This Old PowerMac

by Tanner Godarzi Dec 17, 2007

Macs are known to last a long time when taken care of, but I had the pleasure of receiving a new Mac, well, new in the sense that I have never owned a PowerMac before.

I had considered buying an Apple TV but the purchase was put off. Instead I found something to fill the void, a used PowerMac. The thought of buying a model off eBay was delayed. Luckily I managed to get one for free. I mentioned the thought of what to do with an old PowerMac to a few friends and most recommended a media center, but one actually mailed me his used Mac if I were to convert it to a Media Center, which I greatly appreciated.

This Mac has been the focus of my previous week’s posts for building your own Media Center and this is a continuation and my personal experience with this project.

It will never just work

Even though this is the typical Apple mantra, some things quickly turn into a hassle, the biggest being the lack of a real monitor. Usually when you are up late at night installing a new processor that requires you to flash your Firmware from a bootup disc when the signal won’t output due to an HDTV’s limited range of acceptable resolutions, bad things tend to happen.

I’ve also learned that even though the PowerMac’s case looks elegant and neat, it can be a real bitch sometimes. You’ll open the case and look at everything thinking, “Great! It’s all organized.” Sure, that is the usual scenario because Apple designed the El Capitan enclosure to have enough space for everything, but it can be very tricky to maneuver, which forces you to make dismantling parts more of a headache than it really should be.

Then you’re left thinking, “Oh cool, not so great today, considering Apple has improved these enclosures, but wicked for something out of the late 90’s,” when you realize that the software never just installs the way it should because out of all the chipsets and circuitry on that Logic Board, not a single one says, “Hey guys! 640 x 480 isn’t working, let’s try something else.” Nope, stuck with a PowerMac trying to boot into who knows what because the HD was just wiped down and the DVD whirs away at random times with nothing ever happening for a good 5 minutes.

To wrap this up: old Macs aren’t what they are all cracked up to be if you’re working on one for the pure feeling of nostalgia. If you know what you’re doing, you’ll be set, but experimenting can wreak havoc on your nerves and misplace a ton of screws.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go fish a Hard Drive out of a ZIP Drive bay.


  • Try “zapping” the PRAM, this will force the video card to query the connected display and you should see an image.

    Hold down the keys command+option+P+R at startup until you hear the Mac chime at least twice before you let go; if you don’t hear chimes, watch the VGA monitor’s indicator lamp which should show active when it first detects a signal, then inactive as it begins or fails to synch, let it cycle a few times.

    Clearing the PRAM is a good precaution anytime you are tinkering with hardware, as it forces the Mac to forget what it thought it knew about itself.

    If a PRAM zap doesn’t help, connect a different display - I have had this problem mostly on really cheap or very old displays that are not properly following VGA standards.

    As a last resort, if you are a veteran Mac user you may have some video adapters to connect VGA equipment with older Macs & Apple displays: try putting a VGA-to-Mac adapter in series with a Mac-to-VGA adapter.

    (And if you think only Apple gear has this issue, then you never tried to fix a video synch problem in Windows - why do you think Safe Mode is 640x480?)

    dgarant had this to say on Dec 17, 2007 Posts: 2
  • At least you didn’t pay for it.

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Dec 17, 2007 Posts: 2220
  • I’m still using an 800MHz Quicksilver on a daily basis. Love it to bits. Had a G5 Power Mac once but when I had to sell one of the machines, I actually decided I liked the Quicksilver design more. Like the Beetle, it has character.

    It’s now modded to the rafters in an attempt to keep it from “sagging”. SATA card, dual monitor support thanks to an ADC-to-VGA adapter I got before they disappeared, 802.11g wireless PCI card, maxed to 1.5GB RAM, and 3 x 160GB hard disks in a RAID 0 configuration (with external backup).

    The only things that could be done that I haven’t done is swap the CDRW drive for a Superdrive, and the 32MB Radeon 7000 card for a new one (don’t need either of these). Oh, and also swap the processor to a 1.8GHz dual G4 (this I could do with but it’s a bit expensive).

    Try doing something like that with an iMac in 5 years’ time. Or a Mac Pro, even.

    Mr Roberto had this to say on Dec 18, 2007 Posts: 10
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