The Low End Mac Mailbag

Overpriced Macs, 4-core Mac Pro Value, USB for G3 PowerBooks, and More

Dan Knight - 2008.04.24 - Tip Jar

MacBook and Mac mini Overpriced

From Joe Blasi:

There are many $1,200+ laptops with their own video RAM. And there are many 15" screens for prices way under $2,000 as well. With Apple you need to pay $2,000 just to get a bigger screen than 13".

For the mini, paying $200 more to get a DVD±RW is joke and at $799 is real bad. The mini starts at $599, and that is rip off next all other systems with its hardware. Apple should drop the price by $100-$200 and put DVD±RW in all systems.


For better or worse, Apple isn't competing in the same market as the commodity Windows PC makers. Where a Dell, HP, Lenovo, Acer, etc. computer will all provide the same end user experience, Apple provides a different experience, both on the hardware and software sides. And Mac users believe they are worth the price.

The low-end PC makers are all slashing jobs, losing money, and/or losing market share as they sell their cut-rate computers with cheap components to those who are only concerned about price. Apple will never play in that market.

Unlike commodity PCs, every Apple model is unique. There really isn't a PC quite like the Mac mini. There are a few iMac copies, but they only remind people that Apple owns the all-in-one desktop market. The MacBook Air is uniquely thin and light while providing a full-sized keyboard and 13" widescreen display in the ultracompact market.

Sure, you can buy computers with better specs for lower prices, but you can't buy better computers. The overall Mac experience - hardware and software - is more valuable than the PC experience on cheap hardware. I know, because I owned one of those cheap 15" Windows notebooks - never again.


Mac mini and Quad-core 2008 Mac Pro

From Yuhong Bao:

Dear Dan:

A BTO option for a 2008 Mac Pro (go to the online Apple Store to find these options) is to downgrade to quad-core to save $500, and considering that the average user will not benefit from 8 cores, might be a good idea for those wanting to save money when buying a Mac Pro.

On the matters of the Psystar OpenMac (now Open Computer, probably because "Mac" is a trademark), if you compare the base $599 Mac mini with a similar Windows PC, you would find the price gap is far smaller.

Yuhong Bao

Yuhong Bao,

The Psystar Open Computer demonstrates what I've been saying for years: Apple could make and sell a Mac for a less than the $499-599 retail price of the entry-level Mac mini. I'm guessing that the Open Computers are being assembled by hand, and by the time you add Mac OS X and a FireWire card, it costs as much as the Mac mini - but with a faster CPU, more RAM, a larger and faster hard drive, and expansion options.

In terms of competition in its size range, the Mac mini has no equal at anywhere near the price. But as a person who has been using Macs with expansion slots since shortly after they came to the Mac, I'd prefer something larger and more expandable - just what the Open Computer offers.


Extended Keyboard Meets Dishwasher

From Darren Fleishman following up on Cleaning an Extended Keyboard, where he noted "The T, G, H, B, space bar, right arrow, and clear/numlock keys did not work at all, and the U and the caps lock key only gave intermittent response with the LED lighting incorrectly":


I took your advice and placed the Apple Extended Keyboard (circa 1989) in the dishwasher. I figured that it was unusable as is, so I might as well give it a shot.

After a washing with just a dash of soap and without the dry cycle, the keys were obviously much cleaner. Not new, but no longer embarrassing.

I let the keyboard sit overnight to dry, and the next day I plugged it in with the iMate just to see what would happen. The right option key worked, but not much else.

After waiting 5 days, I did try again. This time, everything worked properly except the D, 8, right command, right control and caps lock keys. After liberal dousing of electronic cleaner and a serious amount of wiggling and banging on the keytop with a Bic pen, I did manage to get the D, 8, and right command keys to work, but the caps lock key and right control key are still dead. The LEDs do blink on at startup, but they do not light up with presses from num lock, caps lock, or scroll lock either.

Also, there are occasions where key presses still drop - often with the Q and the down arrow, but the board seems to be improving with use. There are also times when the keyboard will read double presses - particularly with the W and the B keys. The caps lock key is a bit of a struggle to understand - it was working somewhat prior to washing, and now it is dead. I have looked on the Web for some info, and there are anecdotal reports of it not working at all, so I am not sure if my early (limited) success was based on some electrical fluke or if the key was actually being read properly in the past.

Overall, the keyboard is relatively useable, but the jury is still out if I like this better than the laptop keyboard on the MacBook Pro. I remember absolutely loving the feel of the keys when I was in college, but now the key presses are quite long and a bit stiff by my current benchmarks, so I may go back to using the laptop keyboard for the time being. I did manage to get this letter typed out on the keyboard....

Thanks for the help.



I'm giving the dishwasher treatment a try myself. On Monday I ran an Extended II, an original iMac keyboard, the original Standard Keyboard and the Standard II, and an Apple Design keyboard through the washer - and also tried one on the lower rack. Now I know why they say to use the top rack: I have powder adhered to the one I did on the lower rack.

I haven't yet tested the keyboards, as I want them to fully dry before I connect them. I can say that every one of them looks a lot better than it did before I ran them through the dishwasher.

Good luck with yours. If it doesn't come back all the way, there are some quite good third-party keyboards you may want to look at, such as Matias and Logitech.


Tips for Using an External DVD Burner

From Scott Cook:

Hey Dan,

In response to Gavin Emery: I have a 500 MHz G3 iBook dual USB running OS X 10.3 Panther and OS 9 with a Plextor PX-708UF external FireWire DVD writer. It works perfectly. There are at least three of them on eBay right now. I use PatchBurn to allow iTunes and other "i" apps to burn discs directly. Roxio Toast and other third party applications work just fine as they are. I use the DVD User Op Patch to allow me to watch DVDs with Apple's built in DVD Player. You should download it now and keep it. It took me a long time to find it. I'm sure people will write to you asking for it years from now, and you won't be able to find it for download anymore.

I have a MacAlly FireWire/USB 2.5" hard drive case with a Seagate drive in it that works perfectly with my iBook. The hard drive is connected directly to the iBook and runs from FireWire bus power. The Plextor DVD writer is daisy chained from the hard drive's second FireWire connection. My iBook is booted from the FireWire hard drive right now, and I'm typing this on my iBook.

Don't buy a cheap FireWire enclosure. You'll discover that it won't boot your Mac, and it may not power from the FireWire bus. A lot of the cheap hard drive enclosures have a separate USB power cable, which means you need to plug in both FireWire and USB just to run the hard drive. I learned this the hard way but managed to get a full refund by some miracle... (smile)

Scott Cook


Thanks for sharing your findings, especially about DVD User Op Patch. I'd never heard of it, but the description intrigues me. I hate watching a DVD and being forced to watch trailers and other stuff before I can even get to the menu - no skip ahead, no fast forward. If I ever watch a DVD on my Mac, I'll have to give it a try. (This could be perfect for people who use a Mac mini with an HDTV.)

Thanks for the tip about FireWire enclosures. I haven't run into any problems myself, but I always look for the Oxford 911 or 922 bridge.


USB Card for WallStreet PowerBook

From Alan Lance Andersen:

Is there a USB card for WallStreet Mac computers. Thanks. ALA


Yes, there are lots of USB cards for the WallStreet. Any CardBus or PC Card that's Mac compatible should work, although you'll want to check what versions of the Mac OS are supported. Also note that if you are using the Classic Mac OS instead of Mac OS X, you'll only have support for USB 1.1 speed. Under OS X, you'll be able to take advantage of USB 2.0. (Low End Mac first covered this topic in Sept. 1999, just months after the Lombard PowerBook, which has USB, replaced the WallStreet.)


Beige G3s, the Classic Mac OS, and 8 GB Partitions

From Tom Tubman in response to A Cheap ATA Drive a Better Choice than a SCSI-to-USB Adapter:

My K. Ton wrote:

"Also, I think one of the OS (OS 9 I think) must live on the first 8 GB of the drive. It's been a few years since I said good night to my beige G3 that I coaxed to run 10.2, so things are a little fuzzy."

This restriction applies to OS X on a Beige G3 Mac using an ATA drive, but OS 9 can live anywhere on the drive. In fact, it's best to put OS 9 on the non-first 8 GB partition so that OS X can have the full 8 GB to run in as that's not a lot of space. Also, Beige G3s have ATA-3 (16.6 MB/sec) but can take any PATA drive up to 128 MB (ATA/33, /66, /100, /133) and just run it with the 16.6 MB/sec data throughput limitation.

SCSI drives do not have this 8 GB limitation for OS X, but sometimes the OS X installer doesn't figure that out and will prevent it from installing on a larger than 8 GB partition, but I don't suppose many people are running into this technicality anymore.

- Tom


Although you can install and use the Classic Mac OS in a Beige G3 from an ATA drive partition larger than 8 GB, but you may eventually run into problems. I've seen it myself, when for no reason I could comprehend my Beige G3 would stop booting Mac OS 9.2.2 from the same 20 GB drive that had worked for months. The only solution was to wipe the drive and reinstall the OS.

I didn't dig any further, but Ken Watanabe did, and he discovered that on the Beige G3, every file used by the operating system must reside within the first 8 billion bytes (app. 7.7 GB). If the OS attempts to access any OS file, including virtual memory, outside of that space, it will crash, lock up, and/or refuse to boot.

Better safe than sorry, so we now recommend that any ATA drive over 8 GB in size used in a Beige G3 be partitioned so that the first partition is safely below the 8 billion byte mark so that both OS X and the Classic Mac OS can be used on it without eventually running into these issues.


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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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