Miscellaneous Ramblings

Miscellaneous Upgrade Advice

Charles W. Moore - 2001.02.05

Miscellaneous Ramblings reader Andrew Tseng had some comments and criticisms of my recent column on the Motorola StarMax Mac clones.

Hi Charles,

I want to say that I enjoy your articles both on MacOpinion and also at Low End Mac. However, I have to take issue with your article on the StarMax 3000.

First, I'm a StarMax user since 1997. Since then I've upgraded my stock StarMax 3000/240 with Newer Tech G3/300 card, 30 GB IBM 75GXP hard drive, maxed the memory to 160 MB, and also added an internal Zip drive. I am happily running both OS 8.6 and 9.x on different partitions.

While I agree that the 64 MB 3.3 volt EDO RAM is expensive, they are not dramatically more expensive than the 64 MB 5V EDO RAM required by the Power Mac 6400/6500.... In fact, a check of ramseeker, will show that the cheapest 64 MB memory goes for about $136, and not the $250 you quoted. Furthermore, the current "Hot" upgrade of StarMax owners isn't the G3/L2 cards by Sonnet Technology; rather it's a line of MetaboxUSA Joe T Cards. There are options of upgrading a StarMax to a G3/260 for $99 or to a G3/320 1 MB for $149. Many StarMaxers have upgraded the last few months with very few problems. Using these prices, the total upgrade base on the items you listed would come out to about $500, not the $695 you quoted.

I would like to point out to your readers that there is a great deal of support for StarMax users out there on the StarMax mailing list. The site, Starmax.net, is now gone, but the mailing list (email:starmax-talk@listserv.starmax.net, write subscribe on the subject line) is still going strong. Most of us StarMax users are attracted to StarMax by it's incredible five year warranty (which Motorola is honoring), its great expansion capabilities (5 slots and three 5.25" bays), and just the idea of upgrading various parts of our StarMax a little bit at a time.

Many StarMaxers have also taken advantage of the $39 deal from OWC of ixMicro video cards to either have a dual monitors setup or to drive a 17" or larger monitor. The ability to drive a larger monitor is something you can't do on an iMac and is the main reason why I would never purchase an iMac as my main workhorse.

On a different subject, I was wondering whether you would consider updating your articles on Road Warrior about the best PowerBooks under $1k and over $1k. It's been over 1.5 years (I think), and the landscape of the PowerBooks has changed greatly.

Thanks for listening.

I thank Andrew for his interesting comments, and I'm delighted to hear that he and others are getting such satisfactory service from their StarMaxes, and also about the lower-priced Joe Card G3 upgrades, and the information about the StarMax mailing list.

As for RAM prices, I am aware that there is cheaper RAM available than what is quoted on Other World Computing's BTO page, and I included a link to ramseeker in my response to Jim toward the end the article, but the price workup was for the package available from OWC, so I used their RAM price.

I agree that the StarMax is a nice computer that can be a very good value if your needs are met within its limitations. The 5 PCI slots and built-in support for ATA/IDE hard drives are especially attractive features, as is the warranty.

However, for me at least, the 160 MHz RAM ceiling, only three RAM slots, the (albeit slightly in some instances) harder to find and more expensive, nonstandard, non-interleaved 3.3 volt EDO RAM, the slow 40 MHz system bus, a limit of 300 MHz on G3 processor upgrades, and the questionable likelihood of these machines ever being supported by OS X, all add up to making the StarMax a machine with a limited future.

Personally, I think that unless you get an exceptionally good price on a StarMax, a Power Mac 7000/8000/9000 series or one of the Power Computing or Umax 604-based clones with the processor on a ZIF card is a better value in a used Mac of this vintage and price range.

The StarMax came with its CPU soldered to the motherboard, rather than on a replaceable card. At the time, Motorola argued in that pre-G3 era that only five percent of PC owners were upgrading their CPUs, so it figured saving the $25 cost of a CPU slot was an acceptable tradeoff. Subsequent developments have proved that an unfortunate decision, since processor upgrades are limited to cards that will fit in the machine's cache slot.

Incidentally, recent iMacs do support an external monitor.

From Timothy Lucas:

I have a StarMax 3000/180 DT and was considering upgrading to DSL. But upon reading Earthlink's system requirements, I see I need to have a 10Base-T Ethernet Network Interface Card (I don't even know what that is!). The specs on my computer tell me that Ethernet is n/a. Do you know of a workaround for this problem? Thanks.

Tim Lucas

No problem, Tim. Just put one of those five PCI slots to work.

You can find PCI ethernet cards here:

There are plenty of similar products available, but this one specifically lists StarMax support.

From Jim Christian:
I checked out the links, and bought a RAM module from Coast to Coast Memory. Thanks for the tip.


From Chris Long:

We just got a free Umax J700 SuperMac ... My wife got it, actually, from her employer. Keyboard, small color monitor, no printer ... I haven't even seen it yet, but I know what it is, and you probably do too. - I figure I can upgrade the OS in it to 8.1 or thereabouts, but I hear it has minimal RAM.

I'm thinking of giving it to our computerless (and computer ignorant) nieces and nephews.

I figure it's most likely got System 7.5 or 7.6 on it - a safe bet, 'cuz that's what they shipped with (I think?), and my wife's company isn't known for making changes to their computers.

My plan is to update this system to Mac OS 8 with an Apple Mac OS 8 CD that we have laying around here - if I just do an install (not a fresh install) shouldn't that (presumably) just update the 7.5/7.6 to OS 8 without removing any/all Umax-unique files necessary for operation? I have no idea how many Umax-unique files there may be or where they may be - there's no way I'm going to do a fresh install with an Apple CD, 'cuz I'm pretty sure I'll just mess things up.

Now that Alta Vista has pulled the plug, do you know of anyone left who's providing free Mac web access?

I'm also looking for some games for the kids (free/shareware) if you know of any.

I've the visited Miscellaneous Ramblings site, and I see you have a few columns there about a S900 ... looks like you had more than yer share of problems with it!

We have an old Umax CD around here for an S900 (700?) that we have in the back room (dead, I think) ... I could probably use that to restore anything I screw up.

Here's another one: as far as I know, these boxes have no modems built in. if I can find a modem somewhere, do you figure I'll have any problems installing the associated software on this non-Apple Mac? I'd like to get the thing on the web, natch.


Hi Chris;

First, you are overcomplicating things. There are no Umax-unique files to worry about, and this machine just uses the standard Mac OS. I have had (thus far!) Mac OS 7.5.3; Mac OS 8 (briefly); Mac OS 8.1; Mac OS 8.5 (briefly); Mac OS 8.5.1; Mac OS 8.6 (current); Mac OS 9.0; Mac OS 9.0.4; and Mac OS 9.1 installed on my SuperMac, all standard installations from Apple installers, and they all have worked well, within the context of my boot difficulties, of which more below.

Use whatever System CD you like. Even OS 9.1 should work fine.

No problems as far as modems are concerned either. Think of the SuperMac as just another Mac. It has an Apple motherboard (the "Catalyst" mobo shared with the Power Mac 7200 in the case of the J700) and ROMs, the same ports, etc. I just use a normal Global Village Platinum 33.6 Kbps modem with my S900. As for free Internet access, Kmart's BlueLight.com free ISP service still offers Mac support.

However, beginning on January 1, 2001, Blue Light began limiting usage to 25 hours per month per user, as, they say, a necessary cost-cutting measure which will allow them to keep offering the service at no cost. Once you have used your allotted 25 hours, you will not be able to gain access until the beginning of the next month. I don't think your young relatives will find a 25 hour per month limit very satisfactory, but it would get them started.

BlueLight.com also plans to announce a new ISP service starting around February 2001. The exact terms and conditions of this new service are being determined.

BlueLight.com's totally free Internet service is available via a download at http://www.bluelight.com/freeinternet, on BlueLight CD-ROMS available at over 1600 Big Kmart and Super Kmart stores across the U.S., or by calling (888) 945-9255.

The free BlueLight.com CD-ROM includes both Macintosh and PC support.

Macintosh hardware compatibility requirements:

For free software for the kids, try Gareth Jones' Macintosh Freeware page <http://www.intergate.ca/personal/gslj/freesoftware.html> or Calvin Lee's MacFreewares site <http://macfreewares.myspot.com/>.

As for my SuperMac, I don't entirely blame the S900, although I have determined their reluctance to boot is not unknown to this model.

I am gradually working through the SCSI termination issues, and the machine is currently sitting with its covers off; my new (to me) Quantum 4 GB hard drive laying on the table dangling from its SCSI ribbon cable; the CD-ROM drive sitting on top of the chassis, also with dangling ribbon cable. It is currently booting nicely, but I have yet to get the second hard drive hooked up and everything happily coexisting.

I should also mention that this particular S900 is a complete mongrel. I bought the basic case, motherboard, and floppy drive (brand new, but four years old, if you get my drift) from Other World Computing last May. The 200 MHz 604e processor is out of a 7000 series Power Mac - something my son, Tristan, picked up somewhere. The video card is out of Dan Knight's Umax J700, and the 8x Apple CD-ROM drive is another part that Tristan found in a parts bin somewhere. There is the original 16 MB of RAM soldered to the motherboard, plus two 32 MB and two 16 MB DIMM modules, all scavenged (with permission) from the parts bin where Tristan used to work, no two of them from the same manufacturer. The hard drives are a brand-new Seagate, but a remaindered model from the early 90s and the Quantum pulled from a Power Computing machine. I also have a new Macally USB card, an iMac USB keyboard, and an ancient NEC 15-inch VGA PC monitor that Tristan got in exchange from doing some Mac support work for a school. It's amazing that it runs at all, but actually it works well once you get past the boot reluctance.