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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, 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.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

MacDraw II files

Just finished an interesting project - 4 MacDraw files on an 800K floppy. Fortunately my WallStreet PowerBook has a floppy drive module (thanks, Dave O.), as USB floppy drives can't read the old 800K disks.

I learned that a fair number of programs can open MacDraw 1.x files, but the ones I had and the ones I downloaded ran stuck. So did MacDraw 1.0, when I finally located the install disk. Must be MacDraw II or MacDraw Pro format, both proprietary ones that few programs can touch.

ClarisWorks 3.0 and 5.0 couldn't touch them, and if I have ClarisWorks 4.0 somewhere, I haven't been able to locate it. GraphicConverter, the ultimate Mac program for converting graphic files, was also unable to open these files. I downloaded a few promising apps (even one that required me to reboot from Tiger into Leopard), and finally found one that worked.

Mission accomplished. Files saved with the new app, saved as PDF and EPS, and on the way to the client via email. A real learning experience - and one very happly client!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Good-bye, original Mac mouse

I shipped out my only working M0100 beige mouse - the version that only shipped with the original Mac and the Fat Mac. The connector to the computer is squared off. With later Macs, it was rounded off. It's going to someone with a Mac 128K whose mouse stopped working in one direction.

I received an inquiry today about transferring some old MacDraw files from floppies, as well as possibly converting them to a more modern format. Tools at the ready....

Looks like I've been stiffed by the guy who wanted to know why Photoshop CS4 wouldn't work on his Power Mac G5 (unsupported video card). He seemed surprised that I'd send a bill for my work.

Friday, August 7, 2009

High Photoshop CS4 requirements

Living on the trailing edge of technology (my Digital Audio Power Mac is from 2001, my Mirror Drive Door from 2002), I wasn't aware of the steep hardware requirements for Photoshop CS4 - until this morning. Someone with a Power Mac G5 (the 2003 version) installed CS4 and got a message that his video card wasn't good enough.

It turns out that Photoshop requires OpenGL 2.0 and Shader 3.0 support these days, which the G5's old video card doesn't support. Of course, nowadays AGP is old technology, so finding a more modern card that's supported may be a challenge. Funny thing is, Adobe says CS4 is compatible with Mac OS X 10.4.11, but OpenGL 2.0 is only supported in 10.5 and later [on PowerPC Macs].

See http://developer.apple.com/graphicsimaging/opengl/capabilities/ for a huge chart listing which video cards/graphic processors support what levels of OpenGL - but with no indication if those cards are AGP or PCI-e. Sigh.

Another day, another learning experience. :-)

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Dead End with Damaged Word Files

Frustrating. Someone wondered if I could recover some corrupt Word files, so I said, "Send me one, I'll see what I can do." Text recovery I could have done, but no luck with images in the document, which was important to him.

Frustrating thing is, there are a host of Word document recovery utilities for Windows - so many that you'd think this might be a common problem. If I had a Windows machine, I could have helped. One more plus for Intel-based Macs, but I'm not there yet.

The client with the dial-up notification problem downgraded to 10.4.4 and the problem went away. Upgraded to 10.4.11, and it was back. I'll be mailing him a disc with all of the OS X 10.4 updaters, since he's on dial-up and downloading them can take forever.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Getting Started with Low End Mac Services

Launched Low End Mac Services this afternoon - already 2 clients.

One phoned, uses dial-up with his two PowerPC Macs (a G4 'Book and a G5 desktop) running Mac OS X 10.4.11. Both stopped notifying him of incoming phone calls about 1-1/2 weeks ago. Gave him a list of things to look into. I'll check back tomorrow to see if we solved the problem.

The other emailed, has an original Macintosh and needs an Apple M0100 mouse. Fortunately I have two beige M0100 mice - and one of them works vertically and horizontally. Fairly clean and ready to ship.

"Well begun is half done." old Dutch proverb