Disappearing RAM

Back when I gave the Snow Leopard development build a test run, I noticed something weird that I chocked up to running beta software.

My G5’s RAM was wrong, listing as 6GB when it is actually 10GB.

I didn’t think much of it and went on working on other projects.

Booting back into Leopard, I wasn’t happy to see the RAM size remained incorrect. On top of it, I ordered a cheap 2x2GB set of sticks to further boost my G5. It was time to figure out what was going on, keeping in mind that I had not messed with my RAM at all. The only thing I had done was replace the thermal paste on the CPU.

Here’s my troubleshooting process:

1 – Open up the G5 and reseat the RAM. No fix on the first go.

2 – Reset the NVRAM. No fix either.

3 – Use a tiny bit of thermal surface cleaning solution that I use on CPUs when I put fresh thermal paste on to gently clean the edges of the sticks. Again, no fix.

4 – Spray a little canned air at the empty RAM slots. Again, no fix.

4 – In frustration, I reseated the RAM with a little more firmness. All is well. For now.

My Power Mac is showing 12GB of RAM now (which is what I have in it). Another 4GB is on the way, so I will max this ancient machine out shortly. The answer is… there is no answer. Maybe this G5 is old and near death. We’ll see.

— Nathan

Check the obvious solutions first

Several years ago, I grabbed a Seagate Free Agent external drive for a song in some refurb sale. It came in at 1.5 TB, matching my internal drive in my G5 and the aluminum look of my setup. Great stuff.

Except… it would do weird things. During normal operation, though getting a bit hot from time to time, it was reliable enough to serve as a backup drive, but when I would turn my G5 off, the Free Agent would keep running. At first, I thought, maybe it just takes a bit to spin down and cool off, but it would stay on, hard drive spinning, for hours. Doing nothing.

Here’s a reason why I bought the drive – it had Firewire 800, making it a doubly great deal at the time. I wanted to maximum every ounce of speed from my G5, so why not use FW800 over USB 2.0? So, I did, stubbornly.

I got into the habit of physically unplugging the drive after use.

Ultimately, I decided, after a series of different kinds of troubleshooting, that my G5 probably had a less updated version of Firewire 800 that didn’t play quite nicely with this drive or its controller, failing to give it a “go to sleep” function or something or the other.

Fast forward to years of living with his annoying issue, I misplaced my Firewire 800 cable during a recent move to a new home, and so I plugged in the USB cable that came with the drive. Guess what? As soon as I shut the G5 off, the whole unit goes to sleep on command (and seems a whole lot less hot too).

In other words, after all these years of trying to maximize speed, I failed to give it even one test with a USB cable to compare performance and quirks. It wasn’t my G5 after all, likely a poorly designed controller board in the external drive that couldn’t play nicely. No wonder I got it for so cheap.

It just goes to show – don’t be stubborn. Check the most basic solutions first before making do with bugs and quirks. Next time, I’ll tell you about living with quirky RAM issues.

— Nathan

The Saga of the SSD

My New Year’s resolution has been to get a larger SSD working in my Power Mac G5. It did not start out well.

I’ve detailed elsewhere about my first bad experience with a PNY Optima at a steal of a price. Darn, I wished that thing worked.

Next up was a 120 GB Intel 520 SSD at a nice sale price from Amazon for around $60. I noted on my own hardware page on this site that it should be a good and solid drive to use. Some G5 owners seemed to have gotten it to work. When the package arrived in the mail, I went to work, dropping it into my G5 and hoping that I would not see the same symptoms that I saw with the PNY.

And then, the drive didn’t show up.

It was like a ghost. My machine booted without trouble. It acted like nothing was wrong. The drive would not make an appearance in Disk Utility at all via the app or command line.

So, once again, troubled but undeterred, I sent it back. This time, I ordered a OWC drive that was guaranteed to work in my G5. I paid $10 more than the Intel, but at least my journey would come to an end.

OWC Mercury SSD

And then, this drive didn’t show up in Disk Utility either.

Now, I was confused. I tried my troubleshooting steps. I put it into a different bay, which can be a problem with some configurations on Power Mac G5s. (This really needs more exploration.) I made sure it was correctly plugged in. I put it into a USB drive to make sure it was operational – it was! At this point, even though my old SSD worked just as normal when slotted back in its place, I was beginning to think I was having serious motherboard issues.

Now, let me offer the twist – all along, I had removed my original SSD in place of this new SSD. My plan was to reinstall Leopard from a Time Machine backup that resided on the other internal hard drive I have in the G5. To do this, I planned to use my Leopard DVD (10.5.2) to boot, but whenever I went into Disk Utility from that install DVD, the SSD never appeared – not for the Intel 520 nor the OWC.

On a whim, I put my G5 into Firewire target disk mode and connected it to my Mac Mini G4. Upon boot, I was greeted with Finder’s familiar and suddenly very friendly warning that I had inserted an uninitialized disk. “Would I like to initialize it?” Of course! From this G4 running 10.5.8, Disk Utility saw the SSD and was gladly willing to partition and format it for me. Once again though, the Leopard DVD refused to see this now initialized drive, so I ended up using Carbon Copy Cloner, that external USB drive, and my G4 to clone the hard drives, bless them, and begin my new adventure with my OWC SSD. Wow.

Here is what we know:

  • The PNY Optima drive, especially the version with the Silicon Motion controller, does not work in a G5 in any configuration.
  • The Intel 520 SSD probably does not work, although I don’t believe I tried putting it into Firewire target disk mode and connecting it to the G4.
  • OWC SSDs do work.
  • If your Leopard install DVD is at 10.5.2 or below, it may not have the appropriate drivers, kernel extensions, or something else to see newer drives. I don’t know what different versions of Leopard install DVDs exist, so if anyone else has some clarity, I’d love to include it on the website.

Using old Macs like these G5s is always an adventure. I’m just glad in my case there was a happy ending.

BTW, we now have search on the left side of this page.

Learning things the hard way

Sometimes, we G5 owners have to learn things the hard way.

In the midst of holiday sales, I ended up with a $10 off coupon to Best Buy in my inbox. I also noted that a decent PNY Optima SSD, 240Gb in size, was on sale. With an extra $10 off, this was a solid deal to upgrade my G5. I ordered online and picked it up from the local Best Buy. So excited to get this thing going, I almost ended up being late to an event I had that evening.

Here’s the bad news – it didn’t work. In my haste to grab this solid deal, I neglected my own research on SATA III devices and Power Mac G5s. While I assume there might be 1 or 2 out there that work, SATA III drives often cause funny, bizarre symptoms on our older Macs. Yes, the drives might say they are compatible with older SATA I or II standards, but that doesn’t always mean what it’s supposed to mean. (I even note this on my Hardware page about how some SSD drives have jumpers to make them run in a safer compatibility mode.) This PNY Optima did not have any jumpers, but I had hoped I would be lucky. I figured it would magically work for me.

What were some of the symptoms? It acted like it was having motherboard issues, power management issues, or even a dead PRAM battery. I was certain it was these problems, so I tried everything in the book. I reseated the RAM. I pressed the CUDA switch on the motherboard. I reset the PRAM. The Mac would not boot from anything, including the Leopard install DVD on an external Firewire drive. At worst, it froze. At best, it flashed the dreaded System Folder question mark.

Some have found that SSDs work better in a different bay on your G5, so I even tried that. No luck.

But when I took out that new SSD and plopped in the old Corsair F60, the G5 booted up just like normal. No motherboard issues. All that work for naught. I ended up returning the SSD and decided to wait for another decent deal on a more compatible SSD down the road.

Is there a lesson to be learned? One: G5 owners are slowly (and sometimes rapidly) getting left behind. Two: always do some googling, read some reviews, and rely on some of the experience of the PPC community. Three: SSDs are awesome and finicky creatures.

In other news, you can grab an updated build of TenFourFoxG5 that promises to work a little bit better on dual core machines. I know they’d love your feedback over there. Also, a security hole in the NTPD server/process, although you may not be technically affected.

— Nathan