The Low End Mac Mailbag

Apple Will Not Abandon Optical Drives, the Mac Drought, Purposeful Mac Acquisition, and More

Dan Knight - 2008.09.04 - Tip Jar

Apple Not Ready Ditch Optical Drives

From Patrick:


I've just finished reading your article on the lack of Mac product line refreshes.

While it's quite interesting to see how long Apple's waited this time around, particularly in the fading Mac mini department, I believe that a small amount of speculation on this topic is misplaced. Especially the subject of the elimination of built-in optical drives.

Looking back on Internet rumours from the past, I'm sure you'll agree that a lot of silliness went on; predictions that not only did not, but could not have, come to fruition.

Looking specifically at the notion that Apple would remove optical drives from not only it's regular laptop line, but also desktops, I really think there's nothing to worry about there.

The MacBook Air doesn't have an optical drive because it's designed to be a second, complementary Mac - designed for people who probably also have - you guessed it - a desktop with an optical drive. Look at the remote install technologies. They're there for a reason, and one reason only.

If iMac, Mac mini and/or Mac Pro lose their optical drives, they will no longer appeal to regular users. And Apple being the company they are will undoubtedly recognise this. It would be the biggest, most blunderous move they've ever made if they were to remove such a staple of home computing.

MacBook Pro will not lose its optical drive due to its professional workhorse nature; MacBook is highly unlikely to do so, as it's cheap enough as-is, and needs to appeal to the broadest market of any Apple laptop(imagine how it would look in the press, being the only mainstream consumer notebook with no provision for CD/DVDs?).

I believe you're looking in all the wrong places for this "transition".

MacBook Air has its place, optical drives have their place.

This is nothing at all like the elimination of floppy disks; those were a stale, near-death technology to start with. I think what we'll see is Blu-Ray players, and eventually burners, as the only changes to these products' drives.

Kind regards,


I can't see Apple adding Blu-ray drives across the board. Dell charges a $200 premium over the price of a DVD burner for Blu-Ray, and you can't expect Apple to include it without upping selling prices by $200. Well, maybe on the Mac Pro, but it's too expensive an item to make standard on consumer models.

Apple is moving in new directions. Thanks to broadband Internet, it's now feasible to buy your music, video, ebooks, and software online. Just as Apple TV doesn't need a DVD drive (although many of us think it should have one), a regular home computer doesn't need a DVD drive. Yes, a lot of people want them, but what if Apple could trim $100 from retail by making them a $100 option?

I'm not saying that it's going to happen, only that it could. Look at the iPhone and iPod touch - incredible little computers that don't even have an optical drive option. The world is changing.

Some once believed that nobody would buy a computer without a built-in floppy drive, but the iMac became a best seller. Making optical drives an optional accessory wouldn't surprise me at all.


The Summerlong Mac Drought

From David Walker:


I too have trouble remembering a 4 month stretch without any Mac introductions, but we are now in the era of Apple Inc., not Apple Computer Inc. The usual introduction of new models in the late spring to entice school boards and individual back-to-school sales seems to have been replaced by the free iPod promotion for college kids. I don't like it, because it unnecessarily delays the introduction of the Montevina platform and is going to make observant buyers sick when their brand new Macs are replaced by something better just days after the of start class.

I worked for a retail Apple specialist for a few years, and I got it in both ears every January after Macworld when angry buyers tried to return 3-week-old products because their kids told them they were already obsolete. I therefore find it hard to believe that Apple continues to not only get away with such crap, but are able to expand the strategy to the second biggest retail event of the year: back-to-school. It boggles my mind that they're growing so quickly when their numbers are based on hawking outdated hardware at inflated prices and then rubbing people's noses in it by introducing new models just as the bills are coming in.

I want to be a good person, teach my kids good ethics, and not close my eyes to the suffering of others, but in this case I have to push that all aside and be downright selfish and greedy. I will play along with Apple and profit from the suffering of others by buying AAPL, and I will beat Apple's seasonal fleecing of its devoted flock by only buying products that are one month old. Why one month? Because a machine that new is still worth it's sticker price, but someone else has already found all the bugs, incompatibilities, and initial quality problems for me.

I hope that when they do upgrade the mini, assuming they even plan to keep the model in the lineup, that they jump over the current lineup and go straight to a low-end Montevina board with X4500 graphics. It just makes sense to use the same basic logic board in as many different models as possible.



The concept of "obsolete" flies in the face of the Low End Mac philosophy. Everyone buys a computer knowing that faster models might be just months - or even weeks - away. It's the nature of the industry, and it doesn't make the discontinued models obsolete. They still do all they did when they were introduced.

Apple's problem may be a lack of consistency. Some models may see three upgrades within a year, others may go a year between updates. And when Apple does that, the performance difference between the new model and the old one does make the consumer feel fleeced. That's part of the reason we don't understand the one-year update cycle for the Mac mini, which is already behind the times when Apple does finally get around to improving it.

The Mac mini doesn't even have Penryn and Santa Rosa yet. I would be shocked to see Apple adopt Montevina, no matter how sensible that might seem.

As far as buying goes, my preference is to pick up refurbished Macs after their replacement has been announced or find a nice used Mac. I haven't bought a new-in-box Mac since 2001.


Purposeful Acquisition

From Luke Rademacher:


I remember in 2000 when I purposely acquired a used rev. 2 mobo B&W G3 because I knew was going to upgrade it. I had about $500 to spend. I lucked out and got a very basic rev. 2 B&W G3 from a friend who essentially gave it to me for $50. He had upgraded to a brand new Mac and did not want his older G3.

I had many pieces of hardware that I had collected from my previous PowerCenter Tower and Power Mac 7600. With what I could cannibalize from those two computers, I upgraded the B&W G3 with a 500MHz G4 1MB processor, 4 sticks of 256 MB PC100 RAM, a 40 GB hard drive, a 4x DVD burner, an external 100MB Zip drive, and Mac OS 9.1. I was doing a lot of video/audio work and Photoshop image editing, and the Mac worked pretty well. It served me well until 2003, when I had a better job and decided to buy the MDD Dual G4 brand new.

At the time I figured like most of the other G4 Macs, various third party companies would have processor upgrades and whatnot for the MDD after a year. But by 2004 it seemed everything was gung ho on the G5.

Then came Intel. A move I never thought would happen.

Luke Rademacher


I'm a firm believer in purposeful acquisition. My first Mac, a Plus, was slowly upgraded with more RAM, a second floppy, a hard drive, and a 16 MHz CPU upgrade. My second, a Centris 610, started with a VRAM upgrade, followed by some RAM upgrades and one or two bigger hard drives. My SuperMac clones went through many rounds of upgrades, as did my PowerBook G4, the only Mac I ever bought that was brand new on the market. All of my eMacs were upgraded, and my 1 GHz dual MDD has had almost everything upgraded but the CPU and video card.

One step at a time, upgrading as necessary, is the most economical way to go, as RAM and hard drives get cheaper as time goes by. It's a shame there are almost no CPU upgrades for the MDD models, as they had the fastest system bus of any G4 Macs.


Leopard on a Blue & White G3

From Jeff Koenig:

Hi Dan,

Wanted to send in another report of Leopard 10.5.4 running on my B&W G3 with a G4 upgrade. And it's all thanks to your site and James Little's posts, Leopard on a Blue & White G3: Success with CoreImage and Hacking Leopard for G3 Power Macs.

Here are a few observations, after using James' method:

The Install

  • My parents have an iMac G5, so I bought an IDE to USB cable to connect my hard drive to their iMac. At first, I tried to install 10.5.1 to my hard drive using Pacifist, but when it was still running 24 hours later, I canceled it.
  • Instead I booted from the Leopard DVD and installed from there. Oddly enough, Archive & Install was my only option, so I chose that. The install took about a half an hour, and it actually told me that it had failed, but I figured that was just because it couldn't automatically reboot upon completion.
  • I restarted and logged back into the iMac and ran the 10.5.4 combo update, then logged in as root to copy over the kexts.
  • I took my hard drive back home and put it back in my B&W. On the first attempt, I got the "no drivers for this platform" error again. I figured that the permissions must not be right, even though I copied the kexts over as root, so I logged back into Tiger, used Batchmod, and removed those Cache files James had mentioned.
  • I ran the Sonnet Cache Enabler (needed for my Zif upgrade to work correctly), rebooted into Leopard, and it's running great!


  • My built-in USB ports are not working. I noticed this right away, because I use these two ports for my keyboard and mouse, and both were unresponsive until I plugged them into slots on my PCI USB 2.0 card. I'd really like to get to the bottom of why these weren't working, because I need the USB 2.0 slots for other things.
  • No FireWire was found. As expected. I will try to experiment with an older FireWire kext to see what I can come up with.
  • Built-in ethernet is not working. I'm not surprised about this, because when I installed WWDC '06 a while back, this was an issue. I ended up getting gigabit PCI ethernet adapter, which Leopard currently thinks is the built-in ethernet.
  • Time Machine. It looks great! I just wish I could use it. It acts like it's about to start a backup, then tells me that "the backup volume could not be found." I Googled a number of different solutions for this last night, but nothing seems to work so far.


  • Front Row works. I have an Apple remote & a Keyspan USB IR receiver which are tons of fun to play with.
  • DVD Player works. I've read where a lot of people reported DVD player not working with their unsupported Leopard install, so I was very glad to see this was working without a hitch.

Next Steps

  • Try to resolve the issues with USB, FireWire, & ethernet.
  • Try to get Time Machine working as it should.
  • I want to test to see if I can run Automatic Updates without anything breaking. I had an automatic update waiting to run with a Quicktime, iTunes, Front Row, and a Security Update ready to install, so I'll be especially interested to see how the Security Update goes.
  • Run a couple of benchmarks, like Xbench, and OpenGL tests

Thanks again for everything you do with the site! It looks like my 9-year-old Mac is going to keep on ticking for a few more years!

Jeff Koenig


Thanks for sharing your success in getting Leopard installed and working with most of the features of your 1999 Power Mac G3. Keep us posted as you learn more!


Problem with Quadra 700 Video and Flat Panel Display

From Eric Russell Balch:

I've been having this sporadic problem that now seems to be permanent where the only video resolution available on my old Quadra 700 is 640 x 480 - it doesn't matter what color depth I select the only rez available is 640 x 480 @ 67Hz(?).

I used to be able to select from a wide range of video modes, but sometimes it seemed that only the 640 x 480 mode was available. Then through some magic of restarts it would end up in the correct mode with all modes available. I'm perplexed.

My system reports 8 MB RAM. I've just recently updated to Mac OS 7.6.1. There seems to be some amount of upgraded VRAM - all slots are filled - but I'm not sure how to get a report of how much.

To make things more interesting, this system came with a Radius video card installed that also works but only offers up different display choices in the resolution selection window.

Anyway, any ideas that you have would be much appreciated - 640 x 480 sucks on a 20" flat-panel!



Macs use sense pins to tell the computer what resolution(s) a monitor supports, as follows (for pins 10-7-4):

  • 640 x 480: 1-1-0
  • 512 x 384: 0-1-0
  • 640 x 870 b&w: 0-0-1
  • 640 x 870 color: 1-0-1
  • 1152 x 870 b&w: 0-1-1
  • 1152 x 870 color: 0-0-0

In addition to that, Apple also uses "extended sense codes" where two pins are tied together (for pins 4-10/10-7/7-4 - 0 means the pins should be tied together):

  • VGA/SVGA: 1/0/1
  • 832 x 624: 0/1/1
  • 1024 x 768: 1/1/0

There have been a lot of different Macintosh DB15-to-VGA adapters made over the past 20 years so old Macs can work with non-Mac monitors. Some support only a single resolution or a single monitor, but most have dials or DIP switches that can be used to change the settings to match some or all of those listed above.

If you adapter isn't adjustable, I recommend the Griffin Mac PnP Adapter, which supports all of the Mac resolutions from 512 x 384 to 1152 x 870. It's available from for US$12.99.


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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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