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PPCMLA Press Corps

PPCMLA How-tos, Tips, Tricks, and Articles

Shades of CHRP

November 14th, 2009

I recently found an IBM 333MHz 604e ZIF module on eBay.  I don’t know for sure what machine it comes out of, but it’s most likely an RS/6000 of some sort such as the IBM RS/6000 43p Model 140. I had a hunch that IBM capitalized on their R&D for CHRP hardware by rolling the ZIF module design originally intended for Mac OS clones into their pSeries machines when CHRP died a slow and lingering death.  And if that hunch is correct, then these processor cards should work in a ZIF-based Mac like the beige G3.

IBM PPC 604e vs XLR8 Motorola PPC 750IBM PPC 604e vs XLR8 IBM PPC 750: Back
The 333MHz 604e and a G3 ZIF compare favorably.  They are the same size and have the same pin count.  The 604e is slightly taller than the G3, but only maybe by 1 or 2mm or so. So I set about fitting the 604e into a desktop Beige G3 I had lying around doing nothing.

My first observation is that the fit is a little tight. The module didn’t drop into the socket effortlessly as one would expect with a Zero Insertion Force module. That might be because some of the pins weren’t perfectly straight. This is a 2nd hand processor module, after all. The second observation is that fitting the G3 heatsink over the taller 604e is a little difficult. It will fit, but it takes an unsettling amount of force to secure the heatsink clip to both sides of the ZIF socket.


Knowing that the module is indicated as a 333MHz part, I set the motherboard jumpers for 6x (set jumpers 2, 5, 6, and 7 for a 6x CPU multiplier, a 66MHz bus, and 33.3 MHz PCI slots). Of course, I don’t know whether or not this particular 604e will support a 6x multiplier, but it seems like a pretty safe bet that it does. And what do you know, the Mac chimes!

It booted all the way to the desktop. I ran Apple System Profiler, NewerTech Gauge Pro, and MacBench 5 to show me info about the CPU module. All three recognize it as a PowerPC 604e. Interestingly, Apple System Profiler and Gauge Pro both say it’s a 333MHz part, but MacBench 5 recognizes it only as 166MHz (half the expected clock speed). I ran integer and FPU tests in MacBench 5 to rate the CPU relative to a stock 300MHz Beige G3. The results were surprising. The integer test turned in a dismal 525 which is roughly half what I would have expected. The FPU test turned in 1104 which beat the stock G3 by a hair. So the MacBench scores bear out the notion that the CPU really is only running at 166MHz. Hmm. Does anyone know why that might be or how to get the module to run at the full 333MHz?


Incidentally, the heatsink got pretty hot while the system was booted. I didn’t have a thermistor, but it was definitely hot to the touch and considerably hotter than the G3 every gets.

The End of the Road

September 5th, 2009

It's the end of the road for PowerPCApple has finally drawn the line in the sand.  There will be no more Mac OS X upgrades for PowerPC-based Macs.  Mac OS X 10.6 “Snow Leopard” will only run on Intel machines.  We all knew it was coming, but it’s a sad day nevertheless.  This means that PowerPC Mac users are facing more limited upgrade options.  Eventually, developers will stop releasing universal binaries that run on Mac OS X 10.5 Leopard.  When that happens, Mac users can:

  1. Buy a new Intel Mac and run the latest Mac OS X compatible applications
  2. Install Linux and run free alternatives to the current commercial software
  3. Keep using what they already have installed

Some people are claiming that PowerPC users are being left out in the cold.  While that may be true from an Apple-centric perspective, it is far from reality.  PowerPC still has significant support in the OSS area.  And remember that your PowerPC Mac is still 100% as useful as it was on the day you bought it – it hasn’t lost any features since that day.

That said, this could be an excellent opportunity for hobbyists, collectors, and other curious individuals to pick up some PowerPC hardware for cheap.  Be on the lookout for those cast-offs, folks!

Using an HP HDTV as a monitor

September 4th, 2009

HP LC4276NI’ve got this 42″ HP LCD TV we bought a few years ago when HP was having a major blow-out sale after Thanksgiving. The TV was discontinued, and we got a massive discount on it. Ever since then, I’ve been struggling to get it working with a variety of Macs so we can use Front Row to play back our sizable movie collection on the nice widescreen display.

The TV supports 480i, 480p, 720p (actually 768p), 1080i, and 1080p. But if you’ve ever tried to hook up a computer to an HDTV via an analog connection (VGA), you know that just knowing the display resolutions doesn’t make it plug and play. But DisplayConfigX lets you set up custom display profiles to make your Mac work with just about any display.

For the longest time, I just didn’t have the patience to run through the trial-and-error process to get the display settings just right. But then I bought a nice iMac G4 1GHz with a bad LCD inverter. Hmm, perfect opportunity to get that LCD TV working…

So I finally sat down and took a couple hours to get the display working as a monitor on the iMac. Under the Timing menu for my monitor, I entered these values:
DisplayConfig X Timing Settings

  • Horizontal Active: 1360
  • Horizontal Front Porch: 144
  • Horizontal Sync: 144
  • Horizontal Back Porch 160
  • Horizontal Total (not editable): 1808
  • Vertical Active: 768
  • Vertical Front Porch: 18
  • Vertical Sync: 3
  • Vertical Back Porch: 14
  • Vertical Total (not editable): 803
  • Refresh rate: 59.993 Hz

The TV’s actual resolution is 1080p (1920×1080), but it supports 1366×768 (768p). I couldn’t get 1366 to work as a horizontal resolution, and the settings I used above were the best balance between my patience and image. There is still a pair of small black bands on the edges of the screen, but there isn’t any distortion, the image is pretty close to centered, and the iMac’s NVIDIA GeForce 4MX handles it easily. (Interestingly, DisplayConfigX insists that 1080p resolutions are out of range for the video card.)

For those looking for similar settings, my exact HDTV is the HP LC4276N which shows up to the Mac as an LC1080N in the Displays preference pane. Other models in this series are the LC4776N, LC4272N, LC4270N, LC3772N, LC3770N, LC3272N, and LC3270N. As I don’t have any of those other displays to test, I can’t guarantee that my settings will work with your TV, so your mileage may vary.

A final note for the curious: I disconnected the built-in LCD. Once the display is disconnected, the Open Firmware restriction against using external monitors in anything other than mirroring mode is lifted. However, if you don’t want to disconnect your built-in LCD, you’ll have to apply Screen Spanning Doctor.

Let’s kick Intel’s ass!

September 2nd, 2009

Remember when the PowerPC was the processor to beat? Back in the mid/late 90s, the PowerPC showed a lot of promise. In fact, it claimed bragging rights to being the first mainstream desktop processor to get to 300MHz.

But these were dark times for Apple. Clone makers were eating Apple’s lunch. Apple licensed Mac OS (and Motorola and IBM licensed PowerPC chips and reference boards) to expand the installed base of Mac OS compatible PowerPC computers by eating away at the Windows/Intel market share. They hoped clone makers would market their boxes to PC users and be able to capture new business. Instead, the clone makers competed directly with Apple for the existing Mac users without capturing much if any new business. And Power Computing was completely annihilating Apple with machines that out-performed Apple’s at lower prices.

Power Computing had some pretty creative advertising. Unfortunately, they did less “fighting back for the Mac” and more biting the hand that fed them. But that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy some of the old propaganda.

I grabbed the following images from the web archive of the old PowerWatch website. Enjoy!

Flag Bearer Sluggo Soldier Billy

Vimage Vpower for PowerBook 1400

May 5th, 2009

This is just a quick pointer for all you suffering PowerBook 1400 users out there. If you are having a hard time finding a copy of the drivers for your Vimage Vpower G3 upgrade for your PowerBook 1400, you can download it here.


iPhone and iPod Touch Mail Filters & Rules

February 8th, 2009

If you have an iPod Touch or an iPhone, you have no doubt realized by now that the Mail app does not filter your email. There is no way to set up any rules or filters. I subscribe to a variety of email lists, so my inbox is quickly flooded. Quite by accident, I discovered a workaround that allows email on my iPhone to be automatically routed to any folder I wish…

I happen to subscribe to MobileMe. I’ve been using since it was named iTools. But I only really started to use it in earnest when I started using more than one computer frequently. I set it up to automatically synchronize all my information (including my desktop Mail.app rules) between all my devices. Of course, Mail on the iPhone doesn’tuse rules. But one day I left Mail.app running on my desktop at home when I got up and went out. I was pleasantly surprised to find when I checked my mail on my iPhone that email was being correctly routed!

The mail rules were running on my desktop at home and appropriately filtering my email. And because MobileMe was actively synchronizing my email, the filtered mailbox was available on my iPhone.

So if you are a subscriber to MobileMe, just keep Mail.app running on your Mac at home to keep your mail appropriately filtered on your iPhone. Naturally, this tip will not work with a POP email account, but if you keep your email stored on a Microsoft Exchange server or use an IMAP mailbox, I don’t see why this wouldn’t work for you.


Pizzamac LC

February 3rd, 2009

Recalling the adventure of the P-P-P-PowerBook, an eBayer by the name of “solidus_mgs” has listed a rare Apple prototype Pizzamac LC. I won’t ruin the surprise for you, so you’ll just have to check out the auction for yourself!

No doubt eBay will remove this auction in short order, so when that happens, I’ve also printed the auction to a PDF (thank you OS X for your built-in print to PDF capability!) which I’ve attached to this post.


I Hate StuffIt Expander

January 1st, 2009

[Update: New direct download link for Expander 2010]

Over the years, I have come to hate StuffIt Expander. But not because StuffIt Expander is bad software.

Back in the System 7 days, it was the only way to fly. Aladdin Systems made great compression & decompression utilities for the Macintosh. StuffIt Deluxe was a must-have tool for any Macintosh power user.

Because of the bizarre dual-fork file architecture employed by Apple where a resource fork carried icons, pictures, sounds, fonts, and other data used by an application or a file and a data fork carried the binary executable code or other binary data used by a file, simple compression utilities like zip programs were insufficient for fully capturing all the information contained in a Mac file. Many novice Mac users would learn the hard way that zipping up an application for use later would only result in terminal corruption of the file. The StuffIt suite of tools for Mac cleanly solved this problem by transparently archiving both the resource and data forks in the same StuffIt archive.

StuffIt Expander and DropStuff encoder were included with OS 9The software was easy to use. Just drag and drop the files or folders you wanted to archive onto the DropStuff icon to create an archive. Double click on an archive or drag it to Expander to decompress it. And it was as simple to obtain as it was to use. StuffIt Expander was blessed by Apple and included in all operating system releases as their tool of choice for compressing and decompressing files. If you wanted an updated version, you could visit the Aladdin page on the internet and download a new version.

But something happened when Apple transitioned to Mac OS X.

Files used in Mac OS X no longer required resource forks. Applications use special directory structures that through the magic of OS X appear as a single executable file to the end user. The need for a utility to compress resource forks and data forks into the same archive is no longer present. And at the same time, Apple introduced a new zip feature to the Finder in Mac OS X “Panther” v10.3 along the way that does, in fact, include resource forks in zip archives.Zip archives can be created natively in OS X since 10.3 Panther

In April of 2004, Aladdin Systems became a wholly owned subsidiary of International Microcomputer Software (IMSI), Inc. In July of that same year, Aladdin Systems was forced to change it’s name to Allume Systems as a condition of a trademark suit settlement with Aladdin Knowledge Systems. Not much changed, really. StuffIt was still StuffIt, and the website which now read “Allume” instead of “Aladdin” was otherwise familiar. And then in July of 2005, Allume Systems was sold to Smith Micro Software, Inc.

This time, Allume Systems branding all but disappeared. By the winter of 2008, the website became branded with Smith Micro logos and a variety of tools which have nothing in common with the StuffIt heritage. Anime and PC compatibility applications appear along side the familiar StuffIt suite.

Finally, when Apple released Mac OS X 10.4 “Tiger”, the company stopped including StuffIt Expander with the operating system. Now, if you wanted to expand those old .sit files hanging around your hard drive from OS 9 days or that you still sometimes stumble across on the Internet, you have to download a copy of StuffIt Expander from Smith Micro’s website.

Starting sometime back in the latter OS 8 days or early OS 9 days, Aladdin Systems started making it difficult to obtain a copy of the free StuffIt Expander without revealing your name and email address. This was annoying, but there was almost no need to download anything from their website because Apple included a reasonably up-to-date copy of StuffIt Expander and the DropStuff encoder & archiver with the Mac OS. But since Apple stopped including StuffIt Expander with Mac OS X in Tiger, it has become necessary to download the software from Smith Micro every now and then.

And that is why I hate StuffIt Expander. It is not possible to obtain a copy through their website’s interface without providing Smith Micro with your personal email address. They email you the download link instead of making the link available on a confirmation page once you provide a (bogus) email address. And to make matters worse, by providing your real email address, you are agreeing to be spammed periodically with marketing email from Smith Micro! Sure, you can opt out of these emails once you download StuffIt Expander, but this sort of coercion is hostile and off-putting. For a software product with very limited utility and who’s days are numbered, it is incomprehensible to me that a company would require you to jump through this hoop to get access to their “gateway” free application (the rest of the StuffIt line is not free). Even worse, this information is not prominently displayed on the form but is instead listed in fineprint at the bottom of the StuffIt Expander page:

Please note: By confirming your email address and downloading this file, you are signing up to receive periodic followup emails from us. Any emails we send you will contain unsubscribe information, and you may opt-out of future emails at any time.

As a member of our email lists, you will not only be informed of every new product release, and upgrade, but you’ll be eligible for THE biggest savings on those releases, up to 75% off on some titles. These prices are not available on our web site or in retail stores. You will also receive amazing discounts on software from our many partners, like Nuance, Symantec, TrendMicro, Sonic, and Intuit to name a few.

Whitelist Our Email Addresses: Make Sure You Receive Important Emails Please add us to your email Address Book (Learn How) Check your bulk-mail folder if you don’t see our email in your inbox.

So join me in telling Smith Micro to stuff it. Download expander using this direct download link:

Update: You can obtain StuffIt Standard (which includes DropStuff) here: http://my.smithmicro.com/downloads/files/StuffItStandard2009.dmg


PowerBook 5300 Tour: “They’re Really Fast!”

November 28th, 2007

This is worth a view if you are having a nostalgia moment. The youngest 5300 is now eleven years old, and it is no speed demon by today’s standards. Heck, it wasn’t even a speed demon amongst its contemporaries. But that didn’t stop Apple from touting their speed, multimedia capabilities, or other advanced features.


Go ahead! Download the tour, and give it a run. It’s about 2.6 MB. Sorry, it’s a Classic only application. And on my box, it set 256 colors but didn’t set the display back to millions. Get it here.



PowerBook G4 15″ Buying Experience

November 12th, 2007

Ultimately, you know better than anyone else what your needs are when looking for a PowerBook. This article isn’t intended to help you pick out which PowerBook is right for you. It might be an 867 MHz PowerBook G4 12″, or it might be a 1.67 GHz PowerBook G4 17″. That decision is entirely up to you. However, this article may help you avoid some problems in the buying process. Humans, among all the animals, have the unique ability to learn from another’s experience…

When buying a high-value item like a PowerBook G4, it is important to do so safely. Unfortunately, the most likely source for a used PowerBook at a reasonable price is eBay. And on eBay, most of the power lies with the seller. I thought at first that I would get a good deal through buying from a reseller of refurbished PowerBooks or of PowerBooks obtained via an estate sale or the like. I picked up a PowerBook G4 15″ 1.67 GHz for $710 from a dutch auction. I payed with a balance transfer via PayPal. A week later, it arrived in fantastic shape. The case was perfect. This was too good to be true, I thought. And indeed it was. When I turned it on for the first time, I got a single solid tone indicating that bad RAM was installed. After a trip to the Apple store and some investigation online, I determined that the problem was actually a bad RAM slot, not bad RAM. I sent it back to the seller for an exchange (he had more than one).

After some helpful advice from the online community, I opened a dispute via PayPal. Oh boy, the seller didn’t like that. The seller had already received my PowerBook, but he refused to send the replacement until I closed the dispute. At this point, I was more interested in obtaining a $710 dollar PowerBook G4 than I was in having my money returned to me. So I caved and closed the dispute. The seller did follow through and send a replacement PowerBook. I like to give people the benefit of the doubt when I first meet them, so I will refrain from thinking he was being vengeful or spiteful when he sent me a replacement that was in considerably worse cosmetic shape (screws that wouldn’t completely recess, dents and dings galore, and more scratches than sandblasted crystal). Add to that the fact that the same RAM slot was defective (only this time the problem was intermittent).

This was the second PowerBook that I had received from the seller that was defective. At this point, either the seller knew he had a supply problem, or he was beginning to suspect that I was somehow causing the PowerBooks to malfunction when the arrived. Needless to say, he wasn’t as friendly as the first time when I contacted him regarding a defective PowerBook. He did offer yet another exchange, but I wasn’t willing to test the old adage that the “third time’s the charm.” And, with my PayPal dispute having been closed and not having paid via credit card, I had no recourse but to politely and gently ask for a refund. Much to the seller’s credit (and contrary to his listing’s text), he did finally agree to a refund (minus all shipping costs, of course).

So what were my two biggest mistakes? 1) I pre-maturely closed my PayPal dispute. Stick to your guns until the problem is resolved to your liking. When buying on eBay, the seller holds all the cards (money and goods). PayPal helps to level that playing field by acting as a sort of escrow service when a buyer takes issue with a transaction. Without this protection, you always run the risk that once you pay for an item, the seller can walk off with your money. 2) I didn’t use a credit card to pay even though the seller accepted credit card funded PayPal payments. Even after you close a dispute via PayPal, you can still start the process for a charge back through your credit card company. This affords you an even greater level of protection as a buyer.

So let that be a lesson to you. But I have a few more tips to offer. In researching PowerBooks to buy, I finally settled on a 1.67 GHz 15″ G4. Along the way, I learned a few things about common failures and frequent problems in them.

1) Dead RAM Slot
Perhaps the most frequent issue to plague owners of the aluminum line of 15″ PowerBooks is the failure of one of the RAM slots. Sometimes this problem manifests itself at startup with a single long beep indicating bad RAM is installed. Sometimes it gives three beeps indicating it can’t locate any memory. Sometimes you Mac seems to work fine except that half the RAM is missing according to “About this Mac.” And sometimes it surfaces as complete system freezes after the PowerBook has been running for a while. A lengthy discussion of this issue appeared on MacInTouch. In fact, the problem was so pervasive that Apple offered a free repair program: About the PowerBook G4 Memory Slot Repair Extension Program. Apple claimed this issue only affected a very limited number of 1.5 GHz and 1.67 GHz PowerBooks with 15″ screens manufactured between January and April in 2005. However, this problem has surfaced in all iterations of the 15″ aluminum PowerBooks, and there is an online petition to have all them covered under this repair program here: PowerBook Lower Memory Slot failure – The Petition

2) Case Flexing
These machines are all made of aluminum which is a relatively pliable metal. Repeated lifting by holding the corner next to the CD/DVD drive’s slot can cause subtle deflection at that corner. Eventually this manifests itself as a PowerBook which has an unsightly gap at that corner when the lid is closed. Although the PowerBook will continue to function, this is visually unpleasant.

3) Dents!
Aluminum is slippery. If you don’t have a good grasp of an edge, it is very easy for an aluminum PowerBook to slip out of your grip and crash down to the floor. This results in unsightly dings and dents over the lifetime of a PowerBook. In some cases, small dents at the rear corners of the PowerBook can cause enough case deformation to prevent the AC adapter from making adequate contact with the power socket. This can ultimately end up in a PowerBook that cannot be recharged.

4) Trackpad Stutter or Unresponsiveness
Although I haven’t experienced this myself, some have reported that the new trackpads Apple used in the aluminum G4s are less sensitive than the previous trackpads used in the titanium G4s. In some cases, the trackpads are completely defective. They also appear to be highly susceptible to static discharge events so user beware: Don’t wear wool socks on winter nights and use your trackpad at the same time.

5) Broken Trackpad Clicker
Sometimes, even though you haven’t heard (of felt) the un-click when you pick your thumb up off the trackpad button, the button does electrically un-click. If you are moving a bunch of files or dragging for a large selection, this can be especially annoying. And, unfortunately, it requires an excessive amount of force to keep the button depressed. Which can lead to the next problem: In some cases, the clicker can be completely separated from it’s supporting structure. This can make for a “squishy” click, or very noisy “snapping” sound during a click, or a completely non-functional button a la the 5300 of yore. While annoying, this can be worked around with an external mouse or through use of the “click” or “tap” functionality of the trackpad itself.

6) Battery Recall
Shades of the PowerBook 5300! Apple issued a recall on certain batteries in the PowerBook G4 15″ line. These batteries were manufactured by Sony (just like the Li-Ion batteries for the 5300) and could present a serious safety hazard if not dealt with. Fortunately, the number of reported “accidents” has been very low. Check out the Battery Exchange Program for iBook G4 and PowerBook G4.

7) Closed Lid Won’t Stay Closed
There are at least two failure signatures for this problem. In one scenario, the little hook that latches when the case closes won’t clear the latching mechanism and so can never engage. In the other scenario, the little hook doesn’t actuate at all and doesn’t descend when the lid is closed. In both cases, sometimes a little gentle prodding or “convincing” by applying a little extra acceleration just at the last moment will allow the case to latch shut. In extreme cases, the lid simply will not stay shut at all.

Enjoy & happy hunting,

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