My Turn

Making the Crescendo/7200 More Attractive

James Kachel - 2001.09.24

My Turn is Low End Mac's column for reader-submitted articles. It's your turn to share your thoughts on all things Mac (or iPhone, iPod, etc.) and write for the Mac web. Email your submission to Dan Knight .

September 2000 marked an interesting upgrade for one of the few Power Macs previously unable to upgrade to G3 and G4 technology: the Power Macintosh 7200. Sonnet released a G3 upgrade card for this machine (and the similar 7215, 7250, and 8200) that uses a PCI slot in the machine and replaces the soldered-on PowerPC 601 processor. It's quite an interesting little card, since it uses the company's Fortissimo technology to deliver an independent bus for the G3 and support chips.

One of the other interesting things about the Crescendo/7200 is the way it deals with memory. It includes three DIMM slots, which work independently of the DIMM slots on the motherboard. You have to fill the DIMM slots on the Crescendo card to use it, and you have to leave some RAM on the 7200's motherboard to allow the machine to boot. The card takes the same 5v DIMMs as the 7200.

While the card's current setup with 5-volt DIMM slots certainly appeals to users who have already invested into a lot of RAM in their machines, it's a turnoff for those who don't. 5-volt DIMMs are fairly inexpensive today: Other World Computing lists 64 MB 5-volt DIMMs for $25, but 3.3-volt DIMMs are ridiculously inexpensive. Commodity-grade 64 MB PC133 DIMMs (more than fast enough for the comparatively pokey 66 MHz bus of the card itself) list for $4 on Pricewatch! Brand-name DIMMs (Micron Technologies) are $6. And larger DIMMs are just as cheap. Thirty dollars - just $5 more than the OWC's 64 MB DIMMs - will buy a single PC133 512 MB DIMM.

My suggestion is that Sonnet revise the Crescendo/7200 to take the 3.3-volt DIMMs along with the normal 5-volt DIMMs. This would make the Crescendo/7200, and even possibly the 7200 itself, a more viable choice to people looking to upgrade or buy and assemble. People looking to upgrade a 7200 are already looking at between $250 and $450 to upgrade their machine to G3 or G4 technology; if they haven't already invested in RAM, they are also looking at another $50-$100 to bring their machines up to a more usable level.

Sonnet could also be really clever with this as well; they could engineer the card to allow 5v and 3.3v DIMMs to coexist on the card. Perhaps they could also figure out a way to make the memory controller on the Crescendo card itself be able to talk to the memory controller on the 7200's motherboard, thus allowing users to have 7 DIMMs in their machine - maybe 3.3-volt DIMMs on the card, and the existing 5-volt ones on the motherboard.

Adding these memory additions to the Crescendo/7200 would likely make it a more viable choice to people looking to upgrade or to cash in on low 7200 pricing.

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