Charles Moore's Mailbag

Upgraded Pismo or 14" iBook, More Thoughts on Pismo and Lombard G4 Upgrades, and More

Charles Moore - 2004.03.31 - Tip Jar

Pismo or 14" iBook?

From John Buhrman

Hello Mr. Moore,

I love your columns on Low End Mac about laptop computing. I was hoping you could provide some insight and advice. Right now I have two computers: a Flat-Panel iMac that I love but I don't use extremely much because I cannot tote it around and an 800 MHz 512 L2 cache G3 iBook that I use a lot, because it's portable, but that I have a lot of problems with.

I have perfect 20/20 vision, but for some reason I feel that the 12" screen on my laptop is too limiting and too small, even though it has the same exact resolution of larger screens I prefer. I also find that being tall, my neck often becomes tight and uncomfortable while using the laptop for any long period of time. So even though I have only had the laptop for a year, I want to use something different. I am, though, debating about what to do once I sell it.

Should I go with a 14" G4 iBook, or should I try to get my hands on a used Pismo? I like the design of the Pismo better, but I am wondering how much life is left for them, especially with the limited video that that comes with them. Also, they seem to be selling for a pretty high premium for being so old. How long will the machine themselves last I often wonder.

I also wonder whether the new hinge design is causing my strain problems, and thus a 14" iBook G4 would do little to improve the situation. The new hinges, first used on the iBooks and then on the PowerBooks, push the screen further down, closer to the keyboard, and I wonder whether that makes it harder for my neck and hands to be put in a more comfortable position. So maybe I have no choice to either try to make do with a Pismo or to get a PC laptop, which I very loathe to do.

I hope the description of my problem wasn't too convoluted, and I hope you will be nice to help me out with some great advice. Thanks for your time and help, and thanks for bringing all of us such great columns!

Hi John,

To some degree, the solution to your dilemma will be a matter of personal preference. As you may be aware, the 14" iBook has been dubbed by some "Son of Pismo" - with good reason. In terms of size and capability, the two are reasonably well matched.

However, one of the reasons why used Pismos are holding their value so well is that they are an incredibly sweet machine, and for argument's sake, if I were offered the choice of a brand-new Pismo or a brand-new 14" iBook, I would opt for the Pismo in a heartbeat, particularly if it had a G4 upgrade installed.

On the other hand, with the 14" iBook you get a fast G4 processor and a full new computer warranty. You also get 32 MB of video RAM with a Radeon video accelerator that supports Quartz Extreme - - something the Pismo will never be able to do. That said, I still find my 550 MHz G4-upgraded Pismo a better overall performer then my 700 MHz iBook (which does support Quartz Extreme).

The Pismo also offers an expansion day, PC Card slot, analog sound in, twice as many FireWire ports, and the capacity to (unofficially) support up to a gigabyte of RAM. (There is also an unofficially supported one gigabyte RAM upgrade module available for the G4 iBook as well). The Pismo is a lot easier to open up and work on for upgrades and such.

As for your question about how much life the old Pismos have left in them, it really depends on the individual machine and how it has been used. Mine has been used a lot, but carefully, and it still looks and works like a brand new unit.

I appreciate your point about the horrible ergonomics of laptop computers for long hours of production work. I use my laptops most of the time on laptop stands with external keyboards and pointing devices. I would suggest that the small difference in display elevation related to hinge placement would probably not make much difference in practical terms to your neck and eyestrain issues.

There are laptop stands available that fold up compactly and can be carried easily (e.g., Contour NoteRiser), and I have been using a CoolMac flexible keyboard with my iBook for the past couple months. I originally bought it as an external keyboard to carry around in my backpack for occasional use, but I like it so much that I've been using it for regular desktop computing (although I caution you that it's very different, so not everyone would likely be as smitten).

You can read The Road Warrior Review - CoolMac Flexible, Waterproof USB Keyboard for more on this topic.


Daystar Pismo G4/550 Upgrade

From Robert Washburn


Thank you for your articles on CPU upgrades for the Pismo. Your column at Low End Mac is must reading for me.

I received my Pismo G4 back from Daystar yesterday. I had sent them the 400 MHz that I bought directly from Apple three years ago when I traded in my 190cs.

I went for the G4/550 and 60 GB 5400 rpm HD, an AirPort card, and the FireWire enclosure for the old HD from the Pismo. $998 Canadian at that day's rate of exchange, shipping and all.

The Daystar people buffed the keyboard marks out of the display screen and provided a cloth to prevent further marking of the display. One of my daughters has her eye on the XLR8 scrollwheel mouse that they sent as a freebie.

I reformatted the new HD; installed 9.2.2 and then Panther; applied the combined upgrade; and then installed Office, Photoshop, OED2 (this last is why I still need classic!), and all the rest of my stuff, with the various upgrades. Big job, took me most of a day, but the new version (2.1 just came out today) seems to work fine.

The results and the service were exactly as advertised. Much faster, stable, transparent.

I would not have done it without reading your blow-by-blow description. I am grateful to you and to Daystar for such a superb result.

Thanks again.
Robert Washburn

Hi Robert,

What can I say? Your experience in its particular context is an analog of mine. After nearly two months of use in day-to-day production, I still have found nothing to complain about with the Daystar 550 MHz upgrade in my Pismo. It just works beautifully. I have also upgraded to a 5400 RPM hard drive (a 40 gigabyte Toshiba with a 16 MB buffer), and the hot rodded machine just rocks.

Delighted that you found my article helpful.


Which Pismo Upgrade?

From Chris Jackson


Appreciated your discussion regarding Pismo CPU upgrades. You chose a G4 model upgrade over the PowerLogix G3/900. Can you tell me why you chose that one?

Chris Jackson

Hi Chris,

Daystar's argument about lower heat production with the 550 MHz G4 was convincing, and I already had a fairly fast G3 with my 700 MHz iBook that supports Quartz Extreme, so I was curious as to what a G4's performance would be like (the 550 MHz G4 Pismo is faster than the 700 MHz iBook, but it's not a dramatic difference for most things other than AltiVec optimized tasks).

I was also very favorably impressed with Daystar's general package and presentation.

I think there is no one size fits all "right" answer to this question. It really depends on what your specific needs are. Note also that PowerLogix is planning to introduce a 1 GHz G3 Pismo upgrade soon.


Brief PowerBook Question

From John Cheseldine

I have been reading your column on Low End Mac for some two years and would almost call myself a fan!

I recently used a theatrical lighting gel (supposedly able to withstand high temperatures) to change the Apple logo on the top of my G3 Lombard (bought to give to my mother on her birthday) to a blue colour. I was so impressed with the results that I'd like to do the same to my 15" aluminium PowerBook when the warranty runs out. I'm a computer technician, so I'm pretty handy at taking things apart, but I wondered if you knew if somebody had already posted a teardown on the net? I don't want to get so far in stripping my machine only to find the display halves are glued, like in the TiBook.

Kind regards,
John Cheseldine

Hi John,

I would caution you to proceed very carefully with this. Stripping a metal PowerBook is a whole different dimension than the relatively easy-to-work-on PowerBook G3 models.

I'm not sure, but I wouldn't be surprised if the display bezel is bonded with adhesive on the 15" aluminum 'Books, as it is with the TiBooks.

The Japanese Kodawarisan site has posted teardown photos showing the internals of the the new 15" aluminum PowerBook.


Spoke Too Soon

From David Yuguchi

Thanks, Charles. The latest information [about Daystar's G4 upgrade for the Lombard] shows an MSRP of $259, with the special priced at $229. Still a good deal, though. They do throw in a dual-button mouse as a "gift".

Hi David,

The prices were correct at the time I posted them.

Gary Dailey explains: "We actually are having to move the price up a bit ($259 plus shipping of the box to the customer). We will be using the expensive 500LE CPUs in the Lombard's rather than the 450SKs (quadruple the CPU cost to us), the 450s just ran too hot for my taste (68° Celsius)."


About Lombard Upgrade

From Nicolas Collart

Hello Charles!

First, I want to thank for all your great articles - they are always great to read and full of interesting tips!

I own a Lombard for some years now. It has 320 MB of RAM, a IBM TravelStar 12Go hard drive, and runs on Panther. I really like it, and I find it quite responsive.

I saw a CPU upgrade is finally available again for this great laptop (I really love it :D!), and I ask whether you think this upgrade makes economical sense? Will I see big improvements in OS X? Would upgrading my hard drive (it's only 4200 RPM) or adding more RAM be more "intelligent"?

Thank you very much for your time and answers,

P.S. Sorry for the quality of my English :-)!

Hi Nicholas,

Your English is way better than I would be in your language!

Yes; I think you will see a substantial improvement in performance with the Daystar 433 MHz G4 upgrade in your Lombard, especially if the Lombard is a 333 MHz unit.

However, upgrading the hard drive and maxing out the RAM will also help. Doing all three would be ideal. ;-)

Ultimately, only you can make the evaluation as to whether upgrading your Lombard or buying a newer computer makes the best sense to you. I think that a Lombard with the 433 MHz G4 Daystar upgrade will be a very nice package.


Wegener HD Enclosure

From Scott Caldarelli


Your info on the Wegener Media FW/USB enclosure is incorrect. I ordered one of the FW/USB enclosures from Wegener Media thinking it a great price. However I received a USB-only enclosure. Upon contacting them, I was told that the dual interface enclosure was $10 more. The website was incorrect.

Today I am shipping it back and maybe they will replace it at that price. I spoke to Greg, and he said he did not have the authority to simply replace it for me. Hopefully they will do this for me, since this is what they were advertising.

Thank You,
Scott Caldarelli

Hi Scott,

I contacted David Wegener about this issue, and his reply is appended below. I trust you will find the solution satisfactory.


Re: Wegener HD enclosure


thx for the note.

Actually, yes, there was an incorrect posting on the site, which we didn't realize until after we had shipped a bunch of the USB units last week.

We had a meeting about this issue at noon today. We're going to send out the better units to everybody who's ordered them, even though they paid less than our purchase price. Your guy may have notified you of the confusion before he heard back from us - we've tried to get back in touch with folks but haven't made every contact.

Anyway, we're going to make some happy folks out there, I'm sure (even though someone (Scott) has the wrong info, or hasn't heard yet of the solution.

Wegener Media
624B Leaphart St.
W. Columbia, SC 29169

Keyboard Preferences in 10.3.3

Alan Zisman writes:

You noted, "With the 10.3.3 update, there's a new checkbox in the keyboard preferences pane labeled 'Use the F1-F12 keys for custom actions.' If you check it, then you get 'real' function keys, while holding down fn gives you the brightness, sound, etc. controls...."

Not on my G4 iBook running 10.3.3 - I wish there was!

- AZ

Hi AZ,

I just downgraded to OS 10.3.2 (new hard drive) and thus can't check. Perhaps you could contact the OS X Hints folks, from whence that snippet originated.


eMac Question

From Mark Ekster


I came across eMac Musings in an unsuccessful attempt to answer this question. Perhaps you can help?

I work in a public school. I have an eMac - purchased 9/03, boots in OS 9 - and attempted to put an image on this machine that was created on a snow iMac. It worked perfectly on the eMac, except I only have one choice for resolution and one choice for colors (millions). What have I toasted in order for this to happen, and how do I get back my resolution choices. Thanks for any help.


Hi Mark,

I'm not quite clear on what the issue is.

What sort of image?

You should be able to adjust image resolution in any image editing program (e.g., Photoshop, Color It!, Graphics Converter).


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Charles Moore has been a freelance journalist since 1987 and began writing for Mac websites in May 1998. His The Road Warrior column was a regular feature on MacOpinion, he is news editor at and a columnist at If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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