The Low End Mac Mailbag

Importance of Updated OS X Printer Drivers, 'Old' as a Computer Insult, a Couple Safari Tips, and More on the Value of a Low End Mac

Dan Knight - 2003.02.07 - Tip Jar

Thanks for the OS X Printing Tip

After reading Slow Printing, Safari, Mail, and Faster Classic Mode Launches, Jim Williams writes:

Thanks again, Dan. Once more your website has proved invaluable. I have been experiencing exactly the same printing frustrations in Mac OS X that you described in your article. My printer is an HP 952C. Works fine on X but really slow. Sure enough, I just checked on HP's site, and they have OS X drivers for the 952. I just figured if OS X detected the printer, it was using the best drivers - but I guess that's not so. Thanks for the article.

Glad to be of help, and equally glad others were there to help me with my frustration. I hope Apple will do something about this in the next revision of Mac OS X: "The printer you have just selected, <printer name>, is being driven by drivers that shipped with Mac OS X. These may be older driver and may not provide optimum performance. Please check with the manufacturer to see if newer drivers are available."

More on OS X Printer Drivers

Norman writes:

Thanks for your most recent article, Slow Printing, Safari, Mail, and Faster Classic Mode Launches on Low End Mac. I enjoyed it very much.

There was one thing I noticed that was simply not true and I wanted to let you know. You wrote:

"Huh? I was printing to the Epson printer. The OS recognized it. I just assumed that meant the Epson driver was installed, but these were just Apple's drivers."

The drivers that come with OS X, whether for Epson, Canon, or HP printers, are written by the printer vendors. You can see this by selecting one of the drivers and then bringing up the Get Info panel in the Finder. For example in your case you can use the Finder's Go->Go to Folder command and enter '/Library/Printers/EPSON/'. Select the SP870.plugin and then File->Get Info. You'll see that the version line lists the copyright holder as EPSON. I think jaguar ships with version 1.1.2 of the EPSON drivers. You must have installed a later version to improve your speed.

I hope this is helpful and thanks again for the article.

Thanks for the information. I wonder if Apple works with the manufacturers to make sure the current shipping version of OS X includes the latest version of the manufacturer's drivers. Come to think of it, it would be nice if Software Update could check the drivers you use against a database and let you know when new drivers were available for the printer(s) you use.

B&W G3 Much Better Than Beige G3

In response to my comments on The CPU Race, Thomas Eberhard writes:

The Beige G3 was not bad, but the B&W G3 was so much better. The budget B&W G3/300 was as fast or faster then the previous top of the line Beige G3 due to the glorious ATI 128 card and fast bus, etc.

The Beige G3/233 was good put hardly as fast as the 9600/350. A solid step forward to a 7300/200 for sure, but not the leap of the B&W. For me, the B&W G3 is the best leap ever. Not only did it boost the CPU a lot, they also added a vastly superior 3D gaming card, fast bus, a brilliant case design, as well as USB and FireWire ports.

During the 4 years since Jan 1999, this basic design has been tweaked by over time trickling in AGP, faster bus, more IDE, a second optical drive instead of Zip, audio amplifiers, etc. So I am not complaining that the beige G3 was bad, simply that the B&W was exceptionally good. :-)

I think the current case is very good; it only lack some USB & FW ports at the front and one hard disk sled like the ones in the Xserve. Having an IDE disk - even an old 10-40 GB to back up files to - sure beat endless numbers of CDs. I think that the bigger the HD, the more stuff you will put on them, and when the HD went past 1 GB, the ZIP backup was tedious, and then past 10 GB the CD is slow, and my guess that even the DVD will not keep up for long! I remember when I upgraded my LC II from 80 MB to 270 and thought that was vast space.

Lastly, regarding the G4 and P4, the current P4 is at 3.06 GHz, so half the speed is 1,530 MHz and one-third is 1,020 MHz. The previous top of the line G4 was at 1,250 MHz, 280 MHz from half but only 230 from one-third.

The top-end G4 is 46% as fast as the top-end P4 in clock speed - much closer to half the Pentium's clock speed than one-third.

I also remember the incredible amounts of space when moving from a 40 MB drive to 80, then 270, then 2 GB, and now have a nearly half-empty 20 GB drive on my computer. Given time, it will fill up.

And, yes, the B&W G3 was definitely a big improvement over the beige G3, just as the beige G3 was a big improvement over the 7300 - but even more so. From the 7300 to the G3 saw a one-third improvement in bus speed; from beige to b&w saw a 50% increase, plus the addition of the modern USB and FireWire ports, a much better IDE bus, and New World ROMs. Given recent prices, the b&w is an excellent budget Power Mac today.

A Curious Computer Insult

In reading about the "new" Macs, J. P. Medina muses:

There's a curious insult that's used in the computer industry. It's to brand the previous model of hardware or previous version of software "old" or "older." I am all but discouraged with Apple's production engine which attempts to suggest that all systems previous to OS X are "old," and I've become annoyed at the suggestion that earlier models are somehow now obsolete. I've begun to notice this in the articles in LEM. Perhaps this emphasis on the newest versions is essential to the continued survival of a company, but really all the computer companies are doing well. The earliest iMac is still not so "old" as to be obsolete. If the computer industry begins to suggest that we "need" to upgrade every year or we "must" invest in new hardware to keep pace with some technological rabbit, my interest will decrease.

I certainly don't see the term "old" as insulting. It's more of a chronological term which I and most writers apply to any model that isn't current - whether it's a Lisa, a Quadra 840av, or last week's 15" G4 iMac with a SuperDrive. It's a statement of fact, not a value judgment. It certainly never implies obsolete around here.

We remain dedicated to the value of older Macs, older software, older peripherals, and the classic Mac OS. Sure, the 128K and 512K Macs are pretty much obsolete, but any with a MB of RAM or more can still make a fine writing machine, email tool, etc.

That said, there are times when an older Mac may not be obsolete, yet it is unable to perform new functions, such as Thursday's Mac Daniel column where someone wanted to use a digicam and photo printer with an LC 580. For better or worse, digicams and printers are USB devices, and there is no way to connect them to any pre-PCI Mac.

Still, my advice wasn't to buy a new eMac or iMac, which would never work with his SCSI scanner or serial ImageWriter printer. Instead I recommended a "newer" Mac that was similar to his old one, compatible with both his old hardware and USB (with the addition of a PCI card), and available for a very reasonable price.

No computer is obsolete until you say it is. My Mac Plus became obsolete for me when I needed to create color graphics, design Web pages that included color, and browse the colorful Web. My Centris 610 never became obsolete; it just reached the point where a newer Mac was a better deal than a bunch of upgrades.

My SuperMac J700 remains a wonderful computer; one of my sons uses it alongside his WallStreet. And I don't foresee my 400 MHz TiBook becoming obsolete, either. I may reach the point where it makes sense to replace it with something a bit faster, with a higher resolution display and Quartz Extreme, that includes a Combo drive - but I'll be upgrading for the improvement, not because the old TiBook can't do the job.

The key is to use it until you've used it up or it becomes a serious impediment to your productivity. When my wife's PowerBook 150 became an impediment, she bought the entry-level 366 MHz iBook. When my Centris became a bottleneck, I picked up a SuperMac for US$800. And the only reason I bought a TiBook is portability - it's really nice when you can bring your computer to Macworld Expo, to your part-time job, when you visit a client.

Old isn't an insult at Low End Mac. The best Macs age gracefully and may remain in use a decade or more after they were produced. It all depends on your specific needs.

URL Selection Tip for Safari

Another response to Slow Printing, Safari, Mail, and Faster Classic Mode Launches. This tip from Jon Beck:

I hated how Safari wouldn't select the whole URL bar when I clicked on it, too, but I read a tip on it the other day. If you click on the little icon in the URL bar rather than the white space, it will highlight the whole URL, similar to IE. It was a bit awkward at first, but now I'm used to it and do it on every computer.

Thanks for the helpful tip. The graphic Jon refers to is the favicon file, which appears to the left of the URL. In the case of Low End Mac, our favicon looks like this: LEM Just click the graphic, and Safari will highlight the entire URL. Very helpful.

Chris Kilner writes:

Your article says: "Not a bug, but something different about Safari compared with the other browsers, is the way Safari doesn't select the text in the Google or URL windows when you click them. Other browsers automatically select all the text, making it much easier to type in new text, since you don't have to manually Select All first."

Try clicking on the favicon at the left of the URL. It will select all the text. I think the Google box might do something similar, too, depending on where you click.

Almost. Clicking on the magnifying glass in the Google search brings up a list of recent searches and an option to clear the recent search list. The Safari programmers are really going overboard in coming up with simple, useful features.

Benjamin Wood also notes:

To highlight the whole address in Safari you can click on the icon in the left of the address field. This only works for the address field tough. For the Google search field it brings up a list of recent searches and a "clear entries" option.

The Value of a Low End Mac

After reading The Value of a Low End Mac, Eric McCann writes (blue text is quoted from that column):

The Power Mac 7500 was built in 1995, eight years ago. Eight years. That's like 1,000 years in computer time. The Power Mac 7500 is to the dual 1.42 GHz Power Mac G4 what the Roman chariot is to the Dodge Viper. They both serve the same purpose, but hardly in the same fashion.

Despite this comparison, my PM 7500 somehow manages to continue to do everything I need it to do. Over the years, I have spent about $350 in upgrades. I have swapped the old PowerPC 601 for a G3 processor and upgraded the RAM, L2 cache, and hard drive. I think I upgraded the VRAM, too, but it has been so long I have forgotten.

For the lump sum of much less than $400 in upgrades over the course of eight years, I essentially have a PowerMac G3/450 with a 20 GB hard drive and 256 MB of RAM. Not top of the line, but not too shabby.

I think the key here is "over eight years." If I'd known what I know now when I first got my 7600 (then a 7200/75) I'd have waited and just picked up a beige G3 or iMac 233-333.

Today, the 7500 runs every program I need, including the latest versions of AppleWorks, Microsoft Office, Adobe Photoshop (okay, version 6,which is admittedly not the "latest," but it will have to do until I can afford Photoshop 7),

Features you need, or "upgrade-itis?"

Internet Explorer, and the list goes on. Thanks to some nifty third-party utilities, it even runs Mac OS X - and runs it well. I have my new/refurbished iBook for portability and my iMac DV/SE because my wife got a PowerBook G4 and I inherited it. I have never really needed the iMac as a desktop, since I have the 7500.

Trade ya... my 7600 for the iMac. <g> I've been looking at upgrading as well, but I can't see spending the money for upgrading it to a point where it's just matching a stock beige G3 MT for the same price. Though I'll say it does one thing no G3 or G4 can do - run BeOS nicely.

Contrast this with the clone. I had it built brand-new in 1998. It has a Cyrix 233 MHz processor, 64 MB of RAM, and an 8 MB hard drive. These were close to top-of-the line specs in 1998, at least for what the average consumer (me) could afford to pay.

And Cyrix has gone away. Be glad....

I know I said the Athlon was my only non-Mac computer, but what I meant was that the Athlon is my only non-Mac computer still serving a useful purpose. The clone used to run Windows 95 until I outgrew that OS. It won't run Windows 2000 or XP without at least a memory upgrade. If I did upgrade the memory, 2000 and XP would probably load but would take all day.

It would (IIRC) also need a processor upgrade, for XP.

Replace the processor, you say? That would be great except that this motherboard won't support a processor much faster than the 233 already in it.

There's also the fact that Cyrix, Intel, and AMD all have different pinouts. You can't swap (say) a K6-2 or K6-3 with a Pentium II or Celeron, or today's Pentium IV with an Athlon. It makes buying mainboards for PCs (I build some on request. I won't turn down cash) a pain. It's also an advantage for the 7500 you didn't mention. The processor slot is the same for all the upgrades. The same processor slot that houses my 604/120 now can house a 604, G3, or G4 upgrade.

Replace the motherboard? Yes, except it is an AT style, and I don't think they make those anymore, what with ATX and all.

AT vs ATX power supply (and, annoyingly, power switch) issues. Don't forget there's also MicroATX, MiniATX, Baby-AT, and other form factors. Thus the reason "generic" PC cases look like swiss cheese inside.

Okay, then replace the power supply and drill new holes in the case to make the new motherboard fit. Sure, that is possible, but it is way more time and effort than I wish to spend.

Most of the power supplies should fit any case (unless you're looking at a brand-specific, HP/Compaq/Dell power supply, which can be an odd shape.) The mainboard's possibly a different issue.

When I upgraded the 7500, I snapped open the case, pulled out the old processor, and snapped the new one into the slot. It had plenty of open RAM slots, so I just had to pop in the additional RAM. The L2 cache and VRAM were also of the just unplug and replace genre.

Point for the Mac. You can "snap" open the case and shut it again. It's what hooked me on Macs actually. (I put in an article on this some time back, with my acquisition of a Quadra 700 and IIsi, both of which I still have.) I even like the Q800/840/PMac 8100 case over most PC cases, though the PC cases are catching up. The only one I hate dealing with is a PMac 7100.

I don't think a novice should replace a motherboard, power supply and who know what else on a PC.

And with WinXP, get ready for headaches. On the PC here (yes, I, too, run both) we swapped mainboards and had to reactivate the OS with a call to Microsoft and some gawdawful long authentication number. They were quick, I give them points for customer service, but....

Eight years later, (the 7500) is still a more than capable machine. Five years later, the PC is a boat anchor.

Blame the processor wars and Megahertz myth for this. They keep re-shrinking processors, there's no common pin layout, etc. Otherwise, it's quite possible I'd be able to run the board I had a few years ago with newer processors. Of course, there's no capability for the heat sink to be supported or the like....

Look at the families they've gone through. From 97 or so, IIRC:

  • Pentium
  • Pentium Pro (two - three, actually, if you go to the first 60 and 66 MHz Pentiums with another socket size - incompatible pin layouts.)
  • K6 / K6-2 / K6-3
  • Cyrix 5x86
  • NexGen (bought by AMD, but had its own pin layout too.)
  • Pentium II / Celeron (Slot 1)
  • Pentium II and Celeron again, back to a socket instead of slot.
  • Athlon (slot A)
  • Pentium III (new slot.)
  • Pentium III (socketed) and Celeron
  • Xeon (Slot 2, and I think 3 now.)
  • Pentium IV (new socket.)
  • Athlon XP (different cores - two, actually, now.)

I'd hate to be a PC mainboard manufacturer.

Eric, this is part of the reason Low End Mac is so much more successful than Low End PC. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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Dan Knight has been publishing Low End Mac since April 1997. Mailbag columns come from email responses to his Mac Musings, Mac Daniel, Online Tech Journal, and other columns on the site.

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