Classic Macs in the Intel Age

Upgrading a Digital Audio G4 to Work Better in Leopard

- 2008.06.02 -

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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 .

I'm taking a little break from the Vintage Mac Network right now due to holidays, but I'll see you in two weeks with an article on my compact Macs.

In the meantime, I thought I'd give you a piece on my 533 MHz dual CPU Digital Audio Power Mac G4.

This Mac ran Tiger (Mac OS X 10.4) at incredible speeds, but I wanted Leopard (OS X 10.5), as I wrote in my Leopard article. It installed fine using LeopardAssist; however the speed was s-l-o-w. I had to go back to Tiger.

After installing Leopard on my Hackintosh, eMac, PowerBook G4, and G4 Pismo, the only machines stuck on Tiger were my Dual USB iBook, the Graphite Clamshell, the G3 iMacs, and the Digital Audio. The G3 machines won't ever run Leopard, but since the DA was actually capable of running it, I thought it'd be a shame not to.

Upgrading the Digital Audio Power Mac

I started with the graphics. I was just about to buy a used Radeon 9500 Mac Edition to replace the original Nvidia GeForce 2 MX when I remembered that I got a Mac flashed GeForce 4 in a box of computer stuff I bought for $1 last year. It's not as good as the Radeon, but it's okay. I put the card in the Mac's AGP slot, and all was well.

But I still had more work to do. I dug through some boxes of components and eventually found two 256 MB SDRAM sticks. I put them right next to the 512 MB (2 x 256) that came with the machine, and I had a whopping 1 GB. I already had two 10 GB drives in the Mac, which makes 20 GB (if I remember 1st grade math correctly). Good under Tiger, but pretty much useless under Leopard.

I took a 20 GB 7200 RPM spare drive that came out of a Dell and installed it under the DVD drive, where the Zip drive was on some configurations of the Mac. That would be the install drive, while the others would be my storage drives, since Leopard boots and runs faster on a 7200 RPM drive.

Finally, I put in a new DVD/CD-RW (Combo) drive.

What originally was an old Power Mac too slow for Leopard (yet compatible with it), was now an old Power Mac with adequate performance for the latest feline.

But would it work? LeopardAssist the Almighty handled the Open Firmware part and writing a boot file, and I handled pressing the C key.

Minutes later, "Mac OS X is installing on your 'Macintosh HD' volume". Hurrah!

It All Works!

After it was installed, I found out that Time Machine worked. So did Front Row. And Cover Flow in the Finder. And the 3D Dock. And everything else. Even the DVD Player, which "requires at least a 1.6 GHz CPU."

This Digital Audio was mighty powerful at the time of its release, with dual 533 MHz processors, but it's now too slow on the standard configuration. However, if you upgrade the RAM to 512 MB, you've got yourself a sweet Tiger machine. Upgrade it like I did, and you've got yourself a sweet Leopard machine.

Isn't it cool how a PowerPC G4 based computer under the 1 GHz mark can be upgraded to handle the latest and greatest operating system out there? A Dell of the same age won't handle Vista.

Long Term Value

Another example: Get a Dell from 2004. It was the heyday of the Celerons in Dell computers, and Apple had its pretty little iMac G4 and the freakin' sweet Power Mac G5. Don't upgrade any of these machines. Just leave them plain old standard. Then try using the latest operating system. Vista might install on the CelDell (Celeron Dell), but it would be slow.

Try installing Leopard on the Macs. It would work very nicely, especially on the G5, being the world's first 64-bit personal computer.

Kudos to Apple for making its Macs last so long!

Looking Ahead

Next week, I'll be on the go, and in two weeks, I will bring you an article on my compact Macs. In three weeks, I will write a piece on the desktops.

And in four weeks, I will hopefully bring you a little surprise article.

Want a hint? Let's just say "Portable" "Mac" and "1989".

Share your perspective on the Mac by emailing with "My Turn" as your subject.

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