Charles Moore's Mailbag

Optimizing PowerBook G4 Performance, TenFourFox May Run Faster with NoScript, and More

Charles Moore - 2012.07.18 - Tip Jar

Optimizing 12" PowerBook Performance

From Mark:

Hi Charles,

Once again it's been a few years since I reached out for some of your sage advice, but here I am again. I hope you don't mind. Like you, I like to keep my old hardware in use. I am faced with the following challenge: I have two 12" PowerBook machines that I would like to give to my friends and am looking for the optimum OS X version to run on them vis a vis speed. Their specifications and present OS versions are:

  1. 1 GHz PowerBook G4 with 768 MB RAM presently running OS X 10.5.8 Leopard
  2. 1.5 GHz PowerBook G4 with 1.25 GB RAM presently running OS X 10.4.11 Tiger

Both of them are running slowly, either because of the RAM limitation or age of hard drive - or maybe because my experimenting with different OS X versions was unrealistic, etc. If I remember correctly, both are maxed out as far as RAM goes (please correct me if I am mistaken). What OS X version do you think would best suit these machines? Which web browser do you think is the best for them as well?

Any suggestions would be much appreciated.

Thank you in advance,

Hi Mark,

Good to hear from you again. Glad you're still on the Mac.

I have some experience with getting the most from old PowerPC Mac laptops, since I still have two G4 upgraded Pismo PowerBooks in service and my wife is running a 1.33 GHz 17" PowerBook G4 as her daily driver.

Here's the maximum RAM specs for your two machines: As I recall, these 12" PowerBooks have 256 MB of RAM hard-soldered to their logic boards and one RAM expansion slot, so either should support 1.25 GB of RAM, but it looks like you'll have to remove a 512 MB stick from the expansion slot in the 1 GHz machine to make room for a 1 GB module.

  • 1 GHz - 256 MB of PC2100 (266 MHz) DDR SDRAM; one open SODIMM slot; support for up to 1.25 GB
  • 1.5 GHz - 512 MB of PC2700 (333 MHz) DDR SDRAM; one open SODIMM slot; support for up to 1.25 GB

Regarding operating systems, we have OS X 10.5 Leopard on my wife's G4, and that's what I'd recommend for your 1.5 GHz unit. You might find that you'll get a bit livelier performance from the 1 GHz machine with OS X 10.4 Tiger. A hard drive reformat and clean reinstall of the operating systems could yield better performance.

Web browsers are getting to be a problem with these older PowerPC rigs. The TenFourFox Firefox hack for PowerPC was my pickup until a couple of months ago, but recent builds have become pretty much unusable on my Pismos with their 1 GB of RAM and 8 MB of VRAM. I've switched to Camino as my main PowerPC Web browser app, and so far it's been working out quite well with good stability, reasonably efficient memory management, and within context decent speed. My wife has also switched to Camino from old Firefox 3.6 on her G4.

I'm using OmniWeb 5 as my #2 PPC browser, and it's giving reasonably acceptable performance as well.

I hope this information helps and that your friends can still get some useful service from those old 12-inchers.


TenFourFox Sluggish on Pismo? Try NoScript

From Peter:

Hi Charles,

As a Pismo user myself, I'm always interested in what you have to say about your old PowerBooks. I was a little surprised to read that TenFourFox is becoming too slow for you, since I use it daily on my Pismo (500 MHz G3, 1 GB RAM) with very few problems. It's always seemed reasonably speedy to me, but I do use the NoScript add-on since JavaScript can slow things down considerably. You might give NoScript a try, unless you need JavaScript a lot more than I do.

Anyway, I always look forward to your columns. Keep up the good work!


Hi Peter,

Thanks. That's interesting. Since about version 8, TenFourFox has caused my Pismo to slow to a crawl.

I remain a TFF fan if one's hardware is up to running it, but my Pismo (550 GHz G4, 1 GB RAM), for whatever reason, isn't.

I do generally have 10 or so other applications up and running on the Pismo, and I suppose a conflict or just competition for available memory could be the issue.

I've switched to Camino, which so far is working we'll for me.


What About Yellow Dog Linux on Your Pismo?

From Lloyd:

Good Morning, Charles,

Your Pismo musings got me to thinking. These are fine machines, and it is a shame that working hardware may be shelved due to obsolescence. I regret letting mine (1 GB RAM, G4 upgrade) go, but I still have a WallStreet PowerBook running OS 9 that gets occasional use, and which I plan to drop a hard drive w/Tiger into for one last try at making a daily driver of it. The G3-era machines are certainly worth trying to breathe new life into for as long as we can.

This brings me to the reason for this message: Have you considered Yellow Dog Linux?

One of my current projects is to try and get Yellow Dog Linux to work on a 12" PowerBook 'Little Al' G4/867. The install went fine, and even with only 384 MB RAM, YDL 6 runs fast. The only thing I haven't tested successfully is the WiFi, as I suspect a bad AirPort card. YDL may give you a few more years' service with the Pismos at performance levels you'd find to be acceptable.

The downside would be having to find open-source alternatives to your favorite OS 9/X programs, and that may be a deal-killer, but I thought the suggestion worth making. Even if the OS switch means that the Pismos have to be replaced by a machine that will use TextWrangler, for example, perhaps YDL will allow for their repurposing for some other use.

At all events, I wish you the best with them and I enjoy, as always, your writing.


Hi Lloyd,

I actually did install Yellow Dog Linux on my old WallStreet back in the early oughts. It was pretty lively, but then so was OS 9 on the WallStreet, and as you mention, there was the issue of finding Linux software to substitute for my Mac productivity suite. There probably are alternatives available, but the investment in time in climbing the learning curve and developing an efficiently productive workflow ecosystem are difficult to justify for a machine that has a short future at best as a work platform.

I've also heard good things about Mint Linux, but it only supports Intel Macs.

The old Pismos are still chugging along reasonably well since I switched to Camino as my workaday browser. It will probably be lack of browser support that will finally kill off these old G3 era machines as useful work tools.


iPhoto '11 No Longer Updating in Snow Leopard

From Nathanael:

Mr. Moore and Mr. Knight,

I have just noticed that iPhoto will no longer update on Macs that are running OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard. Instead, OS X 10.7 Lion is required to install updates 9.3 or 9.3.1.

Since I had not seen this anywhere previously, I thought you guys might want to know.

God Bless,

Hi Nathanael,

Thanks for the heads-up. Hadn't been previously aware.


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Charles Moore has been a freelance journalist since 1987 and began writing for Mac websites in May 1998. His The Road Warrior column was a regular feature on MacOpinion, he is news editor at and a columnist at If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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