My Turn

Quartz Lament: 10.2 on the Low End

David Parker - 2002.10.31

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 .

Here's what it's like opening a Finder window in OS X 10.2 on my PowerBook G3 333 (you'll find it right there at the very bottom of the OS X supported list): The hard drive starts to spin, (like bb's rolling around in an empty Miller Light can), then the cursor changes to the mesmerizing lollipop, then I take a deep breath, then on exhale the window opens. Windows don't "pop" open. They sort of emerge from a thick fog - a stately, well-paced journey from the guts of my computer to the LCD.

Okay, okay. Pipe down all of you snobs sporting dual-processors, a gig of RAM, hard disks in the 100 GB range, screaming "Upgrade!" I've been weighing my options carefully. Given that I must have a two monitor setup, would like to have OS X 10.2 Quartz Extreme compatibility, and only have about $800 to spend, (assuming I can sell the PowerBook for $600) there are three possible directions:

  1. Buy another computer.
  2. Downgrade to OS 8.6.
  3. The unthinkable.

New Computer

The given here is that Quartz Extreme requires certain hardware to reach it's full "extremeness." Apple has raised the bar high on this one. QE requires an Nvidia GeForce 2 MX, GeForce 3, GeForce 4, GeForce 4MX, GeForce 4 Titanium, or an AGP-based ATI Radeon video card. Running it with anything less will work, but every time I see the beach ball-cum-lollipop a small voice in the back of my head will wonder if I'd be seeing the lollipop if I had QE. Several months later the sheer agony of the ten thousand lollipops, one for each click, will certainly bring on another round of QE envy and I'm back in the same boat.

The eMac is close price-wise, but it can't run two monitors. So might as well X-out (cough, cough) any iBook or iMac thoughts as well. And all of you upgrade-the-processor-on-the-old-PowerBook people can take a seat as well, because the PowerBook G3 333 has a paltry 8 MB of VRAM. Not enough for QE, let alone QE on two monitors. Used Ti PowerBook? Nope. The older 400 MHz PowerBooks have 8 MB of VRAM also. The 550 MHz PowerBook has 16 MB of VRAM and will run QE - but not with two monitors. So for my needs, on Apple's computer matrix, the consumer desktops and laptops are out, and the pro laptops are out, which leaves one box left: the G4 desktops.

Ah, the G4 desktop: power, style, expandability. Unfortunately I can't take it with me to Seattle's Best for a cup of chai and an extended BBEdit/html/Photoshop session. Well, theoretically I could, but with all of the cables, monitors, etc., they might not let me come back.

With my $800 limit, all of the recent G4s are out: the new "Mirrored Drive Doors" models, before that the "Quicksilver," and even used, the 4X AGP-based G4s are just out of range. Which leaves the PCI G4 "Yikes" and the 2x AGP G4 "Sawtooth." "The Yikes!" is out because it can't do QE. So all of this mental hopscotch brings us to the AGP G4. Hello, "Sawtooth."

The "Sawtooth" is about $600 used on eBay. Oh, "but you can't run QE on that machine!" you scream haughtily from behind your Cinema Display. Well, Mr. Smarty Pants, an Nvidia or Radeon card with, say, 64 MB of VRAM will do the trick nicely, thank you, and keep us under the $800 limit. And once the graphics card is installed, if I'm still in lollipop land, I can upgrade the processor in six months for $200-400, assuming current processor upgrade cards will have dropped in price, which they should if past history is any indication.

So triumphantly we march, chest thrust outwards, head held high, into the new Millennium. My, how deftly we've dodged the upgrade-or-flounder-in-obscurity rays emanating from somewhere in Cupertino. But what about our other options: Downgrade and Unthinkable?

Downgrade

Downgrading to 8.6 is a crafty, dastardly plan so backward in its thinking it is nothing short of revolutionary. A giant step of this magnitude requires a person of great character and integrity, un-swayed by flashy, candy-coated interfaces and buzzwords like preemptive multitasking. Alas, I am not that person. Besides, have you seen X? That said, I have great respect for those who have taken the leap backwards and whose Finder windows actually open in less than three seconds.

Which, unceremoniously, brings us to our final option, Unthinkable.

The Unthinkable

On my way through the city to the bus stop the other day I passed a small computer shop and stopped to check their LCD offerings. Between two 15" LCD's was a generic Pentium 4, 1.6 GHz, 256 MB ram, 40 GB HD, GeForce 2, box for under $800. I felt a sharp knifelike pain in my stomach and stumbled out into the blinding sunlight with dark thoughts in my head. Unrepentant, I spent the rest of the day pondering whether I could make money (I build websites) on a Wintel Box. I can cross-grade Photoshop. And my 3D app (3d Toolkit) is cross platform. I'd have to suffer along without BBEdit. Worse, I'd have to use a slew of clumsy-looking Wintel apps made by some programmer who thinks a nice interface includes large rectangular buttons, heavily beveled, stacked beside and on top of each other in no particular order.

In the end, the thought of booting up and being greeted by a Microsoft logo and with it the large, dirty bag of ethical shortcomings (very generous of me here, I'd say), clunky software, and the whole quest-for-world-dominance thing, has me thinking I'll pass.

Final Analysis

I imagine at some point while the geeks at Apple were crafting our "lickable" new OS, some messy-haired code jock, realizing the hefty hardware requirements of Quartz, must have stood up and yelled, "But it's gonna be slow! Again!" At which point he was dragged by the hair out of the room and never heard from again.

In 1997, the BeOS had just come out, and you could install the thing on a Zip, and it just screamed. Windows could be resized in real time instantly, no lag, even on my 160 MHz 603e-based Motorola StarMax 3000 computer. It was snappy. We have never been able to say "snappy" and "Mac OS" in the same sentence. The chance to start over and build a slick and fast OS has been missed. We got slick. "Quartz Light" anyone?

The "Sawtooth" party is going to start soon. I'll let you know how it goes.

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