Simply Fast" instructions
  • Supports Mac OS 8.1 through the latest version of OS X (G4 requires Mac OS 8.6)

Price:

  • Crescendo/WS G3-500-1M, $299.95
  • Crescendo/WS G4-500-1M, $399.95

Allegro 500 G3 Upgrade for Wallstreet

Allegro's distributor, Wegener Media, notes:

"Why not G4? Good question. But think about it. The only real advantage of G4 is the AltiVec processor, which is rarely utilized except for video processing. And the Wallstreet is really not set up for video processing anyway, so if you were going to do video, you'd save that extra $150 and get a Pismo. So, our opinion is, get the Allegro, save your pennies, and get on with life!

"The bottom line is, will this thing function? The answer is yes! We have been able to reduce processor heat by nearly 50% cooler than even the G3 PowerBook Pismo! Our processor operates at a balmy 55°C (that's 131°F for you Americans!). And cool is good - this means great reliability for your processor and excellent performance for you!

Purchase requires return of your original Wallstreet card. A $60 core charge will be refunded upon receipt of your old card. Wegener Media has two models; both models have 1 MB backside cache, but they are programmed for different logic boards:

Features:

  • 500 MHz G3 processor
  • 1 MB L2 backside cache @ 250 MHz
  • Claimed to be 50% cooler than other upgrade kits
  • 100% OS X/Jaguar compatible
  • 100% OS 9 compatible
  • No ROM upgrade necessary
  • No software installation
  • Supports from 32 to 512 MB
  • Good for Mac OS 8.1-OS X (Jaguar)

The Allegro has a one year warranty.

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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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