The Low End Mac Mailbag

OS X Observations, OS Allegiance, Radeon 7000 Differences, Memory Prices, and More

Dan Knight - 2003.04.29 - Tip Jar

Mac OS X Observations

John Christie writes:

I was browsing your reader reports on Mac OS X and thought that I would send you my experiences.

I manage a lab of about a dozen Macs with AirPort and the 4 or 5 laptops attached at various times. At least 4 machines plus the laptops see heavy use day to day from various users. This is the the biggest the lab has ever been. This is a lab of graduate students and professors dealing with large datasets and documents regularly. The fastest machine is a 17" iMac 1 G[Hz]. But, the most common is 400 MHz iMacs that are used every day quite efficiently. We even have a Rev A Beige G3 233 that gets used from time to time. The entire lab is on Mac OS X.

When I ran OS 9.1 on my own Mac, I thought it was great. Moving to OS X seemed slower, and my personal machine was just as stable with 9.1. I never crashed in either. I can understand how many folks saw OS X as a step backward.

But it was an enormous step forward for my lab. The critical thing is the LAN. Under OS 9, having file sharing on a large LAN just kills the system. In that lab setup, the G3/233 was pretty much unusable. It was just so slow and crashed at least 4 or 5 times a day. When I upgraded to OS X 10.2, performance for our everyday tasks was not noticeably slower. In fact, since the G3 has become somewhat of a central file store, it became faster. 3 or 4 people could be backing up to it at once over the 100[Base-]T network, and it never crashed, and users at the machine rarely noticed much of a speed hit.

And, I almost never get called with problems. Under OS 9, I was dealing with a crash every single day. Admittedly, before we got into a weekly fsck routine we did have a bad hard drive corruption that required a couple of reinstalls under OS X. But other than that things have gone very smoothly.

I have been very happy with Mac OS X. It is smoother and faster than OS 9 for what I do. In fact, I believe that if most people actually stopped to consider where their time went when using the computer they would come to a similar conclusion. Most of the time I am typing. OS X certainly isn't any slower there. One of the next most common thing I do is organize files. OS X has a much faster files system than OS 9. After that comes data analysis, graphic generation and chart making. OS X is better at all of these for large files, and small files are processed instantly on any system. Resizing windows, moving graphic widgets around, and miscellaneous UI things are probably what I do least. OS X is admittedly slower at these things. But I use Macs (yes, even OS X) for just this reason. I can get away with rarely dealing with the OS and find it relatively transparent. It is just a facilitator.

OS X being slower at scrolling, resizing windows, and launching a thousand windows, seems pretty petty in the complaint department.

I also must exclaim that I absolutely love Rendezvous. iChat and Hydra are just very easy to use in a LAN environment - and the fact that when you turn on printer sharing you get Rendezvous sharing and every machine is automatically configured for the printer is just amazing.

It's not clear from your letter, but were you using Personal File Sharing on all of the Macs in your lab? I once worked in that kind of setting with almost a dozen Macs on LocalTalk (this was back in the IIci era), and it was horrid. Personal File Sharing is okay for short-term use or for use on a single dedicated server; it's never a good idea to have a lot of Macs running Personal File Sharing on a network. Not only does it bog down the network, but each Mac is also wasting CPU time keeping connections live, broadcasting its presence on the network, and tracking shared resources.

File sharing under OS X has got to be a lot better than that, since Unix was designed for shared resources from the get go. You've definitely found one place where OS X runs circles around the classic Mac OS - and undoubtedly even the AppleShare IP package.

But how well OS X works depends on the user. Mail has got to be the slowest email client I've ever used. It takes several seconds to display the contents of a folder and a few seconds just to open a single message. AppleWorks is less efficient, but for the most part X apps hold their own against classic software.

Some things OS X does better than classic. Some it does faster. Some it does slower. And some it does worse. At this point I'd guess my productivity has pretty much returned to where it was when I was using OS 9. Regardless, OS X has become mostly comfortable for me now, and I'd never dream of giving it up for the classic Mac OS.

Agree on OS Allegiance

Todd M. McQuiston writes:

I tend to agree with Christopher Iwane's comments in the "OS Allegiance" letter you received. I bought my first Mac last year - a blue G3/500 iMac. It started with OS 10.1.5, and while I installed OS 9, I never used it. I never got involved with the X/9 debates, and I would say that that was one of the things that makes me happiest about being a Mac owner.

From my iMac (which I sold to a friend), I went to a Dual 533 Power Mac, then got a 1 GHz TiBook. I sold the Power Mac (stupid, stupid, stupid!) and recently got a Cube. The TiBook is running Jaguar, and the Cube is running OS X Server (also Jaguar). I spend more time on my TiBook than any other computer I own right now.

On the other end, I have a P4 tower running Win XP Pro, a Windows 2000 Server domain controller, and my wife's computer is a P3 tower. Mac OS and Windows tend to play nice with each other, which helps. I am an MCSE, but even without that, I have to say that WinXP is the stablest OS I have ever used, even in light of OS X. I don't compare performance, as my P4 is pretty high end.

Basically, both types of systems do what I need them to do. We use Windows at work (big surprise there), so making sure my wife's system runs whatever her work computer does is pretty key for family harmony.

Do I find the constant security patches for Windows irritating? Sure. On the other hand, I tend to find the yearly Mac OS upgrade price annoying. I realize that it is a voluntary expense, but if it seems Apple ceases all support/development (i.e., patches) for "old" OSes (10.1.5, 9.2.2, etc.) as soon as the new flavor is released.

At the end of the day, people are gonna either (a) live with and enjoy the OS they choose, despite whatever drawbacks it has, and they all have drawbacks, or (b) choose one and incessantly complain about its drawbacks. The people is group A tend to be the ones who really are helpful when you go to the forums, and the people in group B are entertaining as all get-out.

Thanks for maintaining a great site.

In my last job, where I worked as both a graphic designer and later as the IS Manager, I had the privilege of working with high-end Macs. Although we rarely purchased "the best of the best of the best" models, we were often just a step or two from the bleeding edge. This was true from the Mac II era until about the G4/450 level, some of the last Macs purchased before I quit to publish Low End Mac full-time.

High-end is nice. The fastest Macs I've ever used have been my 400 MHz TiBook, the 400 MHz Power Mac G4 at my last job, the 450 MHz Cube I bought so my TiBook could go in for service, and my wife's 600 MHz 14" iBook. I can only dream of dual 533 MHz G4s and a 1 GHz laptop.

I've worked with Macs since System 6 and grew up with the OS as it evolved over the last dozen or so years. I've made the transition to OS X, which is probably harder to make from the Mac side than from Windows.

And then I go to my part-time job and ring up sales on a Windows computer three days a week. I'm pretty much lost when it comes to the OS itself, but then I only use a single application. These PCs are really glorified, networked cash registers, so there's no need for me to understand what's going on under the hood. They just need to work.

And they do. Much as we like to joke about the blue screen of death, it's pretty much a relic of seriously outdated versions of Windows. If we (Mac users) want to dis Windows users, we should be up-to-date enough to realize that and instead rib them about viruses, "secure computing," and Microsoft's monopolistic practices.

They'll turn around and laugh at us when our browser hangs (something Internet Explorer is notorious for - especially the OS X version) or they discover that our version of some messenger program is missing a very useful feature or two.

Yeah, they all have drawbacks, and we all have reasons for the choices we've made. As long as we're productive with our tools, I'm not going to ride anyone too hard for choosing Windows - unless they're members of that second group that's always complaining about Windows drawbacks. ;-)

Price of Radeon 7000

Commenting on Beige G3 and OS X, Brutno

I, too, noted the differences on pricing for the Radeon 7000 cards. One of the Mailbag readers lamented:

"I guess the saddest thing is that I saw in a computer store flyer, an ATI PCI Radeon 7000 for a PC selling for $49. I bought mine for $119."

However, at the Comp I was at, the PC Radeon was not as full-featured as the Mac card is. The Mac card has dual display support.

From Macsales.com on the 7000:

"Enjoy the flexible dual-display support for multiple combinations of CRT monitors, TVs, and video devices."

and:

"Video-output (S-Video and Composite) for TV output support"

I noticed on the PC card only one display connection - so it stands to reason the Mac card will cost more. There may be more differences but I don't have time to research it.

Not everything costs more on a Mac, although many items do.

It's not often that the "same" piece of hardware for the Mac has more features than its PC counterpart. Thanks for the reminder that although both are called "Radeon 7000" cards, they are not identical cards that the manufacturer has simply put inside different boxes.

Memory Prices

Bob Booten, who wrote Maximize RAM, Drop Classic, responds:

I paid more than $180 for my first eight MB of RAM in the mid-nineties, so that much for a gig sounds cheap to me. Maxing out the RAM will extend the useful life of the machine and provide a more satisfying experience in OS X and OS 9.

Anyway a 400 MHz PowerBook is low end at this point in time (I paid $1,200 for mine at CompUSA; it was a display model ), but I'm very happy with it.

I worked at ComputerLand of Grand Rapids (MI) in the early 90s. Even with my employee discount, it cost $77 per stick to put the first memory upgrade into my Mac Plus. Today you can almost buy a 512 MB module for the TiBook at the same price (between $80 and $90).

Today's memory prices are pretty amazing. I could max my TiBook to 1 GB of RAM for about $175 shipped.

More on Compact Flash as Virtual Memory

After following my advice in Compact Flash as Virtual Memory, Eric L. Strobel writes:

Dan Knight wrote:

I'm getting closer and closer to writing a tutorial on this subject. I keep learning more. To format a CF card as a Mac drive, you have to disable File Exchange. But since this requires restarting the computer, it's just as easy to restart and hold down the shift key, which prevents all the extensions from loading.

Once you've restarted, you can run Drive Setup and format your Compact Flash card as a Macintosh volume.

Then reboot as normal, open your Memory control panel, and you should be able to select the CF card as your virtual memory swap space.

Thanks. I found this out, and I'm happily running w/ VM on the card. Although (and curse me for not keeping notes on this), I think I had to completely disable File Exchange. I may just have turned off the "Load DOS drivers" or whatever that option is. But, as I say, I was in a hurry and didn't adequately document what I did.

Radeon 7000, a B&W G3, and OS X

Francis Gibson writes:

We emailed a little while back on the subject below [Radeon 7000, a Beige G3, and OS X]. I took your advice and got lucky by catching up to a B&W for $150 and am now working with that unit. Very happy. Thanks.

We're always happy to hear good reports from the field. Glad things worked out for you - and at such a nice price!

Is Dual Booting Gone?

Ron Hoeltge writes:

Seems like I periodically hear people saying that they were thinking about buying a new Mac, but not being able to use OS 9 on it stopped them.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems I read a long while back that the new Macs haven't been crippled to not boot with OS 9, they just aren't set up for it when they arrive from the factory. Can't you use Disk Utility and set up your drive with the OS 9 drivers, then install OS 9-dot-whatever on it, and then boot into 9? Of course, you'll probably have to reinstall OS X if you want to use it, but heck, they give you a CD to do that with, just like it came out of the box.

As to having to buy another OS version to do this, that's part of playing in the wonderful world of computers. You can get good legal copies all over the place; most happy OS X users would cheerfully donate theirs to you. OWC has them all the time for under $50. You have to pay to add Windows on a Lindows box, or Linux on a PC that shipped with XP. Macs aren't any different.

Having to add OS 9 to a new Mac shouldn't be considered a complete deal-breaker, should it? Sure, it's gonna take a little nerve to reformat your brand new CPU, but it's good training for when the drive gets trashed down the road. Any self-respecting Mac owner who's dead set on using OS 9 shouldn't be afraid to jump into installing an OS he wants to use and legally owns. It's a lot easier than upgrading a Windows OS to the next version (or for that matter, just downloading and installing the latest security patch du jour).

Or maybe I'm misinformed. Maybe the hard drives in the new Macs spin the opposite direction, or something else propriety exists that prevents OS 9 from being installed. But I think it can be done inside of an hour while you're watching Buffy slay vampires.

Beginning in January 2003, all new Apple models (those that aren't simply speed bumped versions of older ones) are unable to boot into a plain vanilla Mac OS 9.x installation, although there are stories of a special diagnostics version of OS 9.x that they can use.

This applies to the 2003 Power Macs, the 12" and 17" PowerBooks, and the 1 GHz iMac, if memory serves. To the best of my knowledge, the current eMacs, 800 MHz iMacs, 15" PowerBooks, and iBooks can all still boot into OS 9.x.

More on OS X on a Beige G3

Returning to a favorite topic here, Matthew Underwood writes:

Wow thanks - greatly appreciate the advice.

Good luck with the projects - and great work on one of the most useful sites in my daily life - without you and xlr8 I don't think life would be worth living!

Thanks for the kind words. Glad the advice helped you.

Lots of iMac Questions

Responding to iMac Problems, Alvin writes:

Thanks again for the reply. No hope for the screen I suppose; the little zigzags appear at the four corners of the screen but not the center (little correction). I'd just like to ask if the external speakers will still be surround sound capable (with 3D speakers, maybe an Altec Lansing) or will it be reduced to stereo only when plugged to the out jack?

Also will the iMac's (indigo) built-in speakers be disabled or can they be disabled by software once the external speakers are plugged in so the damaged speakers doesn't get in the way?

Any review on the iTechDV from Technowarehouse? It's too expensive, I think, and does not upgrade the video card.

Only a Mac technician could tell you if there's any hope of fixing the zigzag problem.

As for the external speakers, I can't say. We don't use external speakers on any of our Macs here.

On most computers, plugging in headphones or external speakers to the headphone jack will disable the internal speakers. I have no idea if that's true for your setup.

As far as I know, no processor upgrade for any computer upgrades video. That's a completely different part of the hardware, and on the iMac there's really no way to upgrade it. You're currently using a 350 MHz iMac, but I can't tell you whether the G4/500 iTechDV upgrade would be worth US$299 to you.

OS X on a SuperMac C600

Terry O'Leary

Some web sites say the C600 is an Alchemy motherboard, and others say it is a Tanzania motherboard. I do note that the (Tanzania) Power Mac 4400 and the Motorola StarMax 3000 and 4000 take only 3.3v EDO DIMMs, while the Umax C600 and C500 take 5v DIMMs that can either be FPM or EDO. At least in this respect they are similar to the 6400, an "Alchemy" motherboard.

How do I install X on my C600? I have found an unexpected way, but I must digress before I list the ways to install X.

The IDE bus does support slave mode on the C600. However, the only way to use it - so far - is from X. Slave mode seems implicitly turned off at Open Firmware or as part of the pre-X Mac ROM boot process. Once in X, however, you can use either a CD device or a HD as "slave." I have used an Apple CD-ROM drive, a hand-me-down from my Beige G3, as a slave.

You can boot X from SCSI on this machine. After many, many trials, I have found only one device that works. It is the Ricoh RW-7060s, a CD-RW drive. It is the only device on my SCSI chain. The firmware revision is 1.70 (I don't know if that matters). I would like to know if anyone else can repeat this finding.

I have found 3 general ways to install X on the C600 using XPostFacto.

  1. booting from a HD partition that is a copy of the OS X install CD
  2. booting from the Ricoh
  3. installing X in my Beige G3 and transplanting the HD into the C600

As usual, XPostFacto requires OS 9 already installed.

One neat thing about this machine and XPostFacto is that unlike the "PCI Power Macs" using the option key to boot into 9 does not clear the Open Firmware settings. On the next boot you implicitly boot back into X. If you want to just run X on your machine, the only time you need XpostFacto (and 9) is the first time you boot into X (or in emergencies). Too bad the implicit Open Firmware settings have the input coming from one of the serial ports instead of from the keyboard.

I hope that someone else finds this info useful.

I don't know all the ins and outs of motherboards, but based on your comments on differences between the C600 and other Tanzania - and similarities with the Performa 6400 - it certainly sounds like it's using the Alchemy motherboard.

I have a C600, which is being used as a dedicated file server for our home network. I wonder if there would be any benefit to installing OS X. I'll have to see if we even have enough RAM to consider it....

Thanks for sharing your tips. This should help others with low-end SuperMacs as well as the Alchemy Power Macs get OS X up and running.

Cleaning Up Old Macs

After reading about my marked up Classic IIs in Krylon Fusion for Painting Macs, Nonnie Loest suggests:

Also try to use Clorox Clean-up with bleach in the spray bottle to clean the plastic cases, it will significantly reduce some of the yellowing through repeated applications. This may help to remove some of the graffiti when used in conjunction with a tooth brush. A gum eraser will also remove blemishes from the plastic cases without causing any harm.

Thanks for the tip. I'll look for it next time I'm in the grocery store.

More on Upgrading from a PowerBook 1400

Responding to my reply to Upgrading from a PowerBook 1400, Stan Marks says:

Despite the seemingly significant 2:1 difference in bus speed, once you start dealing with a backside level 2 cache (instead of one on the motherboard), it really isn't that significant. In short, no speed of WallStreet (the fastest was 300 MHz) is going to have the same horsepower as your G3/400 upgraded PB 1400.

I would've thought that the 1400's 64 MB RAM limitation would have presented a major OS 9 "bottleneck" in comparison with the WallStreet!

To answer your other questions, the WallStreet Special Edition screen is a fixed 800 x 600 resolution; there is no way to display 1024 x 768 on it. I don't recall whether the screen was active matrix or not.

Everything I've been able to find indicates that all 12" WallStreet displays are passive matrix.

If you want comparable processor performance, I'd suggest a 400 MHz Lombard or Pismo as your best choices. Neither suffers from the 8 GB partition issue of the WallStreet, and both have better video circuitry and USB ports. If you're willing to settle for a little less performance - and few people are - the 333 MHz Lombard is probably your best choice.

One of my main reasons for considering the WallStreet over the Lombard (aside from the difference in price) is the availability of "legacy" ADB and serial ports. If I went with the Lombard or Pismo, it would necessitate additional expense to use an external keyboard/mouse, and I would either need a new USB printer or a USB-serial adapter for my current one. (Of course, I realize that this would also be true for the iBook, too, but the idea, here, is to put off any additional expenses as long as possible.)

I must admit, though, that I've been kicking myself ever since I watched a nice Lombard sell for less than $400 a couple of weeks ago. ;)

Then again, these get you within striking distance of a used or refurbished iBook 500. If you can swing it, you would be better of skipping an intermediate step and reaching for the iBook right away.

If I didn't have other, rather pressing financial commitments to keep, that is, indeed, what I would do! :)

In the meantime, I need a more reliable computer for the short-term (2-3 months) interim than this overtaxed 1400. Once I have that, I plan to take this 1400 apart and sell off the components on eBay. Should bring $600-700, which makes the 1400 worth about twice as much for its parts as the WallStreet will cost. (I actually have five 1400s to part out and auction off, which is how I am financing this whole venture. ;)

Well, anyway, thanks for the input. I suppose the bottom line is I might be willing to give up some performance for a short term if it helps me achieve my final goal of an iBook!

Speaking of which, let me ask you a question or two about iBooks. I've been told that, in order to take advantage of the Quartz Extreme features of Jaguar, the minimum configuration needed would be an iBook 600 with 16 MB of VRAM. Is this correct, or would 8 MB of VRAM work acceptably? (I'm not even sure what the heck this "Quartz Extreme" stuff is, anyway, or even if I need to be concerned about it. ;)

IOW, would the iBook 500 you mentioned above be adequate for someone whose computing needs (and budget) are rather modest, or would the 600 be a better choice? (Assuming, of course, that a new machine would be too much of a stretch for my budget.)

Thanks, again...

I don't consider limited memory a bottleneck; it's a hard and fast obstacle, a fixed limitation. Bottlenecks are things that slow a system down. Things like hard drive size and memory ceilings are limitations, not bottlenecks.

Mac OS 9 can run in as little as 40-48 MB with virtual memory enabled, so 64 MB would provide plenty of breathing room for the OS and several typical applications, especially if virtual memory has been enabled.

You didn't mention any legacy peripherals, so I that wasn't a factor in my advice. You mentioned CPU speed, and no 300 MHz G3 PowerBook is going to feel as fast as your 400 MHz 1400. That's what I was focusing on.

But with used 500 MHz iBooks going for a bit over $700 these days (see our Week's Best iBook Deals for current bargains), you might want to consider going that route. It won't support Quartz Extreme (that does require a minimum of 16 MB of video memory, and the slowest iBook with that is the second edition of the iBook 600), but it would be a very nice stepping stone toward a newer model, has far fewer limitations than a WallStreet, and will hold its value better when it comes time to replace it.

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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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