Charles Moore's Mailbag

Picking the Right 'Book, Clamshell iBook Memories, and Alternatives to SCSI-to-USB

Charles Moore - 2008.04.23 - Tip Jar

Picking the Right 'Book

From Tom Gabriel:

Hi Charles,

I am looking at an older Mac PowerBook as my primary computer. I don't do a whole lot with my Macs other than word processing, some work with Classic versions of PageMaker and Quark Express, lots of Internet surfing, some iTunes work, and some work in a Classic version of Photoshop. I'd also like wireless Internet capability.

I have been looking at PowerBooks, and it looks like my price range falls right around the great Pismo G3s and some of the older aluminum G4 PowerBooks (I'd as soon skip the titanium G4s and iceBook G3s & G4s.). Do you have a preference among these machines for the kind of thing I'd be doing? How do you feel about the age of the Pismos? What's your overall recommendation for someone on a budget with my needs?

Thanks and God Bless,
Tom Gabriel

Hi Tom,

It's not easy to make an overall recommendation even for an older budget machine, because people's needs and work habits can be so different.

As you probably know, I'm a big Pismo fan and have two of them on the go as "B-team" backups to my itself-gettiing-a-bit-elderly 17" 1.33 GHz aluminum PowerBook.

The Pismo is a great machine, with the caveat that in order to make it a satisfactory box for more than the most basic computing chores in today's context, it really needs some tweaking. Happily, it gracefully accommodates all manner of hot rodding thanks to its daughtercard-mounted CPU, expansion bay, PC Card slot, two RAM slots, and easy access to the hard drive, but of course it all costs money. The 1024 x 768 display was never the Pismo's marquee feature, but the keyboard is superb, which makes it a very pleasant machine to work on in a tactile context.

As you say, they're getting old, but they just fly running Mac OS Classic, and since you seem to be still quite Classic-oriented, and for the sort of computing you're planning to do with it, a Pismo could work quite well if you can find a nicely preserved example. I bought one myself from Wegener Media last year that is cosmetically flawless with a nice bright display and a keyboard that feels like it was hardly used. I think Dave Wegener has some of these left.

Another older machine you might consider would be one of the last revision "Paris" clamshell iBooks, especially the 466 MHz SE version which has a DVD-ROM drive. They're reasonably lively, can run up to OS X 10.4 "Tiger", are very speedy in Classic if you add some RAM, and they are selling very reasonably these days.

That said, while I agree that you should give the TiBooks a pass, you should also consider an early-mid model aluminum PowerBook - either a 12-incher or one of the bigger ones. My 17" machine has given me nothing to complain about, and even runs Leopard tolerably well, although I think that Tiger makes the best sense as an optimum performance version of OS X for machines from the Pismo through the 1.33 GHz G4s at least. Of course the AlBooks won't boot Classic, but they do run OS X Classic Mode nicely in Panther or Tiger.

As a general summary observation, in shopping for an older budget computer, condition and price are more important factors than model within the range of performance that meets your requirements.

Hope this helps with your deliberations.


Remembering the Clamshell iBooks

From Brett in response to Clamshell iBooks Reconsidered:


Thanks for the nostalgia trip! Boy, I feel the same way. When it came time to replace my trusty PowerBook 1400, I really wanted one of the clamshell iBooks. I'd been visiting a friend out of town and used her Blueberry iBook and just loved the solid feel, the handle, the whole coolness of it. My university's bookstore had the Paris iBooks, but only in Indigo and Graphite, as I think you had to order the Key Lime ones only from Apple.

Just as I was about to pull the trigger, Apple introduced the Titanium PowerBooks, and my university offered the last-generation Pismo PowerBooks at a substantial discount; I think for about $100 more than an iBook, I could have a Pismo. I did every mental gymnastic I could to justify getting the iBook, which I craved, instead the PowerBook, which I admired - the iBook was cool and touchable, the PB boring and businesslike, no handle, I didn't need all the high-end bells and whistles just for writing and surfing, etc., etc. But in the end, there was no way around it: the Pismo was just a much, much better computer, and at that price it was a steal. I used mine for three years and sold it for enough money to buy an iceBook.

Thanks to my school bookstore's policy on discontinued models, I've bought every Mac (12" PB, 15" PB, and my new, i.e. previous generation, black MacBook) since then in exactly the same way: wait till the old models (with all the bugs worked out) are discounted when a new model comes out, then jump on the big faculty discount when they clear out the old ones. This usually means I wind up with more computer than I really need at the time for the same price or just slightly more than the low-end current model (e.g. a previous gen 15" PB for about $150 more than a current iBook, when the bundled AppleCare or extra memory or iPod are thrown in), but they last longer and hold their resale value, enabling me to buy another every 2-3 years or so when a friend needs a new Mac and I can sell them mine. I've never regretted any of those purchases, as the computers I got were all totally reliable and wonderful. But I do wish I'd found a way to justify getting one of the Key Lime iBooks. If you ever see one of those $50 deals you mentioned, let me know, and I'll buy one after you do and give it to my Mom to use for email. And as always, keep up the good work!


Hi Brett,

Glad you enjoyed the trip down Memory Lane.

Yes, the Key Lime Paris iBook was a BTO option available from The Apple Store only.

As beguiling as those Clamshells were, I think you made the correct call buying the Pismo. I almost got one of the Pismo leftovers. After the TiBook came out, I emailed my Mac dealer friend (I live 150 miles from the nearest Mac reseller) and asked whether he could get any leftover Pismos at a closeout price. He couldn't, but MacWarehouse in Toronto advertised the 500 MHz models at Can$2,999. I phoned but was told they were already sold out. The the sales person phoned back to say that there were still two left, but he figured they would be gone by the end of the day. This was the point where I blew it. A 500 MHz Pismo including a 64 MB RAM upgrade for Can$2,999 (about US$1,950 at the time) was an exceptional deal. After all, a couple of months ago this same machine was selling for Can$5,195 without the extra RAM, and the 400 MHz TiBook was priced at Can$3,895. I should have jumped at the deal then and there, but for me, Can$2,995 was enough to make me ring off to think about it for a bit.

I thought about it for twenty minutes, discussed it with my good wife, and phoned the guy back. He said I should have it in about two days (Toronto is 1,200 miles from here) - but that 20 minute hesitation ended up losing the Pismo for me.

That was a Monday. Wednesday morning, the Priority Courier car arrived. "Parcel from MicroWarehouse," called my wife. Cool! I went to take a look. The box was about the size of my big Webster's dictionary. Uhh . . . can't be a Pismo in there. Upon opening the box, we discovered that it was just the 64 MB RAM upgrade. Ah well. Probably the computer would arrive tomorrow. Thursday morning. Priority came again; still with no computer. I phoned MacWarehouse, and after some 15 minutes of phone tag received the explanation that there had two of the 500 MHz machines on Monday, and 12 orders. The first two credit cards that cleared got the PowerBooks.

And the RAM? Shipping department error. I had specified that the RAM not be installed, for which there was an extra $25 charge, and the shipping person sent it out without the computer. And yes, my credit card had been dinged $35 for the shipment. I was given an RMA number and a courier account number to use to return the RAM.

I did eventually get my Pismo, after a detour dalliance with a G4 Cube desktop, which I kept only a few months before swapping it even for a year-old Pismo in absolutely pristine condition in October 2001 - a machine I still have in dally use, although it's been substantially hot rodded.

I agree with your philosophy about buying leftover models at a discount if you have access to such deals. Another good alternative is an Apple Certified Refurbished unit, which is what the 17" G4 PowerBook I'm typing this on was. This one was indistinguishable from a new machine and has given trouble-free service.

I'll let you know if I hear of any deals on $50 Clamshells. The PowerBook Guy had a Key Lime Clamshell advertised recently, but the price was $259.


Clamshell iBook Column

From Carl Nygren:

Hi Charles,

I enjoyed your column on the iBooks and the PowerBooks.

G3s are still very good machines that may not run games, but are excellent for web browsing and watching DVDs. My Lombard/400 runs well as an extra computer for Web browsing when the other ones are in use ;)

I sure was lucky when I bought the Clamshells. The man who sold them to me had his own business, and obviously they were replacing the iBooks with newer, more powerful Macs.

And he asked a bare $50 each! The Indigo one with AirPort was $60, I believe. Still, a great value for the money!

Have a nice day,

Hi Carl,

Glad you enjoyed the column. Thank you for inspiring it with yours.

Yes, to say you got a great value for the money with those $50 Clamshells is an understatement!


Beige G3 an Alternative to a SCSI-to-USB Adapter

From Bill:

Hi Charles,

Just read SCSI-to-USB Help from Jeff Mork:

I'm one of those who still has need to move files between Macs often several generations apart. Think Mac Plus to the latest and greatest, keeping your fingers crossed. I keep a well endowed Beige G3 just to do this. It is maxed for memory, has three hard drives (SCSI and IDE), a USB card, a FireWire card, and a Radeon 9200 video card. It also has a Sonnet 1 GHz accelerator onboard. It tri-boots among Mac OS 8.6, 9.2, and 10.4 "Tiger" using XPostFacto.

Yes, this can be a bit of a delicate Mac at times. But it is one extremely long-legged Mac. It formats 800K floppies, and it burns DVDs. I swap among all manner of SCSI, serial, a few ADB, USB, FireWire, floppy, SyQuest, ZIP, CD, DVD, flash drives, cameras, card scanner, printers, scanners, and even a multifunction printer, yadda, yadda, yadda. Its delicate nature seems tied to the Sonnet accelerator. Some things just don't want to be pushed that fast. I even had an Edimax wireless PCI card in it for a while, though now it is ethernetted for online access if I really need to do that with this Mac. I try not to go online with this puppy, as that is where most of its delicate issues are found. I have other Macs to do online with. This Beige G3 is for long-legged file transfers.

With the Sonnet accelerator removed, it is more stable yet able to do all that long-legged moving, just slower. XPostFacto can be a pain to deal with. It's something like a BMW automobile. When it's working, there is nothing finer. When it isn't, there is nothing worse, and it takes a heap of time to get it all working again. But it works. I've a little library of bare hard drives with configured fresh backups of Mac OS 8.6, 9, and Tiger on each a SCSI and an IDE drive ready to swap in any time I have grief. Of course I also have external SCSI hard drives of each as well. This is a long-legged working Mac that works for its living, so these tools have to be available and ready to keep it in the file transfer service I built it for.

Jeff should be able to just boot his Beige G3 from his external SCSI backup and be right back in business unless he was just backing up document files and not a whole disk bootable backup. There is room in that G3, minitower or desktop, to accommodate three hard drives. Acquire the necessary drives and keep them fresh with what matters to you. These Beige G3s may be beyond their prime, yet they will do some tasks such as my long-legged file transfers with ease, even if slow.

Yes, Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger supports SCSI. My Beige G3 boots to an internal SCSI drive with Tiger as it's main drive. It has no problem booting to an external SCSI drive or cloning to one using SuperDuper.


Hi Bill,

Thanks for the report and suggestions. These old tower machines can still be pretty impressive, even my old SuperMac S900, which isn't heavily souped up with still just a 200 MHz PPC 604 processor and runs OS 9, but it does have FireWire and USB upgrade cards. My daughter still has an S900 with a Sonnet 350 MHz G3 upgrade card that she uses as a server, and she even got Tiger to install on it. Seems like these old machines will run forever.


Using CD-R Cheaper than Buying a SCSI-to-USB Adapter

From Steve:

"I had backed up all my files and some of my OS 9 software on an APS external SCSI drive and also on an external Syquest drive, both 50-pin female with termination. I think this is referred to as the 50 ultrawide interface.

"Since I can't fire up the old G3 to access the Syquest and APS, I'm stuck with data but no way to pull it off through the machine. If I use a system startup disk, the G3 runs okay, but nothing can be downloaded. I have a USB card installed, but since the software for the USB card is on the trashed drive, I can't go that direction. It has only a standard CD-R drive, and I ain't gonna take days to do this all on floppies (what, 1.4 MB each?)."

It seems to me that Mr. Mork could load an OS 9 operating system onto the APS drive from CDs and his CD-R drive. He could also load the USB card driver. He could then use the APS as his boot drive and have USB connectivity.


Hi Steve,

Thanks for the suggestion. I can't think of any reason why that wouldn't work, provided Jeff has an OS 9 install CD or can drag a system on from another Mac running Classic.


A Cheap ATA Drive a Better Choice than a SCSI-to-USB Adapter

From My K. Ton:


I read your column today and can't help but think that a simpler solution to a $99 SCSI-to-USB cable (Jeff Mork's letter) would be to get a cheap ATA drive and resurrect the G3. He'll have a revived computer versus one on life support. One of the challenges is that the G3s have the 128 GB [hard drive] limit, so the new drives may have to be partitioned if they are too big, as many of the new ones are (OWC lists an 80 GB drive for $49.99, and I think all G3s use ATA 33 drives).

Also, I think one of the OS (OS 9 I think) must live on the first 8 GB of the drive. It's been a few years since I said good night to my beige G3 that I coaxed to run 10.2, so things are a little fuzzy.

Thanks and keep up the good work.

My K. Ton

Hi My K. Ton,

Yeah, I know what you mean about things getting fuzzy. I fear that I'm losing much of the Mac OS Classic and SCSI (etc.) expertise (so to speak) I once had.

Thanks for the suggestion and tips.


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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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