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G3 PowerMac Upgrade Guide

This HowTo is a guide to upgrading desktop and mini-tower G3 Macs - The PowerMac G3 Beige and the PowerMac G3 Blue & White. It is also applicable to the PowerMac G4 PCI Graphics - the first PowerMac G4 which is basically a G3 Blue & White in a different case with a G4 CPU.

If you have a pre-G3 PCI based PowerMac (eg the 7200 - 9600 range) we have a specific PCI Mac Upgrade Guide that might be useful.

For further information on upgrading your Mac, along with online sales of a great range of upgrade products, please visit Second Chance PC Ltd's new webstore,

The G3 PowerMac Upgrade Guide

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The Purpose of this Guide

This guide is aimed at those who want to upgrade a G3 Mac, either the PowerMac G3 Beige or the PowerMac G3 Blue & White.

All the advice aimed at the G3 Blue & White is also applicable to the PowerMac G4 PCI Graphics (which uses the same architecture) - however you are obviously getting less improvement with this machine since you pay the same amount for upgrades but you're starting from a higher point. Therefore we would advise thinking very carefully whether upgrading a G4 PCI Graphics is worth the money.

The guide covers processor upgrades, graphics cards, hard drives, adding modern connectivity (more applicable to the G3 Beige), upgrading the CD drive and upgrading the memory.

This guide focuses on the more common hardware issues to upgrading. If you have more detailed questions, or have issues concerning your software, please give us a call on 01223 833 412 and speak to a member of our Mac sales team, or send us an email.

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Why Upgrade a G3 PowerMac

Because it can frequently be the most economical solution to your computing needs. On occasion it can be the only viable way to go.

As with all upgrades it is essential to weigh up the pros and cons relative to the principle alternative - buying a newer machine.

The main benefit of buying a new Mac is that you will get a better machine. No matter how much money you spend upgrading a G3 PowerMac you cannot improve the motherboard. This means that the bus speed cannot be upgraded and the basic architecture of the computer stays the same. To improve these areas there is no choice but to buy a more advanced machine.

However there are many reason why upgrading can make very good sense.

  • Price: The obvious reason. A new Mac can cost a significant amount, not including any software upgrades you may be forced to make. Upgrades cost a few hundred at most.
  • Operating System: New Macs come with OS X and are designed not to be able to run any pre-X MacOS. For a lot of people with mission-critical OS9 systems this makes a new Mac completely useless - however if this is the only reason you're not buying a new Mac it might be worth trying to track down a more modern refurbished one - check out our PowerMac page.
  • Legacy Connections: This applies much more to the PowerMac Beige rather than the Blue & White, since the latter havedropped the important legacy connections. However the Beiges have Mac Serial and SCSI - which can be vital if you need to use old equipment.
  • Migration Difficulties: Changing your already installed software from one computer to another can be extremely difficult, especially if an operating system upgrade needs to be done as well. If you have a setup that is working then you may be extremely reluctant to mess with it, if you need more power then upgrading your existing machine is the only real option.

If you're unsure what the best route is for you, probably the best way to decide which route to take is to price up the cost of an upgrade and get a quote on a suitable replacement machine (if its a refurb make sure it can be sourced!). This gives you an idea of the varying prices of the different options so you have something to judge the difference in performance against.

If you need any advice on this please give us a call on 01223 833 412 or an email and our experienced Mac sales staff will be happy to help you.

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Processor Upgrades

The G3 PowerMacs and the PowerMac G4 PCI Graphics all use what is called a ZIF socket for their CPU. ZIF stands for Zero Insertion Force, all this means is that its easy to change the processor - it slots in very easily as opposed to (like fitting many computer parts) having to exert a large amount of force to get it in its slot.

The upshot is that's its very easy to fit a replacement processor, all you do is run the supplied software on your computer, remove the heat-sink, flip a leaver to free the processor and fit the new one. Put the heat-sink back and restart your machine and you're done. All the upgrades we sell have full illustrated instructions so, unless you have very bad technophobia, it is an upgrade you can easily perform yourself.

A full listing of all our CPU upgrades can be found on our Mac Processor Upgrades page. The ones for the ZIF socket are marked ZIF.

The range of ZIF upgrades goes from around the G3 500MHz to a G4 1000MHz. Which one is suitable for you depends on a number of things.

  • Price: Obviously the first consideration. The higher the clock speed (MHz) of the chip the more it costs, and additionally G4s are much more pricey than G3s.
  • Applications: You need to know exactly what you are asking your computer to do (ie what applications you want it to run). The most important thing is to find out whether your applications take advantage of the AltiVec Engine of the G4. AltiVec is a particular method of addressing the G4 chip which speeds up certain types of calculations hugely - but the software needs to have been written specifically to take advantage of it and the kind of task you are performing needs to be one which AltiVec helps with. For non-AltiVec applications there is little difference between a G3 and a G4 of equal clock speed.
  • Expected Lifespan: Another obvious one. Is the upgrade a temporary stopgap or a permanent solution, this obviously influences how much it is worth spending.
  • Starting Point: There is little point in getting a G3 500MHz chip to fit in a G3 Blue & White 450MHz, you probably wouldn't notice the difference, unless it has a larger cache. For this reason we don't really recommend upgrading the PowerMac G4 PCI Graphics with anything less than the top of the range - and this is an expensive option.

One other important point on comparing processors is to look at the cache size. This will probably either be 512k, 1MB or 2MB (although at the time of written there are no 2MB cache ZIF chips). Cache is hugely important, it is essentially a super fast piece of memory which the CPU can access much quicker than normal RAM. It is used to store things the computer "thinks" it will need again soon so it can get at them quicker - this speeds up the chip's operation, often considerably. The larger the cache, obviously the more useful it is.

There are minimum operating system requirements for these CPU upgrades, although they are not too stringent. Many of them need at least OS 8.0, while some do need a higher one. Please ask us if you want information about any specific upgrade.

If you have any questions about processor upgrades, or would like advice on your particular setup, please give us a call on 01223 833 412, or drop us an email.

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Upgrading the Graphics Card

The best option for increasing the graphics power of a PCI based G3 or G4 PowerMac is to fit a modern Mac PCI graphics card to it. Modern cards use modern video RAM, which makes them superior to previous generations of cards, even if the amount of RAM on the card is the same.

There are other options, but none of them are really workable.

You can add video RAM to the PowerMac G3 Beige, but these days its very expensive because the parts are hard to find, and you only get around 4MB extra anyway.

Fitting older graphics cards has similar problems, they are expensive relative to their capabilities. This can be the cheapest solution however, if you are trying to replace a faulty card - ie you just need to display on a monitor but are not concerned about quality.

To see the graphics cards we sell, check out our graphics and video page.

Upgrading Hard Drives

Unlike the earlier SCSI based pre G3 Macs, all the PowerMacs from the G3 Beige have used IDE internally. IDE was the standard connection used for internal devices, such as hard drives, in most home computers. This means large, cheap, storage devices can be added to your Mac without any problem.

One possible issue is that your Mac must be running at least OS 8.1 to use a hard drive above 2GB, but apart from that there are no real issues.

All the G3 PowerMacs have two IDE buses, with the exception of the G3 Beige 233MHz, which only has one. Each IDE bus can support two IDE devices - this includes CD drives and ZIP drives as well as hard drives. Therefore the total number of IDE devices most PowerMacs can support is four. NB: As the G3 Beige has SCSI internally you should check whether your internal devices are SCSI or IDE to work out how much free space you have for IDE devices.

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Modern Connectivity - Adding FireWire, USB or USB 2.0

This section is mainly aimed at the PowerMac G3 Beige. The Blue & Whites all have USB and the later revisions have FireWire although the earlier version did not.

Essentially adding USB, FireWire or USB 2.0 to a PowerMac is very easy. It is simply a case of adding a PCI with the relevant connections. See our USB & USB 2 page or our FireWire page for more details.

The only thing to watch out for is that each of these connections has minimum operating system requirements - you also may need to download an enabler from Apple.

MacOS Requirements for Modern Connectivity

  • USB: MacOS 8.6 or later.
  • FireWire: MacOS 8.6 or later (OS 9 highly recommended).
  • USB 2.0 MacOS X - pre X a USB 2.0 card will function as normal USB
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Upgrading the CD Drive
CD Writer

Upgrading the CD drive is one of the great weaknesses of the Macintosh platform. It is certainly possible and there are a number of ways to do it, but the easiest way - adding an internal IDE device - is considerably more difficult (ie expensive) than on a PC. The issue is that Macs will only boot from a CD drive that has a Mac ROM in it, these cost around 4 - 5 times the price of an equivalent non-Apple CD drive.

Our CD & DVD writers can be found on our CD & DVD Writers page please call us on 01223 833 412 or email us if you want a quote on them.

There are three ways to approach the issue on a Mac.

  1. Apple CD writer: You can bite the bullet and buy a proper Apple-Bootable CD writer. We can source these but the price is pretty much prohibitive for a G3 PowerMac - its a significant percentage of the value of the machine.
  2. Normal IDE CD writer: Very cheap these days but have the above mentioned problems with booting. They will still work under Roxio Toast as a burning device, but you can't boot from them. Therefore, since you don't have space for 2 CD drives in a PowerMac, you have to keep your original CD-ROM and be prepared to fit it if your machine ever goes down and you have to boot from a CD.
  3. External CD writer: Probably the best choice, especially if your Mac already has FireWire. This way you will still have a bootable CD drive internally, and also since you now have a CD-ROM and a CD-RW you can easily burn from one to the other as opposed to having to swap disks. We would recommend FireWire as the best connection - USB is really to slow and USB 2.0 only works under OSX and anyway FireWire is by far the most common connection for data storage devices on Macs.
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Memory Upgrades

Getting RAM for these Macs is fairly simple and cheap. The G3 Beige has 3 slots which can each take up to a 256MB stick, the Blue & White has 4 slots taking up to 256MB each. The RAM can be PC100 or PC133 SDRAM, which is easily obtainable.

There are issues with some types of 256MB SDRAM in both these machines, and also the G3 Beige Desktop (as opposed to the Mini-Tower) can only take low-profile (low height chips) RAM because larger chips won't fit in the case.

It is best to make sure you buy your RAM from a company that knows about Macs and can make sure that the chips you are sold will work with your machine.

If you would like a quote for RAM for a G3 PowerMac, or any other computer, please call us on 01223 833 412 or drop us an email.

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