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FYI, in addition to publishing Low End Mac and doing some Mac consulting, I'm working a third shift job 2 to 4 nights a week, so replying to emails and phone calls may take some time.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

From Floppy to CD-R in Seven Steps

I worked on a challenging project over the past week, copying files from a handful of 800K and 1.4M floppies and burning them to CD. Some of these files go back to the late 1980s, and there was always the risk that some disks might be unreadable.

My Mac collection is in a storage room in the basement, and I have a desk set up outside the room for work.

Step 1: Set up the old beige Power Mac G3 (giving it a fresh PRAM battery and installing a working hard drive with Mac OS 9.1). Pop in each floppy. If it mounts, copy it to a folder. If not, set it aside to try on another Mac. None of the 800K disks would mount.

Step 2: Pop the floppy drive module in my WallStreet PowerBook, which I always keep handy. No luck with the 800K disks in Mac OS 9.2.2.

Step 3: Dig out the old Macintosh SE, one of very few Macs I own with a built-in 800K floppy drive. The SE was able to mount and copy the 4 disks that the newer Macs couldn't even mount!

Step 4: Find an ImageWriter II printer cable and connect it between the printer ports on the Power Mac and the SE. Enable AppleTalk networking, turn on file sharing, and copy the files to the folder on the Power Mac.

Step 5: Using the same cable and process, copy the files to the "Work" partition on the PowerBook (booted in Mac OS 9.2.2). I am a firm believer in keeping all of my work on a separate hard drive partition.

Step 6: Bring the WallStreet upstairs, connect it to our Ethernet network, reboot into OS X 10.2.8, enable File Sharing, mount the Work partition from my G4 Power Mac running OS X 10.4 "Tiger", and copy the folder to its Work partition.

Step 7: Pop in a blank CD-R disc, drag the copied folders to it, and burn the disc.

This was a real relearning experience. It's been a long time since I've worked with 800K disks that wouldn't mount on a more modern Mac, and it was great having an old SE that could read the disks - which included the client's Masters thesis. And without an Ethernet network in the basement, the PowerBook was a great machine for moving the files to my office.

All in all, I spent more time setting up old Macs, finding cables, etc. than I did actually copying files from the floppy disks. It was also a good opportunity to reaquaint myself with some of my favorite old Macs.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

How Big a Hard Drive Does My Mac Support?

A Low End Mac reader with a Umax SuperMac S900 asked me, "What is the max size HD I can put in my machine?"

Back in those days, Apple still used SCSI drives on its Power Macs - as did the clone makers.

SCSI devices are somewhat intelligent, unlike IDE/ATA/SATA drives which are under control of the operating system and hardware interface. To the best of my knowledge, there is no maximum size for SCSI drives. Mac OS 7.5.1 and earlier cannot handle partition sizes over 2 GB, and from 7.5.2 through 8.0, the maximum is 4 GB. On top of that, you can have up to 8 (or was it 9) partitions per drive. With the introduction of HFS+ in Mac OS 8.1, that jumped to 2 TB.

If you're using more modern hardware with IDE/Ultra ATA hard drives, be sure to read How Big a Hard Drive Can I Put in My iMac, eMac, or Power Mac?, which explains the 128 GB limitation of the IDE bus in G3 and some G4 Macs.


Tuesday, January 19, 2010

G5 CPU upgrades?

I received an email wondering whether it's possible to upgrade the CPU in a Power Mac G5. It seems someone had a 2.5 GHz dual-core G5 module for sale on eBay....

The G5 Power Macs were all designed so that the memory bus ran at one-third (in some low-end models) or one-half of CPU speed, and the last generation dual-core Power Macs had a different architecture than previous G5 Power Macs. My guess is that while it may be possible to swap this CPU into a slower (2.0 or 2.3 GHz) Power Mac G5, the memory bus would not run any faster. Assuming the 2.5 GHz CPUs were running at full speed, this bottleneck would make the upgraded machine slower than a true 2.5 GHz dual-core Power Mac G5.

Then there's the question of whether it would run at 2.5 GHz. My gut feeling is that it would run at the same clock speed as the CPU that the Power Mac was designed for, although I have no hardware knowledge to back that up. While a 2.0 GHz or 2.3 GHz Power Mac G5 would benefit from twin dual-core CPUs, I suspect that would be the only benefit of such a transplant.

If you know more about G5 hardware, please tell me more.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

PRAM Batteries

I've been running my G4 Power Macs with dead PRAM batteries (they keep track of the time, boot drive, etc. when the computer is powered down) for quite some time now. It's really nice how Mac OS X can automatically log into Apple's time server to set the system time at startup.

Not that there hasn't been a downside. For instance, the Mirror Drive Door Power Mac will shut down just fine with a dead PRAM battery, but it will only start up again if you unplug the power cord. Now that I've installed new batteries, I can shut down the MDD and then start it up with the power button again. A small thing, but a lot easier than unplugging the AC cord.

There are quite a few older Macs that won't even boot with a dead PRAM battery - I discovered a few weeks ago that every Mac II, IIx, IIcx, and IIfx that I own would not boot. Now that I have a bunch of fresh PRAM batteries, I can try put in new batteries and determine whether it's a hardware problem or just dead PRAM batteries.

I've been working on a client's Quadra 605, and like most older Macs it will complain at startup that the system time is wrong when there's a dead PRAM battery or no battery. One plus for OS X is that it can synch to a time server without popping up a dialogue box.

In one of the most unusual PRAM incidents in Mac history, the beloved Pismo PowerBook will not boot with a dead PRAM battery. A replacement is about $28 (Other World Computing), but it will also run just fine with the PRAM battery removed. Of course it will lose track of the time, boot drive info, etc., but it will work.


Thursday, October 1, 2009

Maddening Slowdowns

Received an email last week from someone with an Intel-based iMac complaining of a "maddening slowdown" recently, especially with Firefox and Safari. She's running Mac OS X 10.4.11 "Tiger" on a Core 2 Duo iMac with 1 GB of installed RAM - and using Adobe Creative Suite. There's plenty of room on her hard drive (a nearly full hard drive can cause slowdowns).

Most likely culprit: Not enough RAM. You can run Tiger okay with 512 MB of RAM on a PowerPC Mac, but 1 GB is more realistic for Intel Macs. Add to that the memory demands of Adobe Creative Suite, and 2 GB is the least you want. She's ordered 4 GB for her iMac, and that's going to unleash its full potential.

I also suggested she try out Camino, which is my favorite browser (a version of Firefox optimized for Macs). And since she's using Comcast - same as here - I suggested trying OpenDNS, which might also speed things up a bit.

She emailed overnight that yesterday the "frighteningly slow startups" went away, along with a message from Spotlight. I hadn't considered that Spotlight indexing might be a factor, as I haven't typically allowed my G4 Power Macs to sleep, as that unmounts any devices attached to PCI cards - so anything on USB 2.0, for instance. (Since switching to my dual Mac/dual monitor setup with Teleport, I am manually sleeping both Power Macs at the end of my work day. Only the server remains awake 24/7.)

Anyhow, she's thrilled with the startup speed and very happy with Camino. The memory upgrade should arrive soon, and then her iMac will reach its full potential.

UPDATE: The problem returned, and it's sounding more like the hard drive is beginning to fail. Fortunately it's still under AppleCare.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Early iMac G4 Mini FAQ

I've received some inquiries lately regarding early G4 iMacs (the 2002 and Early 2003 models) that don't quite meet the hardware requirements for certain apps.

Can I upgrade or overclock the CPU?
There are no CPU upgrades available, and the general consensus among overclockers is that it's not worth the effort for the small boost in speed. If you need more processing power, you need to move to a more powerful iMac.

Can I upgrade the USB 1.1 port to USB 2.0?
There is no practical way to upgrade the ports on G4 iMacs. If you want or need USB 2.0, you need to buy a last generation (15" 1 GHz, 17" or 20" 1.25 GHz) model.

It's sluggish under Tiger or Jaguar. Can I install more than 1GB of RAM?
No, the early models do not support that. Only the Late 2003 G4 iMacs support 2GB of RAM - and that will improve performance.

Can I upgrade the video card?
No, there is no separate "video card" in G4 iMacs. The last generation G4 iMacs have GeForce 4MX video, which is a step up from GeForce 2MX in earlier models.

The final revision of the G4 iMac is the best of the bunch - it runs a faster CPU, supports more RAM, has better graphics, and supports USB 2.0. If you love the iMac G4 design but have run up against the limitations of the 2002 or Early 2003 models, your only real upgrade option is a Late 2003 iMac.

3 Monitors, 1 Mac

Received an interesting call this morning. The client is developing a new website and needs a Mac that can support 3 displays: two for the user, and one that clients can look at. The Mac Pro isn't really an option right now - even the rare used Mac Pro goes for $2,000 and up. (If not for that third display, I would have suggested a 2009 Mac mini.)

This machine will also be an Internet server, so the client wants a good amount of power. Running "Snow Leopard" would be nice, but it's not essential. In the end, I suggested he contact Mac of All Trades, which had a Power Mac G5 Quad available for $1,000 last week. Plenty of power, and with a second PCI Express video card, easily able to support 3 displays.

In addition, it can use up to 16 GB of RAM, runs Mac OS X 10.5 "Leopard", and uses the same SATA drives as today's Intel-based Macs. RAM is pretty affordable at $22 for 2GB (putting 2GB in my G4 Power Mac would cost $60), and he'll also be able to verify that everything on the site is compatible with PowerPC Macs, not just current Intel ones.