PowerBook G3 PDQ SSD Upgrade

As I previously boasted, I am the proud owner of a PowerBook G3 Series laptop (v2, “PDQ”, released September 1998). Since I wrote that article, I have repaired the hinges and maxed out the RAM to 512 MB.

Mac OS 10.2 About Box showing 512 MB of RAM.
Whilst this would have been an amazing amount of RAM under Mac OS 8.1 in 1998, by the release of Mac OS 10.2.8 in October 2003, it was barely enough.

I had upgraded the hard drive several times from the original 2 GB drive. Each drive upgrade dramatically decreased load-times and noise. I did not encounter any incompatibility problems (such as the rumoured ATA-6 drive problem).

A couple of months ago I decided that the time had come to replace the HDD with an SSD (for fun). So I ordered a 32 GB Transcend PSD330 IDE SSD from the US and waited excitedly for it to arrive. But once I had it installed, my excitement turned to disappointment. The SSD would not boot!

Drive Setup in OS 9 identified the drive as ID-1, i.e. slave in IDE. I know that the designations of slave and master do not necessarily imply any kind of order, that neither designation is necessarily first or higher (or as some believe—faster). So the designation of 1 should not have mattered. Furthermore, the internal 50-pin connector for the drive covers the jumper pins, disallowing the setting of a drive to slave, master, or cable select. I had imagined that this allows the computer to enforce cable select, allowing it to manage the available drives (perhaps the same connector was used elsewhere, where more than one drive may exist on the bus). In the image below, the jumper pins are covered by the left side of the connector, below the “9845” label.

Internal IDE drive connector covering jumper pins.
The IDE riser blocks access to the jumper pins.

It turns out that the connector does nothing with the jumper pins. The decision to cover the jumpers must have been either economic, that 50-pin connectors were cheaper than 44-pin, or it was to eliminate assembly errors, it is easier to misalign a 44-pin connector where there is space for a 50-pin connector.

Once I began to suspect the master-slave setting, I searched online and found this 2003 article from Chris Breen. In it he says:

“Unlike hard drives intended for desktop computers, drives intended for laptops are always sold configured with master jumper settings—so you needn’t worry about them.”

This implies that the setting of master is important. And indeed, it turned out to be true. In order for a drive to boot in a PowerBook G3 Series (Sept 1998) the drive must be set to master. This was a seemingly crazy decision on the part of Apple, especially considering there can only ever be one drive on that particular bus (the expansion bays operate on a second bus). Yes, perhaps search ID-0 first for a boot sector. But why not then look to ID-1?

Comparing the labels on the outgoing and incoming drives showed the default master-slave settings to be different. The above quote from Chris Breen is no longer true (probably since 2.5-inch drives are now used in desktop systems). I needed to set jumper pins on a system where I could not set jumper pins!

Photos showing the labels of two drives indicating different jumper settings
Spot the difference, kids.

Being the owner of a soldering iron and knowing that 2.5-inch SSDs are mostly empty space, I opened the drive with a guitar pick to find that there was enough space to internally wire the outermost pins together. I used prototyping wire so that it would hold its shape and avoid any chance of the wire being pinched by the nearby screw hole (and it looks rather neat).

A photo showing the pins of an SSD being internally wired together
That’s some damn good soldering right there!

Once I powered on the computer, my previously restored OS 9 installation booted without issue. The ATA-2 bus has a max theoretical speed of 16.7 MB/s that was easily being exceeded by the previous drive; so the increase in speed due to latency alone isn’t as dramatic as I’d hoped for, but is welcome nonetheless. The silent running of this old computer seems strange, but is also welcome.

I installed Mac OS 10.4 Tiger using OWC’s XPostFacto. 10.4 appears to work better than 10.2 on the PDQ. Most notably the 10.2 backlight bug is no more. The only thing broken by 10.4 is the brightness rocker (which I never used anyway). Additionally, screen sleep has the same issue as it does in 10.2, where it only switches off the fluorescent backlight and not the LCD filters. I counter this by setting the screen saver to display a white 1024×768 image a minute before display sleep. As of the time of writing, the Mac OS 10.4 update servers are still online, which is kind of nice. (Of course, 10.4 itself is terribly out-of-date!)

My Mac OS 10.4 rice. Custom icons and no brushed metal!

The only difficulty I have now is finding CD-R’s in 2020 of high enough quality to be read by the optical drive!

If you’ve got any questions, don’t hesitate to ask.

PowerBook G3 PDQ runs without its screen and mic

I am the proud owner of a PowerBook G3 Series laptop (v2, “PDQ”, released September 1998). The “Wallstreet”, as it is known, was an incredible computer in its day. It was one of the first laptops to have everything you could want in a desktop: a 14.1″ active matrix XGA screen (which was bigger than the 15″ desktop monitors of the time), 3D accelerator, 10 base-T ethernet, SCSI, CD-ROM, 56K modem, integrated number-pad, dual-monitor support, TV-out and a PII trouncing G3 processor. Unfortunately in May 2004, one of the screen hinges broke. I was expecting this dreadful event to occur just like it had for many other Wallstreet owners.

Bar graph showing two G3 CPUs outperforming three PII CPUs on a BYTEmark integer test.
Apple published many BYTEmark results with the release of the G3.

Before this time I had bought a new (lighter) G4 PowerBook and was not using the Wallstreet as a portable. Since it must be run with its lid open, there was no room available on my desk to use it with my KVM setup (it wasn’t getting a lot of use). When the hinge broke, and I discovered that the cost of the repair was several times the value of the computer, I wondered if it would run without any lid at all! So I hooked up an external monitor, powered it up, and sat back waiting for the dreaded chime of death (the way in which Macs cry out in pain). I was pleasantly surprised when it booted seamlessly. (It booted in mirror mode. I later switched it to use the external monitor only.)

PowerBook G3 Series without a screen hooked to a KVM.
The Wallstreet PDQ works without its screen.

The PowerBook now lives squished between two shelves that are about 5cm apart. It is hooked to a PS/2 KVM via a generic USB PCMCIA card and Belkin USB-to-PS/2 adapter. An Apple PlainTalk Microphone replaces the one located in its lid. The computer runs as if its screen and microphone were still attached. Running from an external monitor is flawless (it correctly recalls the last monitor and mode used and applies this at startup). The only catch is the lack of a power button on my PS/2 keyboard, and the fact that the said keyboard and PS/2 mouse fail to wake the machine when it’s “asleep”. This means that I have to reach between the shelves for the power button to turn it on, or any key to wake it up. There is also a 10 second wait for the mouse and keyboard to start responding after the computer has been awakened.

If you’ve any questions about this setup, don’t hesitate to ask.