Miscellaneous Ramblings

PowerBook Upgrades, Bootleg and Otherwise

Charles Moore - 20 Sept. 1999 - Tip Jar

Last month, the PowerBook Guy was offering 292 MHz/1 MB cache daughtercards to upgrade Series I WallStreet 233 (no cache) PowerBooks. The bad news is that (a) the 292 wouldn't work in my WallStreet Series II 233 (512 k cache), and (b) they sold out in a couple of days.

However, the PowerBook Guy is now expecting a batch of Series I 250 MHz daughtercards with 1 MB backside cache any day - and is now taking preorders. Not surprisingly, given the demand demonstrated by the lightning 292 MHz card sellout, the price for the 250 MHz cards has been bumped to $399. However, this card will still offer owners of cacheless Series I 233 'Books with a substantial speed boost - about double in processor MacBench score (from 445 to 881).

If you want one, you should probably move quickly.

A British reader has notified the PowerBook Zone that reseller Shaye Computers is also advertising 292 MHz WallStreet daughtercards in the UK for 299 plus Value Added Tax --roughly US$450 (Phone: 0171 503 3131). They also list a selection of Newer and Vimage PB 1400 G3 upgrade cards.

No other information was supplied, and I couldn't find any mention of the 292s on the Shaye Website. Sounds like a comparatively good deal, and of course it applies to Wall Street 250 owners as well as those with no cache 233s.

Moving from 250 MHz to 292 MHz bumps the MacBench score from 881 to 1,031 (17%). Obviously, a 292 transplant would result in a humongous performance increase in an erstwhile cacheless 233 (MacBench 445 to 1,031 - a 132% increase!).

The enthusiastic customer response to The PowerBook Guy's initial batch of 292 MHz daughtercards demonstrates a great pent-up demand for PowerBook G3 processor upgrades. Apple evidently wants to discourage or prevent upgrading, and not just in PowerBooks, as the recent blue & white PowerMac G4 ROM block controversy indicates.

In general, the obstacle to third-party processor upgrades for the PowerBook G3 Series is that, while this model's processor resides on a daughtercard attached to the motherboard as in the upgradable PB 5X0, 1400 and 2400 models, the G3 Series daughtercard also has the PowerBook's ROMs and RAM on it. Consequently, unless Apple would offer upgrade cards themselves, or release ROMs to third-party upgrade manufacturers (currently against Apple policy), official G3 Series upgrade cards are unlikely to happen.

I think this is shortsighted on Apple's part, and it will hurt them in the long run. For example, the WallStreet 233 Series II that I'm typing these words on is eight months old and in perfect condition. There is no way Apple is going to entice me to buy a new Lombard or Lombard-successor professional PowerBook for a good, long time. I have set a self-imposed minimum limit between computer purchases of at least two years whether I can afford it (hah!) or not, downgraded from my previous self-imposed limit of three years, which I still think is an absurdly short replacement interval for machines that cost as much as these babies do.

However, if a daughtercard upgrade to, say, 333 MHz or 400 MHz were available for my PowerBook at $400, I think I would be inclined to buy one at about mid-tenure, which would presumably make me a lot more satisfied with it - and more kindly disposed toward Apple - for the latter portion of its life in my possession.

Yes, an upgrade would likely incline me to keep this Wall Street for 3-4 years instead of 2-3, but Apple would at least have sold me the upgrade card and enhanced my goodwill toward them. I would also be a lot happier about buying another professional PowerBook when the time comes - if I knew it was upgradable and not going to be obsoleted by technology advances in six or eight months.

In any case, I hope that batches of leftover 266 MHz and 300 MHz WallStreet Series II daughtercards will eventually become available through the after-market, which would allow me to upgrade my WallStreet anyway.

A friend of mine, who is an Apple-authorized reseller, refers to Apple as "the worst company in the world that happens to make the best personal computers in the world." Certainly Apple is an accomplished corporate master at biting the hand that feeds them - the incredibly loyal but often contemptuously ill-treated cohort of Macintosh fans. Apple seems perversely compelled to test the limits of consumer loyalty - a dangerous game in this business.

The G4 ROM block issue (I don't know whether it was intentional or not, but Apple's handling of the controversy has been incredibly arrogant and has so far served only to pour fuel on the fires of suspicion and resentment) has become a lightning rod for release of pent-up consumer discontent with Apple - even for people who don't own b&w G3 PowerMacs.

Since Apple's near-death experience in 1996/97, the Mac-loyal have been inclined to bite their tongues and keep their frustrations with Apple bottled up for fear of giving aid and comfort to the legions of PC acolytes who would like nothing better than to shovel dirt into Apple's grave.

However, now that Apple is back riding high and cocky on a string of profitable quarters, soaring stock value, and a line of hardware-superiority product, I think Mac-users are more inclined to take off the kid gloves and vent a bit - not that they haven't been provoked by Apple's supercilious behavior of late.

The value scandal is real. It is what is driving the cheap PC phenomenon. Historical depreciation rates of computers are atrocious, and people are beginning to resist.

I think that very often CPU upgrades make dubious economic sense, especially with the prices of new desktop computers these days. But that option should still be available to consumers, and if it is not going to be for Macs, Apple should come out with a clear and unambiguous positive public statement to that effect.

For PowerBooks, with their expensive LCD screens and miniaturized internal parts, CPU upgrades make a lot more sense relatively, and offering them, given the internal architecture of the G3 Series 'Books, would involve minimal engineering and development costs. It is a pure policy decision of Apples not to offer daughtercard upgrades for these expensive machines. I hope they can be persuaded to reconsider.

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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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