Mac Musings

Why the G4 Uproar?

- 5 September 1999 - Tip Jar

The Power Mac G4/400 is built on a modified Yosemite (Blue G4) motherboard. Yet owners of Blue G3 systems with mid-May ROM version 1.1 or later cannot replace their old G3 processors with G4s.

Apple deliberately disabled this by having the system check which CPU is installed at startup. If it's a G4, the computer won't boot.

Yosemite designWhy the big fuss?

I've received several emails asking why anyone is making such a big deal about this. After all, Apple never promised any of their computers would take G4 upgrades.

If Apple didn't promise it and explicitly prevents it on the Blue G3, what's the problem?

First, a little history. Apple once promised PowerPC upgrades to specific computer models. When they failed to offer that upgrade for a reasonable length of time, they were taken to court in a class action suit. They lost.

Since then, Apple has refused to promise that any computer can accept a processor upgrade. It's a wise move on their part.

Still, this never stopped the upgrade industry from creating processor upgrades. At this point, almost every older Power Mac can be upgraded to a G3, and G4 upgrades have been announced for the standard Apple daughter card used in the Power Mac 7300-7600, 8500-8600, and 9500-9600, as well as the ZIF socket used in the Beige G3 and the Blue G3.

It used to work!

Therein lies the rub: Before ROM version 1.1 in the Blue G3, it was possible to upgrade the processor to a G4 and use the computer. Blue G3 systems with earlier ROMs have been tested and found G4 compatible.

Although Apple never promised an upgrade path for the Blue G3, there was nothing in the initial design to prevent that upgrade. In fact, the use of a ZIF socket for the CPU makes such an upgrade very simple.

What happened?

What Apple did that has people upset is remove a capability the Blue G3 had.

Whether Apple promised that capability or not, it was there when the Blue G3 was first sold. Many Mac users bought Blue G3s that supported a G4 upgrade when purchased, only to have that capability deliberately removed by Apple when they updated their ROMs.

And Apple never told anyone the ROM update would do that. Nor did they confirm or deny rumors of the change.

Reread that. Let it sink in.

Apple deliberately removed a feature of the G4, refused to acknowledge it until the Power Mac G4 was available, and now says such an upgrade is "impossible" (MacWeek).

Whether anyone ever bought a Blue G3 because they believed it could be upgraded with a G4 processor is beside the point.

And the fact that G4 upgrades work in systems with the older ROMs clearly demonstrates that there is no technical reason for disabling G4 upgrades.

This was a deliberate move driven by marketing, not by technical concerns. Apple would much rather have Blue G3 owners buy new computers than allow them to upgrade the ones they bought less than a year ago.

Not only is that frustrating, but the fact that someone with a 1995 Power Mac 7500, 1996 SuperMac S900, or 1997 Beige G3 finds no such obstacle to installing and using a G4 upgrade.

Nor do owners of the Blue G3 who never updated their ROMs to version 1.1.

The solution

Apple can easily solve this problem and please the hundreds of thousands of Blue G3 owners who might want a G4 upgrade by simply releasing a new ROM update which eliminates to G4 block - and apologizing.

The only reason for Apple not to do this, since there is no technical reason for the block, is that they are more interested in selling new hardware than keeping current Mac users happy.

It's a stupid marketing move, since unhappy Mac owners tend to be pretty vocal.

And power users, which includes a lot of people with the Blue G3, are the ones newbies come to when they want buying advice.

Does Apple want them to hear, "Stuff Apple. They're more interested in the bottom line than keeping users happy. Buy a Windows clone - at least they're not designed to prevent upgrades."

Or, "Apple makes incredible computers. Why, I can even take this G3 I bought in January and put in a G4 chip. Yeah, the supercomputer chip you saw on the TV ad. You can't go wrong with a Macintosh."

What's it going to be, Apple? Leave your customers bitter or eliminate the block?

Further Reading

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Dan Knight has been using Macs since 1986, sold Macs for several years, supported them for many more years, and has been publishing Low End Mac since April 1997. If you find Dan's articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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