Moving to a Blue & White
by Steve Wood
October 25, 2004
After two meltdowns in three months, I finally concluded that my six and a half year old beige G3 Mac had seen better days. I'd kept it alive with an array of upgrades and a parts collection that included two other complete G3 minitowers and enough parts to build a fourth!
My game plan all along had been to skip the Macintosh G4 series and wait for the G5s before buying new again. I'd actually cheated on that a bit, as my last processor upgrade to the beige G3 was a Sonnet G4 chip. My wife, Annie, had even suggested that a new G5 Mac would be an appropriate use of funds. But when it came time to make the decision, I found that I was just a bit too tightfisted to part with so many bucks after taking early retirement last spring.
I had looked forward to using a G5 for some time, dropping by the Indianapolis Apple Store whenever I could just to mess around with them. But all along, I'd also been researching a "Plan B," the slightly newer Macintosh Blue & White G3 model. While still a five year old computer, the Blue & White was a major model change for Apple Computer and had significant advantages over the older beige G3 minitower. It did away with the floppy drive, onboard SCSI, and serial ports (Many Blue & Whites shipped with an SCSI PCI card, however.), but added onboard USB and FireWire. It had a faster system bus than the beige G3 (100 MHz vs. 66 MHz).
The Blue & White also introduced a new tower configuration with the motherboard mounted on the tower door that continued through the entire G4 series of Macs. For current users, the Blue & White has the advantage of being supported under Mac OS X 10.3 (Panther), where the old beige G3 maxes out at system 10.2.8. It remains to be seen if Apple will support any G3 models in next year's Mac OS X 10.4 (Tiger) release.
I thought I could easily and inexpensively move up to the slightly less ancient Blue & White, as most of my upgrades from the beige G3s should be compatible with the later model. After many hours of haunting the Low End Mac and Accelerate Your Mac sites and tracking eBay sales, I thought I'd done my research. I'd also sold a bunch of extra stuff out of my computer workshop, so I had enough built up in my PayPal account to cover a "new" unit. I bought a revision 2 Blue & White on eBay via the "Buy it now" option. The revision 2 part is important because it has an improved IDE bus, an improved drive mounting bracket, and a slightly faster graphics card.
When the Blue & White finally arrived, I excitedly unpacked it. It looked pretty good at a glance, but when I opened it up, my heart sank immediately. The seller had shipped a revision 1 instead of the 2 they'd advertised. (Accelerate Your Mac has an excellent page on how to tell the difference in the models.) The bottom photo at left shows the over and under revision 2 drive bracket that was used in many if not all of the G4 models that followed the Blue & White.
It took two weeks to get the models swapped for the correct one. In the interim, I picked up an internal modem for the unit on eBay, a USB keyboard from Amazon, and a Pioneer DVR-108 drive and some RAM from Other World Computing.
When the correct unit finally arrived, I did a quick test boot. Then I eagerly parted out my failing beige G3, transferring the necessary parts to the Blue & White. When I tried to boot the machine, there were no chimes! To make a long story short, the letter "U," or more correctly, an oversight (stupid mistake), ended up costing me some serious bucks. While I'd done a good bit of reading about upgrades for the Blue & White, I'd missed the following on Other World Computing's site:
Important Note: The 1.0 GHz upgrade for Blue & White G3 must be Part No. EG4-1000-1M-U. 1.0 GHz upgrades without the "U" are compatible with Beige G3 models only.
The Sonnet Encore upgrade card from my beige G3 was the older EG4-1000-1M model, only compatible with beige G3s. The newer EG4-1000-1M-U model is compatible with both the beige and Blue & White series.
Determined to stay with the project, I ordered the proper Sonnet card. I also began to accelerate my computer workshop cleanup and selloff to finance the new card. Looking back, it would have been far easier to just order a new eMac from Apple. But the total cost would have been several hundred dollars more, and I'd still need a serious RAM upgrade and an extra (external) drive. On the other hand, it would have been a truly brand new computer.
As it turned out, the upgrade ended up being cost neutral after I cleared out two of my three beige G3 minitowers, various USB and Firewire cards, and the old Sonnet 1 GHz upgrade chip. And, I ended up with a machine running a new chip and the next generation SuperDrive, the Pioneer DVR-108, which at this point is still too new to be supported under OS 10.3.5. It works great with Toast Titanium 6, however.
Since I went with the Blue & White, I was able to use the two PC-100 256 MB RAM chips from my beige G3, augmented by two new ones from OWC, to give me a full 1 GB or RAM. I also was able to use the Radeon 7000 Mac Edition graphics card from the beige.
One last problem cropped up that I really should have caught. The internal modem in the Blue & White and in many iMacs performs miserably. Mine did too. It's well documented all over the Mac web. So...I picked up a Best Data USB Modem that connects somewhat better than the internal model.
Sharp-eyed beige users will notice that I omitted the floppy drive and internal SCSI from my Beige G3 listing. I did so because I long ago pulled the beige's floppy drive. On rare occasions when I still must use a floppy, I use a USB model. I also did away with the beige's SCSI ribbon a year ago when I abandoned Zip disks in favor of a USB flash card reader and a 256 MB flash card. On rare occasions when I need SCSI, I pop in an Adaptec PCI SCSI card.
I really think the Blue & White should run a bit cooler than the old beige G3. It has less drives and cards in it, and the IDE ribbon routing seems less likely to impede air flow. While the boxes are dissimilar, the Blue & White seems more open and clearly less cluttered than the beige setup.
Also, what the listing above doesn't show is that the Blue & White is now running 2 PCI cards with 2 slots empty. The old beige had all three of its slots filled (graphics card, ATA card, and the combo FireWire/USB card). I'm also running one less drive than before. The old beige G3 was a cluttered mess of ribbons, cards, and drives. While the Blue & White is still a tight fit with two hard drives, I feel better about airflow inside the unit with it running less drives and having just a bit more open space.
Probably the biggest thing the Blue & White does for me is to get me back running the latest operating system from Apple. I'd used Panther some on my QuickSilver G4 at school, but really didn't get to know it well. There was never much time to do anything else but teach and prepare to teach kids at school. I think that's what they paid us to do:-).
One thing I should pass along to other prospective upgraders. The Sonnet Upgrade sets the Blue & White's system bus back down to 67 MHz instead of the 100 MHz the unit normally runs at. That was a major disappointment for me. I suppose I could re-pin the thing, but I suspect there's a good reason why Sonnet's preconfigured jumper pin block does this.
Having totally blown my budget for the upgrade, I went a little nuts and hammered my credit card for iLife from Apple, the BBEdit 8 upgrade from Bare Bones Software, and the Adobe Creative Suite Professional from the Academic Superstore. I'd planned all along to pick up Creative Suite, as I am going to shift the writing chores on the MATH DITTOS 2 series to Adobe InDesign. The suite also includes Acrobat, which I use to assemble the files for publication.
All in all, the Blue & White is a very good upgrade from the old beige G3, if you don't need the beige's onboard SCSI and floppy drive. It's actually a bit noisier (fan noise) than the old beige minitower, but has proved to be a good investment.
Informative Links on the Blue & White
Odd Thoughts While Shaving Between Paragraphs
Since starting the this column and the upgrade process, I went back to work for a college K-12 outreach program. Along with a regular paycheck once again, the Indiana Teachers' Retirement Fund finally got around to finalizing my retirement benefits. It took them so long that I'd accumulated some serious bucks from underpayment of benefits.
So...the Blue & White is going to have a very short life as my "main Mac." I'm ordering a dual G5 tower! While I could part out the B&W for some serious bucks, I may take it to work or use it as my upstairs server.
A Last Chapter (10/27/2005)
The Blue & White did go to work with me for a while, giving me an acceptable Mac to use there. When the Mac Mini was introduced, I ordered one the first day. The B&W came home and the Sonnet 1 GHz G4 upgrade and the Tempo ATA/133 card were sold off, nearly paying for the Mac Mini!
The Blue & White took over as my upstairs server. I equipped it with a 550 MHz G4 Mercury upgrade from Other World Computing that I had on hand, and it ran fine for quite a while. Whether it was all the flashing of the firmware for the G4 chips or not, the motherboard finally failed. Actually, it appears the IDE controller on the motherboard gave up the ghost, as the machine began to corrupt drives, finally slowing its boot sequence to long, long periods.
A quick note for those shopping for used G4 upgrades. The OWC Mercury G4 500-600 MHz upgrade is an excellent choice. Just ignore the directions to pop the heat sink back on and go after installing the chip and pinning the motherboard. By all means, install a chip fan! I used the heatsink from a beige G3 with a standard 12v ball-bearing cpu fan. I also pushed the upgrade chip in tests to 650 MHz without any ill effects!
I ordered a 733 MHz Digital Audio to replace the Blue & White, ordered a motherboard on eBay so that I could sell the B&W as a good machine, and let it go on eBay. Interestingly, with the new motherboard, flashed with OWC's Blue & White G4 Enabler / Firmware Updater, it runs better than ever. I did swap the Pioneer DVR-108 for the Digital Audio's DVR-103 before the sale.
A nice lady in Ohio bought the Blue & White using eBay's "Buy it now" option. I ended up paying just $8 more for the Digital Audio than I got for the Blue & White. I think we both got a good deal.
It's been interesting working with Apple's first fold-out motherboard model. I'm glad I tried the Blue & White, but am also happy to be done with all the problems associated with flashing the firmware to accept a G4 chip. One of the coolest things about the B&W was that in its last configuration, it was able to run OS X 10.4 without a hiccup. I won't miss its fickleness with first generation Firewire ports and an internal modem that won't connect.
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last updated 9/22/2011 (reformatted, new images added, links updated)
©2004 Steven L. Wood