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  1. #1


    Member Since
    Jan 24, 2014
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    Upgrading a G4 tower - What is possible? What is worthwhile?
    I want to upgrade an ancient G4 tower. It actually belongs to my partner - his parents bought it new for him to take to uni about 14 years ago, and he's been using the venerable old thing ever since. As much as I personally love a classic mac, it's seriously out of date now and really not properly functional as a main computer any more (It is a 400MHz model with 64MB RAM and a 10GB Hard Disk and is currently running Mac OS 8!). As much as I have tried to convince him that he needs a new one he is reluctant to get rid of it, but he has agreed to let me upgrade it as much as I can.

    Specifically, I want to upgrade the hard disk to a larger size, maybe using an SSD to speed things up a little (Will this be worthwhile?) and stuff it full of as much RAM as it will take, although after a brief google search i'm not sure how much I can put in (1GB, 1.5GB or 2GB?) and of what type. I also want to dual boot the machine with some version of OS X so that I can gradually transition him over to that...

    So to summarise, I would like to know:

    - How big of a hard disk can I put in?
    - Will the use of an SSD improve performance noticeably or will the rest of the computer be too slow for it to make a difference?
    - How much RAM can I put in?
    - What type of RAM does this system accept?
    - Which versions of OS X will run acceptably on this system and maintain maximum compatibility both with all of his old stuff and with modern web browsers etc?

    In addition, is it still possible to buy graphics cards/processor upgrade cards for this machine?

  2. #2

    pigoo3's Avatar
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    2011 13" MBP 2.3ghz, 8gig ram, OS 10.8.5
    Not worth it! Even if we were talking about the "newest" Powermac G4...it would be 11 years old. The "oldest" Powermac G4 is 15 years old. Not worth it!

    - Nick

    p.s. FYI...the 400mhz Powermac G4's are some of the oldest. I wouldn't pay more than $20-$25 for one.
    - Too many "beachballs", read this: Beachballs
    - Computer seems slower than it used to? Read this for some slow computer tips: Speedup
    - Almost full hard drive? Some solutions. Out of Space
    - Apple Battery Info. Battery

  3. #3


    Member Since
    Jan 24, 2014
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    Just to clarify... when I said worthwhile, I meant for usability/performance gains, not monetarily... he point blank won't switch to a new mac so upgrading is the only way to go...

  4. #4

    Slydude's Avatar
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    Nov 15, 2009
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    When you say he won't switch to a new Mac do you mean he won't switch to any new Mac? I mean there are several Macs that while not new would be a significant improvement over that venerable beast.
    Sylvester Roque Former Contributing Editor About This Particular Macintosh

    "Got Time to breathe. You got time for music." Denver Pyle as Briscoe Darling

  5. #5

    dtravis7's Avatar
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    Jan 04, 2005
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    iMac 2010 27" QuadI7 OSX10.11, iMac 2008 OSX10.11, MBP Late2011OSX10.11 , iPad Air, iPhone 3GS
    Since it's a 400Mhz it could be the very first G4 PowerMac with a G3 motherboard called the Yikes. If it's that one forget it as it does not even have AGP video.

    If it's a Sawtooth model with AGP slot, it's still very old and no matter what you do to it will be behind doing any real stuff on say even the Internet.

    Will just say it takes old PC100 SDRAM. Drives are IDE.

  6. #6

    Algus's Avatar
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    Jan 14, 2014
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    2012 Mac Mini 2.5 ghz i5, 16 GB RAM, 960 GB SSD + 500 GB HDD (5200 RPM)
    Have a peak at the Wikipedia page on the G4 as they have a very convenient chart with specs and maximum configurations

    Power Mac G4 - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    OS X up to Tiger should be possible. I would personally rather have Mac OS 8 but I'm a retro Mac dork lol

    I believe that SSD is possible for even this dinosaur computer and you will want something like this

    Mercury Pro Legacy 3.5" IDE/ATA SSD Internal Drive Kit for IDE/ATA desktops, SSD Serial ATA 2.5" Solid State Drives using High Performance SandForce Processor solution

    Internet may get dubious results. 400 mhz clock speed isn't much, and this thing will struggle to push web pages out. One thought I had as to make it more practical might be to try and find a web browser that is only going to serve you mobile sites.

    Nice thing about PowerPC era Tiger is that it has a compatibility mode for OS 9 so you can run classic software on it.

    In general my thoughts: you are better to woo him by maybe buying "yourself" a new Mac Air and getting him to use it than by trying to force a classic computer to behave as a modern one. One tip: look into SheepShaver which is a quality PowerPC era Mac emulator. You could preconfigure it with OS 8 and a lot of his favorite software and show him that he can still use his old programs even on his new system.
    Fere libenter homines id quod volunt credunt

  7. #7

    harryb2448's Avatar
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    Imac 27" Retina 5K, 512GB flash memory, 3.3GHz, 16GB memory, macOS Sierra beta.
    Suggest giving nit a miss period.

    SSD's are for a reasonable size all over the $100 mark and the machine is simply not worth that much. Be like going back to a Windows 95 computer that is how old it is. Memory is slow, graphics are non existent by today's standards, modern web browsers will not work, slow old IDE hard drive etc etc etc. Earlier PCI machines can handle 1GB memory as the maximum, some later model up to a whopping 2GB!! Graphics cards will have a 32MB/128MB memory. All too slow.
    Hang on to those original install discs like grim death! Using OS X.7 or later make a bootable USB thumb drive before running Installer!

  8. #8

    pigoo3's Avatar
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    2011 13" MBP 2.3ghz, 8gig ram, OS 10.8.5
    Quote Originally Posted by D123 View Post
    Just to clarify... when I said worthwhile, I meant for usability/performance gains, not monetarily... he point blank won't switch to a new mac so upgrading is the only way to go...
    Believe it or not...just about any amount of money spent on upgrading this computer...could totally purchase a newer & faster model.

    Money spent on more ram, bigger hard drive, or an SSD, etc...could buy a newer computer. For example...a dual-processor PowerMac G5 (which would run circles around an old Powermac G4)...can be purchased for about $100-$125. This is just one example.

    - Nick
    - Too many "beachballs", read this: Beachballs
    - Computer seems slower than it used to? Read this for some slow computer tips: Speedup
    - Almost full hard drive? Some solutions. Out of Space
    - Apple Battery Info. Battery

  9. #9


    Member Since
    Jan 24, 2014
    Posts
    5
    Hmm... it seems a 'new' old mac may be the way to go then... at least if he doesn't like it then it's not going to be much money wasted. Ideally I'd like to get an OS 9 capable mac (not just a classic mode capable mac) so that he could still use the environment he's used to for a while... I believe I am right in saying that there were some later OS X-era macs that could still run OS 9, such as the later G4 towers and eMacs? Are there any OS X-era laptops that could still run OS 9? How do you tell these machines apart from those that won't?

    Sorry about all the questions guys, and I know it seems silly to still be using the classic mac OS in 2014, but he's not a techy kind of person at all and he's stayed with what he knows for so long...

  10. #10

    pigoo3's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by D123 View Post
    Hmm... it seems a 'new' old mac may be the way to go then... at least if he doesn't like it then it's not going to be much money wasted.
    This is exactly what I'm suggesting.

    Quote Originally Posted by D123 View Post
    Ideally I'd like to get an OS 9 capable mac (not just a classic mode capable mac) so that he could still use the environment he's used to for a while... I believe I am right in saying that there were some later OS X-era macs that could still run OS 9, such as the later G4 towers and eMacs?
    There are definitely some "newer model-old Mac's" that can still dual-boot OS 9 and OS X. For example one of the last Powermac G4 models with a 1.25ghz cpu (known as the "Mirror Drive Door" model Powermac G4) can dual boot OS 9 and OS X.

    Some G4 based Apple laptops can also dual-boot OS 9 and OS X. Some (not all) Powerbook G4's can do this...as well as some (but not all) of the G4 iBooks.

    Quote Originally Posted by D123 View Post
    Are there any OS X-era laptops that could still run OS 9? How do you tell these machines apart from those that won't?
    Go to a website called Everymac.com...and look up the specs on the computers I mentioned above (as well s others). For each model it mentions (near the bottom of the spec list) the individual computer models "Mac OS 9 Support" abilities. This will tell you if it is still capable of booting into OS 9 (dual boot capable of both OS 9 and OS X).

    Hope this helps,

    - Nick
    - Too many "beachballs", read this: Beachballs
    - Computer seems slower than it used to? Read this for some slow computer tips: Speedup
    - Almost full hard drive? Some solutions. Out of Space
    - Apple Battery Info. Battery

  11. #11


    Member Since
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    Mid-2012 MBP (16GB, 1TB HD), Monoprice 24-inch second monitor, iPhone 5s 32GB, iPad Air 2 64GB
    Is he planning to buy old (and increasing older) G4s and G5s for the rest of his life??

    What really needs to happen is he need an attitude adjustment. That level of techno-fear of anything ever changing is borderline illness.

  12. #12

    Algus's Avatar
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    Jan 14, 2014
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    2012 Mac Mini 2.5 ghz i5, 16 GB RAM, 960 GB SSD + 500 GB HDD (5200 RPM)
    If you're looking to genuinely boot into Mac OS 9, the last system that was capable of running it was the Power Mac G4 Mirrored Doors Drive 2003 model. My personal suggestion would be rather than buying an old Power Mac to attempt to emulate.

    I'm partial to Basilisk II which emulates 90s era 68k Macs quite well. I use it for running System 7 apps



    I even still do word processing in it sometimes! The cool thing is that my documents folder in OS X is linked to the Mac so I can copy files directly to OS X and manipulate them there without having to mess with floppy disks or other weird/old hardware solutions.

    SheepShaver, which I mentioned before is a good PowerPC era Mac emulator that can run Mac OS 9.02 quite well. Check out Emaculation which has all kinds of cool tips and tutorials on getting the different Mac emulators out there working on a modern system so you can use your old software.

    If you decide not to mess with emulators and definitely want to go with old hardware you might check out the Wikipedia page for OS 9. It's got a huge chart of different Mac models that are compatible with OS 9, what version they can run, and how well they can run it.

    Depending on your needs, if running the software through classic mode is adequate, you could go as high as a 2006 era G5, which still has somewhat respectable specs even if you'll be stuck on Tiger.

    I wouldn't try to buy an old laptop for this purpose (they there are models that can do it) mainly because it will be impossible to find a laptop that old with a usable battery. The units would still run but you'd have to be plugged in all the time. If a laptop is the way you want to go, I highly recommend looking into a current Macbook and going with emulation.
    Fere libenter homines id quod volunt credunt

  13. #13


    Member Since
    Jan 24, 2014
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    Thanks very much to Nick for the everymac.com website! It's been very useful.

    I definitely want an OS 9-capable mac for him as he would really be using this most of the time, i think. I have actually experimented with sheepshaver myself on my intel macbook, but i really found it to be worse than useless.... it crashes a lot.

    I did want to go the laptop way and it seems that about the best OS 9-capable apple laptops were the Titanium Powerbook G4s with 1GHz processors... not exactly speedy by today's standards, but i'm guessing these will be a big improvement on what he has at the moment? I actually found one for sale on ebay. It's already loaded up with 1GB RAM, but as algus suggested it does have a dead battery... however, there still seems to be plenty of new batteries available for this laptop. What I am worried about with this particular example (which looks to be in an otherwise excellent condition) is that it apparently has a dodgy airport card... does anyone know if these are replaceable?

    Link to ebay PowerBook: http://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/Apple-Powe...87%26#viTabs_0

  14. #14

    pigoo3's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by D123 View Post
    I did want to go the laptop way and it seems that about the best OS 9-capable apple laptops were the Titanium Powerbook G4s with 1GHz processors...
    One thing to think about is laptops don't always have to be "portable" & used unplugged on battery power. With my laptops...I use them almost 99.5% of the time next to me on the couch while watching TV (plugged in).

    Or a laptop can be used just like a desktop. On top of a desk 100% of the time plugged in. You could even have an external monitor attached to it for more screen real-estate....as well as a "normal" external keyboard & mouse.

    If the laptop needs to be moved (without a good battery). You just shut it down...move the laptop to another location (kitchen, dining room, living room, TV room, or a different house, etc.)...then plug it in again & turn it on. Sort of like a VERY portable desktop.

    Of course if you want to use it on battery power...as you mentioned...you can find battery's on e-Bay.

    Quote Originally Posted by D123 View Post
    What I am worried about with this particular example (which looks to be in an otherwise excellent condition) is that it apparently has a dodgy airport card... does anyone know if these are replaceable?
    If I am correct...the airport card in these is pretty easy to replace...and it looks like this:



    This is a "plug & play" airport card. Newer Apple laptops have a more "circuit board" looking airport card that has wires that attach to it & held down with screws. So a little more involved replacing these than the one pictured above.

    - Nick
    - Too many "beachballs", read this: Beachballs
    - Computer seems slower than it used to? Read this for some slow computer tips: Speedup
    - Almost full hard drive? Some solutions. Out of Space
    - Apple Battery Info. Battery

  15. #15


    Member Since
    Jan 24, 2014
    Posts
    5
    Thanks to everyone for all the help! I'm going to track down a copy of OS 9 (unless the OS 8 system disks from the G4 tower will install onto the Powerbook?), a new battery and a new airport card and just go ahead and buy it, I think... it can be a surprise, and he can keep his desktop computer as well if he wants to. If he still doesn't like it then... i tried lol! I could always keep it as a backup laptop or a hobby machine for myself, haha.

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