Miscellaneous Ramblings

Processor Upgrade Market Never Better

27 July 2000 - Charles Moore - Tip Jar

On June 7, 2000, online Mac upgrade reseller MacCPU voluntarily closed its cyberdoors and shut down permanently. MacCPU principal Bob Moriarty explained dyspeptically in a column on MacNN that while, in his opinion, "CPU upgrades remain the single best idea we have ever seen in computing after the Macintosh Operating System . . . Apple wants to kill the upgrade market, and sooner or later you better listen when an 800 pound gorilla wants to sleep in your bed."

"Face it guys," concluded Bob, "the upgrade game is over.... no one can afford to support upgrades in this market. MacCPU is dead and we will find something more interesting to occupy our time."

With respect to Bob, who I suspect was dealing with many vexatious frustrations at the time, the Mac upgrade game is far from over. In some respects, it's never been better, with at least five upgrade manufacturers competing in the Mac upgrade market.

True, Apple is hostile to upgrading and will likely remain so, but the upgraders are an innovative bunch who have proved adept at finding workarounds to the obstacles Apple insists on throwing into their path.

Blue & White G3 ROM block? Quickly dealt with. "Non-upgradable" iMacs, PowerBooks, and 6X00 machines? Less quickly, but now addressed. No OS X support for older Macs upgraded to G3 or G4? Both Sonnet and XLR8 have announced that at least most of their G3 and G4 upgrades will be OS X compatible, and it is expected that the others will follow suit by the time it becomes a practical concern.

Until fairly recently, the economics of processor upgrades had been somewhat dubious (at best) in most cases. No longer. Competition has driven the cost of upgrading, say, a 604-based PowerMac or clone to G3 power to well under $200 for modest clock speeds, and even G4 upgrades are economical for a machine that is tricked our with a lot of RAM, storage media, and peripherals. Apple currently has no new Macs that match the high-end pre-G3 Power Macs, Umax SuperMacs, and Power Towers for versatility and expandability. Upgrades for those machines are a no-brainer.

As Newer Technology put it so well in a recent press release:

The upgrade adds years of user-satisfaction to an expensive computer that would otherwise become a source of regret. Nearly all customers have regret, or remorse, as new hardware is introduced. They begin to feel animosity towards their existing hardware. This upgrade is designed to erase those feelings and promote platform happiness.

Regrettably, the inescapable inference is that while Apple wants you to upgrade, they prefer you to buy your faster processor with a new Mac wrapped around it. IMHO, that is wasteful and an insult to customers, especially people with higher end machines who have shelled out thousands of dollars to buy an Apple product, only to have it obsoleted within two years.

PowerBook 3400The lack of an upgrade path has been a particularly bitter pill to swallow for owners of several Mac models that are, at least thus far, non-upgradable. Notable examples include the PowerBook 5300 and PowerBook 3400, the original PowerBook G3, and the Power Mac 7200. In the case of the PowerBooks, the higher end versions were some of the most expensive Macs ever made, and in all cases these non-upgradable Macs have depreciated much faster than lesser machines that are upgradable.

The PowerBook G3 Series and the iMac were also considered unlikely upgrade candidates, even though, unlike the machines listed in the foregoing paragraph, they have their processor mounted on a removable daughtercard, not soldered to the motherboard, because Apple deliberately opted to mount the boot ROMs on the daughtercard as well. Since Apple does not license its ROMs to third-party developers, this was assumed to be an effective impediment to upgrading. However, two great makers so far have now found ways around this obstacle.

PowerLogix's iForce 400 or 500 MHz upgrades are compatible with the iMac 233 MHz, 266 MHz or 333 MHz (Rev. A-D). Newer Technology's iMAXpowr G3 466 upgrade supports the same machines.

Similarly, Newer's MAXpowr G3-PB 466 upgrade supports WallStreet and Lombard G3 Series PowerBooks, while PowerLogix's Blue Chip G3 400 or 500 MHz upgrades currently support WallStreet PowerBooks, with Lombard support to come soon.

The similarity between the iMac and PowerBook G3 upgrades from these two companies is no coincidence, since these Macs are quite similar under the hood.

As for more traditionally upgradable Macs, a comprehensive listing of what is available is beyond the scope of this article, so I'll just briefly introduce the five main Mac upgrade makers and skim over what they offer, then steer you to the appropriate Web pages for more detail.

In alphabetical order, then:

Met@box

German upgrade maker Met@box Corporation is the newest player in the North American Mac upgrade market. Met@box's joeCARD upgrades have been produced and marketed in Germany, Europe, and Japan for the last two years and have won awards from the European Macintosh Press, including Editor's Choice from MacWelt and best performance from MacUp magazine. An Austin, Texas-based US subsidiary was recently launched to market the joeCARD in the US market.

The company markets G3 and G4 upgrades for various Apple machines and Mac clones. Complete test results for the joeCARD upgrades are available on the Met@box Web site at <http://www.metaboxUSA.com>.

The parent company Met@box AG is listed on the Neuer Stock Exchange <http://www.neuer-markt.de/INTERNET/NM/home/index_e.htm> under the symbol: mbx.

Newer Technology

Aside from the already mentioned iMac and PowerBook G3 Series upgrades, Newer Technology offers G3 and G4 solutions to a very large cross section of Macintosh owners. G4 units are available in two lines and MAXpowr G3 upgrades are currently available in five different versions enabling new and old computer users to upgrade to G3 technology.

For a complete listing of what's available from Newer, visit their product matrix Web page at <http://www.newertech.com/matrix/index.html>.

PowerLogix

Aside from the BlueChip G3 and iForce upgrades already mentioned, Powerlogix offers a wide variety of other Mac processor upgrades including the G3 PowerForce, G3 PowerForce ZIF, G4 PowerForce, G4 PowerForce ZIF, and ZForce models.

The PowerLogix ZForce card adapts ZIF-style ("zero insertion force") processor modules for usage in PCI PowerMacs (73XX through 96XX and equivalent clones). ZForce allows users to move G3 processors between PCI PowerMacs and PowerMac G3s for maximum flexibility. Buy a G3 processor for your 9500, for example, and when you are ready for a faster processor, just pop in another ZIF card. You can also move your older G3 ZIF processor to another machine.

Any ZIF module (233/512k, 266/512k, 300/1 MB, 333/1 MB, and up) or any PowerLogix ZIF module can be moved between any PowerMac G3 and any PCI PowerMac. If you have more than one Mac, you can for example, and make good use of the left over 233 Apple ZIF module by installing it in your 7500 or other PCI PowerMac.

For a complete listing of PowerLogix Mac processor upgrades visit <http://www.powerlogix.com/products/compat.html>.

Sonnet Technology

Sonnet offers a wide variety of Mac processor upgrades including the Crescendo G3 and G4 NuBus cards for early Power Macs, the Encore G3 and G4 cards for beige, blue & white, and graphite G3 and G4 Power Macs, the Crescendo G3 and G4/PCI cards for Power Mac PCI 7000 through 9000 series machines as well as Power Computing, UMAX, Power Computing, Daystar, and Mactell clones.

Sonnet Presto upgrades for 680x0 Macs.

Every Sonnet processor upgrade includes the Metronome Profiler Utility software, giving users useful system performance information such as processor type, speed, and bus speed.

Sonnet cards are among the easiest upgrades to install, and do not require hardware configuration such as switches, jumpers, and control panels. The ability to move an upgrade card from one machine to another without the need to tweak any jumpers, switches or control panels is a significant advantage to users who want to maximize their flexibility and minimize long term technical support requirements.

For a complete listing of Sonnet upgrades, visit <http://www.sonnettech.com/>.

XLR8

XLR8 offers:

  • MACh Speed G3 Upgrade Standard - G3 CPU Upgrade Card for 601/604 PowerMacs and Clones
  • MACh Carrier G3 Upgrade Upgradeable - G3 CPU Upgrade Cards for 601/604 PowerMacs and Clones
  • MACh Speed G3z Upgrade Standard - G3 CPU Upgrade Cards for all Power Macintosh G3 Systems and MACh Carrier
  • MACh Carrier G4 Upgrade Upgradeable - G4 CPU Upgrade Cards for 601/604 PowerMacs and Clones
  • MACh Speed G4z Upgrade Standard - G4 CPU Upgrade Cards for Power Macintosh G3/G4 Systems and MACh Carrier
  • Carrier ZIF Upgrade Adapter Universal adapter for installing G3/G4 ZIF upgrades in 601/604 PowerMacs and Clones

For a complete listing of XLR8 upgrade compatibility, prices, and other details, visit <http://www.xlr8.com/compatibility/index.html>.

Judging from the above, rumors of the Mac processor upgrade market's death are greatly exaggerated. Indeed, one might argue that the Mac upgrade picture has been never better. With such a comprehensive range of attractive options available, the biggest problem is making up your mind which upgrade to choose.

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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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