Collection Spotlight

Beige Power Mac G3: Maximum Power Then, Great Value Now

- 2009.08.03 - Tip Jar

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In November 1997, as part of a major restructuring at Apple with Steve Jobs at the helm once again, the Beige Power Mac G3 was born. It was revolutionary at the time - the first G3 desktop, and the most powerful personal computer in the world.

Snail with Pentium II CPUApple took on Intel with it, claiming it could eat Pentium IIs for lunch, and launched a massive ad campaign to prove it.

The machine sold incredibly well. By the time the Blue and White Power Mac G3 was introduced in January 1999, Apple had sold 1.6 million of them. The machine was unique in that it used the same motherboard across three form factors: minitower, desktop, and a unique education-only version called the All-in-One (AIO). I have owned two of these, the minitower and AIO, and coveted a desktop version of this while in elementary school in 1998.

The G3 All-in-One

Power Macintosh G3 All-in-One
Power Macintosh G3 All-in-One

The AIO was special. It debuted before the iMac and was short lived. It weighed 59.9 pounds, making it the heaviest personal computer Apple has ever produced.1 It features a built-in 15" CRT, and, from the side, it looks like a giant tooth, gaining the nickname "molar Mac" by some. The machine had a Zip 100 drive, 1.44 MB floppy drive, and CD-ROM. The Zip drive was specially designed for Apple, as it runs off a smaller, floppy-type power cable and has a short adapter hooking it to a standard Molex connector.

Personality Cards

The AIO came in 233 and 266 MHz flavors and included a special card, called a personality card, that fit in a 182-pin PERCH slot,2 which included regular audio I/O on the standard "Whisper" card and added composite video and audio I/O, including S-video I/O, with the "Wings" card.

Personality Cards:

  • Whisper. Apple part no. 820-0972-A. Audio only.
  • Wings. Apple part no. 820-0971-A. Audio and video.
  • Bordeaux (rare). Apple part no. 820-0983-A. Most features of Wings plus support for DVD playback.

Apple was playing around with other personality cards, but only one has ever seen the light of day. It included a pair of USB ports, and the only one I know of works perfectly.

Power Mac G3 minitower showing release button The Minitower

The minitower form factor was the de facto standard for Apple. It boasted a number of processor speeds, including 233, 266, 300, and 333 MHz versions. The tower featured a special cage that swung open with the release of a few Bondi blue colored tabs. The release button for the side hatch is translucent and almost Bondi blue,3 The release button on the Beige G3 Tower is translucent greena sign of things to come. It came with a 4 GB hard drive in the only 3.5" internal drive bay, a floppy drive in the top 5.25" bay, a CD-ROM in the bay below that, an optional Zip drive in the third 5.25" bay, and a fourth empty 5.25" bay for third party drives or devices.

The Desktop

The third and final form factor, the desktop, seems to have been the least popular of the bunch, at least from my experience. This was the last desktop form factor machine Apple produced (at least until the Mac mini, but you can't really set a heavy CRT on top of one of those!). It came in the same "outrigger" case as it's Power Mac 7200 to 7600 predecessors, but it featured a 233, 266, or 300 MHz G3 beating at it's core. The case was quite accessible. Remove the top, lift a lever, and swing the drive cage out of the way to access the expansion slots, RAM, CPU, and the rest of the motherboard.

Beige Power Mac G3 desktop and minitowerSince all three form factors shared a common motherboard, they all shared many features. There were 3 PCI slots for holding expansion cards, the PERCH slot (whose card had a slot on it for an optional 56k modem), 3 RAM slots that could hold up to 768 MB of RAM using 256 MB sticks. There was also a ZIF slot for the CPU, which made upgrades easy, and a jumper block (just like the B&W G3), which allowed for easy overclocking. These machines were the last desktop Macs using the "Old World" technology and had their ROM built in.

There was also a special slot for a custom voltage board. Several versions of this were made, including a unreliable yellow one and the much more desirable green board.

My Beige G3s

What does my collection include?

Well, I have the remains of a dead 266 MHz AIO, which basically includes it's motherboard and drives. It had a bad power supply. It would boot, and the screen came on, but the cable coming from the power supply to the drives was bad - or that portion of the supply was fried. This made booting from any internal drive impossible, unless using another power supply. So, I decided to recycle it. Too bad, as it looked really cool, but it weighed a ton. For some reason, I also kept the yellow voltage card. It has not died yet, but it's there just in case.

My other beige is a much nicer machine. It's the 233 MHz variant, soon to be 266. It has the stock 4 GB hard drive, originally had the standard Personality Card with modem, but now has the AV version. It did serve as my VHS digitizer - and may again someday - but for now it sits with no RAM (gone to the recomissioned B&W), a USB 1.1 card, and an Apple 10/100 ethernet card. It also had a bug in the digitizing, where the audio would become out of sync on bigger rips. Until that gets sorted, I have no use for it, though I wish I did.

Can I recommend a Beige G3? For Mac OS 9, definitely. One of the faster OS 9 boxes around and has a full set of legacy ports, including built in 10-Base T ethernet.

However, when you throw OS X on it, it gets a little weird. Your floppy drive and serial ports are disabled, and you are only officially allowed by Apple to run up to Mac OS X 10.2.8 on it. You have to carefully partition your drive if it is larger than 8 GB.

It makes a great OS 9 gamer and runs old apps great, just don't expect it to work well with OS X. Apple provided OS X support on these machines as an afterthought, not fully testing all the hardware.

Beige G3s are cheap, however, and you have a choice of form factors. They are heavily upgradable as well. LEM

  1. translucent release button near Bondi iMacThe Apple Network Servers weighed in at 84 lb., but they were designed as servers, not personal computers. They ran IBM's AIX, a version of Unix, and the ROMs prevented them from running the Mac OS.
  2. Apple's description: "PERCH slot : a 182-pin microchannel connector. The PERCH slot is a superset of the PCI specification, and does not accept standard PCI cards. The PERCH slot on the desktop and tower enclosures supports Apple Audio, Audio/Video, and DVD-Video and Audio/Video input/output cards. The All-in-one enclosure does not support the DVD-Video and Audio/Video Card. This note does not provide the electrical specification for the PERCH slot."
  3. The original iMac, unveiled in May 1998, was Bondi blue.

Photos of blue-green button courtesy of Bill Brown and the Anacortes Senior Center, used by permission.

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