Saturday, April 11, 2009

"New" Power Mac G4

I just bought a Power Mac G4 today.  I have been looking for a desktop Mac for about two months now.  For the past 2.5 years, I have been using a first-generation Apple MacBook as my main computer.  It has served me very well over the years and still performs very well, even compared to new computers.  However, I like having more than one useful computer, just in case something happens to my main computer.  

An incident occurred sometime last month when my MacBook's power adaptor stopped working.  I noticed some exposed internal wires at the part of the adaptor cable closest to the power brick.  I was able to go to the Apple Store to replace the adaptor, but I was out of a computer for about 15 hours.  Some people can go without computers without much hardship, but as a computer science major, I always need access to a computer in order to do my programming assignments and to do other work.  My backup machine was a 266MHz Pentium II laptop with 64MB RAM running the FreeBSD operating system.  I pulled it out of its laptop case, hoping that I could do my assignments on this machine for the day.  Unfortunately, when I launched my web browser, I found out that Cal Poly's residential Internet service (ResNet) changed the way that Linux and BSD users logged into the network.  Previously (sometime before mid-2007 or so), to log onto ResNet as a *nix user, you opened your web browser, typed your user name and password in an HTML page, and voila!  You're online.  However, ResNet changed the system such that it opens a Java applet that requests your information.  Sounds reasonable, except installing Java on a 266MHz Pentium II running FreeBSD is not a walk in the park.  (On FreeBSD, this requires compiling the source code for Java, which on such a slow machine can take literally a day).  I was defeated and ended up walking to the computer science department labs that Sunday evening.  This incident motivated me to buy an extra computer that was fast enough to get online at Cal Poly and meet ResNet's requirements and also be a useful machine for writing papers, SSHing into my computer science department account, and some light web browsing.  If something happened to one of my machines, I can still do all of my work on the other.

The system that I bought today (once upgraded) will meet those needs.  I bought a 350MHz Power Mac G4 with 384MB RAM and a 10GB hard drive for $40 (not bad when compared to prices for similar machines on Craigslist or Ebay).  This is a first-generation Power Mac G4, and for the Mac aficionados here, this is a Yikes! model, not the superior Sawtooth model that replaced it just a few months later.  However, the computer came with a problem (it was advertised with this problem); when booting, it shows a flashing question mark.  On a Mac, this means that the computer cannot find the installed operating system.  After experimenting and investigating, I discovered that the Mac could not recognize the 10GB hard drive installed.  Must either be a hard drive failure or, even worse, an issue with the IDE controller.  I then realized that I had a spare 4.3GB hard drive sitting around that I picked up about a year or two ago from the computer science department labs (they sometimes have a box of old, unwanted equipment, labeled "Free!"  One of my friends found a classic "clicky" IBM keyboard on one of those "free" days).  I set the jumpers, installed the hard drive, and was happy when my Mac noticed the hard drive.  I installed a fresh copy of Mac OS 9.1 on my Power Mac G4 (that was the operating system that came on the restore disks that I received).

Unfortunately, I was still unable to go on the Internet with Mac OS 9.  Although Mac OS 9 is one of the most secure operating systems in existence (there is a lack of viruses and worms, there are no open ports, and very few people actually use it in 2009), it does not meet ResNet's minimum requirements for access.  Apparently I'll need to upgrade to at least Jaguar (10.2) in order to get on the Internet.

Nevertheless, I am glad that I have another computer.  I am impressed by the speed of Mac OS 9 on this machine (it's the fastest classic Mac that I've ever used), and I am also impressed by the well-designed case.  Accessing the internals is very easy; I don't need to use a screwdriver to open the case.

Here are the upgrades that I plan to make.  I do not plan to spend any more than $160 on hardware and software upgrades:

  • Add another IDE hard drive; either 40GB or 80GB
  • Upgrade memory to 640MB or 896MB
  • Locate and install Mac OS X Jaguar or Panther.
  • Find old versions of productivity software such as Microsoft Office for Mac or ClarisWorks.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009


Hello, everybody.  I finally decided to start a blog.  My blog will discuss some of my thoughts and feelings on a wide range of topics that I find interest in.