Miscellaneous Ramblings

The SuperMac S900 Letters

28 Sept. 2000 - Charles W. Moore

The reader response to my recent column chronicling my latest adventures with my Umax SuperMac S900 was so interesting and informative that it's too good to keep to myself. So here goes.

Noisy Computing

From Brian Futrell:

(from your article)

"I guess it's ironic that someone as noise-averse as me ended up owning what may be the noisiest Mac OS computer ever built. Dan Knight says he keeps his S900 under his desk, which is no doubt a lot better than having it roaring away at ear level, but would not be enough to satisfy me if I were ever to use this machine day in and day out. The only two alternatives I've thought of so far are placing the machine in another room and running longer cables, or building some sort of insulated enclosure with a vent-duct channeling cooling air, and hopefully noise, out of my work area."

I have/had a similar problem with a PC that I use at home. The 10 GB Seagate IDE hard disk in it is rather noisy, as well as the 40x IDE CD-ROM drive. It was very irritating listening to all of the noises that machine made. What I would end up doing is buying a computer desk where the computer (a mid-tower) could be enclosed. Most of the rear is open, with a panel along the back for rigidity. With the door to the compartment closed, it's actually pretty quiet.

There's also the matter of my 7200/90 with three external SCSI hard disks and a scanner. It's quite noisy when everything is running, but unfortunately I can't do anything about it yet. Most of the time, I only turn on the externals or the scanner when I need the extra room.

Brian Futrell

Hi Brian

Sounds like a plan. Now if I only had the space. As I said in the article, I may end up using an insulated enclosure.

Yikes! That 7200/90 with three external SCSI hard drives does sound noisy. I also tend to turn stuff off when I'm not using it.


Select Startup Drive from Keyboard

From Cozmo:

To cancel the startup drive and select next drive with a blessed system, you use Delete-Option-Command-Shift (DOCS) at startup. Your other problem, with OS 9, sounds to me like you have OS 9, but have not done the bug-fix updates to arrive at the current OS 9.0.4.


Thanks for the information. I figured there must be a way to do it with the keyboard, but I had forgotten how. The DOCS mnemonic will help me remember for next time.

You may be right about the 9.0.4 upgrade. On the other hand, I have 9.0 on my PowerBook and do not have the hang up problem, while my nephew has an identical PowerBook, also with OS 9.0, and his does hang.


Startup Delay May Be Due to Server Aliases

From Roger Stafford:

Mr. Moore,

The pausing you describe in your article is most likely caused by server aliases in the servers folder inside the System Folder. The aliases represent servers that have been marked to mount at startup. This always causes some delay in startup, but if the servers are unavailable, the pause can be rather long. I enjoyed the article about the S900 - I have one myself and I have found it to be an excellent machine, if a bit noisy. Good luck with yours.

Roger Stafford

Startup Delay May Be Due to Internet-Related Startup Items

From Anderson Lam:

Hello Charles,

I just read your article on the continuing adventures of the Umax computer.

You mentioned a startup hang that lasts for about two minutes, then the machine works fine. I suggest you check the "Startup Items" folder in the System Folder. There may something Internet-related in the folder (AOL, for instance), and, if so, the machine hangs while it is attempting to detect a network connection.

Hope this helps out.


I'll check out the Startup Items Folder.

It seems to happen whether file sharing/AppleTalk are turned on or not. Also, as I noted in the article, my nephew is experiencing the same symptoms on his PowerBook, whose hard drive is not partitioned, and if there was directory damage, would the problem of not show up when booting with Mac OS 8.1 as well? It boots with nary a hitch under 8.1.


Startup Delay May Be Due to Network Settings

From Joe Borzellino:

I just read your article. I own two S900s, and my reason for owning them is simply having a 6 PCI slot Mac. One I rackmounted for a digital video/audio workstation loaded to the gills. It's real stable and makes an awesome machine. The S900 seems like overkill for someone who just wants a cheap Mac. I bought a C500 bare bones from Small Dog and built a nice machine for my father for under $300. He thinks it's great.

As to your boot up slowdown, my guess is that the machine is looking on the "network" for mountable devices. You may want to check the various network related settings. One thing to check is if the delay occurs when you boot with extensions off. If it does not, start checking your settings. If the delay still occurs, there may be some directory damage to one of the partitions.


Hi Joe,

Yeah, the S900 is indeed overkill for fulfilling my original intentions. However, now that I have it, I'm may end up using it more than I had originally planned. You see, I had the processor, video card, and RAM already from a Power Mac 9500 that was the initial project machine in this saga. You can read about it in the Miscellaneous Ramblings archive. Having those parts made the S900 seem like a logical purchase.

The boot up slowdown seems to happen whether file sharing/AppleTalk are turned on or not. Also, as I noted in the article, my nephew is experiencing the same symptoms on his PowerBook, whose hard drive is not partitioned , and if there was directory damage, wouldn't the problem show up when booting with Mac OS 8.1 as well? It boots with nary a hitch under 8.1.


Reducing SuperMac S900 Fan Noise

From Xenn:

I also have an S900, which cost me about US$50 because the processor had blown itself. I spent US$230 on a G3 266 MHz Carrier ZIF bundle from http://www.macsales.com/ ages ago (good deals there I reckon). I thought I would set up a secondary computer since my Gfriend was spending all her spare time on a project on my beige G3, now I use the Umax computer far more than the G3, since it's set up with my favorite programs etc. (I am mainly modeling 3D stuff, then let the G3 render them up)

Anyway, the fan, it's bloody noisy I agree. The easiest and simplest work around I found was to just unplug the big fan from the motherboard. And keep the smaller (MUCH quieter) fan running. After doing so, I noticed no loss in stability. I did think that perhaps the fan was there for a reason, so whilst it's still turned off (and my god, so much quieter and blissful to use), I'm looking for a replacement super-quiet fan. Anyone know where to get them?

Try turning the fan off, measure the temperature, you may be surprised to find that it's really only needed if you actually fill those 5 drive bays, six PCI slots, 8 DIMM slots, and throw a nice fast hot processor into it!


Thanks for the tip. I hadn't thought of that, but it sounds logical. These machines were built to support dual processors as well, so they probably have cooling capacity in excess of their needs with a single processor and with only a few only a few of the PCI slots filled up - and one drive space filled.


S900 Problems with G3 Upgrades and Twin Turbo Video Cards

From Derrel:

Hey CW,

I had a moment to spare. I quickly skimmed today's S900 piece, and I have something to say:

Of three S900s I have owned, all with 4 MB ATI Twin Turbo video cards, stock from Umax, they all developed problems with monitor resolution - first under OS 7.6.1, then under 8.5.1, which was my transitional OS and the one I know "the best." Anyhow - typical scenario - the machines slip into a period of incorrect resolution, all invariably degenerating to a greenish-colored 640 x 480 startup - on NEC 15" or other monitors (AppleVision 1710 - two of the blasted no-good things), GEM 15", Sony 200 series 17". I just can't figure out what happens - they'd run fine, then start slipping back into 640 x 480 roughly every other startup, but then sometimes running two weeks or so, booting reliably into 800 x 600 (my preferred setting on 15", 17", or 19" CRTs).

Under OS 8.5.1 I found that replacing the VPower G3 upgrade extension with a fresh back-up copy, with two-spaces-added at the start of the filename, would generally help tremendously, along with a new, fresh copy of Monitors control panel. That was it for me - just slap new ones of those in when the problem flared up every few months, and the problem was solved.

The doggone extension load order and the G3 card seems to be the problem - if you pull the G3 and go back to the 604e 200 processors they came with, there seems to be no problem whatsoever, and in fact, there is absolutely no problem with the video set at higher resolutions. I tried that with two S900s, and the problem under 8.5.1 was solved.

When S900s were new and on the scene, I did download a newer driver from ATI for the video cards and applied it across all three machines, and while it did not work 100% reliably, it was better than the stock driver. The G3 card problems with the ATI video card were occasional failure of the "highlight color" on selected text - it often dropped its color and faded to "gray". When text was selected, the ATI Twin Turbo 4 MB cards would always exhibit this, and also in screen caps, sometimes there would be some artifacts - little specs of color - but not many.

I pursued this in response to somebody's WWW tip that the G3 card's extension load had to come before the video card. Now, I have to say, the original three S900s I got really cheap, right as Umax was having the fire sale, and they were $999 and the G3 cards were the (German-made? Vimage brand) VPower G3-300s with 512KB cache, which I got super-cheap at $229 - and I think two at $199 apiece. Anyhow, the problem is still intermittent, but it is not limited to one monitor I can assure you. The double-clutch at the startup of a G3 upgraded S900 is a tricky area. Any monitor: NEC, SONY, GEM, AppleVision.

If you can get a Monitors control panel preferences file that works, save it and use it - you'll find that it often shows just one size, so I guess it corrupts the prefs perhaps. And making sure the G3 upgrade card's extension loads first could be better than how you have it now. All I know is that with the S900's architecture, when a G3 card is in there, the machine needs to "know" that, and there is often a switching -off of the monitor and then a quick reemergence of the image, which is the double-clutching I mentioned earlier. This is the problem area, it seems, with G3-upgraded S900s. Note the plural - this is three of the beasties, all which were identical.

All I know is that in their original stock 604e/200 configs, under either OS 7.6.1 or 8.5 and also 8.5.1 they were all three, rock solid, and no problems whatsoever. The G3 upgrade on the Tsunami motherboard with the doggone 4 MB ATI Twin Turbo cards is what caused the introduction of ALL the problems with incorrect monitor color and incorrect resolution upon startup.

All the problems seemed to stem from the G3 cards. Since I migrated slowly from 7.6.1 and the stock setups, and then right to 7.6.1 with G3 cards, it was pretty solid proof that, if the Vpower G3 extension loaded first - and then the video and monitor stuff - was my problem area. Reordering the V-power card to first in load order seemed to help tremendously, but the problem grew worse, so I started reinstalling fresh, proven copies of the Vpower extension, Monitors control panel, and also occasionally the entire Twin-Turbo video card driver software. I since have found that the Twin Turbo software really wasn't needed, but that the Vpower extension, renamed, and Monitors control panels were consistent problem-solvers.

Frankly, I got fed so fed up with this rigmarole on a CD-burner S900 that was set up just to burn with that I decided to reverse-migrate back to an original 604e, since when using Toast, a 640 x 480 monitor resolution is almost unbearable to use (too many errors, slow sorting due to the huge icons/windows/folder sizes) and just pulled the Vpower and stuck back in the stocker - and the monitor rez has stayed the same, time after time. And it gets worked, I tell you - that machine is booted and shut down multiple times daily some days to do large external SCSI transfers with another machine(s). When the external drive is brought back in, I want that thing to boot up at 800 x 600, and it does every time, currently under OS 8.5.1, which is, I think, a superior Mac OS variant - and a proven reliable one - and it is the one that seems to have the greatest compatibility between all the variations of Adaptec Toast.

All I can suggest is look at the extension load order for your G3 card, and see if moving it to the top of the list doesn't solve your problem. Then, get a good Monitors control panel - and preferably a good preferences file too - and make those your "repair folder". Usually dumping those into the requisite folders will get you back to a useful, desired bootup screen resolution, often for weeks on end.

The problem might not be exactly the same with your G3 card, but I can say that the original processor might be less hassle than the G3 if these nagging video problems persist.

Lastly, if you want troubleshooting advice, it would to boot off an external SCSI drive versus the internal drive and see if there's a way to cross-check your setups that way. It's just one more way to check out the setup and to see if the extension load order can be varied with success or not. But look to the G3 card extension and the monitors control panel and preferences for quite possibly, a good "save."


Yo Derrel;

Good to hear from you, and this is a ton of great and useful information that I will file for future reference.

Actually, I have not yet upgraded to a G3 card, but your experienced advice is most interesting.

My 200 MHz 604e card is out of a PowerMac (7500? 7600?) and the other, 180 MHz card, I have is out of Dan Knight's Umax J700. I wonder if the problem you mention afflicts all G3 upgrades in the S900. (Vimage is Japanese, BTW).

Anyway, thanks for all the excellent advice.


S900s tend to "trash" the "Monitor" or "Monitors and Sounds" control panels, depending on which OS you use, so a new one with full options and working prefs helps.

Give the 604e enough RAM, as in all slots filled, and it rivals a G3 in "most" processor tasks, at least in my opinion. I personally think the machine expects a 604e processor - and the extension load order and the communication between logic board and processor means this area is critical.

These are after all, upgraded S900s having all these problems. If you want to run them, run the stock processor and 7.6.1 or 8.5 or 8.5.1, and you'll never have a problem. But add a totally new processor type to a computer design invented before the G3, and then add an OSes designed after Umax was out of business, and you're making some software/hardware changes that Apple-made computers simply do not have.

OS 9 on an S900 put together not by Umax but by a third party, with a non-original processor and more than one boot volume - of two different operating systems - on the in-box hard drive?

The double-clutch at startup, when the logic board discovers it has an entirely different generation of processor in it, a new kind of OS it was never designed to encounter, and more than one boot volume on the samre hard drive? We can't have our cake and eat it too.

604e is slower than G3 at unstuffing compressed files? That merits a big "Boy, and how!!!" Dead-on there.

"what may be the noisiest Mac OS computer ever built" - I told you so.

Ever considered a room right next to the computing room? With a simple saw job and a switch plate you can run the cables thru the drywall. The computer(s) can then be 18" away - and in another room - with the CD-burners, external hard drives, etc. all whirring away, with nothing more than the wires going thru the wall. The machine is back-toward you, and if you really look at your computing setup, you'll see that the cables you have will actually be long enough to do this at a normal table/desk that happens to be against the wall you're passing the cables through.

Leave a Zip/Jaz/CD burner drive whatever on your desk, connected through the wall, and you're set. Want to make a mess of networking cables go away??? Try it in another room, and see your problems go away.

Workhorse file storage/CD-ROM burning for cheap. SCSI cards?? Slap two in each machine. Buy the cheapest ones - it doesn't matter. You have six slots. Your connectivity problems disappear when each machine has two SCSI ports. No need to daisy chain. No more SCSI problems! This is the key to bringing in/removing/sharing peripherals that are basically not hot-swappable. You need to have a "free cable end" all the time.

The fans are noisy, but the don't get louder as they age. The Vpowers have tiny fans on THEM as well. Some CD-burner externals have mcuh more annoying fans. Frankly, just putting an S900 on the floor, under your desk, will cut the "apparent" noise about in half - I know, I have one there now. And frankly, the shiny G4/450 AGP I have seems pretty loud too, sitting up here on the desk to my left.


Hi again Derrel,

Yup, you did!

Lots more good info here. Thanks again.

Yeah, my rig is a Frankenstein contraption all right. However, note that my nephew is experiencing a similar startup hang with a non-partitioned G3 PowerBook.

I have four of the 8 RAM slots full - two 32 MB; two 16 MB; and the 16 MB on the mobo - 112 MB. No two of the DIMMs are the same brand.