Saturday, 1 August 2009

Reviving an old PowerMac G4 Sawtooth

I've got myself a little project on the go after inheriting a 2000 model G4 PowerMac (AGP Sawtooth). I've only been a Mac computer user since the days of Intel so my knowledge of and familiarity with the PowerPC architecture is fairly limited. Initially, I though that this would be a side-project that might be easily upgradeable at relatively little or no cost, but I may have been wrong.

It's been testing my patience a little as all I got was the tower and no boot/install discs and the damn thing is temperamental at startup. The previous owner asked me to format the hard drive too. I will do that once I can get the damn thing to boot from the install discs that I already own when the original hard drive is connected. This has been a problem in itself.

Anyway, this is the spec (as far as I can tell):
The rest of this post is just going to contain notes and links to useful resources regarding the upgrade potential for my benefit (sorry folks - but I may be returning to it over the course of the next few days).

HDD

I've got a spare 80 GB IDE ATA/133 hard drive that the G4 just wont install to. It can see the drive when I connect it as the Master and boot up with OSX 10.3 install discs (hold C on bootup). I suspect that I need to install a new PCI IDE card in order for the drive to be recognised. Currently, the only option I've found in this regard is the Sonnet Tempo HD. It retails around $60 so is not a cheap solution to the problem. I might just attempt to reformat the original drive, although the G4 is a bit temperamental when deciding whether or not to boot up at all.

ACARD also offer an alternative solution in the guise of the AEC-6280M at around $70. Once again, not cheap, and also not so easy to source in the UK for import tax purposes. I've heard that SIIG used to offer a solution but they seem to be PC focused today.

CPU

I've also noticed a few companies that offer CPU upgrades for these old G4's. I've seen dual 1.6 and 1.8 GHz CPU upgrade options by companies like Sonnet. These retail at around the $300 mark. This is expensive enough to make you consider a second-hand G5.

RAM

RAM memory is dirt cheap. The G4 takes up to 2 GB of PC133 in 4 banks, available for a very reasonable price. Crucial will max the G4 out for around £43 which is at the expensive end of this upgrade path. Some eBay bargains can see you pick up 1 GB for about £10 a pair of sticks.

UK-based stores

There are a few decent places to go shopping for parts in the UK:
  • 2ndchancePCs - these folks are Sonnet resellers. They have the 1.6 GHz CPU upgrade listed at £313 after tax with the 1.8 GHz coming in way above that!
  • MacUpgrades - these guys have useful info on the various G4 models. They also list the Sonnet Tempo card at under £63
  • VIS Ltd - these people stock a variety of spare parts
  • There's always eBay for spares but it's not always great for this kind of thing
So, a quick reckoning of a basic CPU and HDD upgrade puts the costs at around £350-400. I'm beginning to wonder if it is worth the effort at that cost. If anyone out there knows of any other reputable or useful Apple Mac parts sellers that are UK/Europe based then be sure to let me know in the comments below or email me at jewitt.robert@gmail.com

The problems

I can boot the system as it is but all I get to is what looks like an OSX 10.4 user login page. If I reboot with OSX 10.3 in the CD/DVD drive and hold down C I get nothing. A blank screen with no disc activity. This is a significant problems as this would be the most obvious way to get around the problem of needing to erase the drive and do a fresh install.

If I swap the original HDD out for the one I mentioned above (ATA/133) then the machine auto boots the OSX 10.3 boot disc as it cannot read the 133 drive as the IDE interface maxes out at 100. I can get as far as installing to the drive only to be told it isn't suitable.

If I plug both drives in, one as master and the other as slave (with appropriate jumper settings) the G4 refuses to boot at all. If I swap them drive orders around, the G4 refuses to boot at all.

I've also tried hacking the admin account but the [CMD+S] option doesn't respond so I can't bypass the GUI.