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PCI PowerMac Upgrade Guide

This HowTo is a guide to upgrading pre-G3 PowerMacs, specifically the 7300 to the 9600 and others based on PCI and SCSI.

Other pre-G3 PowerMacs use IDE instead of SCSI, upgrading these is easier since you do not need to add IDE on a PCI card.

The earlier PowerMacs used Nubus as opposed to PCI, for example the 7100 and the 8100. These Macs, while they can be give an G3 processor, cannot be upgraded in other ways.

Follow this link to return to our FAQs and Guides index.

For information on upgrading your Mac, along with full compatibility information, please visit our dedicated upgrades webstore,

The PCI Mac Upgrade FAQ

The Purpose of this FAQ

This FAQ is intended to give information in upgrading PCI and SCSI based PowerMacs.

This guide is probably most useful for these machines: PowerMacs 7300, 7500, 7600, 8300, 8500, 8600, 9300, 9500, 9600.

Much of the information does apply to other machines as well.

This guide covers processor upgrades, graphics cards, hard drives, modern connectivity, CD writers and RAM.

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There are three main reasons why upgrading an old pre-G3 PowerMac can make sense.

Firstly it can be an economical solution to your computing needs. If you have an old PowerMac you can turn it into a useful computer for a cheaper price than buying a newer one.

Secondly if you have a mission-critical system in place that you don't want to mess with but need more computing power. Many people are still using old Macs for vital business tasks, often running bespoke software or software that is hard to transfer to a new system. In this situation upgrading the old machine gets you the extra power or options you need, without having to rebuild your setup from the ground up.

Thirdly there are features on the old PowerMacs which are not present on some of the new ones. If you have some equipment that is a few years old (for example a sampler) you may have difficulty connecting it to a new Mac, therefore you need an older machine with legacy connections. Also the vast number of PCI slots on some of the later pre-G3 PowerMacs such as the 9600 can make them very attractive for some tasks. In this case upgrading them can turn them into very useful machines for specific tasks.

When thinking of upgrading it is important to keep an eye on your budget. While there are many upgrades possible you should always make sure that you wouldn't be better off buying a slightly more advanced computer and upgrading that.

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Processor Upgrades

When trying to get an old PowerMac into the modern world one of the principle things that need to be done is to upgrade the processor. The mainstream PCI based PowerMacs are quite capable of having a G3 or G4 processor installed - it is simply a case of replacing the daughter card with a third party replacement.

Obviously, however much you increase the performance of the CPU you are still using the same motherboard. This means that the bus speed - the speed which data is transmitted around the computer - stays the same.

For this reason you need to realise that there is a "drag factor" - your old machine will slow down your new processor, and there is a law of diminishing returns - the faster the new processor you put in, the larger the percentage of the improvement that is wasted.

Both G3 and G4 chips were available for these Macs. You should make your choice based on the software you intend to run. For many standard tasks the G3 and the G4 can be compared MHz - MHz, ie a G3 400 and a G4 400 will not have a significant difference between them.

But the G4 has a significantly improved architecture which makes it much better a certain tasks. Essentially it is very good at performing the same machine level operation on large amounts of data - this sort of vector processing is useful for a number of graphics and sound processing tasks.

Whether you can take advantage of the benefits of a G4 chip depends on your software and whether it is AltiVec enabled. This will depend on the software package and the version number. For example Photoshop versions previous to 5.5 will run effectively the same on a G3 and G4 processor of equal speed, however versions 5.5 and above will see a dramatic improvement when using a G4.

There are third party processor upgrades available for many Mac models, old and new. A full list of the ones we sell can be found on our Mac Processor Upgrade page.

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Upgrading the Graphics Card

The best option for increasing the graphics power of a PCI based 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 many old PowerMacs, 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

This section assumes that your Mac uses a 50pin SCSI connection for its internal hard drive. PowerMacs that use this include the 7300-9600 range. Other pre-G3 PowerMacs, such as the 4400, use IDE. For these Macs upgrading the drive is relatively easy - IDE is a standard hard drive connection, so you can fit current IDE drives with few problems - see our internal hard drives page for a listing of the drives we sell. See our G3 PowerMac Upgrade Guide for more information on upgrading IDE based PowerMacs.

For those of you with a SCSI based machine there are four options with varying pros, cons and costs.

  1. 50 pin SCSI: Basically just upgrade the drive. If you are just after a few extra Gigabytes then this is the way to go. These drives are no longer manufactured but refurbished ones are gettable, however this is only an option if you want, at most, a 3 or 4 GB drive - larger ones simply don't exist.
  2. Ultra160 SCSI: Ultra160 is one of the more modern incarnations of the SCSI protocol. Ultra160 can be adapted down to 50 pin SCSI (the adapter costs around the £15 mark). The disadvantage of doing this is that modern SCSI is a very expensive format - SCSI today is used for applications where access time is critical - eg. Digital Video work, it is also much better at performing multiple small operations - something that is found in a server environment. The bottom line is that SCSI is much more expensive than the third alternative, IDE. On the plus side it is easier (read cheaper) to convert 50pin SCSI to Ultra160 SCSI, so if you are after a drive around the 20 - 30GB size, and will not want to expand this, then this can be the best option.
  3. IDE: IDE devices, including but not limited to hard drives, are made in large quantities and are therefore very inexpensive. IDE can be added to any PCI based PowerMac that uses MacOS 8.0 or above. This is done by adding an IDE PCI card. However if you want to fit a large hard drive to your machine this is very definitely the cheapest solution.
  4. External FireWire: You can leave your internal hard drive alone and add a modern connection to your computer and then use an external drive - for a variety of reasons FireWire is probably the best choice on a Mac. This can be a good method if you are planning to add FireWire for another reason, eg. You want to add a CD-RW as well. The external drives we have for sale can be found on our external hard drive page.

That pretty much covers the hard drive options. A full listing of prices for our internal IDE hard drives can be found on our internal hard drives page.

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Modern Connectivity - Adding FireWire, USB or USB 2.0

One of the problems with ageing computers is that they aren't compatible with modern equipment. This, as long as your Mac is PCI based, is not much of a problem - it is simply a matter of adding the correct PCI cards, but be warned there are some operating system requirements.

More in-depth information of FireWire and USB 2.0 can be found in our FireWIre FAQ and USB 2.0 FAQ

  1. USB: The standard connection for input peripherals, printers, scanners and a thousand other devices. This is almost an essential if you want to use your computer with any modern equipment. This is fairly cheap to add, around £20 - £30, but it will only work with MacOS 8.6 and above. Note that USB 2 devices can be used on a USB connection, and vice versa, although obviously only at the speed of standard USB.
  2. FireWire: An established large data transfer protocol, FireWire was initially developed for digital video work, but is also used extensively on storage devices - basically it carries a very large amount of data (much more than USB). If you wish to use external storage devices such as hard drives or CD writers you need to either have FireWire or USB 2.0 (our personal preference at 2nd Chance is FireWire on Macs). NB: you need at least MacOS 9 to use FireWire.
  3. USB 2.0: This later version of USB has many advantages. Firstly it is a fast connection (slightly quicker than FireWire 400) and secondly it is backward compatible with USB (so USB devices can be used on a USB 2 connection). There are considerable differences between FireWire and USB 2.0 in terms of how they work at a low level. This can have a large effect for some applications, however for most home use the differences are not going to effect you - if you just want to be able to use external storage devices then either FireWire or USB 2.0 will do the job. The most important thing as far as Macs are concerned is that USB 2.0 will only work with OSX under 8.6 - 9.X. A USB 2.0 card functions as USB 1.

FireWire and USB 2.0 PCI cards are inexpensive an allow great freedom for attaching modern computing peripherals.

Follow these links to see our full range of FireWire products and USB products.

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Adding a CD-Writer

When the pre-G3 machines were in production, writing to a CD took several thousand pounds of professional equipment. Not any more.

Today writing to a CD is a standard, in many cases vital, computing task. There are three ways to give your old PowerMac this functionality.

  1. External SCSI: Often available second hand, external SCSI CD writers are probably the cheapest and easiest method of burning CDs. The disadvantage is that it is slow, and more importantly they are hard to source. We sell them when we can get them, but unfortunately we have trouble finding them.
  2. Internal IDE: Theoretically possible but with a number of disadvantages on a Mac. Firstly you need to add IDE to your Mac if it doesn't have it. Secondly, and this is a real issue, older Macs can only boot from Apple CD devices. Standard IDE CD devices made for a PC will work with burning software but are not bootable. Therefore you either need to spend a lot (and it is a lot!) on an Apple CD-RW, or you have to be prepared to take your machine apart and fit your old CD-ROM if you ever want to boot from a CD.
  3. External FireWire or USB: Given the problems with the other methods, this is probably the best. If you add a modern connection to your computer you can then use a modern external device. USB is usable, but remember that it is a slow connection so you can't burn much quicker than a 4x speed CD-RW through it.

The CD writers we have for sale can be found on our CD writer page.

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RAM Upgrades

This is the Achilles heal of the older PowerMacs, they use obsolete RAM types which can be difficult to source and expensive.

Types of RAM used in old PowerMacs

  1. 72 Pin SIMMs: Used by Nubus PowerMacs, the 6100, 7100 and 8100.
  2. 168pin DIMM EDO: Used by PCI based pre-G3 PowerMacs, depending on the model its either 5V or 3.3V EDO. As a rule of thumb the SCSI based PowerMacs use 5V EDO and IDE based ones use 3.3V, but is not a hard and fast rule. BUT not the 7200 and 8200 - they need to use FPM, EDO can physically damage the motherboard! One of the most important things to note about EDO RAM is that it can be interleaved in a PowerMac. Interleaving means installing matched pairs of RAM modules in sockets A1 and B1, A2 and B2 etc. It allows the two modules to be addressed as a single unit and gives around a 20% speed improvement.
  3. 168pin DIMM FPM: Fast Page Mode (FPM) memory can also be used in many PowerMacs. FPM is generally cheaper than EDO RAM, the disadvantages are that it is somewhat less reliable than EDO and cannot be interleaved. NB: You cannot mix EDO and FPM in the same machine.

All these RAM types are expensive so the decision to whether to upgrade your old Mac or buy a new one can often be determined by how much RAM you have. Upgrading an old PowerMac can be a very economical option if you already have enough memory, if you need to spend an extra £100 - £200 to buy the RAM it can make more sense to buy a somewhat newer Mac which is cheaper to upgrade. If this is you, why not check out our Refurbished Mac Desktops

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