The Low End Mac Mailbag

More on B&W G3s, Beige G3s, Motherboard Revisions, AGP Video in Sawtooth, and Wireless Networking

Dan Knight - 2003.03.10 - Tip Jar

Nice Work

After reading Why Apple's Blue & White G3 Is a Best Buy, Paul Bissex comments:

I just wanted to say that since LEM started offering an RSS feed, I've been following your machine evaluations. It's great stuff - I've been thinking about a cheap third machine for the office, and a B&W G3 now seems like the ticket.

By the way, if you have written any articles with advice on cheap-yet-really-usable-under-OS X machines I'd be interested. Both for myself, and for potential mention on the Forwarding Address: OS X ( blog.

We've been doing the feed for maybe a year, but until recently it was always cobbled together by hand when I found the time to do it. I realized I'd sometimes miss a whole week - and decided it was time to automate the process. (See Creating an RSS News Feed with PHP and MySQL.)

Now I just need to remember to run the script a few times a day, and soon we'll have it set up as a cron job that runs automatically.

The whole idea behind last week's articles was to address the strengths and limitations of these computers both as classic Mac OS boxes and as OS X machines. The beige G3 really qualifies as usable under OS X, but it has so many bottlenecks that it makes more sense economically to buy a b&w G3 and eliminate the need for a faster IDE card, a better video card, etc.

I'd consider the blue & white the ideal low-cost computer for those who want to get into Mac OS X. It's got good performance from the box and lots of upgrade potential. Bang for the buck, it's probably the best thing going that is fully supported under OS X.

Which AGP cards for Sawtooth?

After reading Looking for a Power Mac G4? Here's Why You Want an AGP Model, Gregg wants to know:

Which current or used AGP video cards are compatible with my "Sawtooth" as your article mentioned? (Apple tech says none except what shipped with the machine).

I have the Sawtooth, the first G4 with AGP, yet I cannot find any current (or used) third-party video cards that fit my AGP slot.

Apple, ATI, Nvidia, and the discussion boards seems to be a "black hole" of info about this machine (Sawtooth, vertically aligned audio ports).

All ATI and Nvidia Mac video AGP card have a fourth "tooth" that does not fit in my AGP slot, which is divided into only three sections.

Specifically, I am trying to run Apple's 20" LCD. I have already bought two video cards (listed on the monitor's box as supported) to no avail.

Apple tech says the machine cannot accept any current (or used) AGP card except the one shipped with it.

This is the first I've heard about the AGP slot in the Sawtooth being physically different from the AGP slot used in other computers. AGP is supposed to be an industry standard.

Rob Art Morgan of Bare Feats has had no problems installing alternate AGP video cards in his Sawtooth Rev. 1 machine - read the benchmark results in How about giving your old Sawtooth a faster graphics card?

This is a completely different issue from what you're facing. The box on a monitor won't tell you diddly about what computer a compatible card will work on, only what cards are compatible. The problem you're running into has to do with the Sawtooth being an older computer that doesn't support ADC, Apple's digital display interface, which provides not only video, but also power to a monitor.

For that to work, the video card needs the "fourth tooth" so it can send the power the monitor needs. Without that support, the Sawtooth models are unable to power Apple's ADC monitors regardless of what video card you may purchase.

Your options are to buy a conventional display that isn't powered from the video card or move up to a "Gigabit Ethernet" or newer G4 that provides the extra circuitry needed to power an Apple monitor.

Now that I've learned about this issue, I'll be sure to update the Sawtooth profile.

Wireless Networking for Older Macs

Andy King writes:

I was just reading your article Fast Ethernet Surprise, Mozilla HTML Editor Useful, Comments on Beige G3 and Blue & White G3, and More and noticed you had a section called AirPort for Older iMacs.

Another solution that will be coming down the pipes that will work for older iMacs and older Macs is an ethernet-to-wireless (Airport Extreme) bridge:

When the USB to wireless Wi-Fi bridge came out, I wonder why no one came out with this ethernet-to-wireless bridge, since most older computers have ethernet, even when they do not have USB. Also, most modern computers ship with ethernet, and a USB-to-wireless bridge takes away USB bandwidth. This bridge would work on any computer that does not have modern I/O slots (PCI, USB), such as old Macintoshes, PCs, and Unix boxes.

Thought you would like to know about this solution.

That's exactly the solution we suggested, since field reports on USB-to-wireless adapters have not been encouraging. Lots more details on 802.11g wireless networking in Extreme Wireless for Older Macs.

Thank for the additional rationale for using ethernet instead of USB.

Response to Unexpected Results

In response to Unexpected Results with Fast Ethernet, Adam Hope writes:

It appears to me that the reader [Adrian Abraham] has a 7300, a G3, and a Pentium III linked together through a 10 Mbps hub. If this is in fact the case, there is no way the 10/100 ethernet card he bought for the G3 will be running at 100 Mbps; it will still be running at 10 Mbps. Any improvement in speed is therefor entirely due to the ethernet cards efficiency compared to the G3's onboard ethernet.

I'll go out on a limb :) and assume the 7300 is running OS 9. The P III is also reasonably new hardware; I'll assume it has a 10/100 NIC. If this is the case, he should put the old 3Com NIC in the 7300 and replace the hub with a 10/100 one. By the time he's sold the old one, the cost of the upgrade will be minimal, and this way all the computers really will see a boost in network performance and will actually be running at a higher speed, 100 Mbps.

It would be interesting if he could provide some simple timed tests to see how much of a difference swapping in the Apple NIC really made.

We had so many problems with Apple's onboard ethernet on PCI Power Macs and later models at my last job that we finally just threw in the towel and bought a new Farallon 10/100 card for each computer. Apple's onboard ethernet implementations have been troublesome ever since the world began moving from plain old 10Base-T to autosensing switched and hubs.

AGP 4x a problem in Sawtooth?

On the subject of AGP video, Craig Harris emailed me:

Thanks for the article on the AGP G4. I'm buying one of these, which should arrive in a few weeks. I have a question regarding AGP card options.

I'm a bit concerned, as a friend of mine with a PC damaged his motherboard by using a faster AGP card with a slower AGP slot. I previously thought any AGP card was compatible with the AGP slot - maybe it's a different story with G4 Macs compared to PCs?

With the AGP G4/400, it's got a 2x AGP slot, but do you know if I can safely use a current ATI or GeForce 4 card without any problems? Since these are used with the current G4s I assume they're 4x or 8x. I'd rather get a 64 MB AGP card with 2 outputs if its compatible (ideal for OS X Quartz Extreme) than get a 2nd 16 MB Rage 128 Pro card for my dual monitor setup.

I've never worked with Power Macs more recent than the Sawtooth G4, and in those days, there were no Mac AGP cards that weren't 4x. As I understand it, faster AGP cards should automatically fall back to the slower bus speed. I haven't paid much attention to this area, but I haven't heard any horror stories, either.

You might want to ask around on our G-List mailing list, which supports those with G3 and G4 Power Macs, and on the Macintosh Guy's G4 List, which is specific to G4 Power Macs and CPU upgrades.

Blue & White G3, Revision 2

Peter Lindsay comments:

Great article on the venerable Blue and White G3! Mine is still functioning and running OS X (10.2.4) beautifully after multiple upgrades (XLR8 500 G4 processor, 1 GB of RAM, Dual ATI Radeon 7000 video cards, two IBM GXP drives, ATTO Ultra-wide SCSI card running an 32 GB RAID, Sony CD-RW drive, and Iomega Zip drive).

The key point to emphasize in buying one of these boxes is to make sure you get a revision 2 machine. The disk corruption problems with the version 1 make them useless for serious upgrades. The revision 2 is truly one of the finest machines Apple has ever made.

Thanks for the information. Accelerate Your Mac! has a marvelous piece that explains and shows the differences. In short, the Rev. 2 includes a faster video card (100 MHz vs. 75), a place to mount a second hard drive above the original one, a revised IDE controller, and a bigger heat sink.

Since components can be swapped from one Mac to another, the best way to make sure you're getting a Rev. 2 motherboard is the "402" marking on the CMD646 IDE controller chip.

Good thing the b&w G3 has that drawbridge design, making it easier to gain access to the motherboard and other internals.

An alternative to wireless networking

Instead of the high cost of wireless networking, Bob Buchanan suggests:

An alternative to wireless to get ethernet into another part of the house is HomePNA devices. Farallon, among others, makes ethernet bridges, USB devices, and PCI cards. They run over standard telephone wiring, coexisting with voice phones. I've used them. There are 1 meg and 10 meg versions, so you can get full 10 meg speed. Could be cheaper to get two of these bridges (around $100 each) than to get a wireless base and bridge unit.

I know he was specifically asking about wireless, but he was also asking how to get his iMac working from the bedroom.

HomePNA was designed to offer the simplicity of PhoneNet and ethernet while offering better speed than LocalTalk and less cost than ethernet. With ethernet dirt cheap, it never really caught on.

HomePNA lets you use existing phone wires to network your computers, something that may be familiar to Mac users from the PhoneNet era. If the wires are already in place, this can be less costly than an 802.11g hub and access point.

More on wireless networking

On the same subject, Ed Hurtley writes:

Hey, I recently went through this myself and actually ended up in Charles Moore's mailbag over it. His column from 12/23/02 has information on a Belkin model that works. That's what I ended up using, and it works great in OS X.

Also, as far as 802.11g goes, since USB doesn't have enough bandwidth for .11b, going to .11g would be completely pointless (except for maintaining an all-.11g network. (Technically, USB has enough bandwidth, at 12 Mbps compared to .11b's 11 Mbps, but it's never going to get anywhere near that speed anyway.) And buying a new .11g AP, and plugging it into the iMac's Ethernet port seems like overkill. (Besides, it means you have to keep the AP right next to the 'wireless' Mac!)

As Andy King notes above, the best bet might be to avoid networking over the USB port. First of all, it's not really designed for that. Secondly, USB isn't designed to handle any single peripheral that needs more than 8 Mbps throughput - both 10Base-T ethernet and 11 Mbps AirPort surpass that rate, which was a deliberate design decision by those who created USB.

Thirdly, USB is shared bandwidth, so networking via USB means your data packets are fighting for bandwidth with your mouse, keyboard, printer, scanner, graphics tablet, or any other device you may have connected to the USB port.

Although it's possible to network via USB, it makes more sense to use the port designed for networking when possible. Given the choice, I'd go with ethernet instead of USB.

Maximum RAM in a beige G3

After reading The Value and Limitations of the Beige G3, Philip De Lancie wonders:

I've been reading some of your informative postings on upgrading a beige Power Mac G3 desktop machine. I gather that if you want to use OS X, you should really install 256 MB or more memory. However, the "Technical Information" pamphlet that came with my machine (and covers both 233 and 266 models) says, "The maximum amount of DRAM that you can install in the computer is 192 MB. (This supersedes other documentation that says you can install a maximum of 384 MB.)" I may have missed it, but I didn't see this limit mentioned in your writing, so I'm a bit confused on this point.

I've already got 192 MB, so if that's the limit, I'm not sure whether the other upgrades (CPU, hard drive, etc.) are worth it if the machine still won't really perform well with OS X.

Any clarification you could provide would be great, thanks.

Never trust Apple to tell you how much memory a computer can support. More often that not, higher capacity memory modules will become available to permit unexpectedly large memory configurations. Because Apple can't test unavailable memory, they only support memory configurations they have been able to test.

Low End Mac is not Apple Computer. We don't take Apple's memory limits as gospel, and when we learn that real users in the field are able to install higher capacity memory modules, we update our profiles accordingly. (We also note that what works for one may not work for all, something we've seen in two seemingly identical iMacs - one accepts a 256 MB upgrade, the other doesn't.)

As far as we know, the beige G3 isn't subject to these vagaries. Every one of them seems perfectly happy with 256 MB DIMMs. If you've got three 64 MB DIMMs in your beige G3, here are your upgrade options (with today's prices from ramseeker):

 • 256 MB (one 128 MB DIMM), $24 and up including shipping
 • 320 MB (two 128 MB DIMMs), $43 and up
 • 384 MB (one 256 MB DIMM), $30 and up
 • 576 MB (two 256 MB DIMMs), $58 and up
 • 768 MB (three 256 MB DIMMs), $85 and up

For less than the cost of Jaguar, you can have 4x as much memory as you have today and never have to think about upgrading it again.

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Dan Knight has been publishing Low End Mac since April 1997. Mailbag columns come from email responses to his Mac Musings, Mac Daniel, Online Tech Journal, and other columns on the site.

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