Mac Powerbook Needs to be Reconfigured
October 25, 2010 11:25 AM   Subscribe

How should I reconfigure my Mac powerbook G4, and other mac-related growth advice.

I have a Powerbook G4 with a 1.67 GHz processor running OS 10.3.9. It has been my daily companion for the past 5 going on 6 years.

So far, so good. It has never crashed and has always been trouble-free. However: I am starting to hit walls here and there with websites and other programs interact (they don't) because of the age of the OS.

Usually I just deal with it, but the Superdrive went out and I wouldn't be able to reload the OS if I needed to, so started looking around for options.

How would you suggest I grow?

Right now I am planning on replacing the hard drive to a 320 G, replacing the superdrive, maxing out the ram (I haven't added any since I bought it), and upgrading to OSX4 (or the highest I can with this model) in the next month. I would like to use my old hard drive as an external.

Am I taking any risks doing this as an amateur? I am pretty good at directions and following a sequence carefully/thoroughly (I can fix clocks, gears, cars, and jewelry if you need comparisons). Is it as easy as it looks? I plan on using the site I linked to above to guide me. Is there a better one?

This has been such a solid workhorse of a computer that I don't want to screw anything up and would like to work on this one for at least another year or two.

Other info:
I don't game, and the most that I need to work on the system is mail, blogs, website updates/coding, CS2 or CS3, Quickbooks, office/small business stuff. I keep large raw images on a separate hard drive.
posted by Tchad to Computers & Internet (18 answers total)
I wouldn't bother replacing the DVD drive unless you use a lot of optical discs. You can use any USB drive as an install disc by cloning an install disc to the USB drive with CarbonCopyCloner, I've been doing it for the last 5 years or so.
posted by ripley_ at 11:34 AM on October 25, 2010

Honestly, you are better off biting the bullet, spending a few extra bucks and just buying the cheapest Macbook (White model).

If you think you are reaching some roadblocks now, just wait one more year. Websites will load more data, you won't be able to play streaming video files, and in general, you will get less done due to waiting on your computer (time is money!).

The upgrades on that model of computer aren't too hard, if my memory serves me well. Certainly a lot easier than nowadays. But still, it is NOT worth it.

If you wanted to eek out a little more time with it, buy an external DVD-Drive and skip fixing the superdrive. It will be 1/4 of the cost of an actual superdrive and it is always helpful to have an extra drive around for reasons just like this (for you and/or friends as well).

I know the computer still works, but at a certain point, it just makes sense to stop doing minor fixes and just solve the real problem.
posted by darkgroove at 11:36 AM on October 25, 2010

I use my iBook G4 (which is less powerful than your Powerbook) with Mac OS X Leopard (10.5.x) with great success. But I have as much memory as I could put into, 1.25 Gb that is.

Regarding HW components: you can find some instructions here:

If you are planning to do hardware work with Macs yourself, find some guide, preferably with pictures, because in some places there are things which are easy to break or rip, and in some places you may need to apply some force. It's better to have a guide which spells such problems for you.
posted by avysk at 11:36 AM on October 25, 2010

I used to have one of those! It's now on loan to a friend.

I upgraded my own hard drive and added my own RAM, which I bought from Crucial. It was not difficult, just fiddly. I did have to borrow some sort of special teeny screwdriver from the IT guys in my office, but otherwise, the whole thing took about 20 minutes. And I used the ifixit guide, as well. My optical drive was fine, so I didn't have to replace that.

One caveat: even after a hard drive and memory upgrade, it was still kind of slow, and streaming videos never streamed very well. I ended up rewarding myself (because I survived a five-week trial as an alternate juror) with a 13" Macbook pro.

In any case, it looks to me like you've got things covered, resource-wise.
posted by rtha at 11:38 AM on October 25, 2010

If you carefully keep track of your screws and follow the instructions carefully, it shouldn't be too much trouble, but you should keep an eye out for, say, an early-2008 (pre-redesign) macbook pro. They should have come down to around $800 or so and are will last much, much longer than your souped-up G4.
posted by Oktober at 11:38 AM on October 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

I am an oaf and I had no problem upgrading the RAM in my old 12" PB or the HD in my MacBook, you'll be fine. I'm with Ripley_ regrading the USB drive and darkgroove on the "Why are you throwing money into this?" sentiment.
posted by entropicamericana at 11:49 AM on October 25, 2010

Really, I would just upgrade the computer, not its parts. Recent refurbs are usually pretty cheap on, and the difference in performance and longevity between sinking, what, $300? of life support on a VERY old mac and say, $800 on a recent refurb is going exponential.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 12:11 PM on October 25, 2010

Don't upgrade the computer. You're putting good money after bad.

The PowerPC architecture is dead. The newest version fo OS X won't even install on PowerPC architecture. It is dead and abandoned and you are doing yourself a disservice by burning a hundred dollars here, a hundred dollars there, trying to keep your head above water.

Burn it with fire and move on.
posted by kbanas at 12:34 PM on October 25, 2010

I'm with the replace it crowd. The G4 is a dead end. All that work, the parts, etc. are worth more than the machine will be worth to you in a year, and the new hard drive won't be forward compatible (neither will the RAM) with your next machine (which will have a bigger drive and more RAM anyway).

You need a Torx-6 (and maybe a Torx 4) screwdriver to work on the innards of a G4 powerbook. Despite what some are telling you, it's not that easy to do it perfectly and not F something up, especially replacing the superdrive (as I recall, there are cables that have to be lifted away to do that). It's very fine grained work for a wasted effort.
posted by fourcheesemac at 12:47 PM on October 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

Tchad: So far, so good. It has never crashed and has always been trouble-free. However: I am starting to hit walls here and there with websites and other programs interact (they don't) because of the age of the OS.

Usually I just deal with it, but the Superdrive went out and I wouldn't be able to reload the OS if I needed to, so started looking around for options.

I know you're gung-ho to take the DIY route, but upgrading the storage on your computer isn't going to fix those problems for you. You're going to be hobbled by the lack of an Intel processor more than anything, as kbanas noted.

You can probably "upgrade" (and I use that term loosely) your Powerbook for about $250 + your time/labor. If you're willing to downgrade from 15" to 13", you can get a used white Macbook for about $500, which will kick the snot out of your Powerbook and be totally up to date.
posted by mkultra at 1:10 PM on October 25, 2010

Here's how I approach such things: buy the new machine (or the used Intel machine), and *then* learn how to work on laptops by modding your old G4. Actually, new Macbooks and MBPs are much easier to work on overall -- the drives and RAM are user-servicable parts, which they technically weren't (at least the HD) in a G4 Powerbook.

I have a stack of old Macbooks and Powerbooks next to me right now, in various states of disassembly for parts. It can become quite the hobby. But seriously, once you go Intel you'll never miss the G4.

(I only still miss my 12" G4, which was the perfect size for airplanes, but the new small Macbook Air looks like there is finally a proper replacement for that for under a grand, woohoo.)
posted by fourcheesemac at 3:28 PM on October 25, 2010

ifixit has good instructions on how to replace things--I replaced just about everything in my G4 Powerbook at least once. But yeah, buy a new(er) computer.
posted by neuron at 3:47 PM on October 25, 2010

I recommend iFixit too. They have really good instructions on changing parts and sell spare parts too in case something messes up when you fix the computer. Although, I would suggest you upgrade your computer, especially so that you can run the newer OSes (which may not be a game changer, but their advantages are noticeable).
posted by ssri at 6:15 PM on October 25, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for all of your input, guys.
I know that I am going to have to go to a better computer, but even with the price trade-offs, we are going for raw cost. Like I wrote, I would really like to get another year out of this one.
Maybe I will just go for the external DVD drive and upgrade the ram first and then see where it gets me. But, yeah, $250 v $500 matters a lot right now.
posted by Tchad at 8:07 PM on October 25, 2010

If you'll be putting an OS upgrade on, use 10.4 not 10.5. Although 10.5 supports the PPC cpu it's too graphic-intensive; I wiped 10.5 off and put 10.4 back because my G4 PB was too slow running 10.5. Mine's a G4 1 GHz with 2 GB RAM, not as speedy as yours but I'd guess the 10.4 / 10.5 difference still applies.

About a year ago I put a 320 GB HD in (the old 80 GB one died) with iFixit's help -- their info says what tools you'll need, and I bought from them. It wasn't very easy, but do-able with care.
posted by anadem at 8:29 PM on October 25, 2010

Honestly, if you're (a) that price sensitive, (b) that invested in having a mac, and (c) willing to dive head-first into a project, you may want to consider building a hackintosh. You can get a Dell Mini 10 for under $300 and it's full functional under Snow Leopard. Add an External DVD drive (~$50) and you've got a mac that'll easily overpower your G4 for about $300 even.
posted by Oktober at 10:00 AM on October 26, 2010

But, yeah, $250 v $500 matters a lot right now.

Then save that $250 to help put you towards an Intel Mac in a year or two and use the computer as-is until then. It still runs and seems mostly usable. The lack of SuperDrive isn't a huge problem if you have access to another Mac with Firewire, you should be able to access your computer with Target Disk Mode, should you need to reinstall software or OS from disc. Undoubtedly one of your friends has a Mac and would help you out in that situation. I understand budget constraints but unfortunately putting any money into a PPC Mac at this point isn't prudent. The only situation it might make sense to do so would be if you had mission-critical Classic Mac OS (pre-OS X) software that you had to keep a PPC Mac around to run.

Or check out Newegg. They currently have 3 laptops (not netbooks) under $300, all recertified: two Dells with 1.66 Core 2 Duo processors/60GB HD/1GB RAM/14" display/Windows XP, and one iBook with 1.33GHz G4/40GB HD/1GB RAM/12" display/OS X 10.4 (Tiger). The Dells are definitely the better machines spec-wise unless you have to have OS X.
posted by 6550 at 11:00 PM on October 26, 2010

Response by poster: GUYS! I just did it! I got a great deal on the new 320G drive and upgraded all the RAM! Now my computer runs great and I can actually use websites functionally!

I still have some residual problems with iTunes and that stupid authorization, but WOW!

Funny enough, I found out the day after I did it that I am going to be inheriting a new 27 inch iMac in a month or so, so hopefully they will play well together.

Ifixit it great, as are their instructions. If anyone is reading this and thinking they can't do it, I am here to tell you that they make it easy and kind of fun.

I am so giving you all hugs right now!
posted by Tchad at 8:27 AM on April 10, 2011 [1 favorite]

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