Apple G5 Upgrades: No Mac Left Behind

Apple is dead serious about wanting all Mac users to migrate to OS X – so serious that they’ve developed the “No Mac Left Behind” program to make it easier for those with older, underpowered Macs to make the switch to OS X 10.3 Panther and the forthcoming G5.

The Rumor Mill

Power Mac G5IBM calls it the PowerPC 970, their next generation 64-bit PowerPC processor. Apple calls it the G5 – and is expected to announce the Power Macintosh G5 later today.

IBM PowerPC 970 G5 CPUIf the rumor sites are correct, or if the bits of information inadvertently posted to Apple’s website last week are to be believed, we’ll see single processor 1.6 GHz to dual processor 2.0 GHz machines, bringing Apple that much closer to the 3.06 GHz maximum speed of the Pentium 4.

We may even see a new 15.4″ PowerBook G5. We’ll know soon.

That’s only the tip of the iceberg. The other shoe is going to drop when Apple actually ships OS X Panther later this year – affordable G5 upgrades for legacy Macs from the Legacy Lab at Apple.

You thought Apple didn’t like upgrades? That’s only because until now they haven’t tried to sell upgrades since the Power Mac 7200 era. Apple used to have a decent business selling overpriced motherboard upgrades for the Mac II, LC, IIcx, and several other computers – but this time the upgrades will be priced to compete with simpler processor upgrades.

The fact that Apple will be selling some of these for less than they pay IBM for the PowerPC 970 processor shows how dedicated they are to leaving no Mac user behind.

The Handled Tower

Blue and White Power Mac G3Rather than let Sonnet, Giga Designs, and others steal their thunder, Apple will be producing more than just processor upgrades for the various models in the upright Power Mac case with handles, the design used from the blue & white G3 through last week’s dual 1.42 GHz Power Mac G4.

Apple has designed completely new plug-and-play motherboards for these models to provide the correct number of PCI-X and AGP 8x slots for the different enclosures.

Details remain sketchy, but at this point it seems that Apple will only be offering G5 motherboards at the 1.6 GHz speed – and only with a single processor. These will be bundled with a copy of Panther and available through the Apple Store, local dealers, and CoreComputers. (Apple legal decided this was the best way out of a sticky situation, since there apparently is a market for clones after all.)

Specifics haven’t been finalized, but we expect all of the G5 motherboards to support a maximum 4-8 GB of RAM and duplicate the number of FireWire and USB (using USB 2.0!) ports on these models whose motherboards they replace. Rumors also include a PCI card supporting FireWire 800 and USB 2.0 as an option.

The anticipated price of the non-AGP motherboard is US$799 including a copy of OS X 10.3. Add $100 for the AGP 8x motherboard. These prices not include any memory or a video card.

The Beige G5

beige-powermac-g3-towerThe new motherboard for the Beige G3 must deal with the limitation of three expansion slots, so Apple had to prioritize their options here. Instead of three PCI slots, their will be two versions of the “Beige G5” motherboard.

Apple expects the lower cost motherboard with three PCI-X slots and onboard ATI Radeon 7500 video to be the most popular option for those who have held on to their beige G3s this long. But for power users, an alternate version of the motherboard will have two PCI-X slots and an AGP 8x socket. This board will retain onboard video and support dual monitor setups.

Gone are the Mac serial, ADB, and SCSI ports. In their place on the back of these beige boxes will be FireWire 400 and 800 plus USB 2.0. Buyers will be able to add a third-party SCSI card if they order through the Apple Store.

To reduce heat buildup and power consumption, the Beige G5 motherboard will run at 1.4 GHz.

Because of the lower value of the Beige G3 vs. the newer “handled” models, the non-AGP upgrade will retail for US$699, and the AGP version will sell for $100 more.

The G500

Power Mac 7500Apple had a whole series of Power Macs, such as the 7500, 8500, and 9500, that remain in use to this day as incredibly upgradable workhorses – but past upgrades don’t hold a candle to the new G500 motherboards from Apple.

Because these legacy models relied on SCSI drives, the G500 motherboards will incorporate SCSI on the motherboard, eliminating the need for buyers to replace their older hard drives, CD-ROM drives, Zip drives, scanners, and other SCSI peripherals.

Like the Beige G5, all of the G500 motherboards will include onboard Radeon 7500 video, and half of them will include AGP 8x for top-end video as well. However, there will be no Mac serial or ADB ports. Instead, the G500 will include a PCI card with USB 2.0 and FireWire 400 and 800 ports. That means the three-slot AGP motherboard will only have a single available PCI-X slot, but that’s a price Apple expects users to pay.

Power Mac 9600On the plus side, there will be six-slot G500 motherboards to fit into the Power Mac 9500 and 9600 cases. Even with one for AGP and another for I/O ports, there will be four available PCI-X slots.

Low End Mac expects the value of these two models to double between now and the official release of the 6-slot G500 motherboards.

Sorry, but none of these motherboards will support the old floppy drives, since OS X does not have floppy drive support. That’s the price of progress, but USB floppy drives are getting cheap.

As with the Beige G5, the G500 will run at 1.4 GHz.

In consideration of the value of these models, the non-AGP three-slot motherboard will sell for US$599. Add US$100 for the AGP version or six-slot version, US$200 for the motherboard with both.

G5 and PCI for NuBus Macs

Leaving few stones unturned, Apple next turned its attention to pre-PCI Macs based on NuBus architecture. These upgrades by necessity will go beyond the motherboard level and include a new backplane for the computer’s case to accommodate PCI cards rather than the obsolete NuBus cards.

As with the G500 boards, SCSI and onboard video are standard features. The outdated Apple video and AAUI connectors will be replaced with standard VGA and 10/100/1000 ethernet ports. And because of the new backplane, there’s no need to use a PCI slot for FireWire and USB ports.

All of these will be available in versions with or without AGP 8x slots.

The G5/9 upgrade is designed for the Quadra 900 and 950 as well as the Apple Workgroup Server 9150. This will be similar to the six-slot G500 board, but will include USB and FireWire (both 400 and 800) on the motherboard, thanks to the new backplane.

The G5/8 upgrade is designed for the Quadra 800 and 840av plus the Power Mac 8100. The G5/7 upgrade is almost identical but designed for the desktop Macintosh IIvi, IIvx, Performa 600, Centris 650, Quadra 650, and Power Mac 7100, so the backplane hardware is different.

Power Macintosh 6100The G5/6 upgrade is for the Power Mac 6100 as well as the Centris 610, Quadra 610, and the 660av models that preceded it. Because of the low-profile design of these cases, there will be no AGP support, so there will only be a single model of the G5/6 upgrade kit.

Apple expects to sell a boatload of these, since there are about a zillion 6100s out there.

All of these upgrades will run at 1.4 GHz.

Projected price for the G5/6 upgrade is US$399. The G5/7 and G5/8 non-AGP upgrades will retail at US$499, and the six-slot G5/9 upgrade will go for US$599. Add $100 for the AGP version.

Really Low End

It doesn’t stop there. Apple is so intent on providing an upgrade path for almost every Mac ever made that they’re planning G5 upgrades for some real antiques.

The G5/II upgrade kit is for the Macintosh II, IIx, and IIfx, three six-slot workhorses designed before System 7 even came into being. Again, these will include a new backplane and will not support legacy floppies, serial devices, or ADB peripherals. Since the original computers did not have onboard video, the G5/II motherboard will include an AGP 8x socket, leaving room for up to five PCI-X cards. SCSI support is included, and after this upgrade Mac II and IIx owners will no longer have to worry about oddball memory, low memory ceilings, or “dirty” ROMs.

Anticipated price of the 1.4 GHz G5/II upgrade is US$499 plus the cost of an AGP video card.

The G5/IIc is for the Macintosh IIcx, IIci, and Quadra 700. The new backplane has a video port (which the IIcx lacked) and openings for three cards (one more than the Q700 normally supports) – either two PCI-X plus and AGP 8x or three PCI-X cards, depending on the motherboard. Onboard video will be Radeon 7500, SCSI will be supported, and these compact workhorses will be given a new lease on life.

The non-AGP 1.4 GHz G5/IIx kit will sell for US$399, and the AGP version will be US$100 more.

With the education market in mind, Apple has designed motherboards for the ancient Macs still in use in schools around the world. In addition to a copy of Panther, these motherboards include i][ (either the most clever or worst name yet for an iApp – i haven’t been able to make up my mind yet), a fully sanctioned Apple II emulator that can emulate the original Apple II, II+, IIe, IIc, as well as the various ROM versions of the Apple IIgs. Anything to support education – and the program will be available for separate purchase by anyone who wants to run their favorite Apple II wares on their G5 Power Mac.

Want a low profile desktop G5? Look no further than the G5/LC upgrade for the Macintosh LC, LC II, LC III, and Quadra 605. No expansion slots in these – and no support for the LC Processor Direct Slot. The kit includes a new lower case and a bracket for a second hard drive, which can replace the unsupported floppy. LC owners keep the top cover and power supply; everything else is replaced.

Due to severe size constraints and limited air circulation in the LC enclosure, the PowerPC G5 will be clocked down to 1.0 GHz on these motherboards.

This was one of the most popular Macs ever, and Apple hopes to sell millions of G5/LC cards.

An incredible bargain, Apple plans to retail these upgrades for US$199 (including a copy of Panther, as do all the other upgrades). Apple hopes to make up for selling these far below the cost of the PowerPC 970 chip through volume sales.

Performa 6300The G5/630 is designed for all of those Performa, LC, and Quadra 630 series machines out there. Slide out the old motherboard, remove your cards (only the Comm Slot and Video Slot are supported – not the LC PDS, let alone the DOS card), plug them into the G5/630, and slide it into place. Again, no expansion slots, but a heck of a lot of power.

To keep the price and heat down, Apple will run the G5/630 at 1.2 GHz.

Pricing is expected to be US$249, and Apple expects very good sales for this popular model. (Yes, another upgrade selling for less than the cost of the CPU. Like we said, Apple will make up for it through volume.)

A similar upgrade, the G5/200, will be available for the “Road Apple” x200 series, finally eliminating all the hardware compromises incorporated in their less than flawless design. Owners of these models will be offered a special incentive to return their original motherboards to Apple for destruction.

The 1.2 GHz G5/200 will sell for US$249, and users will probably receive a $50 credit for sending back their old motherboards. Consider this a loss leader to turn the worst Macs ever into modern computers.

Rumors of a 1.4 GHz G5/400 upgrade for the 5400, 5500, 6400, and 6500 could not be substantiated.

And finally, going after rabid Color Classic upgraders, the G5 Color Classic kit includes a whole new slide-in motherboard and back cover, along with some new monitor circuitry to turn the 10″ display into a multisync. Onboard video will support both the internal monitor (at 512 x 384, 640 x 480, or a somewhat fuzzy 800 x 600) as well as an external display.

Apple hopes to include a 1.4 GHz processor if they can avoid overheating, and this will also work in 500-series desktops.

Knowing the fanaticism of this market, Apple is betting they’ll be willing to pay a premium price and has scheduled this upgrade for a US$799 price tag.

Left Behind

Macintosh PortableDespite Apple’s planned “No Mac Left Behind” campaign, some models won’t have G5 upgrades. Scratch the behemoth Mac Portable and all of the PowerBooks from the list. To get G5 power, you’ll just have to buy a PowerBook G5.

There will be no upgrades for any of the compact b&w Macs, since the 512 x 342 display is really too small to use with OS X. Apple did make some effort to create an upgrade kit for the SE and SE/30, but the prototypes showed that the aging components were rarely up to the task – less than 20% of these upgrades worked without smoking the power supply, frying the video circuitry, or causing other problems.

Those that did work supported the internal display at 512 x 342, 640 x 480, and 800 x 600 with 256 shades of gray – and, like the Color Classic upgrade, also supported an external display. Too bad all those Pluses and Classics will be left out in the cold.

Apple is also passing by the CRT iMacs, claiming that iMac owners don’t care to get inside their computers. We suspect it has more to do with the spate of failures in the display hardware, particularly with the older tray-loading models. It is possible Apple will add iMac and eMac upgrades later.

20th Anniversary MacOther orphans of the G5 project include the IIsi, the Twentieth Anniversary Mac, the Power Mac 4400, and the Cube. Each of these models had a unique case design that was never used again. Besides, Steve Jobs has mandated that the word cube never be used in his presence unless it doesn’t refer to the ill-fated Power Mac G4 Cube.

The same goes for the Macintosh XL.

In a very peculiar twist of fate orchestrated by the Stevemeister himself, there will be a G5 upgrade for the NeXT Cube. This is especially fitting, since OS X is rooted in the NeXT operating system. As his way of saying thanks for their loyalty, this upgrade will be free in exchange for the NeXT Cube’s original motherboard and OS.

Be sure to visit for more details.

– Anne Onymus

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