Potential Cheap Video Card Upgrade

I’m popping back up to update the site and point to this interesting thread on the MacRumors forum about an option for an improved video card on the cheap for our G5s.

The Radeon X1900 Mac Edition was an expensive aftermarket card in its day and is near the top of the performance level for Power Mac G5s. The FX4500 is probably slightly better as a workstation card, but the X1900 holds its own against the 7800GT. If the method below works for you, it will save you a bundle of cash and give you another option for your aging PowerPC machine.

Read: https://forums.macrumors.com/threads/radeon-x1900-g5-mac-edition-cheap-n-easy-flashing-guide.2308103/

Let me know if you have any luck.

— Nathan

This Is the End: TenFourFox Development to Cease

Dear readers,

I was away enjoying the pristine beauty of western Maryland earlier this week when the news dropped from Cameron Kaiser that TenFourFox, the most important piece of software to keep our Power Mac G5s somewhat relevant in this modern era of complex interweb technology, is nearing the end of its active development.

First, this should be no surprise. Cameron has performed coding miracles figuring out ways to add features, squeeze better performance, and generally give us a secure and somewhat modern option for PowerPC Macs running 10.4 and 10.5 in recent years. There really are not any alternatives beyond jumping to Linux, which carries with it its own set of tradeoffs and challenges. There was always going to be an end to development for TenFourFox. It was just a matter of when and not if.

Plus, despite many PowerPC users upgrading to solid state drives, flashed graphics card, occasional CPU upgrades, and maxed out RAM, there isn’t any processing power to gain out of our aging and venerable Macs. The internet will continue to introduce new technologies and make life miserable. The modern web, even on a somewhat updated browser, will struggle on our older computers.

Cameron spells it out here:

Writing and maintaining a browser engine is fricking hard and everything moves far too quickly for a single developer now. However, JavaScript is what probably killed TenFourFox quickest. For better or for worse, web browsers’ primary role is no longer to view documents; it is to view applications that, by sheer coincidence, sometimes resemble documents. You can make workarounds to gracefully degrade where we have missing HTML or DOM features, but JavaScript is pretty much run or don’t, and more and more sites just plain collapse if any portion of it doesn’t.

I had the privilege of meeting Cameron back at vintage computer conference near Sunnyvale, CA several years back. It was awesome to thank him personally and find out how many other vintage projects he has going on. He’s a brilliant and kind guy, and we owe him our immense gratitude.

Of course, someone could come along and pick up on TenFourFox code and decide to tweak and add new features on their own. I’d be fully supportive of such an endeavor. Maybe PowerPC users could think about collectively pooling resources to hire 2-3 programmers to update javascript, add features, and optimize the browser. Possibilities remain.

In the meanwhile, does this mean our G5s are useless? Of course not! You can still do so many things on the modern web via your G5 – like chatting on IRC, sharing files, serving webpages, programming your dream projects, and browsing into the foreseeable future (but hopefully not accessing anything that needs to be sensitive/secure).

But it is ultimately another reminder that our Macs are getting older and older, and as Apple transitions full bore to Apple Silicon, we are not just one distant architecture behind but two. Yikes. Time flies. Enjoy your vintage Macs anyway.

— Nathan

G5 + Xbox 360

I missed this article from a couple of years ago which detail how to get the Xbox 360 SDK environment working on very specific PowerMac G5s. It’s a fun read, and I think it’s worthy of a look if you are curious of how PowerMac G5s influenced console gaming history. And kind of makes me want to play some Xbox games on my old G5.

The equipment needed to get the very finicky Xbox 360 SDK image to work though is something:

• A Power Mac G5 with two 2 GHz CPUs (only this frequency). You need a 2003 or 2004 version, but not a 2005 model, nor a PCI-Express model (with a dual core processor). If your Mac has four slots for RAM (not eight), it’s not good.
• At least 512 MB of RAM. Normally, it is not a problem.
• A hard disk of 160 GB, a priori necessarily a Seagate ST3160023AS. This is the original model. I tried with an SSD without success, and my Mac no longer had the original hard drive. It is easily found on eBay for a few euros with the right reference. It may work with others, but I did not succeed.
• An IDE optical drive, mandatory. This should not be a problem: Power Macs have one.
• An Intel network card if you want to connect the machine. It requires an Intel Pro100+ PCI, reference 741462-010 (the one provided by Microsoft) or 741462-010. It’s easy to find it on eBay.
• An Xbox controller (original) with a USB adapter or a wired Xbox 360 controller. Careful, not a “Play & Charge” version.
• An ATi Radeon X800 XT 256 MB with two DVI outputs (that’s important) and a Mac BIOS. This is the complicated part, let’s detail it.

If you happen to check all of those boxes off the list and have an afternoon to kill, let us know how it goes, alright?

Read the whole article at Journal Dulapin.

The Mars 2020 Rover Runs on PowerPC

Congratulations to NASA for landing its latest Rover successfully on the surface of Mars.

I found this bit of info on Twitter today, but the Rover runs on a 200 MHz PowerPC CPU. I found it fascinating for those of us who still get a bit of use out of our old PowerPC tech. So does NASA, apparently.

Read more here: https://mars.nasa.gov/mars2020/spacecraft/rover/brains/

Computers Need to Change

When my father died this past summer, my brother and I picked through a garage and house full of vintage Mac gear that he had collected. We hope to share it with the world eventually… and of course hope it still works. Two of the coveted pieces that we grabbed for our own play and memory sake were Color Classics.

If you don’t know the story of Color Classics, these were in the same form factor of the much beloved compact Macs like the Classic, Classic II, and SE/30, but they introduced a color screen. They were designed to be home or education Macs, affordable packages, but in order to get under budget or make them less likely to compete against more robust Macs, the computers introduced a bunch of design choices that made them poor performers. Were they fine for some basic tasks? Sure. As the internet age dawned, these Macs struggled to keep up.

For example, the Color Classic motherboard featured a 32-bit processor on a 16-bit data bus.

This meant RAM expansion was crippled – just a whopping 10 MB of RAM available when maxed out.

I’ve got my Color Classic running after a recap and battery replacement, and it’s true. It’s slow. It’s limited.

A bunch of Classic owners go and upgrade them with other motherboards, and I may do that someday but there is something about having a stock machine working that is just fine.

All of that brings us to the introduction of new Silicon based Macs, the next transition after Apple left behind PowerPC Macs for Intel Macs years ago. While we want to do apple to apple comparisons, these new Macs are different. In some ways, they represent changes in design brought upon by all the needs for smaller, efficient computers in various packages, from smartphones to smart TVs. These new Mac motherboards don’t resemble the Intel and PowerPC boards of old approach, where you wanted to max out RAM and add in expansion cards to get better performance. These new Macs apparently are simply more efficient with that integrated design, meaning that some of those old school paradigms about RAM and video are going to go by the wayside.

I invite you to read this new roundup of reviews to get a glimpse of what people are saying.

Computers need to change. The days of Apple hobbling products to boost sales are long since over. Hopefully, the days of “budget computers” are also over, like when a website sells a computer with a processor promised to be “reliable”. Hopefully, this shifts computing more into the favorable direction of consumer’s budgets, meaning even an 8 GB machine becomes powerful enough for 99% of the people to do content creation and more.

Of course, I’m not jumping on board to buy one of the new M1 Macs right away. I’ll wait and see, first, and look to future products and the maturation of this platform. It’s an intriguing time to see how this impacts the computing landscape.

Meanwhile, I’ll keep tinkering on my vintage Color Classic and venerable PowerMac G5.

— Nathan