Charles Moore's Mailbag

Pismo a High Point in AppleDesign, Pros and Cons of Leopard on Pismo, and More

Charles Moore - 2009.12.07 - Tip Jar

Pismo 'a High Point in Apple's Product Line'

From Tom:

Hi Charles,

I couldn't help but love your recent articles (Handing Off My 17" PowerBook G4 and Further Upgrading My Pismo PowerBooks) about your Pismo PowerBooks, especially since my only computer is a 500 MHz Pismo with a 40 GB 5400 RPM hard drive and 768 MB of RAM running Tiger (OS X 10.4.11) like a champ. I'd like to add my two cents' worth on what upgrades I would add in your position, and which I would not.

First, a small note: I run the Pismo on broadband with an original AirPort Card at home, and it's great. At work I have to use an HP desktop, 2.4 GHz with 4 GB of memory, on a wired broadband connection.

Using any of my four browsers (Safari and Camino are the fastest of them), my Pismo is several times faster than the HP, which runs Windows Vista and IE 8. I am neither kidding nor making this up. At both places, I do a lot of stuff on eBay, one of the slowest major sites around, and the Pismo is the speed winner over the HP by a big margin. Can you believe it? I swear it's true!

If I were upgrading, I would first and quickly install 1 GB of RAM. My present Pismo with 768 MB runs significantly faster than the one I had with 512 MB. What it would do with a solid gig of RAM, which I will do eventually, I can only imagine, but I know it will be a significant boost.

As for Leopard, I don't think I would do it with the Pismos, even with a gig of RAM. Leopard, even with that much RAM, seems not to be all that quick or smooth, especially considering the Pismo's limited VRAM. All indications are that it does best in the Intel Macs with 4 gigs of RAM. I'd max out the RAM in the Pismos and stick with Tiger for the best performance.

In closing, I'd just like to say that the Pismo for me has been and remains a high point in Apple's product line from the beginning. Name one Windows-based laptop that is nine years old and can still get around like a young laptop as the Pismo does, especially in comparing its performance with modern Windows-based machines of more recent vintage, with more power and RAM.

Much like Apple's overall quality and excellence, it's nearly unbelievable but true!

God Bless,
Tom

Hi Tom,

Thanks for your observations and advice.

I've ordered the RAM upgrade form Other World Computing to take one of the Pismos up to 1 GB of memory, and it's on its way. I hope to get hold of a Pismo internal wireless card somewhere too, but am happy to report that since I switched to a Linksys wireless router from the Belkin I had been using, the Buffalo G54 WiFi CardBus card is working flawlessly.

I had an IBM ThinkPad of roughly 2000 vintage running Windows XP here for a while a couple of years back, and the Pismo running Tiger blew it into the weeds speed-wise. Actually, for Web surfing, where not a lot of graphics support is required, there's not much difference in page load speed between the Pismo and my Unibody MacBook.

After some sober second though, I've decided that Leopard is a version too far for the Pismo, regardless of the amount of RAM available, and the final deal-breaker was when it dawned on me that I'd have to give up Classic Mode.

For browsers, I'm using Opera 10, Safari 4, and old Navigator 9 on the Pismo. Perhaps I'll substitute Camino 2.0.1 for Navigator once I get the RAM installed.

The Pismo is a remarkable computer, definitely one of the best - if not the best - that Apple ever produced.

Charles

Please Try Leopard on Your Pismo

From Jesse:

Hi Charles,

I really liked your story on going back to your Pismo from a 17" PowerBook G4. Pretty amazing that the little laptop can be enough power to not miss the monster PowerBook too much.

I have a 400 MHz Pismo I bought off eBay. I have been running OS X 10.4 with only 256 MB of RAM and the included 4200 rpm, 2 MB buffer Fujitsu hard drive that was already installed! I only use it for light surfing/emails/chat, usually between commercials or on the patio, but it works great.

I think I will save up some money and grab a new hard drive and RAM, and it should really fly! Since I don't use it for traveling, I can live with the shorter battery life from the faster hard drive. Is 576 MB RAM enough for a good boost?

I noticed you said that you used a Buffalo WiFi PC card. Wouldn't be better to use an AirPort Card? This would give you back your PC Card slot for the USB 2.0 you mentioned. Since you have two Pismos, the Buffalo card would not go to waste.

If you decide to max out the memory on your Pismo, it would be a great article if you loaded Leopard. This way, you could let us know how well it works with the limited video the Pismo has installed - especially since you use your Pismo for daily work. You could give a better estimate of the pros & cons.

I have already decided that when Apple drops Tiger support, I will install Ubuntu and just keep on going on my Pismo!

Hope you and Dan keep up the great work on the site.

Jesse
San Diego, Calif.

P.S. Here is my Mac family:

  • PowerMac G5 DP 1.8 - OS X 10.5.8 / Ubuntu 9.04 (main)
  • PowerMac G4 533 DA - OS X 10.4.11 (work)
  • PowerBook G3 400 - OS X 10.4.11 (portable)
  • iMac G3 400 - Xubuntu 6.06 (old work / backup)

Hi Jesse,

Thanks for the comments. I currently have 576 MB of RAM in one of my Pismos, and I don't notice a whole lot of difference in performance between it and the other one with 640 MB. One of my Pismos had 256 MB installed when I got it, but that was back in pre-Jaguar days, so not really a good comparison. It was mighty sluggish running OS X 10.1.

A report from another reader who is currently running Leopard on a Pismo (below) will probably interest you.

I'm hoping to get an AirPort module for the Pismo, although the Buffalo CardBus card is working flawlessly since I switched to the Linksys wireless router.

I would be interested in hearing more about your adventures with Ubuntu on your Macs. I installed SuSE Linux, and later Yellow Dog Linux, on my old WallStreet back in the early '00s, but I never really used it much.

Charles

Going the Full 1 GB in a Pismo

Greetings, Charles:

Just read your last few articles. I never realized that people would be sensitive to the materials used in building computers, and that your PowerBook G4 never really had the offending substances wear off. I suppose that makes me really lucky as a technology enthusiast to not have to worry about such allergies (or whatever would be the appropriate term for that), because I'd probably be very sick, very often!

On to the 1 GB Pismo thoughts. When I found that I could get two 512 MB (1 GB total) low-profile PC100/133 SDRAM SODIMMS for as little as US$45 shipped, I began to consider it just a bit more seriously. OS X Tiger really needs it, and OS 9 is just way too constraining for me in my largely Windows-centric environment.

However, another reason why I'm looking into the old Pismo so much - a machine I thought my TC1100 would totally replace except for Mac-only apps - is the keyboard. Turns out that the TC1100's detachable keyboard port had some pins snap during normal use, so it's now stuck as a pure slate until I can source a replacement connector (preferably without having to buy a whole motherboard). Fine for OneNote (where I only use the pen), but it really bogs me down whenever I just need to punch in a lot of plain text, which is rather common given all the papers I have to write as a college student.

I also think for a bit the real reason why I don't use that Pismo so much - the nine-minute battery I can't afford to replace. It kind of defeats the purpose of having a portable computer. Of course, 8 to 16 hours of potential battery life would be something only dreamed of outside of certain netbooks, but I still can't justify blowing US$300 on new batteries for a nine-year-old laptop (soon to be a full decade). There have to be better sources....

The dual-device usage, while making my mobile loadout significantly bulkier, could have some advantages, however. I could bring up a Web page and various documents on the TC1100 while leaving the Pismo screen completely to Word, just one example of more productivity through more screens. I'm sure to find out the interesting quirks of this approach soon.

Anyway, good luck with those two Pismos. I'm looking forward to hearing just what 1 GB can do from an OS X Tiger standpoint, though you'll probably experience much better performance on those 550 MHz G4s compared to my rather pedestrian 400 MHz G3.

-Chris

P.S.: I know you got broadband a while back, but does that make the Pismos feel inadequate in any way? It did for me, to a degree, since a G3 400 struggles to do something as simple as play a low-quality YouTube video, even with the help of VLC.

Hi Chris,

Thanks for the observations.

MCS certainly does turn one's life upside-down in a constellation of ways that I could spend a long time describing, but I will spare you. Computers are just one element of the challenge.

I can get 10+ hours battery runtime using two extended life after-market batteries (I have two FastMac TruePower and one NewerTech shared between the two machines). Whether it's worth the cost of re-equipping with a replacement battery really depends on how much you like the Pismo and how much longer you anticipate keeping it in service. I'm guessing I'll still be using mine for at least another two years - and quite probably longer than that - so I don't mind spending a bit on upgrading. I also still have a third Pismo chassis-case, mobo, and screen unit as a parts mule, although so far I have not needed to utilize it.

Video is pretty hopeless on the Pismos, and there is no real remedy with the poky old RAGE Mobility GPUs and non-upgradable 8 MB of VRAM. I just don't bother and do my video viewing on the MacBook. Other than that, however, my Pismos are surprisingly good performers on broadband.

Charles

Reviving Dead $50 Pismos Found on eBay

Charles,

Just wanted to tell you how much I've appreciated your columns over the years about the Pismo. Though for a short time at the turn of the century I was certain the Lombard was superior, the FireWire on the Pismo soon won me over, and since then I've been waiting vainly for Apple to produce anything that I'd prefer.

I've tried most of the later models over the years, my daughter has moved from iBooks through MacBooks, my wife has a late model MacBook Pro, but they break, they can't be easily fixed or worked on, and most of all their battery life is generally appalling - they actually have to use these things plugged in, which to me obviates the entire point of a laptop.

I do go back every few years for a fresh battery, as I like to keep at least 6 hours charge on it (I use two). I have maxed out to 1 GB RAM, which made a considerable difference, along with a good fast hard drive (5400). I have the 550 Daystar G4 also. I have to admit that not much is left of my original Pismo - I've been picking up defunct Pismos on eBay for under $50 each, and surprisingly even though they are supposedly dead, you can usually get them working simply by swapping in a system battery from a currently working Pismo. I keep one of these here and there, with appropriate software, for special purposes. I use one with a USB mike setup to make ambient sound recordings outdoors using Audio Hijack. I keep others as loaners, for guests to use the Internet, or for my wife and daughter when their latest and greatest fails.

It's surprising how similar it is in size and weight to recent models; I don't think most people notice the difference. Everyone likes the fine black finish and look - I can't believe Apple has actually dropped black from its line in favor of that cheesy white or tin. I'm still using (Mac OS X 10.3) Panther, because I much prefer Sherlock to Spotlight, since it simply finds everything by name with no fuss, while Spotlight is mystifyingly unreliable. I use EasyFind with Leopard on my Mac Pro, but it is awfully slow. However, I am planning to upgrade soon to Tiger in order to gain access to current version web browsers - there's not much left for Panther. I'm using SeaMonkey, but support just ended for their Panther version.

The killer app for me remains HyperCard. I spend half my day on it still, mostly in Classic now (I rarely boot into OS 9 except when I need rock solid performance and simplicity for HyperCard and printing). But OS 9 browsers are just not there anymore. I've got a copy of HyperCard going on my Mac Pro with SheepShaver, but I haven't yet spent the time to get it fully functional.

Boy, would I love to see a video upgrade for Pismo. Or a much faster G4 processor, though the 550 is certainly very useable. But on the whole, I can't believe how this computer, now in it's 10th year, keeps up so well with just about anything that gets thrown at it. (Note: I do not attempt to edit HD video on this machine.) And it is nice to see your column now and then to remind me that there are fellow travelers out there too, holed up in the Canadian winter (I'm squirreled away in rainy Wales).

Best wishes,
Bruce

Hi Bruce,

Thanks for the interesting report. You are an even more consummate Pismo enthusiast than I am. Good on you for keeping all those old Pismos alive. As with yours, mine are somewhat breathed-on.

Unfortunately, G4 chips faster than 550 MHz are not pin compatible with the Pismo processor daughtercard, so not much hope of faster upgrades. Daystar was pondering development of a video upgrade for the Pismo a few years back, but determined that the market potential just didn't justify it. They have now discontinued all of their Mac laptop processor upgrades, although FastMac and Wegener Media still have them available.

Re: Spotlight - when you upgrade to Tiger, download Spotinside. It's free, and it works more like the way Spotlight ought to. I miss easy filename searches with Sherlock, but you can still get that functionality with Find Any File, happily also free.

Actually, we haven't had much sign of winter here in Nova Scotia yet, and November was nicer and warmer than October this year. There is a middling big storm underway tonight. Starting as rain, but forecast to turn to snow - about 10-15 cm, which will be our first snowfall of the year in this part of the province.

Charles

PS: The snowstorm fizzled (no complaint from me) - not enough buildup to more than just cover the ground, and it melted off the driveway.

Pros and Cons of Using Leopard on a Pismo

From Charles B:

Hi Charles,

I'm currently running Leopard on my Pismo (installed via Leopard Assist). I'm mostly satisfied, but my big beef is that Leopard doesn't seem to recognize the battery being in the left bay; this led to recharging problems. It recognizes the battery in the right hand bay and charges it properly, but this means I have to go without the DVD player.

Another beef is that the video card is not fully supported. My iPhoto Thumbnails show up okay, but when I double click on the photo, it won't open it for editing.

I am thinking of ways to utilize both OSes. I am thinking of running Tiger on my internal laptop drive and running Leopard on an external hard drive. That way, when I am at home (most of the time), I can have the benefit of running Leopard; when I am on the road, I can run Tiger and make sure I have my battery running properly.

I have also thought about using Intech's ATA Hi-Capacity driver to get around the 128 GB limit to the ATA drive in the Pismo, but this seems too much like voodoo, and you still have to have the first partition at 128 GB, so the gains would not be all that great. The idea would be to run Tiger on the first 128 GB partition and Leopard on the second partition of about 180 GB (on a 320 GB ATA drive).

It is too bad that the Pismo doesn't officially support Leopard - using Leopard I have started enjoying many features. As well as Apple not supporting Tiger, developers are leaving Tiger behind. I have a feeling I'll be running Tiger on my desktop and laptop(s) for a while, even after I make the leap to the Intel Macs. After all, I still have two Umax S900s and about three Lombards that run OS 9!

As usual, I enjoy your column immensely. Keep us all posted as to what happens!

Regards,
Charles B.

Hi Charles,

Thanks for the experiential observations. This is useful information. I'm still mulling it over, and one thing that occurred to me after I posted the column is that with Leopard I would lose Classic Mode support, which is probably the deal breaker for me. I would lose more productivity by not being able to run certain key Classic apps. on the Pismo than I would gain from such productivity enhancers as Spaces and QuickLook in Leopard.

Your booting Leopard from an external hard drive is intriguing, though. I always partition my hard drives, and living with 128 GB partitions would be no hardship. My current largest capacity hard drive in one of the Pismos is 100 GB.

I still have an S900, although it hasn't been booted in quite a while, and my daughter also has one - hers upgraded to a 500 MHz G3.

Thanks for the kind words.

Charles

Hi again,

My further observations are: Apple sure doesn't make this easy on us users. I just tried to buy an iPhoto album with my G4 Sawtooth running iPhoto 5. Well, when I went to purchase it, I was told that Apple no longer supports iPhoto 5 for purchases, please upgrade! I have been holding off upgrading my Sawtooth, because I don't want to run different operating systems on my Sawtooth and my Pismo (for simplicity's sake, I like to have as much the same as possible).

I bought the Leopard/iLife/iWork multipack, so I can upgrade both (my Sawtooth has an upgraded processor and video card). But, then I lose being officially supported on my Pismo, and I lose the ability to run Classic, and some other nice-to-have apps I own (like Photoshop 7, and even Virtual PC 5, among others).

My solution was to just buy a new Intel Mac (just what Apple wants, I suppose). But why upgrade when I am perfectly happy with my hardware? In all eventuality, I will buy a new Mac - someday.

I think the schoolbook solution for me right now is to buy (off eBay) a copy of iLife that will run on Tiger so I can buy that album. As well, since there are no more security updates for Tiger coming from Apple, I guess my time is limited - I will have to upgrade to Leopard anyway, or even Snow Leopard via an Intel Mac.

So where does this leave me? Well, right now, I'm typing this on my Pismo in Leopard. As long as I am just doing basic email/surfing and other basic tasks, it works great! I have my battery in the right bay, and the left bay is empty. The Battery Monitor is reading the charge correctly, and it charges properly, which it wasn't doing in the left-hand bay. I lose the ability to have a DVD drive, but I rarely use it. If I need to install something, or import a CD, I can just hook up my external drive via FireWire.

The lack of video card support is going to be a show-stopper for some apps, but I can get by without those apps if I just concentrate on doing email/surfing/light word processing and light iPhoto tasks. Here's a joke: I was playing around with an old Lombard I have, and I was doing email/surfing and old photo organizing with it, and I was running it under OS 8.6!

Oh well, I guess that is a lesson in planned obsolescence for me! Of course, the Lombard was running OS 8.6 (and Classilla! Thank you very much, everybody at the Classilla project!), and it was not as fast and seamless as the G4 Pismo running OS X Leopard, but it still got the job done. And I was able to use old software that won't run in OS X, not even on a PowerPC.

So where does this leave me? I guess it has me continuing to run a menagerie of old Mac's and PowerBooks, something I will continue to do even when I eventually do purchase an Intel Mac.

My other project for my Pismo will be to install that Hi-Cap ATA driver so I can run Tiger on one partition and Leopard on another with as much drive space as possible. I reread the manual - and the limitations of the driver are several (can only have 2 partitions on the drive, the partitions can only be HFS Journaled, not case-sensitive, etc.), but I think it will work for my situation

Good luck!

- Charles B.

Hi again Charles,

Thanks for the further musings.

Of course, the really amazing thing is that we can run modern, fast operating systems on these nearly 10-year-old laptops at all, let alone with reasonably liveliness and support for most features!

Not sure if Vista (let alone Windows 7) would install on a year 2000 vintage PC laptop, but I don't imagine performance would be tolerable.

Charles

Still Love My PowerBook 1400s

From Joe:

Charles:

Read your recent post with much interest. After years of enjoying and using PowerBook 1400s, which I plan to continue on doing, a couple of weeks ago I decided to upgrade and get a refurbished Pismo. Got a lovely 400 MHz one with 512 KB RAM and a 40 GB hard drive and working DVD drive from seller sfpratt on eBay for about $147 shipped. Wish I had taken the Pismo plunge earlier! Great keyboard, nice screen, perfectly adequate speed for most web tasks. The size is perfect for me to use compared to most current netbooks, which are really not lap-friendly. I got an extra used battery and a set of four rubber feet; also had to get a set of screws from ifixit.com for $10 to get all of the screws back in the lower case. Great machine - I hope for many years of writing enjoyment with it. I have higher-power machines if I need to see any web videos, which is the only performance issue with the Pismo.

Still love my PB 1400s - I am up to six units that all work, though some will no doubt be parts mules in the future. I keep buying them on the cheap to get RAM cards - cheaper to buy the used machines than pay Wegener for RAM. Just got some of the Lucent cards, and it has been fun to text-surf using the 1400s. I have become a fan of the text-only BBC news website. I'd still love to find one of the Sonnet Crescendo [466 MHz G3] cards at a decent price one of these days, but $300 seems like a bit of overkill - heck, I can apparently get two other Pismos for that price! But there's something about the look and feel of the 1400s that keeps me hooked. It's sturdy, elegant, and keeps me focused on writing rather than doing other "less productive" things.

Recent Apple hardware seems to have some build issues, but I have certainly been impressed by the lifespan of my PB 5300s, 1400s and, I'm hoping, the "new" Pismo.

Thanks for all of your ongoing writing about these lovely older Macs - they definitely set a bar for excellence in computing that's hard to beat.

Joe

Hi Joe,

I still have a PowerBook 5300 and a 117 MHz 1400cs that work, but they don't get much use. I'm pretty addicted to my Pismos, both of which are now past their ninth birthday and still in fine fettle. One or the other typically gets 3 to 4 hours use daily. Both of mine have 550 MHz G4 processor upgrades, 8x SuperDrive modules, and I finally have a RAM upgrade on the way from Other World Computing to bring one of them up to full 1 GB capacity.

I'm pretty smitten with my aluminum Unibody MacBook, however, even with the "no FireWire" aggravation, and it's the second Mac laptop since the Pismo that I think is a worthy candidate for best Mac notebook model ever (the other being the 12" aluminum PowerBook).

Charles

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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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