How Can I Be Ready for Mac OS X?

1998 – GD writes: I am an end user and have been a dedicated Macintosh user ever since I knew what a computer was. In high school, I used an Apple IIe. In college, I used a Macintosh Plus, which I upgraded to a severe 2 MB RAM! WOW!

In 1993, I bought a Performa 575 to replace the Mac Plus, which I thought was a huge improvement over the Plus. I have upgraded the Performa 575 to 36 MB RAM, 2 GB hard drive, 8x CD, and Mac OS 7.6.1. It runs like a champ.

Though fast, it can not do anything PPC. I thought about buying a Power Mac 6100/66 in 1993, but I could not afford the $2,000+ for it and a monitor. The $1,499 Performa came with a monitor, and this I could afford.

Three-to-four years later, the 68LC040 and non-PPC aspect was bugging me, so I bought an Apple refurbished Power Macintosh 7300/200 and WOW! what a difference a Power Mac makes. I am currently running Mac OS 8.1 and am thinking, though not seriously, about getting 8.5. I sold the 200 MHz 604e Apple card to a friend who needed it and replaced the chip with a PowerBoost 604e from PowerLogix. Now it runs a 250 MHz (225 MHz overclocked to 250) with a 1 MB cache on a 50 MHz bus without any problems. It is a bit faster than the 200 MHz with 1 MB cache. I am happy. So what is my question?

If you have time, please help me with this decision.

Mac OS X 10.0 install CDWith Mac OS X on the horizon and G4s threatening to come out next year, should I bother with a G3 upgrade for my 7300/250? I have a 4 GB hard drive (IBM UltraStar 2 ES – fast!!), a 1 MB L2 motherboard cache that works, and 256 MB of RAM. Might a G4 card work in my machine, considering the RAM investment, or should I just wait until Mac OS X is in place and then pick up whatever nice Mac at the time will run it, say a whopper G4 or G5 or whatever?

Am I happy with my 7300/250? Gosh yes! It is unbelievably fast, and I never run out of RAM. The hard drive is roomy, though not huge. I though about another internal hard drive in the next year, but with SCSI on the way out and USB and IDE (ATA) on Apple’s menu, would upgrading my 7300 any further in any regard other than possibly Mac OS 8.5 or later before Mac OS X make sense?

I know what you are thinking. What is wrong with my Mac? I should close my mouth and realized that I have a pretty damn nice machine, especially now that I have installed an ATI Xclaim VR 8 MB Rage Pro PCI 2D/3D graphics accelerator card. I do a lot of Photoshop rendering and image editing.

But I worry about Apple leaving all pre-G3 machines in the dark with Mac OS X. I thought when I bought the 7300 five months ago that a high frequency 604e was hugely better than any frequency 603e, and that although G3s were out, I should not worry because my 7300 was upgradable. Now I am finding out that upgradable or not, a pre-G3 motherboard is not going to see Mac OS X, because Apple does not like the 50 MHz maximum bus board and all the electronics that go with it, and that the G3 board is far better and so will be the only supported bus board along with G4s and up in the coming years. :-(

Do I upgrade my 7300 to something in the next years, or do I hold out and be glad for what I have and buy a “modern” Mac in the next five years?

Mac Daniel writes: Always nice to hear from another old timer. The first computer I ever used was an Apple II+. My boss got it because it was the wave of the future (VisiCalc was brand new, and word processors were just coming into their own). I cut my teeth learning to program in Applesoft BASIC.

My first Mac was a 1 MB Plus, soon upgraded to 2.5 MB, then 4 MB, then accelerated to 16 MHz. In that era, the 25 MHz IIci was top of the line, so a 16 MHz Plus was quite respectable.

Like you, I moved to a 68LC040-based Mac, the Centris 610. I used that until this June, when I sold it to my first-born and bought a SuperMac J700 running a 180 MHz 604e. I haven’t yet replaced the CPU, but I’m sure it will happen eventually.

But enough history – you’re trying to plan ahead. As an information systems manager by day, I have to do the same thing. In fact, planning ahead was part of the reason we standardized on Power Mac purchases several years ago. (See Planning Ahead.)

Of course, what Apple promised then and what they promise today are two different things. Then they said any Mac OS 8.x release would work on all 68040 Macs, which they would support through 1999. And they said all Power Macs would run Copland (later Rhapsody, now Mac OS X). Now it’s only Apple-branded machines designed with a G3 that will run OS X – or so they say.

Planning ahead would be a whole lot easier if Apple didn’t keep changing its strategy.

That said, you’ve got to remember that “unsupported” doesn’t mean squat. Mac OS 8.0 wasn’t supposed to run on any pre-68040 Mac, but a friend regularly runs OS 8.1 on IIsi servers (he’s a huge fan of Open Transport 1.3). And Mac OS 8.5 isn’t supported on clones or PPC-upgraded models, but every report I hear says it works flawlessly on all the clones (hard drive bug excepted) – and even on several pre-PPC Macs with PowerPC upgrades.

So I’m holding out hope that Power Macs and clones with PCI slots (and equivalent PowerBooks) will be able to run Mac OS X. After all, the 603, 604, and G3 all run the same instruction set. Unless Apple deliberately designs Mac OS X so it won’t run with older CPUs or ROMs, unsupported may just mean no promises and less efficiency.

And there’s always the final Mac OS 8.x version, something between 8.6 (the incremental upgrade to 8.5) and 10. Apple says this Carbon-based version of the Mac OS will include a lot of the features promised for Copland and Rhapsody and OS X – and it will run on hardware not supported by OS X.

So how do you plan ahead?

My crystal ball’s a bit hazy here. Before Steve Jobs and his Reality Distortion Field, I thought I understood the road map, but with Apple working on an update for 8.5, a new version to fit between that and OS X, Rhapsody/Mac OS X Server, and Mac OS X, it’s a bit more nebulous than it used to be.

First, if you’re content with the setup you have, stick with it until the G4 ships (first half of 1999 – I’m expecting Apple to demo a Power Mac G4 on January 24, the Mac’s 15th birthday). Your 7300 may be able to take a G4 daughter card. And the simple presence of G4s should drive the price of G3 upgrades way down, which could make a 350-400 MHz G3 card a real bargain next spring.

Since nobody knows whether your 7300, my SuperMac J700, or any other pre-G3 Power Mac will be able to run OS X, don’t make any huge decisions until we know more.

Frankly, the only G3-based Macs I would buy today are the iMac (as a family computer) and the PowerBook G3 Series. The G3 is not an industrial strength CPU like the 604e was. It is faster than the 604e, but it also has less capabilities (weaker math section and no support for multiprocessing).

As for your other points:

Bus speed has nothing to do with Apple not designing Max OS X for the older computers. With a 50 MHz bus, these Macs and Mac clones can support a 400 MHz G3 card, so it’s not a performance issue. It is possible Apple has built some code into the newer G3 ROMs or added some features to the G3 motherboards that better prepare them for OS X, but bus speed is not a factor.

Don’t expect IDE drives to replace SCSI drives for serious Mac users. Remember, even Apple will custom build a performance G3 system for you with SCSI drives instead of IDE drives. [Update: Boy, was that prediction wrong. Starting in 1999, new Power Macs didn’t even have SCSI ports, although you could add a SCSI PCI card. From there on out, it was IDE all the way.]

Frankly, I don’t think the G3 motherboard is superior to the one in your 7300. The Beige Power Mac G3 is an economy system, not a true powerhouse computer. It’s blazing fast, but the 604e and G4 are more capable CPUs in some respects.

Another issue is whether the current G3 motherboard will support a G4 upgrade. It looks likely, but until Newer Tech, Sonnet, and the others get their hands on  G4 chips, we won’t know.

So my advice is to hold on to what you have for the near future unless something comes along that makes a G3 upgrade necessary. You’ve got lots of computer – and the longer you wait, the clearer the road map should be.

Reader Feedback

BC writes: Apple has said, with no uncertainty, that non-Apple G3s will not be supported under Mac OS X. Now, it would take significant engineering resources to make Mac OS X work on a non-Apple supplied G3. It’s not the CPU, nor the performance. It’s the motherboard design and ROMs. Avie Tevanian, Apple’s VP of Software, has stated that they might, if really pushed, support Mach 5 based Apple Power Macs (8600/300, 9600/300, 9600/350) after the initial release of Mac OS X. All other Power Macs will not be supported with Mac OS X, but will follow the 8.x and 9.x path.

Remember, Mac OS X has a completely different code base, so all new drivers would have to be written to each an every Power Mac out there. Apple is also managing a transition from Mach 2.5 plus extensions to its own Mach 3.x, which further constrains resources. Apple no longer has the resources to support all those incompatible differences between all of those Macs that shipped before. It was a mistake to design and ship so many different models that required so many software changes to work (and subsequent patches upon patches to get them stable).

While MkLinux supports a variety of Power Macs, including NuBus-based ones, if you look closely, MkLinux developers have to deal with many incompatibilities and workarounds with each machine type. In certain configurations, MkLinux isn’t stable, won’t have a long uptime, won’t deal with large amounts of RAM, doesn’t have video hardware acceleration, doesn’t deal with PCI slots right, etc. It runs, but not always correctly – not up to the standards that Apple would be held accountable.

In my opinion, it is foolish to purchase a G3 upgrade card. It’s worth it to sell your old machine on the used market and buy an Apple-labeled G3. The used market for Macs is very strong . . . it’s actually possible to sell a 7300 or 8600 for almost the cost of an iMac or base G3 Gossamer unit.

Mac Daniel responds: As I said in my response to GD, unsupported doesn’t mean it won’t work.

First, as an information systems manager, I’ve been buying Power Macs for four years because Apple promised they’d be able to run Copland – then never delivered it. But they kept promising that all Power Macs would be supported on the next great OS, the one with bulletproof memory management, better multitasking, and all those great features we now expect of Mac OS X.

Second, Apple doesn’t support Mac OS 8.1 on the Mac IIsi, but a friend regularly uses it on one. And they don’t support Mac OS 8.5 on upgraded Quadras or PowerBooks, but some resourceful owners have made it work.

So we have to presume that unsupported doesn’t mean it won’t work. You can talk motherboard designs and ROMs all you want, but it says nothing one way or the other about whether Apple will develop Mac OS X to work on earlier Power Macs.

Further, there are enough documented statements from Apple about the capabilities all Power Macs would have under the forthcoming great OS that, should they fail to deliver them in Mac OS 8.7 (or whatever they call the last version to support NuBus and pre-G3 Power Macs), they will have one huge class action suit to worry about as millions of Power Mac owners take Apple to task for misleading them.

Finally, in my opinion it is foolish not to buy a G3 upgrade card if your Power Mac doesn’t have the performance you need to get your job done efficiently. Better to spend $400 to $2,000 and increase productivity 20-50% than keep spinning your wheels with a too slow computer.

LR writes: “. . . but a friend regularly runs OS 8.1 on IIsi servers (he’s a huge fan of Open Transport 1.3). And Mac OS 8.5 isn’t supported on clones or PPC-upgraded models, but every report I hear says it works flawlessly on all the clones (hard drive bug excepted) and even on several pre-PPC Macs with PowerPC upgrades.”

There’s a difference between 8.5 running on clones and Mac OS X running on pre-G3 systems. Clones use the same motherboards as Apple. Each company made some variations (which accounts for the issues people have seen), but essentially they are the same as Apple machines.

A Power Mac 9500 has a totally different motherboard than a G3 system. Any operating system needs some support for each distinct motherboard, so an OS that supports a G3 won’t automatically support a 9500.

“So I’m holding out hope that Power Macs and clones with PCI slots (and equivalent PowerBooks) will be able to run Mac OS X. After all, the 603, 604, and G3 all run the same instruction set. Unless Apple deliberately designs Mac OS X so it won’t run with older CPUs or ROMs, unsupported may just mean no promises and less efficiency.”

I have a 9500/132, and I don’t expect it to run Mac OS X. While the 604 has the same user-level instruction set as the 750 (except for a few low-level instructions), this isn’t the gating issue. The gating issue is the motherboard and the I/O devices it contains. I don’t think Mac OS X will have any knowledge of pre-G3 motherboards, nor will it have drivers for the I/O devices on those earlier machines. I expect that it will not even boot on older machines.

“Your 7300 may be able to take a G4 daughter card.”

Apple has said that older machines with upgrade cards won’t be supported either. You will get the benefits of the G4 CPU, but you still won’t be able to run Mac OS X.

“The G3 is not an industrial strength CPU like the 604e was. It is faster than the 604e, but it also has less capabilities (weaker math section, no support for multiprocessing).”

The G3 does have support for multiprocessing, it’s just not as efficient. Not that this matters on the Mac, since the Mac OS doesn’t make good use of multiple CPUs.

“So my advice, for the near future, is to hold on to what you have unless something comes along that makes a G3 card necessary. You’ve got lots of computer – and the longer you wait, the clearer the roadmap should be.”

That’s what I’m doing.

Mac Daniel responds: So far nobody has shown me any statement from Apple that pre-G3 Power Macs will not work. A thousand times they’ve said they won’t be supported, but neither did Ford support the Hot Rod Lincoln – yet it still worked.

Apple’s decision to support or not support a particular motherboard is its to make, but it will alienate a lot of people who bought first- and second-generation Power Macs based on OS promises that won’t be fulfilled until Mac OS X.

Apple already lost one class action suit when it didn’t produce the promised PPC upgrades for certain 68040-based models – the size of that will pale in comparison to millions of 6100, 7500, and 9600 owners joining to make Apple deliver on the promises of memory protection, multitasking, and all the other goodies promised in 1994.

As for the G3 and multiprocessing, it is only rated for use in single- and dual-processor configurations, not multiprocessing setups. And the overhead of two G3s coordinating their efforts makes for very inefficient dual-processing, whether under the Mac OS or another operating system.

But I’m very excited about the G4 – and will be disappointed if Apple doesn’t demo it at Macworld or on January 24, 1999.

Update: Apple introduced the Blue & White Power Mac G3 at the January 1999 Macworld Expo. The Power Mac G4 didn’t arrive until the end of August, and G4 upgrade cards came after that. The Beige Power Mac G3, introduced in late 1997, was the oldest desktop Mac to officially be supported by any version of Mac OS X.

Ryan Rempel developed a utility,  known as XPostFacto, that lets those with PCI Power Macs, PCI Mac clones, and some unsupported PowerBooks install and run Mac OS X on their computers. Versions of OS X prior to 10.2 work with PowerPC 604-based Macs with PCI slots and Open Firmware; OS X 10.3 and 10.4 require a G3 or G4 CPU – and XPostFacto lets you run Jaguar on most older PCI models with G3 and G4 upgrades. In short, Apple never did design OS X so that it couldn’t use the motherboards discussed in this article, and as of March 2003, they still haven’t done so.

Keywords: #macosx

Short link: