Archives for: September 2005

PowerBook PowerUPs part two

26/09/05 | by admin [mail] | Categories: Hardware, Mac

In the first part I talked about upgrading a Wallstreet, and making it a tri-boot system (OSX, Linux, OS9). In this part I return to the PowerBook.

So, many moons went by and I concentrated on upgrading my PowerMac G4 (a story for another time). After the problems with the Wallstreet and tri-booting, I intended getting a new world PowerBook. I was considering a Lombard, Pismo or 667MHz Titanium (you can replace the logic board on a 667 titanium with a 1GHz). I just needed something to come up at the right price and time.

About a week ago, I sold my PowerMac in a bold attempt to see if I could make some money. I broke even. But I needed to get a replacement system.

Pismos were selling for around 400AUD, in various configurations (more RAM, larger hard drives). 400AUD seemed a bit much, but if it had the right accessoried, then I would consider it.

As luck would have it, a 400MHz Pismo turned up well under price. I kept an eye on it, and managed to get it for about 300AUD. The interesting thing is that the specs were listed as the stock specs (64Mb RAM, 6Gb HDD). This meant that the seller was mistaken, or it had never been upgraded. I like to upgrade, so I wasn't bothered.

When I picked it up on Friday, I made the pleasant discovery that it had hardly been used. Normally, G3 Powerbooks are covered in scratches, and the track pad is worn. This machine was immaculate condition. That explained why it was still in its original spec. Apart from the Powerbook itself there was also the original install disks and paperwork (apple registration forms etc), a USB mouse, a USB floppy drive, power adaptor, cables (modem, ethernet etc) and a laptop bag (not apple, unfortunately, but still nice).

So, I brang it home and started playing with it. It still had MacOS 9 on it. 9.04 that is. To install Panther, it needs at least 128Mb of RAM. I had some SO-DIMMs lying around, so I tried them out. I had thought that I had two 128Mb modules, but I could only find one and some smaller modules. I installed the extra 128Mb for 192Mb total.

Before installing Panther (Tiger needs 256Mb), I decided to update the firmware. This needs to be done from OS9, and if I was going to install OSX, I would wipe OS9, so it made sense to update it while I still had OS9 installed. Also, Apple recommends having up to date firmware before installing OSX.

As I expected the firmware was up to date. Interestingly, the updater also required at least OS 9.1. This meant that I had to up date the OS first. I have 9.2 on CD, but it will update only 9.1 and not 9.04. This meant downloading the OS9.1 updater.

Apple doesn't make it easy to find MacOS 9 stuff. But I found the updater eventually, and updated the OS and the firmware. It was ready for Panther.

I decided that since I was going to upgrade the hard drive later anyway, I would just install Panther over the top of OS 9. So I upgraded OS 9.1 to OS 9.2, because it works better with OSX. I then installed Panther over the top of 9.2

It worked, and both were selectable in the early boot menu.

I managed to network it with my PCs and PowerMacs and transfer some files.

Then I decided to take the plunge and upgrade the hard drive. I had an 80Gb drive in an external case. It was going to be my portable Aminet, but I hadn't installed the Aminet yet. I had just been using temporarily with the PowerMac for backup. I figured I could by another drive later. This project was more pressing.

Installing the hard drive involves the removal of the CPU daughter card. I decided to take the opportunity and swap the RAM modules so that the 128Mb was in the lower slot, and the 64Mb was in the upper (and more easily accessable) slot. This means that when I upgrade the RAM, it will be easier. I took out the old 6Gb IBM drive and installed the new(ish) Samsung 80Gb drive.

A bigger drive is important, because it means the there will be room for all my stuff from the old PowerMac (leaving this week), and will also make tribooting realistic.

Before partitioning the drive, I went to the Yellow Dog website, to find out about tribooting. They recommend making YDL the first partition (so it boots into yaboot on the YDL partition, and gives you a boot menu for either OSX, YDL or classic).

First step is to partition the drive with drive utility on the OSX install disk. You make 3 partitions, marking the first as freespace to be partitioned by YDL later. I left about 10Gb for YDL (a full YDL install is about 6Gb), and left 6Gb at the end for MacOS 9 (the least I could). This left around 55Gb for OSX.

I then proceeded with the Panther install, and then a 9.2 install. I updated Panther to 10.3.9, in an attempt to get 'Setup Assistant' working. The idea was to use 'Setup Assistant' to transfer the setting and data from the PowerMac to the PowerBook. But it didn't work.

I started on the YDL install. On the first attempt it complained of a corrupted file (on disk 1), possibly due to bad media. I did an MD5 check on the images I had burned the CDs from. The MD5s were wrong on every disk. I downloaded the images again (thank god for cable). On attempt two, it failed (and needed a reboot) on disk 2. Attempt three, I did a media check. Disk one was okay, but 2, 3, and 4 were all bad. I reburnt disk 2, and ran media check on it while I reburnt disk 3. The reburnt disk 2 failed. I checked disc 3 while I reburnt disc 2. The reburnt disk 3 failed, and so did the re-reburnt disk 2.

At this point, I suspect a faulty CD-RW drive (it's an old one in a firewire case). I have run out of disks, so that's it. No YDL.

I decide to try Ubuntu. It is only 1 disk, so there is less chance of failure. I also like the Ubuntu idea. I burn Ubuntu to a CD-RW, and load it up. It installs, although it is a little less user friendly in the partitioning. I had to partition by hand to make sure OSX OS9 weren't killed. This also allowed me to set the swap partition to a sane size.

FWIW, a swap partition's size should be dictated not by the size of the physical RAM but by the speed of the hard drive. If the swap is too big, it will take too long to fill and empty. This means if you are doing something very memory intensive, it will take longer for you to get an 'out of memory' message before it crashes or locks up. Besides, the more physical RAM you have, the less need you have of swap.

I have already ordered 2x 256Mb SO-DIMMs, so I should have enough RAM for day to day stuff.

Anyways, I finished installing Ubuntu, and miracles of miracles, I even got it working with my network and internet. Internet in particular has been a challenge with Linux and my LAN. Basically, it has been problems with DHCP and DNS. With Windows (98/2k/XP) and MacOS (8-X), it 'just works' with the internet. But it has never 'just worked' for me with linux (Knoppix, Debian, Red Hat, Yellow Dog). I am sure that it has been DHCP problems with some of those installations, but I think that there have also been problems with DNS that I didn't know about. In theory the router acts as a DNS, but linux can't see this while Windows and MacOS can.

In Ubuntu, it recognised the LAN and I could access SMB shares on the PCs (haven't tried it with a Mac yet). But to access the net, I had to give it a DNS address (from my ISP). It wouldn't work with the routers DNS. I don't know why.

So, now I have a triboot PowerBook. After all these months. It isn't perfect. The trackpad is a bit too sensitive (like that in YDL, too) and Ubuntu doesn't support MP3s by default (the instructions to fix it didn't work for me). My collection is in MP3, and converting to OGG would mean two copies of the library. And the yabootloader on Ubuntu only gives me the option of Ubuntu and OSX, and not MacOS.

Ubuntu is very easy to use though. Much nicer than my more recent experiences with YDL2.3, and Debian PPC. 5.10 is released in a few days (well, October sometime) so maybe that will be nicer.

I still have to suck the data off the PowerMac and put it on the PowerBook. I am also waiting on RAM so I can install Tiger (I will try 'Migration Assistant' on Tiger). Then the next things are airport, and a CPU upgrade. I am waiting for the PowerLogix BlueChip to become available again. They said shipping will resume in October, so hopefully soon. I might also get more RAM, if prices become sane (ie about 80AUD/512Mb).


PowerBook G3 power ups

26/09/05 | by admin [mail] | Categories: Hardware, Mac

Earlier this year, I found work as an Apple Tech. Part of the deal was getting certification. I was leaving home at 7am and getting back at 7pm, spending about 2 hours a day on busses.

I thought that if I had a laptop, I could get some study done on the bus.

I did some searching around, and discovered that the PowerBook G3 (well, the last three model families) are pretty upgradable. Unlike the later PowerBook G4s and iBooks, they have a CPU daughter card. There are a few companies selling CPU daughter card upgrades.

Upgrading a laptop (and an apple laptop at that) would be a nice experience :)

I decided to buy a Wallstreet series II. After some hunting around, I found one for about 250AUD with power supply, 233MHz G3, CD-ROM, floppy and extra RAM (128Mb total). The wallstreet can be upgraded with an apple supplied DVD-ROM drive and DVD video decoder card, larger hard drive (standard PC type), a 500MHz G3 or G4, up to 512Mb RAM, and USB, firewire and wifi PC-Cards. There are also third party optical drives for DVD ROM, combo drives (DVD-ROM+CD-RW) and CD-RW drives.

The plan was to install OSX and slowly upgrade the machine.

The first thing I discovered was that the battery only lasted 20mins. This ruled out using it on the bus. I bought a replacement battery for 100AUD.

The next thing I did was install OSX. I discovered that the Wallstreet only supported 10.2 and I needed 10.3 for certification. Bugger.

The Wallstreet also lacked a CD burner, and without USB or Firewire, it would be a pain to add one. I also had a laptop drive I intended to install in an external case. I bought a Firewire/USB combo PC-Card with OSX support. I installed it and it worked very well. I could plug in a USB mouse and use that with OSX.

Nice toy, but it wasn't fulfilling its primary purpose. So, I decided to sell it. Selling it with the USB/firewire card as an inticement, I made a small profit. :)

Not having learned my lesson, I came across another Wallstreet. This one had a 266MHz G3, 10Gb hard drive and 192Mb of RAM. It was cheaper than the first one.

I wasn't working as an Apple Tech anymore, so the incentive was to play with it and try to make another small profit.

I bought a 54Mbit wifi card. It worked with Airport. This is nice, because the Wallstreet isn't meant to have Airport support.

The next thing was to try and make a tri-boot system with OS9, 10.2 and Yellow Dog Linux (YDL). This is a bit complicated.

The Wallstreet is an 'Old World' Mac. Basically, it uses an older firmware which lacks some functionalities. What this means is that YDL needs a boot loader on a 'classic' (MacOS 9) partition. It also means that the OSX partition needs to be in the first 8Gb. Also, there is no 'early boot screen' to allow selecting the boot partition (a nice feature of later Macs).

I decided to partition the drive roughly as OSX, YDL, MacOS 9. I partitioned it up, installed OSX and OS9 and then YDL.

It then got a bit complicated. To boot into YDL, you boot into MacOS 9 and then select YDL from an early boot menu. To boot into MacOS 9, you select MacOS from the same menu. But to boot into OSX you need to boot all the way into MacOS 9 and go to control panel and change the startup volume to OSX. This didn't always work. Also, once you had done that, you couldn't boot into YDL. You needed to set up MacOS 9 as the boot partition. This didn't always work and PRAM resets were common.

A complicating factor was that the screen would sometimes go 'to sleep' and not wake up in OSX. This was probably due to a flat PRAM battery, or possibly bad RAM. PRAM resets, and NVRAM resets and the rest were often neccessary.

I gave up. The Old World firmware made it too much of a hassle.

I sold the Wallstreet with the WiFi card, and made a small profit.

I will continue the story in part two.


Powering the PowerMac

26/09/05 | by admin [mail] | Categories: Hardware, Mac

Over the last year (or there abouts) I have been playing with PowerMac G4s. The first one was for a friend, which I upgraded for them to use for video work.

Upgrading PowerMacs is an interesting exercise. The basic components are fairly straight forward and PC like. You have a mobo (main logic board in mac tech speak) with PCI slots (64bit PCI slots) and AGP slot, graphics card, RAM, hard drive, optical drive, and mouse/keyboard. But some components aren't so PC like. Memory for instance. Macs can get freaky about memory. So you need to make sure that you have 'apple certified' RAM. The other fussy component is graphics cards. Mac graphics cards need Mac compatible firmware. This means you can't just by a PC graphics card amd plug it in a Mac. You need to buy a special Mac Version, which can cost twice or even up to five times as much. There are ways around these things.

I am planning an adition to the main site at which will outline some of the ways around these problems.

But, back to my friend's Mac. He wants a G4 for video editing with two screens, heaps of hard drive space, DVD burner (superdrive in apple speak) and 1Gb RAM and 500MHz minimum. He has a budget of 1500AUD. The simplest solution is to get a PowerMac G4 with these specs and buy two CRT monitors. But that would put him over budget by about 250AUD. So I need to be a bit devious. I start looking at base units (just a PowerMac with nothing fancy), and what can be upgraded.

PowerMac G4s use standard (parallel) ATA hard drives, so I can drop in some cheap PC hard drives. I can cross that off the list of problems, or so I think. Not all G4s support 48bit LBA (for hard drives bigger than 120Gb). So, I need to look at which models do, and what else can be done. The lowest spec (ie cheapest) G4 that supports 120Gb+ Hard drives is the Quicksilver 2002. But buying one of those means no money for anything else. This means adding a third party hard drive controller.

I start looking, and discover (happily) that Serial ATA controllers are under 100AUD, and cheaper than PATA controllers. Problem solved. Buy a Serial ATA controller and a couple of SATA drives.

I still need a base unit. I look around and find cheap(ish) processor upgrades. For about 300AUD, I can upgrade the CPU in the lowest G4 (AGP, 350MHz) to 1GHz. Perfect. This means I can buy the cheapest AGP PowerMac I can find and add a faster CPU. The math works out on the money. It is cheaper to buy crap and upgrade it, than get a better machine (the opposite to the PC world, generally).

This means, however, that I need to find a second graphics card for dual monitor support. It is a bit insane really, because even the Rage 128 chipset found in base G4s can provide dual head. Apple just has decided not to implement it. So the cheap option is a PCI graphics card taken from a PCI PowerMac G3 (b&w) or G4. These are going for up to 100AUD. But I will try and get something cheap.

So that leaves RAM. As I said before RAM is a shit with Macs. The cheapest option is to buy a Mac with RAM, or buy PC RAM, test it, and if it doesn't work, on sell it. Both are time consuming. But I now know what I am looking for and my price ranges.

After some weeks of searching, I find a PowerMac G4 400MHz with a two video cards. The CPU is too slow, but the second video card makes life easy. Interestingly, it has more RAM than advertised. 1Gb, in fact. That's another problem solved, and cheaply. So, I am left to find a CPU upgrade and get the drives.

The initial plan was to buy a 1GHz CPU, but I come across a dual 500MHz processor board. I start doing some research. It turns out that a dual 500 will have performance comparable to a single 500 up to a single 1GHz, depending on the task. OSX has nice dual processor support, so the dual 500 might be preferable. If I can get it cheaper than the 1GHz, it will leave more money for hard drives. As it turns out, I got it for about two third the price of 1GHz.

Now, I have to find a superdrive. The Mac is a little bit funny about DVD burner support. It has what is termed 'native' support or iApps support. This means that you can use the Superdrive directly from the OS and apple software like iMovie, iDVD and iTunes. You can use just about any drive with third party burning software like Toast, but only apple supplied drives and a few specific models have 'native' support (without hacks). The most common of these models, the easiest to get, are the Pioneer DVR-10x series. The DVR-106 and 107 have plus/minus support, but the 103, 104 and 105 all work. I manage to track down a 106 at an acceptable price, about 70AUD.

Screens are easy. Standard CRTs with VGA connectors. I picked up two 17 inchers for under 200AUD.

So I am left with only the hard drives to buy. I deliberately left these till last. They are the easiest thing to buy, and the longer I wait the cheaper they will be. I have about 400AUD left. 200Gb SATAs are about 200AUD each.

Final specs are:

PowerMac G4, dual 500MHz, 1Gb RAM, 2x200Gb SATA, SATA controller card, dual head ATi Radeon Mac edition 32Mb PCI, ATi Rage 128 Pro 16Mb AGP, DVR-106 superdrive, 100Mb Zip drive, two 17" CRTs, and OSX Panther (10.3). All for under $1500.


Current Hardware Projects

This is all about my on going fumblings with hardware. Regular entries should provide an indication of the depths of my obsession.

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