Mac OS X vs. New Drives in a Beige G3

2002 – I had big plans for today. I was going to tell everyone how easy it was to put a big, fast hard drive in a Beige Power Mac G3 – and how much that improved performance. At least that was the plan.


Murphy’s Law tells us that if anything can go wrong, it will. Finagle’s Law says the universe tends toward maximum entropy. In the face of that, things can even go wrong with Macs.

The Hardware

Beige Power Mac G3The Beige G3 was released nearly five years ago (November 1997) and is the oldest Mac that Apple officially supports under Mac OS X. Upgrading this hardware for decent OS X performance is an important issue, since there are a lot of them out there and Apple is really pushing Mac users to migrate to OS X.

I had three hard drives I wanted to test in our 266 MHz Beige G3: a Seagate Barracuda, an IBM DeskStar, and a Western Digital with an 8 MB buffer. All are ATA66 or ATA100 drives, spin at 7200 rpm, and provide 5x to 20x the storage space of the nearly full 4 GB Quantum drive inside the G3.

The 8 GB Limit

The first problem to raise its head was the 8 GB limit on “old world” Macs, such as the Beige G3, WallStreet PowerBooks, and tray-loading iMacs. In short, if you use a drive larger than 8 GB, you must partition it. Mac OS X must be installed on a partition within the first 8 GB of drive space, so the simple solution is to create an 8 GB partition (or slightly smaller) and leave the rest of the drive for everything else.

The first time around, I forgot about this. My bad. So I repartitioned the drive using Disk Utility on OS X 10.1.5, dragging the size of the first partition to about 8 GB and then manually typing in 8.0 to set the partition size. That didn’t work, either. It seems Disk Utility doesn’t care what you type in for the partition size; it only looks at the dragged setting.

On the third try I created a 7.81 GB first partition, did the whole cloning thing with Carbon Copy Cloner yet again – and it still wouldn’t boot into Mac OS X. I could, however, boot into Mac OS 9.2.2 from any of these configurations.

The IDE Bus

I’ve been working with Macs since the late 1980s and have installed my fair share of hard drives – internal and external, SCSI and IDE. It’s usually easy on the Mac, even when you have to make a change or two to get things working. So I tried putting the drive on the end of the second bus, the middle of the second bus, on the first bus. I made it slave, master, and cable select.

Nothing made a bit of difference.

Well, the Acard Hcard had arrived, so maybe that would solve the problem. The Hcard is an Ultra66 PCI card for the Mac that has two IDE buses and claims to be OS X compatible. The card actually simulates a SCSI bus as far as your Mac is concerned, but it uses less costly IDE drives. I’ve worked with similar cards before, and this one has dropped below the US$60 mark if you shop around.

Put in the card, connect the drive, repartition just to play it safe, run Carbon Copy Cloner, boot the new drive from OS X. Not. Again.

Upgrade Despair

It was so darned easy replacing the drive in my TiBook. And it’s always been so darned easy to drop another drive or even drive-and-controller-card into a Mac running the classic Mac OS.

What has Apple done differently with Mac OS X to create such trials and tribulations?

There is a known issue with multiple devices on the IDE bus for Revision A Beige G3s (ROM revision $77D.40F2), but this is a Rev. B that works just fine with two devices on the second bus. Besides, I also can’t get it to work when the drive is the only device on the bus.

The fact remains that these drives boot flawlessly into OS 9, so it can’t be a simple hardware issue. I’m at a loss.

Keywords: #macosx #osxpuma #8gbpartition #beigeg3

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