Charles Moore's Mailbag

'Snow Leopard' vs. LocalTalk, New vs. Close-out MacBook Value, and More

Charles Moore - 2009.09.02 - Tip Jar

Snow Leopard vs. LocalTalk

From Jean:

My name is Jeany Lee, and I am a huge Mac fan. The past two years I bought some nice and shiny new Macs - a 2.8 GHz Mac Pro and a new white 2.4 GHz MacBook.

Both run Mac OS X 10.5 "Leopard", and I'm debating whether or not to use OS X 10.6 "Snow Leopard". I've been reading that Snow Leopard does not support AppleTalk, which is a problem for someone like me. My network printer I use at home is an Apple LaserWriter 600 - a printer that has served me for most of my life. I've had it since I was a little girl, and it's currently on it's 9th computer! It's really slow when I print out certain PDF articles, but it's something I can live with. The print quality is pretty standard at 600 DPI, and I'm not sure the print quality of low-end laser printers are any better. They may be faster, but I'm not too picky about speed.

I'm questioning whether it's worth it to even get Snow Leopard, give away my laser printer on Craigslist, and finally upgrade my printer to a USB one. I'm aware I can get a brand new HP printer for $150, but I'm a college student that's willing to spend money on computer expenses like buying hard-drives and memory upgrades, not printers. My parents have been generous enough with funding my Mac expenses my entire life, but this is something I'd have to fund on my own.

I mean, is there a way to use my computers with Snow Leopard and my dinosaur laser printer?

If there is, please let me know!


Hi Jeany,

It's nice to hear that you're still getting useful service out of a piece of equipment as old as that LaserWriter, but to the best of my current knowledge, there is no way to make it work with Snow Leopard.

I haven't upgraded myself to Snow Leopard yet, but I don't perceive any truly compelling reason to do so if it's going to cause you unnecessary inconvenience and expense. Leopard is still a very nice piece of work and will run your Macs very satisfactorily for a long time yet.

Eventually, there comes a time when it's appropriate to say good-bye to older hardware due to new developments and incompatibilities. As you observe, printers these days are not terribly expensive by historical standards, but after using it with nine computers, I expect you have a fairly strong attachment that old LaserWriter, and they were a nice printer. My daughter had one here for a while.

My suggestion for you would be to stick with Leopard until you perceive some reason why you really need Snow Leopard, which is more an evolutionary rather than revolutionary OS upgrade.

Just my two cents.


Hi Charles:

Thanks for the reply. You do have a sensible point of view, and I thank you for it.

I do find it ironic that my printer is "keeping" me from upgrading to Snow Leopard! But then again, you're right. I don't think there is a compelling reason to upgrade right now. It's just that Apple does it to me! I'm one of those habitual kids that likes to run out and get the new OS the day it comes out. That's what I did with Leopard!!

Thank you for having the Low End Mac website so you can remind people that they might not need all that power. Ironically, since I finished this media production class, I haven't really used a Mac Pro like I should. Oh well.


Hi Jeany,

Happy to be of service.

As for having the latest and greatest, I tend to fall both ways depending on the particular context. I get attached to tools, including computers, and when I like one I'm not inclined to give it up willingly until there is something I need it to do that it simply can't.

A case in point was MacSpeech Dictate. I have fibromyalgia and associated neurological disorders that make typing at any length painful, so having the best dictation software is important to me, and Dictate is far and away the best on the Mac platform - and only supports Intel, so that was one of the major tipping point that finally got me to move into the Intel orbit more than three years after the first Macintels were released.

On the other hand, when it comes to production software, especially browsers and email clients, I usually download them the day they are released, since there is rarely any downside to upgrading. With operating systems I tend to hang back a bit, unless there is a problem with the previous system that I'm hoping to get rid of, since OS version upgrades - and even sometimes incremental updates - can break applications, which is a hassle and bother.

The first three months or so of using Leopard were pretty painful until Unsanity Software got a compatible version of WindowShade X out the door. I am totally addicted to windowshading. The only thing that stopped me from reverting to Tiger for the duration was the new Spaces feature that mitigated the problem somewhat, but it was a tremendous relief to get windowshading back.


Be sure to see the Sept. 9 mailbag column for several suggestions for using a LocalTalk printer with a Mac running Snow Leopard.

New vs. Close-out MacBook Value

From John:

I was reading your column about buying one of the new MacBook Pros vs. one of the last versions. Presently you can get the new 2.53 GHz 15.4" for $1,599 and the last model 2.4 GHz 15.4" for $1,299. Do you still think you are better off getting the new one for $300 more? The 13.3" ones are tempting, as you can get them under $1,000. I ask myself if it is worth paying $600 more for two inches, but I have never had a screen so small.

I appreciate any feedback, as I am really struggling with this. I have a PowerBook G4 that doesn't have an wireless modem or DVD, so I really like to get a new computer, even though it isn't a great time financially. I was going to go PC for $500, but I just couldn't get myself to do it.

Thank you.


Hi John,

The nice thing about this conundrum is that you really can't go very far wrong whatever you decide. Any of the Unibody MacBook family are wonderful machines. Probably the biggest question to ask yourself as regards the two 15" models is whether you prefer to have an ExpressCard slot or want to go with the new SD Card slot. The difference in clock speed would probably be hardly noticeable in real-world use.

As for the 13" machine, I love my 13" Unibody MacBook, and haven't regretted going with it instead of a 15" model. However, I'm not going to try and tell you that the 13.3" display is the equivalent of the larger 1440 x 900 screen in the 15" model. I do miss the big screen in my 17" PowerBook, which had that same resolution. I haven't found it an extreme pain to get used to working with a smaller screen again, but then I never really stopped, since I use my Pismo several hours a day, and it has even lower resolution than the MacBook.

Personally, I find the small size and light weight of the 13" machine, not to mention a much lower price, aptly compensate for living with less display real estate. But that's just me.

However, since you say you're a bit strapped for cash, that tips the scales considerably in favor of the 13-incher.

Whichever you get, I'm confident you'll be delighted with it.


Hi Charles,

Thank you so much for the response. That is very kind of you to offer your support.

The slots are probably a wash for me, so that wouldn't be an issue. It would come down to whether or not the extra memory is worth it and also the difference in the battery.

Are you better off with the older model battery since you can change it. It would seem that the older model would be easier and less expensive to replace the battery, however they make it seem like you would probably never have to replace the new one.

Thanks again,

Hi again John,

At this point in time the slots are not a big deal for me either, which is good because my Unibody MacBook doesn't have any. However, I never actually used the PC Card slot in my G4 PowerBook for anything during the three years it was my main production machine.

However, card slots can be useful. Presently I'm using the one in my Pismo for a WiFi card, and the old WallStreet had USB and FireWire adapter cards. I even have a FireWire 800 card. I am hopeful, however, that the SD Card support will turn out to have some desirable potential aside from just downloading photos and doing file transfers and such. So it may loom larger in the future. I still intend to use this MacBook as my main machine for three years, but we'll have to see.

As for the battery, intuitively my preference is for the easily swappable type. However, in terms of the replacement issue, iFixit says that replacing the built-in batteries is not going to be too difficult for anyone comfortable opening up their laptop. In the meantime, having the quick change battery is one of the things I like about my MacBook compared with a new 13" MacBook Pro. I certainly have found being able to keep a spare battery or two on hand for things like power outages is very convenient with my Pismos.


LC III Still Useful

From John:


I read His Wife's LC III Has Just Died (8/26/9).

I'm not totally surprised that the LC III is still usable. A lot of software from that era has as much power as one needs, without the bloat/complexity/sluggishness of some modern software. Of course, it would be seriously limited with the Internet. Old versions of Netscape really don't work well these days.

I speak from personal experience - I used Performa 450 (a renamed LC III) earlier this decade for word processing and other productivity tasks, and it worked well. It's impressive how well Apple computers age.

By the way, I never tried it, but as far as I know, it should work with an external SCSI drive.

One thought to keep in mind: 17 years from now, the current Mac mini (probably the closest thing to the LC III) will be probably seen as hopelessly out of date as the LC III is today!


Hi John,

Thanks for the observations.

Like I said in my reply on the LC III question, I still have a LC 520, which is internally similar to the LC III (25 MHz 68030 processor and 160 MB hard drive). It wasn't a bad Internet machine a dozen years ago. I settled on System 7.5.5 with the Open Transport bits crafted in from Mac OS 7.6, which made it a better Internet experience.

I wouldn't want to be using it on the Web these days. For one thing, it's built-in Sony Trinitron monitor has a screen resolution of 640 x 480, which would be mighty painful to deal with. 1020 x 768 on the Pismo is no more than barely adequate.



A 640 x 480 monitor would be horrible today. Bigger is better for Internet, although with netbooks so popular, that may change.

As I said before, the software is a problem. Not so much the OS, but the browsers are really limited. I tried one of the last versions of Netscape 4.x a few months ago. (I think the last version that worked on 680x0 machines was an early 4.x.) It still "sort of" works on most pages. The big problem I found is that CSS is slow and doesn't work well. Turning it off speeds things up, but then modern pages don't display correctly, although at least it's "good enough" to get info. But for day-to-day web use, I want something modern.

As I commented before, other software still works well. I like using older Macs for "real work." Most office software by 1990 had as many features as most people will ever need. And there is one big plus with those old Macs when I need to do work. Ironically, it's tied with the big problem: limited usability on the Internet. With limited Internet support, the Internet isn't as much of a distraction, so it's easier to get something done!


Hi John,

Yes, the browser issue is huge. iCab, bless then, still offer iCab version 2.9.9 for Classic, 68K (Mac OS 7.5 - 8.1) for download.


LC III Drawbacks Today

From Jason:

I'm really curious just what that fellow's wife was using her LC III for in this day and age. More power to her, honestly, if she could get done what needed doing with that hardware.

It inspires me to break my PM 6400 out of the basement and put it through it's paces.

Hi Jason,

If you get around to doing that, I'd be interested in hearing your impressions. However, a 6400 is a lot more computer than an LC III.

The old 68030 machine would still be fine for word processing and even some graphics work using contemporaneous software like Color It! 3 or Photoshop of the era. And almost anything will work for email as long as you can find a client that supports minimum requirements like SMTP authentication and possibly Secure Sockets Layer.


I've a bachelor weekend planned at the end of September, and I'll likely set up the 6400 then. I'm keen to see how well the new Mozilla variant runs on it. It is definitely a good deal more computer than the LC III - I wonder if she was still surfing the Internet on a copy of Mosaic?

Hi Jason,

Or iCab version 2.9.9 68K (Mac OS 7.5 - 8.1).


Upgrading a Pismo with iBook Parts

From Michael:

Dear Charles,

I have a Pismo that I would like to preserve - would I be able to upgrade it using whatever from my iBook G4 (late 2004) - e.g., processor, etc.?

My main laptop is a MacBook Pro (absolutely stunning!), but the Pismo is such a lovely bit of gear!

best wishes

Hi Michael,

My main laptop is a Unibody MacBook, but I do agree with you about the Pismo being a lovely piece of gear, which is partly why I spend several hours a day on mine.

Unfortunately, about the only thing you'll be able to salvage from the iBook to use in the Pismo would be the hard drive. The G4 processor in your iBook is hard-soldered to the logic board, and even if you could find someone with the skill to remove it, the fastest G4 processor chip that was pin compatible with the Pismo's processor daughtercard is the 550 MHz version, and your iBook would be at least 1.2 GHz.


Pismo/TravelStar Target Disk Mode Problems and Other Issues

From Chris following up on Pismo Target Disk Mode Problem, Recommended OS 9 Apps & Extensions:

Greetings, Charles:

With a bit of further testing, it seems that both the original Fujitsu 6 GB drive and the Samsung HM160HC I got for my TC1100 both work in Target Disk Mode just fine. The Hitachi TravelStar 40 GB is definitely the culprit.

Also, it doesn't disable FireWire within OS 9 or OS X - it just won't let the system go into Target Disk Mode.

I've also read the comments on Pismo performance with OS X 1.4 "Tiger", and they sound reassuring, but I don't know if I can justify spending US$60 on 1 GB of RAM for it (maybe US$40), as well as another US$50 on another Samsung HM160HC drive (since it's affordable, is already confirmed to work in FWTDM, and is very capacious for a US$50 laptop PATA drive). And that still leaves out the faulty DVD drive, the ailing screen backlight, and worst of all, the battery that's useful as little more than a UPS for when I lose AC power and can at least quickly save my work before the battery totally gives out.

The batteries are where bringing the Pismo up to snuff will hurt the most - FastMac offers the most capacious batteries on the market, but they're US$150 each. Double that, since I'd rather have dual batteries in my Pismo all the time. It would result in a whopping 16 hours of estimated battery life (even all those netbooks on the market can't touch that!), but that's US$300 out of my pocket for a nine-year-old laptop. I can't afford that.

And, finally, retail OS X Tiger DVDs still typically cost US$100 or so. That's way too much when Leopard is starting to become the norm and Snow Leopard is just around the corner.

I'm still debating to myself what I want to do with it when I already have this much more powerful and much more flexible TC1100 around. 16 hours out of any portable computer would be a rather intoxicating proposition - one that means that I would never have to worry about AC outlet hunting during the day. (That would be the Pismo's chief advantage . . . if I had those new FastMac batteries.) The TC1100 keyboard is bearable, but I'd take the Pismo keyboard any day. Mac OS X is a well-designed OS, especially on laptops. (I just like how the AirPort/WiFi icon and the battery meter tell me what I want to know at a glance, unobtrusively.) It also makes a nice external FireWire hard drive enclosure if the hard drive installed works with it, though that 128 GB addressing limit will hinder things with larger drives like the HM160HC.

One thing I've considered is to put a solid-state drive of some sort in there instead of a hard drive. Combined with replacing the ailing DVD drive with a second battery, I would have a completely silent computer - seriously, I don't even know if the fan works! However, I'd take a huge storage deficit and also end up paying a lot more for a decent SSD in the process because of the PATA interface.

I really want to bring it into my usual computer workflow somehow (nothing irks me more than to see a computer lying around unused, no matter how old it is), but it would cost me more money than I have at the moment. (The RAM + hard drive may be feasible, but definitely not the new batteries! I can't even afford one of them at the moment, let alone two!)


Hi Chris,

It has indeed gotten to the stage where one must do some serious rationalizing in order to justify spending serious money on upgrading or repairing a Pismo. It depends partly I suppose on how addicted to Pismos one is. I'm a junkie, and since I get three or four hours out of it every day, it's not entirely frivolous. I simply don't like typing on any other laptop quite as well, and the quietness isn't hard to take either. I did get the fan spooled up in line a couple of weeks ago using it on a WiFi hotspot inside a car on a hot sunny day. But it can go for months without ever tripping the fan. The Seagate 100 MB hard drive I have installed is also pretty quiet, although not nearly as good as the one in my Unibody MacBook, which you can barely hear even when you're really trying. Another thing I love about the Pismo is that it gets barely warm to touch unless you're really pushing it in a hot environment, unlike my 17" PowerBook G4. The MacBook seems to be a cool runner however.

As for battery life, I have two FastMac batteries for my Pismo, and 12 hours real-world runtime from the two of them is more likely than 16.

I wish I had invested in a full gigabyte of RAM several years back. It's harder to justify now because the old machine can't last forever.


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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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