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Are PowerMacs Compatible with Generic PC Hardware? 24

linux_penguin asks: "Recently I've been interested (as is everyone I suppose) in OS X. My girlfriend is currently studying desktop publishing, and is using Illustrator, PageMaker etc at tech. I'm thinking of buying her a powermac. This will allow her to study at home, and give me a chance to have some fun with OS X when it finally comes out. I've looked at the pricing of these things, and there appears to be large price jumps from one model to another, with only minor changes in spec. Not only that, but their monitors are *so* expensive... and thoughtfully, a large jump in spec. I thought it might be better to buy a mid-range powermac with no monitor or accessories, and upgrade it myself. My question is, is this a feasible thing to do? Do Macs support standard SVGA monitors? I know it supports USB devices, but could I upgrade the H/D, RAM or whatever with off-the-shelf components?"
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Are PowerMacs Compatible with Generic PC Hardware?

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  • Watch out when buying third-party PC hardware for use in a Mac - many AGP/PCI video cards and PCI SCSI cards come with some form of on-card BIOS that can only be used with a PC. In some cases, you may be able to flash the BIOS to get Mac-compatibility. Otherwise, go with a card that is specifically indicated to be Mac-compatible.

    What's really annoying is when a card with the Mac BIOS is 50% more expensive than its PC equivalent (*cough*Adaptec*cough*)...

  • While I haven't had any problems in functionality replacing components (CDROM and HD, so far) with PC standard components, I ran into an interesting problem with the case configuration.

    I have a beige G3/233. When the CDROM went out, I put in a cheap ACER one. The problem with it is that the CD tray door on the new ACER is 1/8" taller than the apple CDROM. Since most PCs have the entire face of the drive exposed, this is not a problem for them. However, most Macs have a plastic panel that covers all but the tray door. I had to remove the panel that fronts the CDROM drive, and now my Mac has a gaping hole in the front. I tried all the other drives from all my PCs and they were all too tall. Go figure.
  • In the low range, I would say ATI, ecause their cards are in all new macs...
    You might also want to check the new Voodoos, because they are mac friendly now... (I don't know if they're out yet)
    In the 600 - 1000 $ range you have plenty of choice for the mac, but I haven't had the chance to test one of these...
  • Basically, what everyone else has stated is true. Here are a few more suggestions:

    * Most things will work out of the box, but special features may not work. (Such a most mouse wheels)

    * Just like Linux, drivers not hardware are often the down problem. Sometimes you can buy third-party drivers such as USBoverdrive (for mice, joysticks, etc) or FWB Hard Disk Tool Kit (amoung other HD formaters) to access hardware that Apple does not provide native support.

    * All current Mac's ship with an SVGA connector. Mac savy monitors will tell tell the system what resolutions are supported, otherwise you may need to manually force the monitor.

    * All older Mac's could work with an SVGA monitor with the addition of an inexpensive Mac to VGA adaptor.

    * As others have mentioned, Apple monitors are worth the price if image quality and color accuracy is important. (It maybe for your girl friends work.) Underling all of this is the MacOS's color control technologies, which are one of the big reasons that most Photoshop pro's have stuck to their Mac's.

    * While the current generation of Mac's have abandoned SCSI in favor of Firewire, SCSI is extremely well supported by Mac's. We have installed Adaptec SCSI cards in all of our new G4 systems so that they can access old drives and scanners.

    * When checking for Mac drivers, be sure to check the websites in addition to the info on the box. Firms often do not even print on the box that Mac drivers exist, or they try to get you to buy the more expensive box with the drivers added when you could have downloaded the drivers..

    * Most Mac users buy their stuff from mail order outfits and not retailers: Connection, Warehouse, Zones, Club, Outpost, Smalldog, etc. Check out their online catalogs for an idea of what is advailable. (I recommend that you get on the Connection and Warehouse catalog mailing lists.)

    * While you are waiting for MacOS X, remember there is LinuxPPC and YellowDog.

    Now if you want to make your girl friend happy, dump the keyboard and the mouse. Instead get a deccent aftermarket Mac USB keyboard and mouse. Okay, a few people like the round mouse. But IMHO the round mouse is only good for kids with small hands. Oh, and multi-button mice do work with drivers. Microsoft reccently started using a version of USBoverdrive and Kensington has their own excellent mouse drivers. If your girl friend as any old ADB bus keyboards or mice that she likes, you can buy an ADB to USB adaptor.

    And if you want your girl friend to be really, really happy. Buy a second cheap video card (with Mac drivers) and a cheap small monitor. The second screen is great for toolbars and secondary windows. This feature is exteremely well supported by MacOS. (Plus she will forget that you bought the cheesy non-Apple primary monitor)

  • Yes, OS X will run on any G3 or G4 Mac, including iMacs and the beige G3s. It will most likely run unsupported on some older Macs; for example I have OS X Server running on my G3-upgraded 7500, and I've installed OS X DP3 on a 604e-based 9600.
  • Most SVGA monitors will work - I can say this from experience. There's nice sync adapters sold from most of the Mac catalogues and such which will allow you to sync your monitor, no matter what the card/model; but the new G3s and G4s are excellent at detecting & working with PC monitors, so you shouldn't have to even use those.

    you can use IDEs, definitely - but if you're using graphics, get a SCSI. Photoshop uses the drive for "swap space", so the extra speed using a good SCSI card will be worth it. BUY RAM - Macs can speed up processes using more RAM, while PCs may or may not use it. Illustrator topped out on any RAM benefits at over 25-30, so don't add more for that; Painter I haven't tested.

    I'll bet your GF will want a different/not hockey-puck-shaped mouse, so be prepared for that. Frankly, I hate that little piece of crap.

    ATAPI is the model for the new G4's DVD, to note.

    Also - just to ask - has anyone seen if OS X will actually work with G3s? I didn't think so, but I've been working on other stuff and not paying attention.

    A couple of words of caution about this sort of thing: 1) don't use a KVM switch on your Mac and PC unless you're careful about using a KVM which can support Macs - otherwise the monitor can take severe damage doing this. It's something to do with, I believe, Apple's power saving options. 2) a lot more stuff is Mac compatable than most people think - and because it's a PC-dominated world, sometimes you have to explain to people that, for example, a modem isn't really PC or Mac specific, but the cable is (or was - USB's solved a lot of that).
  • If you decide to go with a SCSI adapter in addition to the onboard IDE, I'd recommend going with the Apple installed one or adding in an Adaptec board yourself.

    When I got my G3, I opted for the cheapest SCSI card I could find, to drive my older scanner and an extra drive from my older PowerMac. (It's a Orange Micro connector). And I've had nothing but problems with it... It didn't support my drive even with the FWB drivers that came with the drive, and I've had intermittent problems with SCSI timeouts on the scanner. (Plus it's not compatible with LinuxPPC.)

    Everything I've heard from other users is that the Adaptec card is worth the extra cash.

  • All that's required of the monitor is multisync, regardless of if it explicitly states "Mac-compatible". And I can't recall seeing any fixed-sync monitors for a few years now, certainly all the 17" or larger ones these days are multi. I believe MacOS uses DDC to determine the available screen sizes. But you can force it to display all modes for those monitors it can't talk to.
  • third party memory modules are a LOT cheaper than getting it through Apple

    To be fair, that's true of almost any major label computer maker. When I had to order a Dell PowerEdge for my office, the RAM was marked up insanely -- the differential was something like $4 per Mb beyond the base setup. Additional drives and other components were similarly overpriced compared to buying them 3rd party.

  • Thats a great troll man.... well done! :)

  • I have tried in the past to use other CD-ROM drives to upgrade Mac CD-ROM, and I have to warn you that Apple has the somewhat annoy habit of putting their own ROM chip on the drives. The kicker is that if the system doesn't recognize the ROM it will not support the drive and the you have to run out and buy a third party CD-ROM driver. Even if it's a similar model from the same manufacturer of the Apple model, you'll still get bit on this one. FWB put out a CD-ROM Toolkit that supported many drives. Also, if you own a CDR you can use the driver Adaptec provides to read from a CD-ROM.. Haven't dared a DVD upgrade yet.
  • I actually know someone who has an ATI Rage 128, and ATI All-in-wonder (?), and a Voodoo 3 2000 PCI, and his system seems to work pretty well. (Though he had to re-flash a chip on the Voodoo to make it work with his Mac.)

    ...That's right... 3 monitors and a TV at once... It's just freaky.
  • I've got an older powermac, and currently I've got a Dell 19" monitor sitting on top of it. I had to buy a $15 pinout converter (has a few dips on it too), but it works like a charm. Strangely, my old applevision monitor came with a smaller pinout converter that just plug-n-plays with PCs. The 15" apple monitor sits atop a linux box in my living room right now.

    As for video and sound, there are a bunch of PC components that are cross-compatible. And there are now a LOT of USB devices that plug into both systems, thanks to the popularity of the iMac. USB MIDI, USB drives, USB audio, etc etc. But as for PCI stuff...

    • Creative Labs has committed to making Soundblaster mac compatible
    • 3dfx is making apple drivers for the voodoo cards
    • ATI's Rage card comes standard on some macs already
    • lots of the high-end digital audio hardware came first on mac anyway, and most of it is cross-platform
    • Drives are essentially drives. My old pre-IDE powermac has a frankensteinian assortment of SCSI drives attached to it. With the new ones having IDE built-in it's even easier to add drive space (although I'd never be without SCSI for doing high-end AV)

    The only thing I can think of causing a problme might be a NIC, but since powemacs have those built-in, it shouldn't be an issue.



  • Check out MacResource [] which maintains a RAMWatch [] of prices for macintosh RAM for various Apple computers.
  • Here are the following types of things that can be added/used with/upgraded in the current round of G4 macs (and most G3 macs too)

    PC-100 Ram
    ATA/33 and ATA/66 drives
    AGP 2x
    Iomega Zip

    Here is what I have on my PowerMac 7500
    - Voodoo 3 2000 PCI card
    - Entrega USB 2 port PCI card

    On my G4
    - 256 Megs of PC-100 Ram (Bought it at Pomona computer show)
    - 30 gig Western Digital 7200 RPM ATA/66
    - Voodoo 3 2000 PCI (because i want two monitors)
    - Dell 19" VGA monitor (on the Voodoo 3 card)
    - Micron 17" VGA monitor (on the Rage128 AGP)
    - USB Video Bus by Belkin (Made for Windows 98)
    - Kensington Turboball (USB)

    On my Wallstreet G3
    - Lucent Silver ORiNOCO (formerly WaveLan, formerly geesh!) Airport compatible PCMCIA card

    the days of mac only hardware are just simply gone. Now, its just a matter of drivers, most of the time.

    get a mac
  • Viewsonic builds great quality monitors and they provide drivers for both Apple and PC computers. They sell cheaper versions under the brand Optiquest. My Viewsonic is almost 4 years old and the only problem I've had so far happened 1 month before the three year warranty window expired and they happily fixed it and returned it.
  • I would like to inject a bit of caution to the discussion.

    You see, I tried to save some money by using generic PC100 memory and it didn't work. The problem I found is that the machine needs 2/2/2 timed memory sticks, and higher quality=better stability. You might end up looking at the PC133 rated memory, going a bit over the specs with generic stuff may help resolve potential timing issues. I was lucky that I was able to exchange the memory I bought for better quality memory and the dealer ate the cost since I had specified that it must be Mac G3 compatible on the purchase order. The frustration of having 4 brand new blue G3's all crashing because of bad memory was a lesson to me, you get what you pay for.

    The other area which you must be very cautious in is video cards. The quality of the mac drivers will be critical to your success. Currently ATI is the only one that seems to be in the game right now but those ATI rumors persist.

    The things which will work with little hastle are most USB devices, just have to check if the manufacturer supports the Mac. 95% of IDE DMA/33 or DMA/66 hard drives will work, the problem might arise with the apple disk tools not being able to format the drive. I wouln't buy a hard drive any larger than the biggest one apple offers to avoid that potential hazard. Monitors are safe, apple dropped their proprietary monitor connector a few generations ago thank god. Watch out with printers. Some of those cheap as dirt printers on the market are brain dead so without a supported driver they are table art. A postscript printer is the native mac printer type but postscript doesn't come cheap, and it doesn't come with inkjets until they get to large format. If you don't need perfect prints (not doing publishing) just get a printer which is supported. Epson seems to be one of the better injet manufacturers for mac support.

    Stuff that doesn't work well: Anything in that braindead cheap group of junk equipment like winmodems. Most add on PCI cards do not have mac drivers even though the mac supports the PCI slot standard. DVD decoders, TV tuners, some SCSI cards. First step would be to check a prospective devices manufacturer driver page. Some devices are supported on the mac but don't ship in a box that comes with drivers or any clue that it might be mac compatible. Lots of multimedia software is the same way. There are many educational and low end multimedia titles on the PC shelves that are hybrid discs with the code for both mac and PC computers on the same disk.

    Here are some links to mac news pages which you might like to dig through the archives for. All 3 tend to run feature articles when new OS and hardware come out to gather problem reports and solutions which I find very useful. [] [] []

  • I was in your exact situation a couple years ago. I bought a PowerMac 8600/300 for my wife, but I bought a third-party monitor. In fact, I don't have ANY external or additional internal devices from Apple, and I've made the same kind of upgrades that you're planning. The Macintosh has come a long way in using standard components. There are limits, of course, but here's a list of some things that work:
    • Normally, PCI cards don't work. The BIOS in most cards is x86 code, so it won't get executed in a Mac. Sometimes, there is a Mac driver which makes up for that. For instance, I was able to take a Diamond Monster 3D (Voodoo 1) video card, stick it in my PowerMac 8600, download some generic Voodoo 1 drivers, and it worked. In most cases, however, you need to have a Mac version of the card, especially for things like SCSI cards that let you boot devices.
    • Newer macs use USB for most devices, so printers, scanners, external USB drives, etc will work, often without the need for drivers (Macs are generally much better than PC's at supporting hardware without the need for installing drivers). However, you must make sure that your USB device is Mac compatible. That may mean a visit to the manufacturer's web site to find out if there are drivers.
    • Monitors and hard drives work without a hitch. I never buy Apple hard drives or monitors. In fact, since Macs now use PC video cards, they're even pin compatible (you used to have to buy a VGA-MAC converter). And any SCSI or IDE drive (depending on which Mac you have) will work.
    • RAM is a little different. Any decent RAM vendor will carry DIMMs that work in Macs, but you should at the very least buy them from a vendor who KNOWS which DIMMs work in which Macs. I have been able to purchase memory at the lowest price for my Mac from a vendor who knows Macs, so you won't be paying more than you have to. Other posters have said that standard PC100 memory will work fine, and I have no reason to think that it won't.
    The only options you want to consider are an internal Zip and DVD drives, since they make better internal than external devices. The internal Zip is unfortunately only 100MB. You may also want to get an external 1.44MB floppy compatible device, like an Imation SuperDisk [].

    To avoid repeating other posts, I just want to say that the moderated posts from SmittyTheBold, Cadre, Que_Ball, and leejor are all excellent.

  • Check the monitors docs first that it is Mac compatible, most are but a few aren't.With memory just follow Apple's specs for exactly the right type and you can buy anyone's [go for quality brands if you're smart though, PC or Mac]. Video cards ATI has good drivers, 3Dfx will have a seperate Mac product for Voodoo5. I'm not sure where nVidea is right now.
  • I've done it, it's no real problem. The monitor's are definitely compatible and you might have a problem with some hd's but it should otherwise be ok.
  • by Cadre ( 11051 ) on Monday May 29, 2000 @01:18PM (#1040196) Homepage
    Apple does mark up their bundled RAM and HDs alot. You can save alot just by buying the low end machine upgraded with whatever CPU you want. Make sure when you buy the RAM to check that the speed is 2, 2, 2. I've seen more than one person buy el'cheapo RAM from the dealer on the corner and get stuck with crappy 3, 3, 3 RAM.

    I'd recommend getting the Apple ZIP drive (if you want a zip drive) because it comes with the translucent bezal. If you don't specify the zip drive and you buy a generic zip from somebody you are just going to have a beige zip drive in a blue case...

    The Studio Display monitors are worth every penny. With monitors, what you pay is what you get. If you get the cheapo $600 19" you are getting a bad monitor (but if you don't care, more power to ya). Studio Display's use ColorSync to give you a much better picture. The only other monitors that match the quality of an Apple monitor are the professional Sony FD Trinitron, Radius, etc, which are priced just as much (sometimes more). This one is your call. If you have the money, its a very good monitor.

    The internal modem slot is proprietary (their are third party modems, but I don't think any of them fit in that slot). If you need a modem, the best one you can get is Apple's. If you don't need one, don't get it.

    To sum it all up. Click the BTO button. Select whatever CPU you want, the ZIP drive, and the modem. Everything else buy from a quality third party dealer.
  • Pretty much everything is cross-compatible any more.

    On the hardware level, you can use SVGA monitors, IDE (ATA/66 even) hard drives, PC100 memory, PCI cards, perfectly fine. The one catch *may* be drivers. This is of course not an issue with hard drives, memory, and the sort. But many other peripherals such as the video card do need separate drivers. Unfortunately, ATI has the best cards for the Mac at the moment, but that is changing. 3dfx and (supposedly) nVidia are in the process of bringing support to the Mac.

    Looking at the Apple store screen, pretty much everything is a DIY thing. I'll go through it with you. A current G4 gives you these choices:

    CPU - Buy it now, it'll be pretty damn expensive to upgrade

    RAM - Horribly expensive. get 64 MB, put your own PC100 into the remaining slots

    Hard Drive - A little expensive, you can put an IDE drive in these machines pretty easily.

    Monitor - Unless aesthetics mean *that* much, buy your own and pay half as much.

    Zip - buy from Apple if you want it to look right - only the pre-builts come with the proper bezel for Zip installation.

    DVD/CD - I really don't know. Should be compatible with standard ATAPI drives.

    Video card - Well, you're stuck with the ATI card. Enjoy it. You should be able to upgrade later.

    SCSI - If you want SCSI, go ahead. It's a decent price, and comes built for you. 3rd party options exist also. (such as Initio and Adaptec)

    Modem - Apple has a special connector for this, so for an internal modem this is your option.

    AirPort - These are VERY cool. For one machine though, there's no point.

    Warranty - Don't bother. You probably won't need it.

    Hope this helps a little,
  • by jfrisby ( 21563 ) on Monday May 29, 2000 @12:40PM (#1040198) Homepage
    The hard drives are usually IDE, although some high end models may still be using SCSI. Video output is SVGA. Slots are PCI and AGP. I don't recall what type of memory it uses, but third party memory modules are a LOT cheaper than getting it through Apple.

    IIRC, there are drivers for the Voodoo 3 for Mac... NVidia is supposed to be releasing Mac drivers soon too I think...


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