How Can I Improve My 5200 on the Internet?

1998 – JT writes: I have what I think is a simple question: Which (if any) hardware or software enhancements should I consider to improve the Internet performance of my Performa 5200 CD? The model I own came with an external modem – a 14.4 Global Village – and the computer has its originally installed 8 MB of RAM.

5200I’ve been told by my ISP that the two things that would give me the most noticeable Internet improvements are a faster modem (preferably a 56k) and a RAM upgrade to 32 MB (16 MB minimum). However, after reading Scott Barber’s piece, Performa and Power Mac x200 Issues, I wonder whether I should do anything at all.

The only reason I hesitate is that one of the most significant shortcomings described by Mr. Barber – the lack of hardware handshaking in the ports – seems to assume that all 5200s were shipped with an internal modem and that the modem port was plugged. Well, my unit came with an external modem and no plug covering the port. Would I still have the hardware handshaking problem? Is there any reason for me to upgrade the 14.4 external modem that I now have? And what about a RAM upgrade? How much would this help? Lastly, if I upgraded the OS (it’s running its originally installed 7.5.1), would that help as much or more than any of the other potential upgrades?

I’m not a techie (nor do I play one on TV), so I quickly get lost in any advanced (or even intermediate) discussion of hardware and software. Like I said at the outset, I’m just curious as to whether it’s worth my time, money, and effort to make the upgrades necessary to make noticeable improvements in Internet performance. About the only other thing I do on the computer is word processing, so other performance attributes don’t concern me a great deal. What I don’t want to do is spend $150-300 to upgrade to a performance level I can easily obtain with a brand new, $600 Aptiva (I like Apple products, but not so much that it blurs common sense decisions).

Mac Daniel writes: There are several factors here. First, the 5200 is a fairly slow computer, one of the slowest Power Macs ever made. In comparison with an iMac, you’re looking at about a 6:1 speed difference.

Second, as you note, there are some hardware compromises in the 5200 design that make it a poor choice for Internet access. In fact, it is the only Road Apple to earn four bullets (along with the 6200 and other models that share the same crippled motherboard). I’ll try to summarize the compromises:

  • The CPU is designed to run most efficiently on a 64-bit logic board. Although it can run on the 32-bit board in the x200 models, it takes four memory cycles – instead of one! – to read memory. First it reads 32 bits, then stores it, then grabs 32 more, than combines them into a 64-bit chunk it can deal with.
  • The motherboard has several sections which cannot communicate directly. Instead, they must use the CPU to communicate, which greatly increases processor overhead. Part of your problem is that the serial and other I/O ports are on one side of the CPU, memory on the other. This also explains why the computer may ignore the mouse or keyboard while you’re downloading web pages.
  • To save money, Apple didn’t use the high speed GeoPort serial port used on other Power Macs. Nor did it use the regular Macintosh RS-422 serial port with hardware handshaking. It left out hardware handshaking, which limits the performance of most modems.

There are a lot more details in Scott Barber’s article and the Road Apples article, but these are the core issues. Whether you have an external modem or not, the 5200 does not do hardware handshaking. That said, Global Village made a special version of the Teleport Platinum that provides the missing handshaking. However, with GV out of the modem business, it may be difficult to find. On the other hand, don’t buy a high speed modem for the 5200 that doesn’t provide the hardware handshaking the computer needs – that would be a waste of money.

There are ways to improve performance other than replacing the logic board (which is the only way to overcome these hardware limitations). Mac OS 8.1 is rock solid on these models – and highly recommended. I’ll assume the same applies to Mac OS 8.5, although it may have higher overhead.

Memory will help, since today’s Web browsers want 8-12 MB of memory. Although you can use virtual memory (VM) to emulate more memory than you have, emulated memory is far slower than real memory because it uses the hard drive, which is far slower than real system memory. Worse, because the emulation is done on one side of the CPU and memory is on the other side, using VM on the 5200 can be excruciatingly slow.

Don’t use virtual memory; buy real memory. As I write this, 32 MB SIMMs are available for as little as $50. If you can’t afford that, look into a pair of 8 MB or 16 MB SIMMs. As an absolute last resort, look into RAM Doubler, which provides better emulated memory than VM but may also make the computer more likely to crash.

After my experience with a Compaq Presario 2266 (see Nightmare with Windows), I would not recommend a cheap Windows computer to anyone. Sure, they have a lot of features, but they are less than the sum of their parts. And the manufacturers promote them as $600 or $800 computers, neglecting to mention the $200 or so you’ll spend for the matching Plug-n-Play monitor.

Before I switched to Macintosh, I was a confirmed DOS geek. I know there is good Windows hardware out there (the problem is Windows, which looks like but never acts like a Macintosh). But these low-cost models are not good Windows machines. They are sluggish. I’d rather use a Quadra 650 or Power Mac 6100 than the Presario with its 266 MHz Pentium class processor.

If you want a better computer, seriously consider the used Power Mac market. As I’ve often noted, you can pick up a 7500/100 for as little as $550. This model doesn’t suffer from any of the problems your 5200 has. But you’ll still need to add a monitor, which is about $150 on the used market.

Another option is to upgrade your 5200 with a 5500/225 motherboard, which I see listed in the back of Macworld for $500. Not only is the 225 MHz 603e three times faster by clock speed, but it also has a larger, more efficient on-chip cache and a 256 KB level 2 memory cache. And it doesn’t suffer from the design limits of the x200 motherboard.

I would guess overall performance for the 5500 at about 4x what you’re used to – and a lot faster when using the Internet.

Update:Low End Mac’s Comm Slot FAQ, Tommy Yune, 2018.03.20

Keywords: #performa5200 #x200

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