My Turn

Hot Rodding an Old Power Mac for OS X

Maxwell M Cabral - 2002.10.07

My Turn is Low End Mac's column for reader-submitted articles. It's your turn to share your thoughts on all things Mac (or iPhone, iPod, etc.) and write for the Mac web. Email your submission to Dan Knight .

OS X on older Power Macs is something that most people haven't tried or haven't had to, but these older machines are perfect for it. As long as you have a G4, it's as smooth as silk (assuming you have enough RAM installed). I recommend the fastest upgrade possible; a 450, 700, or 800 MHz upgrade will be perfect especially the latter. Installing OS X took 20 minutes with Sonnet's OS X enabler.

See Low End Mac's Guide to G4 Daughter Cards for "PCI card" upgrade options and Guide to G4 ZIF Upgrades for ZIF upgrades for the beige G3, blue & white G4, and Yikes! G4.

This system is going to be used for tons of Photoshop, Illustrator, and Quark work as the head machine of my mom's graphic design biz, and she's really impressed with the 800 MHz G4 performance. The AltiVec unit really pulls its weight compared to the G3 that was pulled from this computer, a previously upgraded Power Mac 7300.

The only problem I've had with X is with another 7300 that I own. I made the mistake of falling for some slick wording in the description of some 128 MB DIMMs that I bought that had a 4k refresh instead of a 2k refresh. If you stick with Club Mac, Viking, or another trusted memory, you should be fine - and make sure it has a 2k refresh.

Classic boots faster then it seems it should, but it's probably because OS X doesn't have to spend as much time checking the RAM as OS 9 did. X definitely runs faster than 9 did on the G3/400, and it hasn't bombed once. It boots in seconds, which is a dream if you know what I'm talking about (1 GB of RAM, which is needed so much in any part of the graphic design biz, can make your system take forever to boot).

Future upgrades will include a Radeon 7000, an Ultra Wide SCSI card, and Mac OS X 10.2.

The hardware that is already fast enough includes the 12x CD and two 10,000 rpm hard drives. This is only my opinion, but the biggest speed boost on any computer is a fast 10,000+ rpm hard drive. You don't have to run out and buy one right now, but the next time you buy a new hard drive consider a high rpm hard drive (this applies for all computers, even the new 1.25 GHz G4).

If you have a CD drive slower then 8 or 12x, consider an upgrade.

Most of all, have fun while your doing this - and I must thank Sonnet for making such a great product.

But wait there's more.

I started this article a before Roger Harris had his article published, and I wanted to just touch on that a little. I must say that he's right; this Mac is six (almost seven) years old, but that's the joy of the Mac. Its estimated life is 4-6 years, but this one's life expectancy has just become about 10-12 years because it has the same megahertz rating as the iMac G4 800. Of course, it might not make it that long and won't run as fast, but until they drop all "Old World" support, it'll be running hard. And by then I'll have a new toy.

The SCSI bus is slow, but everyone will ether be on a fast SCSI card or ATA133 card (if they need the speed) soon enough, and my mom, who will shortly be running her entire graphic design business on hot rodded machines, has felt no slow down with the internal bus, since Photoshop and Illustrator both run their work files in RAM when possible and leave the system quiet except for the CPU fan.

My final word is that I because don't have $1,700 to spend on a new Mac - or even $1, 000 to spend on a slightly older Mac - upgrading this way makes the most sense.

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