Okay, so plate spring on vocals only?
December 5, 2008 1:22 AM   Subscribe

Please help get my old iBook to be as fast as possible!

Hey all,

I've had an iBook G4 14" 1.42GHz for a few years now (bought it about a month before they switched to Intel chips). I haven't treated it super-kindly (the day-to-day account is also the admin account, since I didn't realise you were meant to make yourself a limited user account; I've installed and uninstalled all sorts of software of varying quality; and I've made it a bittorrent packhorse for days at a time) and the battery was on the point of dying. I recently put a new battery in, and now that I'm not permanently tethered to the wall I'm enthused about fixing the machine up to get it as fast as possible.

I've been using the DAW Reaper for a few months now and like it a lot. Unfortunately my computer isn't fast enough to do any audio effects work - every channel has to be clean or the program judders and overloads.

My goal for this project is to be able to use Reaper and Reason ReWired together for recording sketches in my bedroom. Nothing too ambitious - I'm not talking about running bitcrunchers, choruses and delays on dozens of channels - I'd just like the ability to use panning, compression and reverb on four or five tracks to make things sit nicely together.

So how do I squeeze out the speed? Will reinstalling the OS help? I've already got the maximum amount of RAM that this computer will hold. What processes run in the background that I don't need? Does the Quicksilver launcher eat up a lot of memory (I currently use it)? Would installing Leopard be a bunch faster, or would that money be better spent elsewhere? Can I tell the computer to prioritise one program at the expense of others? Should I set up a separate user account for recording that has almost everything disabled that isn't needed for ReapsonWire?

Aside from music making I'll be using this machine to cruise the internet, watch '.avi' files and write bits and pieces - so nothing too demanding.

Any and all tips considered. Thanks!
posted by Cantdosleepy to Computers & Internet (17 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Well no matter what else:

(1) Yes, reformat and start fresh with a new OS and all the updates.
(2) Adding more memory is almost always the best bang-per-buck speedup.

I don't know anything about Reaper.
posted by rokusan at 1:26 AM on December 5, 2008

When you say new OS do you mean 10.5, or just a fresh install of the OSX that I have (10.4.11)? I'm already packing maximum RAM, I think.
posted by Cantdosleepy at 2:07 AM on December 5, 2008

10.4 is fine, doesn't matter much with the PPCs.

I would, however, disable Dashboard, which is a memory and network hog on older/slower machines.
posted by rokusan at 2:43 AM on December 5, 2008

1) Back up data
2) Boot from Installer DVD. Reformat HD with Disk Utility.
3) Restore any data you need into new user account.
4) Max out the RAM. This model, I believe, allows for a 1GB chip in the single RAM slot and there's either 256MB or 512MB onboard. Inexpensive RAM here and here.

I recommend Leopard over Tiger for this machine. There's a 32MB ATI 9550 video card that should be fast enough to take advantage of some of Leopard's graphics acceleration.

5) Disable Dashboard and Spotlight. DashboardKiller and Spotless are two tools (from memory; you should search at MacUpdate for these tools or similar ones.
6) Use XSlimmer to remove the Intel portions of the code from your applications. Use at your own risk, of course, but it can save you some serious HD space.
7) Use Onyx periodically to clear your User and System and Font caches to keep it running fast.
8) Avoid storing lots of files on your desktop. Leopard likes to provide hi-res preview icons of files on your desktop and if you have many dozens, it can slow down the amount of time it takes for the Desktop to load
9) Disable any Fonts that you know you'll never use (foreign language fonts, for example). You can delete or just move them into a "Fonts Disabled" folder. Be sure to check /Library/Fonts, System/Library/Fonts and ~/Library/Fonts.
10) If you can afford it and if you have the skillset to replace the HD in this model, you could purchase a faster-spinning HD. I'm guessing you have a 5400rpm HD. There are 7200 and even some 10000rpm ATA/IDE HDs out there.
posted by mrbarrett.com at 4:26 AM on December 5, 2008 [4 favorites]

Thanks, Mr Barrett!

Quick question, though - will (£Leopard + £RAM + £HD) end up costing more and result in a slower machine than just selling this one and buying a newer refurbed macbook would?

The grammar of that sentence is a wee bit screwy.
posted by Cantdosleepy at 4:40 AM on December 5, 2008

I would definitely begin by making a backup and then doing an erase and install of 10.4, any other suggestions aside. Gets rid of any freaky/ancient drivers, odd cached what-have-you, and fragmentation in one shot (OS X disks can still suffer from fragmentation, just to a much lesser extent than used to be typical for Windows disks). It's just the appropriate level-setting to start with if you're serious about finding out if your machine is up to the task you want to do with it. IMO, that kind of PPC CPU should be able to do multichannel DAW work, since it can do multitrack video work with some realtime effects streams on well-written software.

For multichannel DAW I suppose I'd consider an internal 7200 RPM HD, just because they aren't too expensive these days and it should cause incremental improvements in more than one area of system performance since (I think?) VM should benefit from increased read/write speeds, and you'd get more HD space to work with, and obviously just better disk performance. But for that you'd need to open the case, which might be excessive. It used to be a good idea to do DAW work on an external firewire drive which didn't have anything else going on, and perhaps in your case that would be an improvement. Something to consider if nothing else helps enough.

I don't know if the main bottleneck is available CPU or VM or wired memory on your system, or even possibly insufficient disk space. You can start to get a sense of this by opening Activity Monitor when your machine is wheezing and watching what is going on there -- while you're at it, check and see what Quicksilver is using while you're working with your DAW and it will become clear to you whether you should ditch it or not.

Something that I've found helpful for scraping a tiny little bit more CPU/memory/VM availability is having the option to quit the Finder when I'm in that main demanding app. There are a number of ways to quit the Finder or make it generally quit-able, but if you aren't into hacking around, a graphical and easily-reversible way to do it is to install Tinkertool and select the option to add quit to the Finder dock menu. Tinkertool has a couple of other settings which allow some performance squeezing and it only makes changes in the user account, so you can't hose your whole install. Good luck!
posted by Your Time Machine Sucks at 4:41 AM on December 5, 2008

11) If you're not doing graphics work, change the monitor to display at "thousands" of colors instead of "millions" of colors.
12) Check what items, if any, are launching at Startup and/or Login. Check Login Items section for your account in the Accounts system preference pane. Remove any unneeded login items.
13) Use Activity Monitor to determine what processes are running on your system. Quit or Force-Quit any unnecessary ones. Be aware, of course, that many of the running processes are required for OS functionality. Don't quite SystemUIServer. Heh.

You'll have to do the math to figure out whether a new HD + RAM + your time to install is a better option than buying an Intel MacBook. There's no question that an Intel MacBook is orders of magnitude faster and is also the current system architecture that Apple is using. Keep in mind that while it's not impossible to replace a HD in an iBook, it's also not something I'd recommend a novice attempt. You should have some familiarity with notebook design and manufacture. There are take-apart visual tutorials for replacing HDs at http://www.ifixit.com. You should read through the HD replacement guide for this model before deciding on whether to purchase a new HD and going that route. Just know what you're getting into, is what I'm trying to say.

FWIW, I've been running Leopard on my wife's 1.2GHz iBook G4 and it's quite snappy and usable. These late model iBooks still have quite a bit of life in them, all things considered.
posted by mrbarrett.com at 5:18 AM on December 5, 2008

"There's no question that an Intel MacBook is orders of magnitude faster"

"Reaper OS requirements:
OS X: 10.4 or 10.5, PPC or Intel (Intel recommended)"

Looks like an Intel MacBook might be in order. The new ones don't have FireWire, though, which music-wise is a bit of a bummer.

Thanks for all the suggestions, guys!
posted by Cantdosleepy at 5:30 AM on December 5, 2008

To be clearer about the HD: the G4 iBook is generally acknowledged to be the hardest Apple portable ever in terms of HD replacement. I'd say that is very much not a beginner project (it was a long/frustrating process for my friend who does all kinds of work with small electronics, soldering, etc.).
posted by sparrows at 7:56 AM on December 5, 2008

Looks like an Intel MacBook might be in order. The new ones don't have FireWire, though, which music-wise is a bit of a bummer.

In the US at least they are still selling the old white model for $999 which does have FireWire, and they are also available refurbished. Yeah you don't have the new aluminum case or better graphics "card" but FW is pretty important for audio work.
posted by 6550 at 8:09 AM on December 5, 2008

MrBarrett, (in a shoptalk digression) can I suggest instead of Onyx (which is good, I use it from time to time) take a look at Applejack?
Its very good. and I am happy because the finally have a 10.5 compat version
posted by ShawnString at 8:23 AM on December 5, 2008

As Adobe Flash is really slow on the Mac (compared to the Windows version), getting rid of the Flash items om web pages makes a difference, especially on slower macs or macs with not too much memory. GlimmerBlocker does this while it keeps all the text ads from e.g. Google.
posted by flif at 8:33 AM on December 5, 2008

the day-to-day account is also the admin account, since I didn't realise you were meant to make yourself a limited user account

Just for the record, you're not. This is Windows advice. On the Mac the only difference it makes is having to jump through a couple of extra hoops to install software.
posted by bonaldi at 10:19 AM on December 5, 2008

This is Windows advice.

No it's not. You may disagree with it, but common mac advice, including from talking heads like leo laporte, is to keep the user account separate from the admin account.
posted by Dennis Murphy at 11:17 AM on December 5, 2008

> This is Windows advice.
> No it's not. You may disagree with it, but common mac advice,
> including from talking heads like leo laporte, is to keep the
> user account separate from the admin account.

And that will at least in part be because it's UNIX advice.
posted by galaksit at 11:22 AM on December 5, 2008

Oops, sorry to have made a mess of the multiple levels of quoting there.
posted by galaksit at 11:22 AM on December 5, 2008

ShawnString, I've been using AppleJack for ages. I tend to install it on my client's computers and leave it as a backup option. Most of my clients are very uncomfortable with the command line and would balk at Single-User Mode. And so I've taken to installing Onyx and teaching them only how to clear caches and telling them not to muck around with any of the other many options that Onyx offers.
posted by mrbarrett.com at 11:40 AM on December 5, 2008

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