View from the Classroom
Performa 575 to PowerMac
I recently received an email from fellow educator Joe Taylor, asking for suggestions as to a low-cost computer for a relative. He was looking for a machine that could perform the basic internet functions of email and web browsing on a tight budget. It didn't have to be expandable or upgradable. It just had to do the basic jobs well...and cheaply!
I suspect there are enough Mac users surfing the net with vintage Macs to easily fill a column or two. In my classroom, all of our Macs are internet capable. While we gravitate to the Power Macs when visiting web sites that require advanced HTML features, the Mac IIfx, IIsi, and LC III also provide internet access. I've already mentioned in a previous column that I'd love to play with an SE/30 on the net, but keep shipping them out to other classrooms before I get the job done.
With all the possibilities available, I went out on a limb and recommended that Joe look at the Macintosh Performa/LC 575 series. From a peek at Mac auctions, it seemed to fit his budget and performance requirements. I knew Joe would like the form factor of the 570 series, as it is similar to the All-in-one (Artemis) that Joe already uses. Also, I pretty well knew the "ins and outs" of the 575, since our first Macintosh at home was a Performa 575. It's a whole lot easier to recommend a model you've used and found effective.
Joe's email coincidentally came at a time when I'd been following several eBay sales on the Macintosh Performa/LC 575 series. Prices seemed to be within Joe's $200 total expenditure limit that included any necessary RAM upgrades or modem purchases. I'd actually bid that week, unsuccessfully, on a Performa 575 that was equipped with an Apple II card!
If he'd had a little more budget to work with, I'd have recommended Joe run, not walk, to his closest wholesale outlet, such as a Sam's, and grab a 333 MHz iMac while he could for around $700! Joe hasn't yet settled on which Mac to choose, although he's also looking into a great deal on a PowerMac 7200. While much maligned for their non-upgradeability, a 7200 with a monitor and modem at the right price could certainly do the job. There are currently lots of them for sale, and a review of past sales indicates the price is right. At any rate, Joe got me going again on a column I'd begun over three years ago!
We purchased our Performa 575 in 1994 from a local appliance dealer for around $1900. It was a good choice for a family computer, as it came with a nice selection of software and was extremely easy to set up. The evening we purchased the 575, we had it out of the box and ready to go in about 45 minutes. We didn't rush, as none of our family had ever set up a new Mac. Sadly, the 575's first days were troubled. It would crash just a few minutes after each startup. A call to Apple support in the wee hours of the morning found me reformatting the hard drive and reinstalling all the software. I'd learned my first Macintosh lesson on replacing system files and the value of a clean install. Since that time, I've never trusted the information on a new Mac's drive, but have always initialized the drive and reinstalled the system software. It just seems to save a lot of problems.
Our Performa 575 came stock as an all-in-one Macintosh with a 33 MHz 68LC040 chip, 5 MB RAM, 512K VRAM, a Quantum Fireball 250 MB hard drive, the built-in 14" Trinitron monitor, and a Global Village Bronze 2800 bps external modem. As desk space was limited, and my wife didn't always wholeheartedly support computer purchases, most upgrades to the Performa were internal!
We first went to 12MB of RAM and eventually to 36 MB. I actually tried a 64MB SIMM in our 575, but couldn't get the machine to recognize over 20MB when starting up from the hard drive. It did, however, work for a while with a startup CD! The hard drive went to 1 gig when the stock 250 MB drive failed (under warranty, with the replacement drive going to school into an LC III), although one reseller told me the power supply wouldn't support anything over 850 MB! A 4X CD-ROM replaced the 2X when the latter became unreliable and started making horrendous noises. Apple obligingly had cut prices on the 4X after the release of 8X and faster units. A rebuilt floppy drive also became necessary, even though I make extensive use of an external zip drive. The stock modem gave way to a 28.8 model that gave way via a lightening strike to the current 33.6 Kbps modem.
A DayStar PowerCard 601 with a 66 MHz 601 chip converted the Performa to a PowerMac 575. While the Daystar card doesn't ease the 36MB RAM limitation of the 575, it does convert it to a PowerMac and add a 256K level 2 cache. Macintosh upgrade manufacturer Micromac lists RAM chips up to 128 MB that are designed to run in the 5xx series.
The Performa 575 has served us well for a number of years, even serving as a beta test platform for Tempo and Bride of Buster (Systems 8.0 and 8.1), ClarisWorks 3, 4, and 5, Claris Home Page 2 and 3, and a number of other programs. The MATH DITTOS 2 series was written nearly in its entirity on it, as were a ton of other education related materials. As both it and I aged, the Performa's 14' screen became more and more difficult to use, not to mention that I had developed an unquenchable thirst for a fast PCI PowerMac. The addition of the Daystar card, and later the HFS+ format along with an external zip drive, probably increased the useful life of this machine as my primary Mac by a year or two. It now serves our two remaining daughters at home for assignments, email, and gaming.
Several years ago, I had a rash of email requests for information about upgrading the 570 series to a Power Mac. I finally realized that Apple Tech Info had linked to one of my pages on my old web site. When upgrading a 575, your choices are pretty limited. Both Apple and Daystar sold both 66 and 100 MHz PowerPC upgrades. They originally retailed at around $500 to $900! Sonnet also used to sell an FPU upgrade.
Since my photos of the 575 were incomplete at best, and the beast hasn't been taken apart for a good cleaning in over two years, I brought home the school's Fuji DS-7 digital camera, tore apart the 575, and have tried to recreate some of the upgrade process for anyone who is interested.
The Performa 575 is an easy machine to service, as it has a slide out motherboard for accessing RAM and chip upgrades. As you can see, the hard drive is also readily removable from the rear. It fits on a sled, as do all the drives in the 570 series.
The plastic shell comes off rather easily as well, but really isn't necessary unless you're going for a thorough cleaning. When working on any all-in-one, it's always wise to remember the CRT (cathode ray tube) can put you down permanently, if you don't give it its due respect! Besides getting a shock yourself, remember that a static electricity discharge from you to your...motherboard...RAM chips...CPU...can also ruin your whole day. Either discharging yourself by tapping something grounded, or better yet, wearing a static wristband is an excellent idea.
The motherboard for the Performa/LC is pretty easy to work with. The single RAM slot is shown at left and the chip tilts to the right after the clips are released. This series uses 72-pin SIMMs. Inserting a RAM chip follows in reverse. Insert at a tilt, making sure you have it aligned properly, and straighten up to engage the clips.
In contrast to the rest of the series, the 580 has two RAM slots which allow a maximum of 52 MB of RAM. One slot requires a single sided SIMM up to 16MB. The other slot can hold up to a 32MB SIMM.
While I'm at it, I should mention that the 580 uses IDE drives, rather than the standardard SCSI employed in the rest of the series.
I've not messed with the VRAM in my machine as it came with 512K of VRAM, but the two VRAM slots are beside the single RAM slot.
If you are fortunate to find one of the rare PowerCard 601 upgrades at a reasonable price, they originally shipped with an excellent manual that takes you step-by-step through the process of opening up your Mac and installing the upgrade.
The first step is to remove the old chip. Pulling the old 68LC040 chip may require the use of a chip puller provided in the PowerCard 601 upgrade kit. While it really wasn't necessary when I recreated the process for this column, the tool was invaluable the first time I pulled the stock chip from the Performa's motherboard. It was firmly attached to the motherboard and I surely would have broken something had I attempted to pry the chip out by any other means. Do use some caution with this step, as similar tools are also known as "chip/motherboard manglers!"
Having pulled the chip and its spacer (retain the spacer--you will need it later), note the chip socket pin arrangement. More to the point, note that one corner does not have the corner pin. This will give you the proper alignment for inserting the upgrade card and later, reinserting the 40-chip.
While the included directions said to save reinstalling the battery until last, my model covered the battery connection, so I had to connect it and leave it trailing off the motherboard until later.
Before inserting the upgrade card into the motherboard's chip socket, be sure to align and attach the Velcro strips used to support and attach the card to the motherboard. Then insert the upgrade card and gently squeeze it into place. Also apply just a little pressure where you applied the Velcro strips to the motherboard to make sure they catch.
You next insert the old 40-chip, with its spacer, into the pin holes on the upgrade card. While I've formatted our 575's drive to HFS+, you can boot to either the 601 PPC chip or the 40-chip if you stay with the standard HFS disk format. Finally, strip away any foreign material that may be on the supplied heat sink, apply a little thermal paste, and press the heat sink atop the 40-chip.
After you find a new spot to Velcro down the battery, the hardware part of the upgrade is complete. Reinsert the motherboard and back panel and proceed to install the necessary software.
The booting process is controlled by the 601 Processor Upgrade control panel, which works with systems 7.5-8.1. A set of System 7.5 installer disks with an appropriate startup disk are included with the upgrade, but your regular System 7.6.1 or 8.1 installer should also include the panel. Turning the panel off enables the old 40-chip, while turning it on enables the upgrade PowerPC 601 chip. If you plan to use both chips, be sure to format the drive HFS Standard and to install a "fat" system for both 68K and PowerPC Macs. You'll also need to remember to install applications as "fat" apps that include both the 68K and PPC code.
For the more adventuresome reader who craves investigating other areas of their 5xx series, I'm going to include a few more shots of the 575 tear down. The front panel is removed by inserting a screwdriver in the flat slot to release the bottom catches and then pulling straight down. This reveals both the CD-ROM and floppy drives, both mounted on sleds for easy removal. I did mangle the front cover a bit the first time I removed it, so use a bit of caution if you try this process.
Again at this point, remember that you will be exposing some high voltage areas of the computer. Use appropriate caution.
The plastic shell comes off rather easily as well. It's held in place by five torx screws. The easiest way to handle it is to lay the computer face (monitor) down on a towel to access the five screws. With the screws removed, just pull upward on the plastic shell to remove it.
If you really must work in this area of the computer, consider getting a discharge tool to drain off the power from the CRT. They're available from Sun Remarketing for around $40. Be forewarned, however, that the tool does not come with instructions.
Performa 575's and related models (Performa 575, 578, 580) seem to abound on the auction sites at fairly reasonable prices. Depending on the configuration, they run $85-200. Paying a bit extra for special packing might be a good idea. I purchased a bargain 575 on eBay, only to have it arrive totally destroyed due to incompetent packing!
Unfortuantely, the Daystar PowerCard 601 is harder than a hound's tooth to find today and commands a premium price. Auction prices frequently reach and exceed $250 for the 66MHz model. I've not seen a listing for the extremely rare Daystar 100 MHz PowerCard in almost a year!
A less expensive alternative in upgrading the 5xx series if you don't have to have a PowerMac is to replace the original 68LC040 chip with a full 68040 which includes the FPU. While both are rated at 33 MHz, about $25 for a used 68040 will get you a modest speed boost.
When my wife and I purchased this Performa 575, the choice for us was between it and a PowerMac 6100. In the years since that time, I've spent many hours working on 6100's at school. While the 575 has some serious limitations, it has performed and aged considerably more gracefully than most of the 6100 series I've serviced! For someone wanting internet access and basic word processing on a very tight budget, I think any of the 500 series would be worthy of consideration.
Just how good is it?
When I was talking recently with one of our daughters about a computer for college, she affirmed that she wanted a Mac. She is the editor of her high school's newspaper and does the layout and editing on an iMac. After working regularly on the iMac, she inquired if it would be out of reason for her to take the old Performa to college with her!
While I am attached to the old Performa, I think we'll spoil her with something a little bit better that the 575 series. Got a G3 All-in-one for sale...cheap?
Where'd View Go?
Like teachers and cars and Macs, columnists sometimes burn out. While I didn't go up in total conflagration, I did choose to take an extra week off before and after Low-End went on hiatus while publisher Dan Knight got in some well-deserved family vacation time. (I'm envious. They went somewhere warm!) One of the problems associated with writing a weekly column is that there doesn't ever seem to be enough time or resources to adequately research every column. Everything comes out a compromise, and that gets to you after a while. Dan and I regularly wrestle with the HTML that works perfectly on my computer, to make it work well with every different computer and browser that logs into View from the Classroom. While I'm now rested, refreshed, and ready to go again after writing absolutely nothing for a week or two, my caseload is once again going crazy. (Job security, I guess! :-) We may explore the options of going monthly with View if I begin to start feeling singed again.
Less than a week after the posting of the column above, I was toiling away on another column on the G3 minitower. Unfortunately, while I was doing some online research during a thunderstorm (Okay, all together, now, "DUH!"), I lost the external modem on the G3. While I'm waiting for a replacement unit, I'm sharing the Performa/PowerMac 575 with our youngest daughter, who has laid claim to it. (The new photography for the column above was actually done while she was away to avoid wails of "What are you doing to my Mac?")
The Performa willingly, if somewhat sluggishly compared to the G3, surfed the net, sent press releases, and uploaded columns and updates (this one among others). Every time I use the machine, I marvel that I got extremely lucky picking such a good "first" computer.
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©2000 Steven L. Wood