Apple, Tech, and Gaming

PowerBook G4 to the Rescue for a Die Hard Pittsburgh Penguins Fan

- 2011.04.09 - Tip Jar

As a Pittsburgh native, I can't say enough about Pittsburgh professional sports. We bleed black and gold.

The Steelers and Penguins are obsessions in my family - even more so as the playoffs arrive, giving fans a lot to cheer about after capturing two Super Bowls and three Stanley Cups in the last two decades! As for the Pirates - well, that's a different story.

Last week, the Tampa Bay Lightning faced the Pittsburgh Penguins in a battle for survival in this year's Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Penguins, still without their top two stars, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin had defied all odds and arrived as the fourth seed in the NHL's Eastern Conference. Unfortunately, the rabid black and gold fans watched a 3-1 series lead fall apart as Tampa surged back finding ways to capitalize on power play opportunities, while shutting down Pittsburgh's power play. It was do or die with the series tied 3-3, as game 7 ominously loomed over Consol Energy Center.

For the fans in Pittsburgh, there was local coverage, since the game had sold out, but Pens backers across the rest of the country were out of luck unless they had an NHL Center Ice package or decided to purchase the game streaming live from using their GameCenter Live™ application.

Since my provider does not have NHL Center Ice, GameCenter Live was my only option to watch the game.

The Mac specifications for GameCenter Live states that it requires a PowerPC G5 with a 1.6 GHz processor, but from past experience I know that most low level G5 applications can run fine on a fast G4, particularly my 12" 1.5 GHz PowerBook G4 with 768 MB of RAM running Mac OS X 10.5.8 Leopard with all updates. Technically, with its incredible processing power my PlayStation 3™ would have been my best option for GameCenter Live and would have brought me the game in full HD, but with the PSN down due to Sony's hacked servers, that was not an option either.

After speaking with the technical support representative at GameCenter Live and confirming my G4 theory before ordering, I decided to give it a shot using the 12" PowerBook. The representative stated that it would not run optimally, but it should work as long as I had a fast broadband connection and Flash Player 10.1 or higher, which I have.

After registering and paying $19.95 for a day pass, I was ready to watch.

The video ran best in the lowest bit rate setting and in Adaptive Mode, which automatically adjusts bit rate based on the capabilities of the system and the current connection speed on the fly (higher bit rates took the frame rate down to a slideshow). The bit rate in Adaptive Mode seemed to be no different than the lowest setting, presumably due to the limitations of the G4, but provided exactly what I expected - watchable video. The frame rate was a bit jumpy at times when the action got fierce, and under such a low bit rate the video was too Pilate to view in full screen on my 32" 720p HDTV, so I had too keep the game in windowed mode. These were minor complaints given the fact that I was watching a game streaming (semi) live that was not being broadcast anywhere in my viewing area - and on a system that the application technically didn't even support! I have to give a big kudos to my 12" PowerBook G4 for handling such a tall order. It certainly came to the rescue when there was no other alternative (aside from my similarly spec'd 1.42 GHz eMac G4).

The two lessons to be learned here are as follows:

Penguins fans are die-hard and will go to extremes like I did to watch a game that is not being televised. With this particular game being a game 7 that could have become a clinching game for the Penguins to advance to the next round, it was must a must see event for anyone with the means.

Slightly lower-end hardware configurations than the minimum specifications called for by a given application may actually work. You just have to experiment or may need to find a workaround (case in point - finding ways to install Leopard on G4s with a clock speed under 867 MHz).

This case study is proof that although pushed to extreme limits, the G4 can still be relevant today in a world of multicore processors.

A few additional notes:

  • Sadly, the Pens were eliminated from the playoffs, falling to the Lighting in a hard fought 0-1 loss, but the game was pure adrenaline and was worth every penny I paid.
  • The Pens surprised everyone in the hockey world working strong as a team unit, winning game after game without their best two offensive players.
  • Flash has never been my favorite video playback format, and without a doubt, it pushed the 1.5 GHz G4 processor to its limit. I never checked the processor load, but I'm sure it was working on overdrive, and the fans in the PowerBook were revved to maximum. Hopefully as streaming video technology changes, we may one day be using a different universal format that is just as deliverable as Flash, but is efficient enough to not tax a lower end processor.

The experience overall was certainly a Low End Mac moment and made me proud to find a way to make things work with a configuration not officially supported by the application I was using. LEM

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Dan Bashur lives in central Ohio with his wife and children. He uses various PowerPC G3 and G4 Macs running Tiger and Leopard. Besides finding new uses for Macs and other tech, Dan enjoys writing (fantasy novel series in the works), is an avid gamer, and a member of Sony's Gamer Advisor Panel. You can read more of Dan Bashur's work on, where he contributes regular articles about the PSP, classic gaming, and ways you can use Sony gaming hardware with your Mac.

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