The Low End Mac Mailbag

12" PowerBook G4 Reliability, iMac Slowdown Blues, PowerTools Mac Clones, Cooling a MacBook, and More

Dan Knight - 2007.09.05

12" PowerBook G4 Reliability

From Travis Jay Patocka:

I have noticed the rise in popularity and the number of articles that have been showing up in LEM as of late. I definitely see this as the "next Pismo". While you articles and information have kept my G3 Lombard running strong, for more than two years now I have been thinking about upgrading to a faster model, namely, the PowerBook G4 12".

Maybe I just haven't been looking close enough in the archives, but have you guys published a G4 12" PowerBook buyers guide? Since the MacBook is definitely out of this high school teacher's budget, I could see the 867 MHz or slightly faster G4 PowerBook 12" in my classroom.

Are there any problems that the 12" G4 is known for? Any logic board issues, exploding batteries that I should know about as I invest in a used Mac that runs the same price as an entry to midlevel new PC? I know that like most things, the laptop will only last as long as it was cared for by its' previous owner.

I am seriously considering not using eBay for this purchase but instead going through one of your vendors that might offer a 30 day warranty. I got lucky with the Lombard that I purchased on eBay, but for the chunk of money I will be spending, I need a bit more peace of mind.

Also, I would be using the G4 mainly for PowerPoint, MS Word and the occasional Web browsing. I like the looks and added horsepower of the G4 12" over the iBook G4 12", so the iBook is out of the question. Any advice that you guys can offer would be greatly appreciated, and I feel as if I should act quickly as the prices only seem to go up on this model of PowerBook.

Thanks again, and keep up the great work!

Travis Patocka


Thanks to MacInTouch and its readers, we have the iBook and PowerBook Reliability. It tells us how high a repair rate the white iBooks have (49-72% of G3 models needed repair, 11-38% of G4 iBooks). For the most part, the 12" PowerBook has fared quite well, although I'd avoid the original 867 MHz model as the most repaired of the bunch (46% needed repair).

Later 12" PowerBooks with DVI support did better. The Sept. 2003 1 GHz model only has a 26% repair rate, the April 2004 1.33 GHz model reached 33%, and the Jan. 2005 1.5 GHz PowerBook G4 was lowest of all at just 14% (probably due in part to it being newer than the others).

Keep in mind that this is a self-selecting group, so problems may be reported at a higher rate than occurs worldwide. Also, these are based on relatively small populations - 300 or so for the 12" PowerBooks. Still, it should give us a good indication as to which models are more reliable - and which are less.

Based on these numbers, I'd recommend any of the 12" PowerBooks with DVI support. Prices currently range from $660 to $825, and you can max out RAM for just $72. Or you could buy a refurbished 2 GHz Core 2 MacBook from Apple for $949, which is a very tempting price.



I always appreciate a quick reply, and the numbers give me a pretty good idea which way to go. Yeah, the MacBook is pretty tempting, and I might just go that route.

Now if I could just convince my principal to let me trade in my school-issued iBook G4 for a MacBook, hmmm....

Anyway, you have a great day and thanks for the heads up!


The Blue Dalmatian iMac 500 Slowdown Blues

From Vincent Williams:

Blue Dalmatian iMacHello, you seem to have a lot of experience with all Mac models, so I was hoping you could answer a question for me. I have a Blue Dalmatian (500) 192 MB RAM running 10.3.9. The iMac is very slow starting up and hesitates opening folders, system prefs, everything is painfully slow.

The only thing I know is wrong with it is it has a dead battery. I thought it was just an old computer, but then I got a 400 MHz Pismo with 192 MB RAM, 10.3.9, and it's lighting quick in comparison. My question is whether or not this is normal for the iMac, or should I start looking for the problem? Could it be the PRAM battery?

Thanks in advance

Vincent Williams


There are several reasons your 500 MHz iMac could be "painfully slow", and the PRAM battery is one of them. Under Mac OS X, your Mac wants to check the time when it starts up, and if it's connected to the Internet, it can connect to a time server to set the correct time. Problem is, if the PRAM battery is dead, your Mac is updating the time by several decades, and this could be triggering some cleanup routines set to run daily, weekly, or monthly.

Other possible culprits are a slow hard drive (4400 rpm was not uncommon in iMacs, as it kept Apple's cost down) and a mostly full drive. With OS X, virtual memory is always active, so when the 192 MB of physical RAM is all being used, it caches memory to the hard drive. If the drive is slow and/or nearly full, that can impact things.

One more possibility is a damaged directory on your iMac's hard drive, something DiskWarrior (US$100) should be able to fix.


PowerTools, Another Mac Clone

From David Goldman:

I enjoyed your article [1997: Apple Squeezes Mac Clones Out of the Market]. One one major issue. You didn't mention PowerTools, the only company to actually ship a Mac OS clone with OS 8 and a G3 processor. Was a very high end graphics machine with internal RAID, high end processor, extra RAM, fast video card. (The G3 processor was the reason why Power Computing was purchased and then was shut down - we acquired rights to the technology, produced it, and shipped it - although not very many before our supply of Umax computers mysteriously disappeared.) was faster than anything Apple shipped for almost 2 years.

PowerTools was effectively shut down after Jobs came back. PowerTools filed suit against Apple and Umax. 4 years (almost $1 million in expenses not including attorneys fees) later the case was settled in mediation for an undisclosed amount of money and a confidentiality agreement as to the terms of settlement with Apple and Umax.

David Goldman

Note: PowerTools was the only clone manufacturer to honor all of its warranty issues with all customers. A support and warranty line was kept open for 2.5 years after the last machine was sold.


Thanks for sharing this. I know there were several companies that build clones using Motorola and/or Umax motherboards, but they were beyond the scope of the already lengthy article. For those who want to know more about the PowerTools clones, EveryMac has profiles. There doesn't appear to be much else on the Internet.


I Am Typing This on a Pismo

From John Hatchett:

Dear Dan,

Yes, I have finally gotten access to the "old" G3 PowerBook that my school has retired for a MacBook Pro. I have been a little surprised in that this PowerBook lives up to the hype - it is the best PowerBook that Apple ever made. Just the "feel" of the keyboard, the smooth lines of the laptop, and the two (two!) bays make it perhaps the most unique laptop in Apple history. It has a PCMCIA slot! It has a PCMCIA slot!

If you can only own one Apple laptop, this would be the one.

Now, to be realistic, it has only 384 RAM, and I am taxing the 500 Hz G3 Processor when running Tiger 10.4.10. And there is a tiny hard drive.

But I have a 30 GB hard drive out of a Dell laptop, and a 512 MB RAM chip would probably pick things up. I'm sure the a G4 conversion would really be nice, but not only am I a proud reader of Low End Mac, I am a member of El Cheapo Mac. It will have to wait.

Just a beautiful computer.

John Hatchett


Thanks for sharing your experience. The Pismo culminated a design Apple began years earlier with the WallStreet, and a lot of people still love using them.


Burning a CD for an LC 575

From Dan Palka:

This is a brief response to the mailbag letter you got asking about burning a CD in OS X to be read on System 7.

"Hi. I can't find a burning software for OS X that will burn CD-RW to just 2x speed so that the LC 575 can read it."

It's not that you have to burn a CD at 2x for the LC 575 to read it - instead, your problem is either that the LC 575's internal drive doesn't support burned CDs, or (more likely) you're not burning them correctly in OS X. There is a specific process to burning CDs in Mac OS X so that they can be read by System 7 Macs - it isn't just burn and go. You can find step by step instructions here:


Dan Palka
System 7 Today


Thanks for sharing the link. I've forwarded your email to Alvin.


Cooling a MacBook

From John Carlson:

I have just gotten done helping someone set up a brand new MacBook. It was quite an interesting experience - it's probably the closest I've come to a brand new computer in about twenty years, excepting computer displays in stores. (I'm a faithful Low End Mac reader - I prefer my computers used and nicely depreciated out.) The new computer is working well, but there are a couple of questions that have come up, and I'm hoping that you might have answers.

First, is there any value in using some sort of special cooling device? My assumption is that Apple would have built in whatever is needed. However, as my friend points out, the case does feel warm after the computer has been running a while. Therefore, she's considering using a Targus "Laptop Chill Mat." The computer sits on it, I gather, and fans keep it cooled off. (I'm concerned that this gadget runs off USB port power - maybe I'm paranoid, but I figure the less power that gets used off the USB port, the better as far as the life span of the power supply is concerned.)

The second question is whether it would hurt the computer if the laser printer (a new Brother HL 2040) is plugged into the same surge protector. I can remember some older laser printers causing lights to dim when they'd start up, and so I have a vision of it triggering a power surge after the protection of the power strip.

Thank you for your time - and also for Low End Mac. Your site is the first place I check whenever I have a Macintosh question.


I like new Macs, but I don't need them. I've been buying refurbished and used for years, and my current workhorse - a dual 1 GHz Power Mac G4 - was introduced five years ago. Except for video processing speed in iMovie and iDVD, it's everything I need.

As for the MacBook, as long as it's the Core 2 Duo model, heat shouldn't be a problem. For cooling, I'd prefer something passive rather than a fan. I've used the RoadTools Podium CoolPad and a passive device designed for laptop use that I've had for years (alas, there's no brand on it). I'd recommend going with active cooling only if the computer is overheating and having heat-related problems.

Today's printers aren't near the energy hogs those old LaserJets and LaserWriters were. On principle, I prefer to have my printers running from a separate outlet or surge strip, but I doubt it's a big deal these days.


iMac G4 Beowulf Clustering?

From Alvin:

Hi Dan.

It's great the weather there is nice. I'd like to ask if you know stuff about Macs doing parallel computing using OS X? I think this is called a Beowulf. Is it possible for two Macs to be connected via 1 Gb ethernet cable or the normal 100 Mb ethernet cable to divide the tasks between their CPUs and everything while using only one keyboard and mouse as well as having the two function with extended desktops? Does OS X Server have this capability such that when you connect the Macs using nothing but ethernet, it detects the other one and divides the workloads? If it's doable as I've considered the iMac G4 to have the best design so far, it'll be great art to have two 24" or 20" iMac G4s that function as one as well as having enough performance and screen real estate. :)


UCLA has a good page with Mac OS X Beowulf Cluster Deployment Notes. Exactly how it works is beyond me. I suspect you'd need software written to work in a clustered setting.

There is already software that lets you use a second computer (Mac or PC) as an extended desktop, although the name of the program escapes me at the moment, as well as software (VNC) to let you control a second computer from your primary. I don't know of a setup that will let you use a second Mac both as an extended desktop and as part of a Beowulf cluster.


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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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