How do you find out what Mac OS is best for a machine?

By AudioVayne · 23 replies
Apr 19, 2009
  1. For starters: My experience with a Mac is limited only to copying copious amounts of music to, and playing on Mac OSX in school back in the day. But the time has come where a good friend has been given a mac, with no HDD or RAM and it has been thrown my way to get it running...

    I have put in some RAM (I don't know how to get into the BIOS and it doesn't say on the stick so I don't know how much is there), but Ill most likely set it up with 256MB RAM...

    I have a 20G HDD that I'm about to test and Zero off.

    The machine specs are:

    PowerMac G4
    450Mhz, DVD, ZIP, 56K modem, Ethernet, AGP Graphics

    This is the big hefty tower sort of machine, not the monitor in one type.

    I want to know how to find out which OS to install, which OS is compatible, If there's an activation (similar to Windows) and how that works, and anything else that one should know about Mac installations.

    Are there drivers to worry about?
    And how do I get into the BIOS?

    I Thank yee in advance for any helpful advice!
  2. lopdog

    lopdog TS Maniac Posts: 295

    I have to admit that my knowledge about Macintosh is limited to emulating OSX with PearPC, but after a quick search on Google it looks like you can run anything up to OSX 10.3.9.
    Later versions require an integrated FireWire port. OSX 10.3 requires at least 128 MB ram and 1.5 GB free space on your HDD, so you should be fine.
  3. SNGX1275

    SNGX1275 TS Forces Special Posts: 10,742   +421

    You can run Tiger on it which is OS X 10.4. Upgrades to the OS are free downloads and by default happen automatically, point upgrades (10.4 to 10.5) aren't free.

    Unlike what we are used to in Windows, each successive version of OS X ran better than the previous version up until Leopard (10.5). I would recommend Panther (10.3) or Tiger (10.4). The earlier versions, even the first OS X release will run on that, but the OS was pretty bad until Panther. Tiger and Panther I expect would run about equally as well, Tiger has a few more features but if you aren't familiar with the OS and you only have easy access to Panther then you'll be fine. If you have a choice I'd pick Tiger.

    There is no activation, no license key, just pop the disk in (hold down C to get it to boot off the cd) and install. Its easier than Windows 7 even.

    You don't get into the BIOS, it doesn't really have one, it has EFI instead. You won't be able to get to a big configuration area like on PCs. Once the OS is installed you can get all kinds of information about the hardware from the Apple Menu, then About this Mac, then clicking 'more information..."
  4. Technochicken

    Technochicken TechSpot Paladin Posts: 729

    Not so. The new macbooks have no firewire ports- though that may be a newer patch in leopard.
  5. SNGX1275

    SNGX1275 TS Forces Special Posts: 10,742   +421

    Yeh I'm not sure what he meant by that either. But no matter, that PowerMac G4 has 2 integrated FW 400 ports.
  6. lopdog

    lopdog TS Maniac Posts: 295

    Sorry, I only copied the information I found at Wikipedia and Apple Support:
    It seems like this applies only to v10.4 (or some of them) and not to v10.5 Leopard. But then again, Leopard requires at least a 867Mhz cpu.
    Anyway, my only experience with a Macintosh was an old Macintosh LC from 1990 with a blazingly fast 16mhz cpu and 2 MB ram :p
  7. SNGX1275

    SNGX1275 TS Forces Special Posts: 10,742   +421

    I'm posting from this right now:


    However, I do not recommend it for an everyday use computer, Tiger would be a much better fit.
  8. AudioVayne

    AudioVayne TS Rookie Topic Starter Posts: 99

    Well at this stage we don't know what the RAM card I've put in it is, and we'll probly manage 512 SDRAM...

    I've started downloading Jaguar (OSX.2) but it's painfully slow and not a lot of seeders...

    So Tiger is the go then? (The bossman has the Tiger install discs at work)...Would it still perform at a reasonable speed? It isn't too far above minimum CPU spec...
  9. jobeard

    jobeard TS Ambassador Posts: 11,139   +985

    The G4 is a PowerPC chip, not the newer Intel.
    Intel systems have a binary emulator to support software written for PowerPC systems which is
    scheduled to be dropped in Leopard OS X 10.6 but contrary rumors fly.

    OS X 10.4 was the first to support the Intel processor (single or dual core).
  10. SNGX1275

    SNGX1275 TS Forces Special Posts: 10,742   +421

    A 450Mhz G4 isn't going to be terribly fast with OS X, it was designed for OS 8.5 or probably more likely OS 9. But using either of those in 2009 is a terrible idea since they are so outdated, it would be like trying to use Windows 95 or 98 now.

    As I said in my original post, each successive OS X release until 10.5 ran better on the same hardware than the previous OS. 10.3 and 10.4 are pretty equal in speed, but both should be faster than 10.2, this is because Apple made refinements and optimizations to their OS each time. This is somewhat unlike most Windows releases, but apparently Windows 7 will change that.

    Bottom line, don't waste your time with 10.2, get 10.3 or 10.4. I'd also be on the lookout for good deals on RAM, the higher you can get it the better. The amount of RAM is pretty important on how well it will perform.
  11. AudioVayne

    AudioVayne TS Rookie Topic Starter Posts: 99

    Cheers for that dude...OSX.4 it is!

    Will have to see how much the board will handle...It's not likely we'll put a gig in though..
  12. visaliagraph

    visaliagraph TS Rookie

    G4 potential...

    Add as much ram as you can. Macs love ram.

    Setup a raid0 with two HD drives, but keep a third for saving important stuff. Could corrupt if crashes often. (but still worth it)

    Make the third a bootable install disk if easy recover is wanted. CD is OK too.

    Lastly, to overclock a Mac of that model it is very safe. No solder, no taking apart anything. It's just a script in Open firmware, which if it works you can gain a couple hundred megahertz or so. Try this. Must follow exactly, but again worth it.
    Old G4 models (before G4 Gigabit and Cube) have some time-base problem, which the clock run faster (or slower) when the bus clock changed faster (or slower) than default of 100MHz. This is caused by timing routines of Mac OS, such as TickCount, Microseconds and UpTime, calculate time using actual bus clock and some ##fixed## values supposing 100MHz (99.6MHz exactly) bus. So, we must change these constants when change the bus clock.
    I changed these constants using "NVRAMRC" OpenFirmware script. The NVRAMRC is stored in nvram and is performed at boot sequence.

    How to edit and store the NVRAMRC for 133MHz bus

    (1) Boot by holding down "Cmd" + "Opt" + "O" + "F" keys to enter the OpenFirmware terminal.
    (2) Enter the NVRAMRC editor. (<return> shows you should type "return" key)


    (3) Type following script EXACTLY (including space).

    " /" select-dev<return>
    7efdc44 " clock-frequency" get-my-property 2drop !<return>
    " /cpus/PowerPC,G4@0" select-dev<return>
    1fca0554 " clock-frequency" get-my-property 2drop !<return>
    7efdc44 " bus-frequency" get-my-property 2drop !<return>
    1fbf711 " timebase-frequency" get-my-property 2drop ! [/COLOR][/COLOR]

    (4) Type "Cntl" + "C" to exit NVRAMRC editor.
    (5) Save the script


    (6) To enable the NVRAMRC, type this command.

    setenv use-nvramrc? true<return>

    (7) Reboot with new timebase constant.


    If you fail to edit the NVRAMRC or need to return to the 100MHz bus, you can clear the changes by resetting the nvram, booting by holding down "Cmd" + "Opt" + "P" + "R".


    If this helps I have replaced the spaces with bullets. Even the spaces have to be exact. Hit return after every line to start the next. This only has to be done once. As long there is a good battery or power connected it will stay.

  13. jobeard

    jobeard TS Ambassador Posts: 11,139   +985

    all fine an good but I would take strong exception to using RAID-X at home.

    First it's unnecessary,
    Second it adds complexity
    Third, most people don't take sufficient backups to protect themselves

    In the world of computers
  14. SNGX1275

    SNGX1275 TS Forces Special Posts: 10,742   +421

    I also wouldn't recommend RAID on an old G4 without a real RAID card. Unless you have the MDD, FW800, or the G4 1.25Ghz model your IDE channels are only ATA-66 (and a 128GB HD limit). Even with a RAID card the PCI-X bus may be too slow to see any benefit.

    Sure you can do it, but I'm not sure its worth the hassle. If you REALLY wanted to make an old G4 faster you could pay an outrageous amount of money for a Sonnet CPU upgrade.

    The firmware overclock mentioned above does work, I haven't done it but I've read several threads on mac forums about doing it. If you try it on an older G4 without a fan I'd be a bit wary of going too high at once just because you are going to generate extra heat. Although it probably wouldn't be too hard to slap a fan on the heatsink.
  15. AudioVayne

    AudioVayne TS Rookie Topic Starter Posts: 99

    :D one step at a time folks!! Gonna try the install when I get to work...

    I haven't setup a RAID before so that's something ill suss out at a later date...And if the CPU has a fan Ill overclock it, but if not Ill leave it...It's not my machine so I don't want to drastically affect its lifespan...

    Cheers for your help and advice guys! Will let you know how she runs...

    Does anyone know the maximum RAM the board will take?
  16. SNGX1275

    SNGX1275 TS Forces Special Posts: 10,742   +421

    It has 4 RAM slots right?

    You can put up to 2 gigs of PC100/133 in it (although it will only run at 100).

    I don't think it will have a fan on the processor, my G4 is newer than yours and doesn't. Not that you couldn't put on on though. Do you know if you have gigabit ethernet on it?
  17. AudioVayne

    AudioVayne TS Rookie Topic Starter Posts: 99

    2Gigs!! Holy Sh*t!! Yeah she has 4 slots...Since it's sitting at work I pinched a couple of 256MB 133s for now as well as the card that was in it...I suspect the last card is 256 or 128...It boots and shows an image so the RAM must be fine...Turns out bossman has lost his disc one for Tiger :S...Just downloading that, hopefully ready for an install on Monday...

    It has ethernet but I don't know if it's Gigabit...
  18. visaliagraph

    visaliagraph TS Rookie

    We're not talking PC here....

    Raid0 is super easy to setup. Just add another hard disk next to the existing. These will be the raid (the smaller x2). Boot to the CD and choose Disk utility. Click on the Raid tab. Drag the disks needed together, set your optimal block size and click OK. Done.

    No driver disk, no MB dip switches, no bios alterations, no pushing F6 before setup. none of your average PC headaches. This is a Mac. It's easy.

    Speed benefit - definite. If it were a new machine I wouldn't consider, but this one will need all it can get. Which is why I spent the text explaining.

    I was a tech at a huge printing facility printing yearbooks. Summertime was so slow we had time to bench test the pencils. And a lot of parts to play with. Definite improvement all around. If you don't have the extra drives, I wouldn't buy them, but if you do, give it a shot. Corruption doesn't happen often (depending on crashes and unexpected power termination) but it can, so an extra drive above or below the cd bay (or external) is suggested for important files.

    These posts are correct about raiding on a PC however. Did it two days ago. Pain in the **** to prep and a real disappointment in performance.

    In regards to the overclock, I never had to add any more fan support. The processor increases because the bus speed is increased. As to how much you will get depends of course on your model. Still worth a couple of minutes to try.

    Lastly, I would keep the OS around 10.4.x for performance. I would guess your network port is 10/100, but will still surf and share nicely. Given the age of the machine all these mentioned will be welcomed. Cheers.
  19. SNGX1275

    SNGX1275 TS Forces Special Posts: 10,742   +421

    Appriciate your input, it does seem you know what you are talking about. But I dont' believe its a true hardware RAID, and you are still limited to pretty slow hard drives to begin with because you are stuck with a 128GB max (well you can use larger but 128 is all it will see). Maybe the 'logic board' on the PowerMacs are a true hardware RAID though, and in that case it may be better than I expect. But even if that is true, then what happens with the optical drive? There are only 2 IDE channels on that board...

    And what makes you think its a 10/100 as opposed to a 10/100/1000? There are 2 PowerMac models that use 450Mhz G4s, and I didn't see anything else in what he said about them to lean me towards one or the other. Maybe I missed something though.
  20. visaliagraph

    visaliagraph TS Rookie

    Spare drive....

    These macs shipped with a zip drive internal which we removed and replaced with a hard drive. Master/Slave relationship. Hard disks fit nicely in Zip space. I really learned to hate Zips. Very unreliable. We had over 10,000 disks from customers and pushed them into a landfill after copying.

    Check out this site. Very informative for mods and tweaks.

    As far as the network port it's a total guess. But we had 36 G4's not one of them had a 1000 port. I hope my guess is wrong, but 10/100 is listed as "standard".
  21. SNGX1275

    SNGX1275 TS Forces Special Posts: 10,742   +421

    For the information I didn't know I looked up here:

    Turns out you are right, he's got the Sawtooth one, the only gigabit ethernet ones with a 450Mhz G4 processor were dual processor ones. I think he would have mentioned it if there were 2 processors in it ;)
  22. AudioVayne

    AudioVayne TS Rookie Topic Starter Posts: 99

    Well I only got the 450Mhz figure from the sticker on the case...I have no idea on the cpu specs other than that...
  23. ChinoNYC

    ChinoNYC TS Enthusiast Posts: 85

  24. AudioVayne

    AudioVayne TS Rookie Topic Starter Posts: 99

    Cheers for your help guys!! Much appreciated!

    Tiger wouldn't install, but I have installed Panther instead. Running fine...I did want to overclock the CPU but I can't get into the firmware, and it's not really worth to me the time and effort finding out how. It's a Sawtooth board (On the net they say if the audio jacks are vertical then that's the Sawtooth board).

    Running 512MB RAM
    Transmac...Remember that program...If you want to burn a bootable .DMG file in windows...Transmac did the trick!

    Cheers again guys
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