Charles Moore's Mailbag

Most Durable 'Book, Prepping a Blue & White G3 for OS X, 7200 rpm Drive Too Hot for Pismo?, and More

Charles Moore - 2007.05.21 - Tip Jar

Looking for a Durable Laptop

From Seb Payne:

Hi Charles

I was wanting your opinion on my current laptop situation. I have a MacBook Pro 17" which I use as my main machine in the house, and it works well in that capacity, but I don't like to take it out much because of the size, low battery, and lack-of-durability the machine has. I also have a PowerBook 12" G4, which I've been using out and about, but the case isn't that strong and has acquired noticeable dents within a few weeks of use as my portable machine.

So I started to look through eBay to see what I could find. One idea was a PowerBook 1400 and popping in a CF card for the hard drive, giving me a usable machine for note taking and Web browsing, but connectivity between my newer Macs has put me off (plus I'm a fan of the newer designs). I've looked at Pismos, but I don't think they are what I'm looking for.

I've got a good deal on an iBook G3 466 MHz clamshell with DVD drive, and I was wondering whether you thought this is the way to go? It doesn't need a case when I go out (I'm a student), it is in very good condition and will run OS X 10.4, so I can use Mail, Nisus Writer, and Camino. The form factor of the smaller IceBooks is too like that of my PowerBook for me to invest money in and be happy with the purchase (plus the logic board issues).

So, in a sentence, do you think I should get another machine, and if so, what? I'm tempted by the clamshell at the moment, as it is a great machine and has all the bells and whistles! The alternative is to stick with the small PowerBook (which gets very hot to type with and is not made for on-the-road duties!).


Hi Seb,

One-sentence answer: If you're looking for knockabout durability, go with the 466 MHz clamshell, which is statistically the toughest and most reliable Apple notebook capable of running Tiger.

To elaborate more comprehensively, you could, as you say, just stick with the 12" PowerBook and live with the dents and scratches. Another option would be a MacBook, but if the heat generated by the LittleAl is an issue for you, the MacBook isn't likely to be much improvement, if any.

I think the clamshell makes good sense, if you can get a good deal on one in decent condition and can live with the 800 x 600 display and the bulk and weight (which are probably not coincidental to this machine's ruggedness). I love Pismos, but, for rough duty, the clamshell is pretty hard to beat.

A 1400 would just be too frustrating, IMHO. They were great, but their day is past.


Upgrading a Blue & White G3 for OS X

From Allan Turnipseed:

Hello Charles,

Thank God I found Low End Mac. I hope you won't mind taking the time to answer some of my questions. I have no one else to ask and have spent hours on the Web trying to figure out if what I am doing makes sense. I think I've figure it out, but I am on a very limited income and must be very careful how I spend what little money I have. I also need make a decision soon, as I have friends coming to Mexico at the end of the month.

First of all, some personal background. I am a graphic designer who had my first Mac in 1985 and have been an avid Mac fan ever since. I have had several and always kept up with the latest and greatest. But in 2000, I decided to leave the world of stress and consumerism and move to Mexico. I am now living on Lake Chapala south of Guadalajara. I am too young to retire, so I have retained a few clients that I still do work for in the States.

Because I am always overly cautious when Apple or Adobe releases something new and the cost of upgrading programs, I had not converted with OS X before I left. I have been perfectly happy with OS 9.1, Photoshop 7, Illustrator 10, InDesign 2, and Office 2000 until recently. Even though they still get the job done, I began having Internet problems. That is not a good thing, as it is my lifeline to the States - clients, bank accounts, etc. I think it is time to make a change so I can upgrade my browser. Hopefully this will be my last major upgrade, as after I retire I want to begin to do the fine art I studied for in school.

I am in the process of upgrading my Blue and White G3 to finally begin to use OS X. I have decided on a couple of things and debating on others. If you have the time, I wanted to get your opinion of what I should do.

First, because OS X (I am considering going no further than 10.3) requires a DVD player for installation and the G3 will only read CDs, I was going to purchase one of the following DVD±RW drives: a Pioneer 18x DVD Dual-Layer SuperDrive or an Genuine Apple OEM Pioneer 16x SuperDrive. I like the thought (and price) of using an Apple drive (because it should be easy to install) but don't want to be obsolete before I begin, but I really don't care about watching movies on my Mac.

My current hard drive is only 12 GB (I also have a 37 GB LaCie external). From what I have read, I will need a larger one. I was considering the 120 GB Seagate Barracuda 7200.9 7200 rpm.

My current system is at 350 MHz. Should I consider boosting that to 450 with the Sonnet Encore/ZIF G4/@500 MHz w/1024k 2:1 backside cache? Or would the XLR8 MAChspeed G4 ZIF 500 MHz upgrade card with XLR8's extra-large, extra fast backside cache from Daystar be a better choice? The Daystar says that it continues to run with the G3's 100 MHz [bus] speed, whereas the Sonnet drops to 66 MHz. And do I need either? Is that something I could do later if I feel I have lost speed after working with OS X?

Same question about the RAM. I have three slots filled with a total of 640 MB. Should I add two more 256 (removing a 128) for a total of 1024, or could I wait until later. The problem with waiting is that being in Mexico, I have to have the items sent to friends who are coming down, which takes time, but shipping them in directly is not smart.

This is the overview of my display card: Slot J12; ATY, Rage128y, ROM #:113-57401-116; Card vendor ID:1002 and VRAM size:16 MB. As best I can figure out, I am okay with what I have.

As far as software goes, to keep from having more problems than I need I was considering installing Panther. Because of my browser problems and their busy phone, I can't get a hold of Adobe to assess my upgrade options, so I have decided to search for and purchase Creative Suite 2. I will upgrade Word later. The programs I have now might work with OS X, but it's been so long ago since I purchased them, I am not sure.

Sorry this is such a long email, but I really want to be sure of what I am doing and that I can do the installation myself. I literally have no one to talk to. I have friends who have Macs down here, but they know less than I do. There is a Mac repair man in Guadalajara, but I from trying to talk with him (there's both a Spanish/English language barrier and a tech/non-tech barrier), I think this it out of his expertise - and he'd rather sell me a new Mac.

Thanks for you help. I am so glad to have discovered It really is informative, helpful, and without it I would have totally lost my mind. I will be glad to make a small contribution in the future to help ya'll continue on with your good work.

Allan Turnipseed

Hi Allan,

Thanks for your kind words about Low End Mac.

Sounds like you have the idyllic life there in a Mexican backwater - perhaps not totally different from life here in my Nova Scotian backwater, except I expect it's a lot warmer there! There was snow on the ground about 20 miles north of here yesterday morning. Not what you want to see on May 17, even in the Great White North.

Regards your computer questions, First, OS X 10.3 "Panther" is on CD install disks, so a DVD drive is not a prerequisite for installing it, although it is handy to have one. Any of the drives you mention should do the job just fine.

You really should have a larger hard drive for OS X - and definitely so if you're going to be doing graphics work. The 120 GB Seagate Barracuda 7200.9 7200 rpm sounds like a fine choice.

As for processor speed, 350 MHz is way below the minimum hardware threshold I consider adequate for OS X. IMHO, 500 MHz G3 or G4 with 640 MB of RAM is the arbitrary minimum, and for serious graphics work you should have at least 1 GB (1024 MB) of RAM. I have been very pleased with the Daystar 550 MHz G4 upgrade in my Pismo PowerBook.

You will find OS X sluggish compared with OS 9 even with a 500 MHz CPU.

A RAGE 128 is also marginal for use with OS X. My Pismo has a RAGE 128 Mobility GPU, and some features of OS X are not supported, such as Quartz Extreme and Core Image. Your card will work for basic computing, but you really need a Radeon 7500 or better with 32 MB VRAM.

Software-wise, if cost is a significant factor, let me put in a plug here for Adobe Photoshop Elements 4.0, which sells for a friendly $89.99, and which you may find is all the up-to-date power and features you need.

Hope this is some help, and let me know if you have any further questions.



We have a some of friends down here from your part of the world. Most are only seasonal, as they spend November through March to escape the harsh winters. We have year around super weather. In fact, according to National Geographic, Lake Chapala and some place in Africa has the best weather in the world. One of the reasons we moved.

Thanks for your help. You actually reaffirmed what I had thought, but it makes me feel much better to have someone who knows what the are talking about say the choices are good ones.

As far as the graphics card, I have spent a good part of the day researching. Can't remember everything, but for some reason the 7500 wasn't right. I then found the ATI Technologies Radeon 9200 128 MB Mac Edition PCI Graphics Card. With a little research on xlr8yourmac it looks like it might be the answer, even though there have been some problems. Interestingly, I couldn't find any specs on the VRAM on any of the card upgrades.

Appreciate your input about Photoshop Elements, but as a graphic designer I need Illustrator and InDesign also. I lucked out (I hope) and found an upgrade from Photoshop to Creative Suite 2, brand new, sealed in the box for $550. So I think that's covered.

I'll keep you posted on the end result.

Thanks again,

Hi Allan,

A Radeon 9200 should certainly be up to the job. My 700 MHz G3 iBook has a Radeon 7500 and does support Quartz Extreme in OS X 10.4.

The Radeon 9200 you reference above seems to have 128 MB of VRAM, which should be ample.

Good luck.


7,200 RPM Drive Too Hot for Pismo?

From Martin Jungowski:

Hi Charles,

First of all, thanks for your many many deep insights into "old" PowerBooks - it's really amusing and interesting to read your ramblings.

This time I have a question which you might be able to answer. I'm thinking about upgrading the hard drive in my Pismo (400 MHz G3, 1,024 MB memory) from the current 4,200 rpm 40 GB drive to a brand-new 7,200 rpm 100 GB Seagate one. Not for the disk space, I actually have more than half of my 40 GB drive free, it's more for the performance.

On the other hand, I'm a bit worried about temperature related quarrels that might follow said upgrade. I'll be spending next year abroad, doing my Master's degree in Detroit, hence I'll be using that Pismo as my one and only computer. Given the rather time-intensive character of a Master's Degree, I'll be spending long hours in the library - and frankly, nothing disturbs me more than fans running constantly and the noise a hard drive emits when the disks are rotating. Surprisingly, I'm not really bothered by the noise a hard drive makes when the heads are moving, it's only the ball bearing noise that drives me crazy. These are the two issues I'm worried about, and hopefully you can help me out on this one.

Will the 7,200 rpm drive get too hot? And will I hear it? Would a 5,400 rpm drive be the smarter choice?

Thanks in advance

Hi Martin,

I've never used a 7,200 RPM drive in a Pismo, but it stands to reason that it will run somewhat hotter than a 4200 RPM unit. A faster drive will also be noisier than a 4200 or 5400 RPM drive.

On the bright side, I have a 5400 RPM Toshiba hard drive in my Pismo. It's louder than the original 4200 RPM Toshiba, but not excessively so, and the machine runs very cool. I have a 550 MHz G4 processor upgrade too, and I'm running OS X 10.4.8. One note: I did install Daystar's modified processor heat shield (easy to change) with a copper heat sink, and I don't think the fans have cut in even once since then (some two years).


The Need to Run 'Tiger' Is a Problem

Joseph Getter writes:

Hi, Charles Moore. Great website. I sent this in today. - Joseph

Dear Dan Knight at Low End Mac,

Greetings. I am a longtime reader of your site and love it for the news, opinions, and specs. I've learned a lot about my machines; presently we have at home: Power Mac G4, Pismo PowerBook, B&W G3 (2), Beige G3, iMac, Power Mac 8100 & 7200, PowerBook 5300, Mac SE/30. Several were picked from the trash in town. All work well, though the newer ones get a lot more use. I love the old gear; a college student once exclaimed "Old school!" when I got out the Pismo. I only switched to OS X last year, mostly because of the increasing difficulties in accessing the Web in OS 9.

It was very interesting to read "Why Apple Must Continue G3 Support in Mac OS X 10.5 'Leopard'." I especially noted that Kris Finkenbinder wrote, "a large number of very useful pieces of third-party software are already incompatible with 10.2.8 and even 10.3.9, simply because the developers don't know how or can't be bothered to install the cross-development packages and check some boxes in Xcode."

To my dismay, I have recently discovered this to be all too true. My newer Macs (2000 vintage) run 10.3.9, and it is stable and fast enough. But when I needed to capture a still from a DVD for a publication, all the applications I found required 10.4. I am unable to upgrade the Sound Studio 3 audio editing software I purchased just last year, as its version 3.5 needs OS X 10.4. This lack of compatibility even afflicts word processors: The intriguing Bean and TextWrangler 2 both require 10.4. There are more examples I've run across.

Is there a compelling reason why many such newer apps don't run and perform well in 10.3.9? Is it just the simple problem Finkenbinder described? If there is anything you at LEM can do to raise awareness of this issue with developers, it would be appreciated by many. Or maybe it's time to put that Pismo back in the trash?

Joseph Getter

Hi Joseph,

I agree, although I find that OS X 10.4 is a perfectly satisfactory OS for my 2000 vintage Pismo PowerBook, and the latest Tiger builds seem just as stable and if anything is more lively than OS 10.3.9 was.

The crunch will come if Apple decides to deep-six G3 support, or even worse, support for anything without, say, built-in USB 2.0, as the support threshold for Leopard, and developers drop Tiger support as quickly as they've cast Jaguar and Panther adrift.

As for the technical issues involved in retaining support for older OS versions, that's beyond my level of erudition. I think in some cases they just have no facility for testing the software with the older OS builds.


Thanks for your reply and the great website! I read it almost daily.

I will try 10.4. Talk of putting the Pismo in the trash was purely rhetorical, as I hope you could tell. I am thinking of upgrading it to a G4 soon (I can't afford a MacBook just yet), and have been reading your advice on that.

Best wishes,

Also see The Need to Have 10.4 Is Already a Problem, ed

iBook G4 Power Problems

From Ian Anderson in response to How Reliable is the iBook G4?:

Hello Mr. Moore,

First off, I'm 14 and live in Levittown, PA. I own an Apple iBook G4 (12" 1.33 GHz August 2004 model, 30 GB HD, 768 MB RAM) and have the AppleCare extended warranty until this December.

I'd like to say in reply to your mailbag today that my iBook has the same problem - and then some.

It will turn off if I so much as look at it funny while on battery. And while on the charger, it will often switch to the battery instead. For instance, it charges to 100%, then 20 minutes later it's down to 79% with the icon blinking between power and battery. Typing or even spinning up a CD makes it happen.

My biggest gripe of them all, however? This only started after Apple replaced the Combo drive for falling out of alignment, along with the bad LCD, broken plastics, battery, etc. Only thing that wasn't touched basically was the logic board. When I called AppleCare (I have a three-year warranty), they accused me of mishandling the iBook and said any power-related repairs would cost a lot of money. I didn't wait to find out how much and hung up.

Apple's already charged me in the past for a faulty power cord (the adapter overheated and died), so I'm not going to let them charge me 100s of dollars to replace a $20 power board (eBay prices).

I'm thinking of replacing the power board, installing a SuperDrive, and selling it to fund a low-end Power Mac G4 and a used PowerBook. What model would you recommend? I'm fond of the Pismos myself.

Thanks for your time,
Ian Anderson

Hi Ian,

Sorry to hear about the problems with your iBook.

First, if you've paid for AppleCare and the 'Book is malfunctioning, Apple should repair the problem, unless there is obvious evidence of mistreatment.

I encourage you to keep after them until you get a satisfactory resolution. It's unfortunate, but since you're 14, you may not be getting the respect you're entitled to from the Apple support reps. It might be worth having an older person act as interlocutor. It shouldn't be that way, but you know....

Over the years I've heard of many cases where the first (and sometimes several more) approaches to Apple Support were blown off, but in the end persistence paid off.

As for replacing the machine, it's a buyer's market these days in used and refurbished Apple notebooks.

Personally, I'm very partial to the Pismo myself and intend on using mine for several years yet.


Slower Burn Speed May Solve CD-R Read Problems

From Brian Gray in response to 74 Minute Discs Solution to CD-R Reading Problems:


I have to say I really enjoy all of your articles!

I'd like to mention something regarding Mr. Raoul's problem with CD-Rs. He should try burning the CDs at lower speeds, like 1x or 2x, but no more than 4x. I could read 80' CD-Rs on my 3400 as long as I burned them at 2x speed. It takes a little longer, but it seems to be the best way to get older Macs to read burned discs.


Hi Brian,

Thanks for the kind words and the good advice. Forwarded to Thierry.


From Thierry Raoul:

Hello Charles,

I really appreciate that you forwarded me this helpful comment, thank you very much! I shall try on my clamshell some 80' CD-R burned at 1x. If it works, it shall be the long term solution.

By the way, I also noted that my comments were reported on your Web chronicles. Such an honor, I am confused.

Regarding the CD-R "issue", I must admit that I am pretending to perform a not so basic task: trying to obtain a bootable Linux PPC LiveCD for a clamshell SE.

Up to now I succeeded with one old Ubuntu release, which boots fine and gets into the Ubuntu startup process until, I think, it stumbles on the RAM limit of the clamshell (it keeps telling Ubuntu is loading, but nothing more happens after more than one hour).

But above all the most successful boot CD is the Gentoo 2006.1, which boots up to a fully operative Linux shell. It doesn't boot into a desktop environment, though: I don't know if this is a PPC limitation of the Gentoo.

The use of CD-Rs on clamshell is really finicky, as you pointed out earlier: I have access to another clamshell, an exact twin brother of the clamshell I use. On this other one, the bootable CD-Rs that are correctly read on my clamshell are simply refused, the same way the 80' CD-R were refused on my clamshell: the iBook keeps spinning the CD-R furiously with no result.

I can only conclude that clamshell optical drives have their aging weakness.

Best Regards,

Hi Thierry,

One solution would be to install a new optical drive. There's some info on this page (scroll down):

We Love Macs has an 8x Combo drive upgrade for the clamshell.


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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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