The Low End Mac Mailbag

Making New Mac Users with Old iMacs and Tiger, Buying Newer vs. Upgrading, Booting Compact Flash, and More

Dan Knight - 2007.05.29

Making New Mac Users with Old iMacs and Tiger

Bill Brown writes:

Yo Dan,

I've no idea how to respond to mailport threads, so I'm going straight to you. In spite of all the vintage Macs I keep going here, I've just been too damned busy with a major remodel of my home for several months to pay close attention to the Leopard-on-a-G3 thread. A fast look this morning tells me I've a lot of ketchup to do on this subject. It is important to me. You see:

Up at our local senior center, we have a home grown, no budget Mac program of the highest order. We teach Mac basics to the codgers so that they might get pics of the grandkids, argue with former foxhole buddies how they single-handedly won WW II, have a shot at writing the Great American Novel, or any of a thousand ways of goofing off with a Mac. We also loan out Macs to seniors wanting to try 'em out in their homes without risk to the Social Security check. And, since the nearest legitimate Apple shop is two counties and two hours away, we also fix Macs for seniors. The key here is no budget. We survive on donations of Macs and Mac stuff relegated to the basement, closet, garage, or attic. Over time and with careful husbanding, we get just the right pieces we need to do what we gotta do.

A year ago, we made the big jump from Classic to Tiger. But nobody donates the latest and greatest. Tiger is not "supported" by Apple on the early 233-333 Bondi blue and fruit flavored iMacs. So a lot of them started heading for the basement. We had three of these early iMacs at the senior center. I wanted to know if "supported" was a weasel word as Apple uses it. Would Tiger work on an early iMac? It would on an even older Beige G3 of mine with the help of XPostFacto. But this is not an experience to introduce newbie seniors into the world of Mac. I've a bench gadget I call a Wiebe dock (actually a Wiebe Combo Dock) that lets me kludge a bare IDE hard drive via FireWire onto a FireWire Mac. I used this tool to kludge a bare 6 GB drive removed from a 233 iMac onto an available iMac G5. Using the G5's install DVD, I simply told the installer to install Tiger, iLife '05, and AppleWorks onto that 6 gigger. Reinstalled in the 233 iMac with RAM bumped to 256 MB, that ancient iMac booted right into Tiger, joined our network, and logged right on to the Web without a burp. We were impressed. At that moment, we knew we were going into the Tiger business!

...once booted, we have had no issue whatsoever with the early iMac being able to do Tiger.

Three iMacs isn't sufficient. Our class size is ten students. We needed iMacs if we were to drag ourselves out of teaching the now grossly out of date Classic. So we went on a beg, borrow, or steal campaign for auld iMacs. We now have twenty ancient iMacs up and humming in Tiger. Ten are in our classroom. Two are in our library doing yeoman public Internet access. Two are being used for development. And six are available as loaners for seniors to learn and play Mac at home. All are running Tiger just fine. Indeed, we have not had a single glitch of any kind in their first year in service. Glitches with us learning how to teach, configure, and fix iMacs for sure - but once booted, we have had no issue whatsoever with the early iMac being able to do Tiger.

We run a reduced iLife suite on the latest 10.4.9. Garage Band, iMovie, and iDVD will not work with the G3 of these iMacs. Nor will the iWork suite work. No real issue here. We can teach and seniors can do all they want to do with iPhoto and iTunes from the iLife '05 suite right alongside Safari, Mail, Text Edit, and good ol' AppleWorks. Our library Tiger iMacs even have Microsoft Word for X on 'em. You might think this a bit stripped down. But it all works fine doing all that is expected of it. And, no, it is not horridly slow or pokey at all. At least not with these apps as they are used by our clients. We are in the Tiger business.

But what will October and Leopard bring? Obsolescence? We don't need that in our no budget program. Will Leopard run on our ancient iMacs? Maybe run on our few slot loader (FireWire) iMacs? Let us hope so, even if "unsupported". Nobody is about to start donating iMac G5s yet. Or will we start to slowly slide backwards sticking with Tiger so long as it is somewhat relevant in a Leopard and even post-Leopard era? We shall see.

Our solution will not impress any geek nor even those in the DTP and other digitally power hungry trades. What our solution does is put Mac on the map in a remote area that Apple has no interest in. Our no budget salvage work has created one significant bunch of new Mac buyers in an area where there would have been none. Our work has driven a few of us to become damned good at supporting Macs where there is no support. And our enthusiasm has created quite a number of "changers" from the peecee world. Nothing heavy duty. Just Mac basics.

And we want to see our ancient iMacs pushing the envelope for a long while longer.

Bill Brown
Anacortes, WA
Anacortes weather cam

PS: Yeah, on a 6 GB hard drive. This is what many of these early iMacs came with. Their ROM or whatever will only see up to 7.42 GB anyway. So 6 GB is what we develop for. It works thus. From the install DVD, be very cautious to avoid loading anything you do not need. The operative word here is "deselect". You have to deselect all this 21st century stuff to get it down to where the installer will even like these puny hard drives. No languages or extra fonts for the system, nor for AppleWorks. We restrict our printer drivers to Canon, Epson, Hewlett-Packard, and GIMP only. No Zenio reader. Only iTunes and iPhoto are installed from the iLife '05 suite. iPhoto from iLife '06 will not run on a G3. We didn't bother even trying iTunes from '06. When loaded, we go back and use the freeware Delocalizer to strip out some 600 MB of unnecessary language files. We even run the freeware Trim the Fat to rid Intel code, but this saves us only 15 MB or so; not a big deal. On the tray loader iMacs, we delete the AirPort utilities. This gives us a load of about 2.8 GB after journaling is done. That is a 48% or so load on a formatted 6 GB drive. Decent.

We have added a couple of games familiar to seniors. These along with a couple of pic and music files used in our classes complete our load.

With every Apple software upgrade, we run Delocalizer again stripping out some reinstalled language files.

We have prepared a master drive for our load and clone it to other drives using the freeware feature of SuperDuper. A little key step is to do the Repair Permissions thing at the end, which fixes something called a kernel link. Works every time.

We have found that with only the one printer driver needed, we can get this load onto a 4 GB drive from the very earliest iMacs. But we don't use 4 GB drives. Rather, we downsize 10 GB drives from our low-end slot loader iMacs to 7.38 GB. We've salvaged sufficient 20 GB drives for each of our slot loaders, freeing up 10 GB drives rather than force us to use 4 GB in a couple of our earliest iMacs.

One of our development iMacs is being used to very cautiously strip items from the root Library folder to see what can be done here. We don't expect much success with this idea. If we wanted to be brutal, we would strip out fonts, and a bunch of the little applications and utilities. But we want our iMac trainers to look as out of the box as possible. So we leave 'em in. Besides, I've begun to suspect that several of them are called up in the background by scripts from the system or the major apps to do their something then go away. So they stay. If anyone has posted a definitive list of what can be stripped without loss from either root or applications, I'd appreciated being directed to it. I've not been geek enough to find such a list myself.

Bill,

Thanks for sharing a wonderful story. I can give you one additional tip right off the bat - something I learned just last week: Deleting a photo in iPhoto doesn't delete it from your hard drive. You have to empty the iPhoto trash. Doing that cleaned out 1.5 GB of unnecessary files on my boot partition.

I run Delocalizer every few updates, and SuperDuper is the greatest Mac backup and disk dup program I've ever run across. Thanks for the info on Trim the Fat, a program I wasn't familiar with. I'll include a link for our readers.

Would it be safe to assume that you're turning off Spotlight and the Dashboard?

As to G3 support in Leopard, we're all hoping for it. Regardless, your Tiger iMacs are going to be capable of serving your seniors for years even if Leopard can't be installed.

Anyhow, you've come up with some clever solutions and created a whole new group of Mac users with your low-end solutions. Keep up the good work!

Dan

Sometimes Buying a Newer Mac Makes More Sense than Upgrading

Jay Snyder writes:

Dan,

Once again, great site!

Let's not forget that sometimes the best upgrade is a newer used Mac.

I'm seeing some interesting dialog about the G4 MDD upgrade article. Let's not forget that sometimes the best upgrade is a newer used Mac. I was considering some of the many high clock-rate CPU upgrades available for my Dual 1 GHz Quicksilver but had concerns about the lack of a L3 cache and the 133 MHz memory bus of this model becoming a bottleneck.

So I started looking at used G5s. I picked up a 2005-model Dual 2 GHz Power Mac G5 for $1,000 in January with 1 GB RAM, a 250 MB hard drive, and a much faster, dual-layer SuperDrive. I sold my Dual 1 GHz Quicksilver with 1 GB RAM, original 2x SuperDrive, and a 120 GB (upgraded) hard drive for $600. With shipping figured in, as well as eBay selling fees, net upgrade price was about $475. This is about what many of these CPU upgrades were going for at the the time.

I probably could have gotten about $200 for the dual 1 GHz CPU card on eBay, so the net upgrade price for the dual 1.8 GHz upgrade at the time would have been about $400. I would have seen a real-world performance increase of about 35%. My G5 benefits from a faster memory bus, greater memory limit (4 GB for this model, 8 GB for the higher-end models), much faster SATA hard drive interface, no 128 MB ATA hard drive size limit, and a much faster SuperDrive.

The 2 GHz Dual G5 encodes video twice as fast as my 1 GHz Dual G4 did for only a little more money than the the upgrade CPU would have cost. Heck, it even has 18 months left on its AppleCare.

This philosophy can be applied to all levels. If you have a pre-G3 Power Mac, consider a used G3 or low-end G4. If you have a G3 (esp. a Beige), consider a G4, etc.

I have done the upgrade route in the past. I had the excellent PowerLogix Bluechip 900 MHz G3 upgrade in my Pismo, which brought it nearly to 1 GHz PowerBook G4 levels for some tasks, and I kept the flexibility of the Pismo platform. This cost much less than a new PowerBook G4 at the time. About 9 months later, after falling in love with the new aluminum PowerBooks, I got an excellent deal on a 1 GHz 15-inch aluminum PowerBook G4. I put the original CPU back in the Pismo, and sold the CPU upgrade and the Pismo separately for only $300 less than the PowerBook cost me.

The bottom line is consider all your options and don't get too attached to upgrading your current hardware. With a little creativity, you can find that trading up to a newer system can cost less. Plus your old system can help enlighten some poor blighted Windows™ user and bring them into the fold!

Regards,
Jay Snyder

Jay,

Thanks for the reminder. The value of upgrading your current Mac depends on how many components you want/need to upgrade vs. the cost of a newer Mac that's already got what you want. For instance, I'm very happy with the value of my dual 1 GHz Power Mac G4 even after putting in a bigger hard drive, adding 1 GB of additional RAM, and installing two USB 2.0 cards. For my current purposes, it's all the power I need.

For someone who is otherwise quite happy with their Power Mac G4 (or any Mac) and wants to improve just one area, an upgrade is usually the best choice. You keep the hardware you're comfortable with and work better on it. If it's more than one upgrade, especially if one of them is the CPU, it may well make more sense to buy a newer Mac and sell the old one. I've done that a couple times myself.

Dan

Compact Flash Won't Boot Pismo

Jeffrey Bergier says:

Hey Dan,

I recently got a Pismo. I love it. However I want to run OS 9 from a compact flash card. But the hard drive inside the Pismo is 18 GB, so I don't want to throw it out. It is perfectly good. I have a CF PCMCIA card reader I use on a my PowerBook G4 and OS X without flaw. However, I for the life of me cannot get it to work on the Pismo. In OS 9 it causes the Finder to crash, and in X it does nothing. It even says no information available in the system profiler. It is a Dazzle PCMCIA reader and a PNY 256 MB CF card.

I was planning to get a new reader and card if I could get this setup to work. Is this a hardware problem with the Pismo or the PCMCIA or the CF card? is the Pismo specific about PCMCIA cards?

Thanks for your help
Jeff

Jeff,

I don't have a Pismo, so I can't answer specifically. Since first publishing the article on using flash in a PowerBook, I have learned from Addonics that there are two kinds of Compact Flash cards: one is designed to work like a hard drive, the other works as a removable media drive. You need to use a CF card with "fixed disk mode" or UDMA, so the next step is to check whether your PNY card supports it.

I've used a couple of different PCMCIA adapters, and they both work the same, so I don't suspect that would be your problem.

Good luck with this project. And as we posted today, it's even possible to boot OS X from Compact Flash.

Dan

Addonics Compact Flash Adapter Questions

Grant Davis writes:

Hi Dan,

I was rather pleased to hear that you has tried out one of those brilliant adapter cards. On a side note, Addonics' 2.5 inch to 3.5 inch adapter I thought would be handy reusing the laptop drives I would replace with the CF adapter in other desktops.

I too have a 1400 I would love to try these out on, but I wanted to check something first. I know you tested the single slot card, do you know if the dual slot card will work in a PB 1400 with two cards?

Is it possible that the dual slot card may not work in any IDE PowerBook?

I also have a PB 190cs I would like to try this out with as well one day, it only has a 500 MB hard drive, and I wouldn't need a very large card for it anyway. But if it could use two cards, it may be worthwhile setting up a second for virtual memory.

Kind regards,
Grant Davis

Grant,

The PowerBook 1400 uses a 12.5mm thick drive, so you'll have no trouble at all using the dual CF adapter. Addonics didn't have any in stock when I contacted them, which is the only reason I didn't get a dual card adapter. For the extra $5, it's worth it, and it should work in any 'Book with an IDE hard drive, as there's usually a little space around the drive to allow for air circulation.

Addonics is sending me the adapter that will let me use this card in one of my desktop Macs, so I can do speed testing on a faster bus.

Drop me a note once you've tried this out in your 1400 and/or 190.

Dan

Booting SCSI Macs with Flash Drives

Clae writes:

Dear Dan,

I've just ordered an external SCSI PCMCIA card reader/writer. I've long had a notion that these could be used to create a solid-state boot drive by using a flash card in a PCMCIA adapter; so I've decided put my money where my mouth is and put that notion to the test. I'll write again with the results.

The drive is called a Spyrus RD300; it has its own power supply, high density 50-pin SCSI connectors, termination, and supports two Type I/II or one Type III PCMCIA cards. If it boots, I'll attempt to convert it into an internal drive.

Clae

Clae,

Best wishes for this project. Be sure to let us know whether it works or not.

Thanks!

Dan

Video Conferencing Requirements

Hi Dan,

A relative of mine ask my advice on getting a low-end iBook for her home school kids to take a video conferencing online class. I suspect it will take a lot more computer. I have not done anything like this myself and have a lot of questions about what kind of hardware is needed. Is there somewhere on the net I can get some answers or might you or your crew look to an article?

I wonder about video card requirements in a laptop or desktop? Is a G4 going to be much better than a G3? I did read your article on the iMage. I am a bit surprised I have never seen a article like this anywhere. Maybe I just missed it?

Thanks
Roger Harris

Roger,

I'm still living in the dark ages. None of my Macs have a built-in iSight, and my only webcam is an older USB device that only works with Windows. I have almost no experience with video chat, let alone what you might need for video conferencing.

I suggest you get in touch with the people offering this online class to determine what their system requirements are - whether they support Macs, if the student needs a webcam, how much bandwidth is required (dialup vs. broadband), etc.

Dan

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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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