Charles Moore's Mailbag

Pismo Video Performance, Better YouTube on Older Macs, Cheap ATA Notebook Drives, and More

Charles Moore - 2009.12.23 - Tip Jar

This is the last Miscellaneous Ramblings column of 2009. We'll be back in January 2010.

To all of our readers, a very Merry Christmas - and a Happy New Year as well.

Pismo Upgrades and Video Performance

From John Hatchett:


Your column [1 GB of RAM Gives Pismo PowerBook Another New Lease on Life] certainly wants me to go out and buy some RAM for my Pismo! I am running Tiger 10.4.11 on the old girl with 512 MB of RAM. Of course, around Hatchett Manor, money is always tight, and I need to pick up a set of batteries for the Pismo, and what with Christmas approaching, the Secretary of the Exchequer has declared a moratorium on computer spending.

I do have a couple of questions. Do the G4 upgrade and the gigabyte of RAM improve the graphics at all? Occasionally my Pismo will display the famous spinning beach ball of death when I am running multiple applications. Of course, encoding video is a real drag.

But, of course, the keyboard is the best, and I still use it daily.

Pismologically yours,

Hi John,

The G4 upgrade certainly improves performance across the board, especially with applications that are optimized for AltiVec, and video response is more lively, but the RAM upgrade to 1 GB has yielded the most dramatic speed improvement of any hotrodding I have done. I wish I'd done that first rather than last. The 5400 RPM hard drive helps too.

Don't expect miracles, but I actually can use YouTube with the Pismo without excessive frustration now that I have broadband.


Pismo PRAM Battery and Startup Problems

From Mike,

Thank you for your reply. As soon as I disconnect the AC adaptor, my Pismo loses the current date and time. I assume you do not recommend my buying a PRAM battery advertised as "brand new" on eBay for $12.99? Does the PRAM battery have anything to do with charging the main battery or with the startup chime? I am a "poor" college student, so I really hate to start buying parts without knowing if my money is going to be well spent. If you think a brand new PRAM battery will help me, then I will certainly spend the money.

Hi Mike,

$12.99 is a very decent price for a new PRAM battery, provided it is as advertised. A bargain, really.

The PRAM battery allows the computer to remember certain important parameters when the power is turned off, such as the current date and time. When the PRAM battery dies, it can possibly cause system crashes and strange behavior in your computer, so it needs to be replaced, although some folks say they can run their Pismos successfully with no PRAM battery installed (obviously losing settings when it shuts down). A bad PRAM battery shouldn't interfere with the main battery charging.

There is a software utility called PRAM Battery Checker from Polar Orbit Software that appears to be freeware and is a small download that could possibly help you determine whether your PRAM battery is faulty.

Developer's blurb:

PRAM Battery Checker 1.02

PRAM Battery Checker is a program which will inform you if your computer's PRAM battery has died. The PRAM battery is a small battery on the computer's motherboard that allows the computer to remember certain important parameters when the power is turned off such as the current date and time. When the PRAM battery dies it can cause system crashes and strange behavior in your computer and needs to be replaced. This program gives you a simple way to determine when that time has occurred. This is a problem will occur to all Macintosh computers during their lifetimes.

System Requirements: Mac OS X 10.4 PPC, Mac OS X 10.3.9, Mac OS X 10.4, IntelMac OS X 10.0, Mac OS X 10.1, Mac OS X 10.5, PPCMac OS X 10.2, Mac OS X 10.5 Intel, Mac OS X 10.3, Mac OS Classic

However, from your description of the symptoms, your Pismo may have other problems - possibly with the Power Manager Unit or the motherboard.

Hope this helps,

YouTube Playback on PowerPC Macs

From André:

I read your answer about YouTube playback on PowerBook G4, and just wanted to share a "hack" to play better videos on PowerPC Macs

Instead of going to go to It is the mobile YouTube, at least in my "now dead" iBook G3 800 MHz it made the difference.

Other alternative is saving the videos using 3rd party software and playing it on VLC.

Hope it helps all the PPC users out there :)


Hi André,

I expect it will help some of them. :-)



Linux on PowerPC Macs

From Jesse:

Hello again Charles,

I just read the new article about further hot rodding your Pismo. Pretty cool how you were running it upgraded and still found more stuff to add. Great to hear Dan Knight sent you the AirPort Card - and a bit jealous of that 1 GB of RAM.

In your response to my letter last time, you were curious about my adventures with Linux on my Macs. Well, let me give you a bit of a rundown:

G3 iMac: I started with a spare 400 MHz G3 iMac I had. I loaded it with Ubuntu 9.04. The little iMacs are a bit tricky, since they have the built in monitor and it does not behave like a standard PC monitor. I had to switch to Debian 5, which is a little bit more forgiving. I did have to manually edit the Xorg file (video file), but after that, it works great.

Completely new & up to date OS, and you can use lighter apps to make better use of the limited power these machines have. Actually, you can even use a simpler desktop for added speed. Its like using the simple and fast Mac OS 9 look, but with it having OS X 10.6 under the hood. One could only dream!

G5 Power Mac: I really liked using Linux on the G3, but I wanted to see how well applications like GIMP, the Photoshop alternative, worked on a faster computer with a bigger screen. So I decided to load it on my G5 1.8 GHz dual processor Power Mac with my 19" monitor. I cloned and kept my OS X 10.5 Leopard install on my FireWire external hard drive. Used Open Firmware option-boot to choose between the operating systems.

I used a live Ubuntu 9.04 disc (bootable CD), and it worked perfect on first boot. I had a working 64-bit operating system after the installation. GIMP was very good, and so where apps like OpenOffice. Some may not look as pretty as the Apple equivalents, but they are just as good and useful.

There is only one little caveat for those with PPC Macs. Adobe Flash does not work, because there is no official player for the PPC version of Linux. You get some function with Linux equivalents. You can play most YouTube videos, but Flash navigated sites don't work well. Then again, those of us with older G3 Macs still experience this, and we have an official Flash player.

The Ubuntu desktop was very nice looking and can certainly have its share of eye candy for the Mac diehards that don't want it to look too much like a Windows box. A quick Google search can get you screenshots of some that look very Mac-like, down to having a working Dock.

I even changed the version of Ubuntu I was using, from regular Ubuntu to Ubuntu Studio. This is a version made for creative-types, especially music, digital video & 3D modeling. I find it more comfortable for a Mac user, since we skew to the creative end.

Pismo: I have yet to try it on my Pismo, since at least for now Tiger is still receiving security updates. Once these stop, I will load Ubuntu on my Pismo for sure. I will check the forums, if it looks easy, I might test it out for a while and see how it compares with Tiger.

G4 Power Mac: The Power Mac might still get a G4 upgrade card and move up to Leopard. I did try an old Ubuntu live disc once on the Power Mac, and it worked fine. But it gets used by other people, so Mac OS X might still be more user friendly.

Overall, I really like how easy and practical Linux is now. I really don't see it as much in the realm of geeks and hackers. Any Mac user who is willing to upgrade his (or her) own Power Mac should be okay trying out Linux, especially one like Ubuntu. I have gotten pretty comfortable in Linux and now switch back and forth from OS X and Ubuntu. Since PC boxes are cheap, I might even build one new for Ubuntu.

Merry Christmas,

Hi Jesse,

Thanks for the interesting and very informative report. You've given me the idea that at which point the Pismos become impractical because of lack of up to date Mac OS support (browsers seem to be the tipping point), Linux might breath new life into them.

Merry Christmas to you as well.


Flash Dropping Support for G3 Macs

From Michael Montalto:

In response to Adobe dropping support for G3 PowerMacs:

Adobe is not necessarily to blame. I have a G3 B&W 400 MHz w/128 MB ATI Mac edition Radeon (It's not that fast really), running Mac OS 9.2.2. I also have a G4 DA 800 MHz (PowerLogix upgraded) and an AGP 350 with Rage 128 Pro, both running OS 9.2.2) The speed in graphics of the AGP is phenomenal, not to mention I've never run OS X on the G3 except for utility CDs with a bootable version of OS X.

I understand G3 users feeling the squeeze in this, but really folks, if you want to run OS X fast and have decent graphics performance, go for a G4 with an AGP - or if you have a PCI only graphics card option Mac, run Mac OS 9 or an earlier version of OS X and don't complain. Adobe Flash is extremely power hungry, and even our eMac USB 2.0 w/2 GB RAM struggles on high media websites. My G4 DA with Nvidia Ti 4600, OS X 10.5.8 even struggles a bit, but runs about as good as the eMac w/10.4.11 currently.

To sum my opinion up: G3s are a Classic OS Mac, and there's plenty available to keep them productive and more than useful. I've just retired my G3 indefinitely for my recently acquired AGP 350 G4. It smokes away the G3 in performance on Mac OS 9! I love it!

-Michael Montalto:

Hi Michael,

I agree entirely. I've made my peace with the fact that OS X 10.4.11 will be the ultimate fully supported version of OS X to run on my G4 upgraded Pismos, and that there will be inevitable and increasing compromises involved.

In some circumstances, my old Mac Plus running System 6.0.8 can be a perfectly adequate tool (and amazingly lively) within its limitations.

G3 Macs still have lots of useful life in them running appropriate operating system versions and software, but it's unreasonable to expect support for every contemporary technology. Most current browser versions require at least OS X 10.4 - and often 10.5. Two of my favorites - Chrome and Stainless - want an Intel processor, as does MacSpeech Dictate, which I wouldn't want to be without, although I still use MacSpeech iListen on the Pismos in a pinch.


Good Source for Inexpensive ATA Notebook Hard Drives

From Peter:

Hello, Charles,

Longtime reader, first-time contributor here.

Your Mailbag column included two requests from readers for whom I have suggestions.

  1. For Ed Harris, who was seeking inexpensive hard drives for G3 notebooks, I recommend to check the Seagate outlet page. They have a sale approximately every three weeks, with deep discounts on new, discontinued, or refurbished products. Last week there were some 60 GB OneTouch Mini III drives (external portable USB) for US$19.99 each. Inside the case, these are Seagate Momentus ATA 5400 rpm drives. Note that the next generation OneTouch Mini IV used SATA drives.
  2. Reader Stephen wanted to supply a new-user experience by running the welcome movie and setup app. This happens when the OS fails to find the file ".AppleSetupDone". I refer you to for detailed info how to remove the file.



Hi Peter,

Thanks for the tips. Great prices on those hard drives.

There are some good deals around where you find them. My daughter just told me that one of her friends picked up a 400 MHz Pismo in good shape for ten bucks, with a good battery no less!


Recreating the Clean Install Experience

From Jordan

Hi Charles:

I was reading through your most recent mailbag (12/16/09) and noticed a reader asking about rerunning the welcome video for a G3 iMac after he gives it to a new user. He might want to check out the following link at Mac OS X Hints, An AppleScript App to Force Setup Assistant to Run, which provides an AppleScript to "clean" the machine of setup accounts and home folders and get the Setup Assistant to run again on the next boot, thereby acting like the machine is brand new or has a fresh install on it. This way the reader can install all of the software and updates and still have the machine go through initial setup.

Thanks for writing for LEM!


Hi Jordan,

My pleasure, and thanks for the excellent tip!


Spaces and Browsers Usage

Hi Charles,

Thanks for all the tips on how you go about your stuff. Quite a few browsers you got there. I too am a browser junky, and despite it not having the prettiest interface I use Opera to pull through my painfully slow & erratic Internet service.


Hi Bikalpa,

Opera 10's Turbo feature was a great advance for folks with slow network connections, and it certainly made my life easier for those last few months before I got broadband.


Extended Warranty for Used iBook?

From John:


I just purchased the following laptop for $239: Apple iBook G4 12.1"/1.33 GHz/512 MB/40G/CM/APX M9850LL/A. The total came out to $316 including taxes, shipping, and 1 gig of memory I purchased from OWC.

Do you recommend purchasing an extended warranty from to cover the laptop? The price is $40 for one year or $60 for two years.

Thank you.

Hi John,

As a rule, I'm not a fan of extended warranties. For example, I've never purchased AppleCare coverage for any Mac I've ever owned.

However, with iBooks I might be inclined to make an exception, especially with two of them having failed in my family's fleet over the past 12 months. The dual USB iBook is perhaps the least dependable laptop model Apple ever produced, and the prices you cite for extended warranty coverage seem very reasonable.

I would go for the two-year coverage.


Safari Default Zoom

From Matthew:

Hi Charles,

Just a quick tip for people using low-resolution Macs: I found this article [Set Default Zoom Level in Safari Using a CSS File] helpful in instilling a default zoom level on Safari such that websites can be viewed without side-scrolling or having to "cmd -".

I used nano within terminal to make the .css file, and it's been working wonderful. Combine this with Click2Flash, and you've got a snappy, native browser for your G3 Mac. :)

- Matt

Thanks for the tips, Matt.


Greetings from Snowy London

Enjoy your break; here a few centimetres of snow have London in chaos mode....

All the Best - Tim

Hi Tim,

Thanks, and Merry Christmas/Happy Christmas back at you.

I was watching the chaos in the UK caused by the snow on the TV news tonight. Even worse in Europe I guess.

Looked like a middling typical snowfall for here, although ironically we've had very little snow on the Eastern Shore of Nova Scotia so far this winter. Haven't had to shovel the driveway yet. :-)


Go to Charles Moore's Mailbag index.

Join us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter or Google+, or subscribe to our RSS news feed

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.

Links for the Day

Recent Content

About LEM Support Usage Privacy Contact

Follow Low End Mac on Twitter
Join Low End Mac on Facebook

Page not found | Low End Mac

Well this is somewhat embarrassing, isn’t it?

It seems we can’t find what you’re looking for. Perhaps searching, or one of the links below, can help.

Most Used Categories


Try looking in the monthly archives. :)

Page not found | Low End Mac

Well this is somewhat embarrassing, isn’t it?

It seems we can’t find what you’re looking for. Perhaps searching, or one of the links below, can help.

Most Used Categories


Try looking in the monthly archives. :)

Favorite Sites

Cult of Mac
Shrine of Apple
The Mac Observer
Accelerate Your Mac
The Vintage Mac Museum
Deal Brothers
Mac Driver Museum
JAG's House
System 6 Heaven
System 7 Today
the pickle's Low-End Mac FAQ

The iTunes Store
PC Connection Express
Macgo Blu-ray Player
Parallels Desktop for Mac

Low End Mac's store


Well this is somewhat embarrassing, isn’t it?

It seems we can’t find what you’re looking for. Perhaps searching, or one of the links below, can help.

Most Used Categories


Try looking in the monthly archives. :)

at BackBeat Media (646-546-5194). This number is for advertising only.

Open Link