Going on holiday, you always face the invertible question of what tech to take along, well I do. Being the geek that I am, the question can ultimately prove a tough one to answer. Last year when I visited Scotland, I took my G4 iBook along with me for the ride. The laptop’s 1.33Ghz processor is still pretty snappy and does everything I needed it to. So this time around, I decided to take the Pismo, with a 550Mhz G4, it’s more than half the speed of the iBook. So I was curious how it would fare and whether I’d be going nuts before the end of the week.
Now anyone who knows me, will tell you, I’ve something of a soft spot for the 1999 Powerbook. It’s true, I really do love that little laptop, the shape, the design, even the white upside down Apple logo and most importantly the bronze keyboard!
‘I do have are a very particular set of skills.‘ – Taken
While studying IT at college, I learned a lot of unnecessary things, such as how to type pretty quickly and how to format a word document. Office skills that a future computer engineer really doesn’t need. But as I get older, I’ve come to appreciate the benefits all those hours typing in MS Word 4 have given me. So when it comes to writing my blog, the Pismo is a machine I tend to fall back on for writing out long articles. It’s easy to use and very functional, typing on the Pismo is a lot easier than on any of my modern machines.
On the 68kMLA website and the Vintage Computer Forum, you will see threads about something called the “Retro Challenge”. The challenge is to try and get by for a month with only a vintage machine for doing your day to day tasks. Essentially replacing your modern computer with a piece of 10-20 year old tech and seeing if you can get by. Now you might think that sounds easy, but it’s worth pointing out that using your phone is considering cheating! Personally, I think anyone using a computer or laptop that is 15 years old, should be given some slack. If it’s still useful to that person for a job, great! It’s certainly better then it sitting in a landfill. I love hearing about the things people use old tech for, it’s inspiring to see people not giving in to the “Throw away” mentality.
So for the past two weeks, maybe three, I’ve been using my Pismo for day to day jobs, going online, chatting to friends, emails, playing music and writing. Aside from Tenfourfox crashing when ever I hit a Flash heavy site or had too many tabs open, it performed surprisingly well, getting the jobs done, albeit a little slower then on my dual core HP DV7.
Thanks to the kind folks at Adobe, I have Photoshop CS2 on my Pismo free of charge, which means I can edit photos and work on art projects using my PPC laptops. Superseded by much newer versions, CS2 still remains an amazing piece of kit to anyone on a budget. But how does it run on a G4 550mhz? Can you still be productive with and outdated piece of software running on a 15 year old laptop? Well last Saturday I found myself on my own, as my partner was busy. So I decided to set myself an arts and crafts retro challenge, or as I like to call it ‘Crafty Retro Challenge!’
After going to see Jurassic World last week, the dino bug was once again stirring in my veins. Going online, I decided I might buy myself a t-shirt. But none of them really caught my eye, which is when I remembered the t-shirt I’d owned in the 90s, as a kid, back when the first movie came out. A quick search later and bingo, I’d found it. Now I recall this shirt pretty well, because I wore it until I physically grew to big for it. Whether it was the velociraptor’s head that sold it or the mocking text I don’t know. To this day, I’m not sure how anyone can have ‘a nice day’, while a dino is chewing their leg.
So I’d found the shirt, except would you believe it, the darn thing was too small, 20 years later and I’m still to damn big for it! Not one to be deterred, I didn’t give up hope that I might actually get myself one of these original Jurassic Park shirts. But if it was going to happy, it would have to involve rolling up my sleeves and some DIY. I loaded up Photoshop on my Pismo, which by the way, came out six years after the original movie premiered. There was something a little poetic about doing 90s artwork on a late 90s laptop. For the most part, photoshop ran without issue on the Pismo and much to my surprise, when I installed the Jurassic Park fonts, I discovered I didn’t have to close and reload photoshop for the fonts to appear inside the app. This is something I’ve always had to do in Windows, but this 15 year old machine didn’t have a problem with it. After a couple of hours I ended up with something I was pretty proud of and might actually considering getting printed. So long as I can afford to have it done, yay I could be 13 again!!
And here we have it, a side by side comparison of the shirt and the image I created on the Powerbook. The Jurassic park logo has since been changed to red, to match the shirt. But over all, I’m pretty darn pleased with how it all turned out. The only problem I had with making this on the laptop, was finding a USB mouse as using the trackpad would have been a nightmare.
So can you design nice things on a 15 year old computer? Yes. Will it handle Facebook, probably not. Do I care much about the latter? Nope! Facebook like Myspace, is rapidly feeling like one of those fads, which thanks to my Pismo’s limitations, I’m able to avoid.
Till next time, keep on geeking!
It’s no secret that I hold a special regard for the G3 Powerbook 2000 edition, otherwise known by its codename “Pismo.”
I’ve owned several laptops over the years, some have been passed on for others to use, while I’ve kept hold of some that hold a certain sentimental quality. It’s silly perhaps to hold such emotions for what is essentially a tool, but we humans do it all the time with inanimate objects, be it cars, boats, buildings or computers. Just as a petrol head will drool over their pride and joy, as a tech head, I share the same emotional attachment to the computers I’ve grown up around or simply collected out of admiration for its design or construction, the Pismo is such a computer. I was never able to afford one from new, but that did not stop me from admiring it. Compared to my clunky P3 450mhz Advent laptop, the sleek lines of the Pismo where something straight out of a Science fiction movie.
When I finally was able to own one, the Pismo was already 8 years old, which in computer terms is an eternity. VGA has been and gone, DVD has gone from top dog, to battling against BluRay. A lot of things happen in 10 years, so how on earth can a device so old, still be of any use today? Well it all depends on your perspective and what you expect to get from your device. Know the restrictions of the tool your using and don’t get angry when it doesn’t do something beyond that. In 2008, my stock Pismo had 512mb ram, a G3 400mhz CPU and Airport (wifi), which back in 2000 was a pretty desirable setup and capable of tackling most things thrown at it. In 2008 it was less then ideal, but through rose tinted glasses I used the laptop, ignoring its short commings. One of the reasons was the keyboard, typing on one of these machines is a dream. I find the layout one of the easiest I have ever encountered on a portable device. Even my new HP DV9 laptop with its full size keyboard and num pad, does not compare to the ergonomic feel the Pismo keyboard has to offer. Sadly, even this did not stop the eventual move to a faster platform.
So my Pismo was lent out to a friend, then after a year, it found its way back to me, eventually ending up down the side of my bed. That was until last year, when I began writing this blog. One afternoon while laid on my bed resting, I looked down the side, bored and trying to find something to do, I saw the Pismo. I had all but forgotten about it being down there. Lifting it out and setting it on my lap, I plugged in the charger and tried firing it up. With a reassuring BONG, the laptop fired up and soon I was in OS X10.3. I spent the remainder of that evening typing out an article for my blog with a smile on my face, feeling like I had been reunited with an old friend. I was even pleased when I found that even while a little clunky, I was able to upload my blog to WordPress using the Pismo. This led me to rethink my views of the Pismo and how useful it was to keep around. Would Youtube and Facebook be out of the question? Actually, yes and no. Both will run on a G3 400mhz processor, all be it slowly. So what about upgrading the CPU? Back in its heyday, the Pismo had several CPU upgrades available and not just those offered by Apple. Daystar, a third party company known for manufacturing Apple accessories, had developed G4 500/550mhz “XLR8” accelerator cards for the G3 Powerbook.
A quick look on line revealed these cards where now out of production and very scarce to find on auction sites such as Ebay. What about buying a Pismo with a faster CPU such as a G3 500Mhz? The chances where certainly higher than landing an accelerator by Daystar, and also probably cheaper.
A few days of searching online left me with several possible candidates. One of them a Year 2000 Powerbook, which did not look anything special until you looked at the description, which mentioned “G4 Powerbook”. This is where paying attention and reading really does pay off, children. At first glance the listing looked to be for a non-working Powerbook listed for 99p. Closer inspection of the actually photo and description hinted at another story. That the laptop had possibly been upgraded with a Daystar G4 daughter card of which there are two. More evidence that this might be true was from the “XLR8” badge, attached just under the screen of the laptop. So I decided to take a gamble and go for it. If it turned out to be a broke G3 Pismo, at least I would have some spares. In the end I paid £20 for this Pismo, someone else had obviously spotted what I had.
Eventually the laptop arrived in the post and I eagerly unpacked it. The Pismo was in remarkably good condition, the only damage being just behind the mouse button, possibly the thinnest part of the upper case, which had a crack running up the centre. Popping off the keyboard, I was relieved to see the shield covering the daughter card was present and firmly screwed in place. Removing the panel, I couldn’t help a smile. In front of me was none other then Daystars crème de la crème G4 550mhz daughter card with 1mb cache, this card used to retail for as much as $399 back when it was on sale.
I gently removed it from the laptop with all the slowness of the Roadrunner eluding Wile E. Coyote. Once I had it installed in old faithful, I pressed the power button. Eep nothing! Quickly taking the card out, giving it a clean and reseating. I tried once more…BONG!! Ok now I really was smiling. I’d not only upgraded from a stock G3 400, but, with the existing ram on this new card combined with my own, I had enough SDRAM to make 1Gb of ram. OS X booted with surprising speed, a quick check of “About the Mac” revealed I had indeed a G4 550Mhz CPU installed. To quote a famous Mechanoid, my smug mode was most certainly engaged!
With the added memory and extra speed, the Pismo runs fantasticly. In addition I recently discovered the TenFourFox browser, aimed at old Beige PPC and G3/4 Apple computers. While Apple might say these computers are now obsolete, there is a day hard demographic of users who would say other wise. The TenFourFox browser is optimised to run specifically on older systems and visibly out performs Firefox and Safari, which up until not so long back, were the only options available.
So if you still own an old Apple computer, what ever you do don’t bin it! Donate it to someone in need a good machine. A PPC running system 9 or a G3/4 system still has it’s uses for word processing, desktop publishing, retrieving email and light surfing. Heck you can watch DVD’s on some of them without a problem.
As for the Daystar G4 550, I cannot speak for what it must have been like using one back in 2004-5 when they where new to the scene. Using one now in 2013, I think is just common sense. The speed benefits make the laptop very useable and able to handle web pages better then with the stock G3 400mhz CPU. Daystar really did do a good job on this product, it’s just a pity it was so damned expensive in its heyday. Given the problems Apple were having with Motorola at the time, who were stuck at the 500mhz barrier, struggling to get G4 chips to run stable at 500 /550mhz speeds. It’s no wonder those few chips that where stable, where sold at a premium.
By far one of my favorite Apple products, is the G3/400 Powerbook, popularly known by it’s codename “Pismo”. This has been and will be, my favorite laptop for a long time to come. Ergonomic to use and exceptionally stylish, Apple really where on the ball when they came up with this product. Which is probably why you can still find people using them even today, be it for writing or browsing. A life spanning 13 years certainly isn’t bad for any electronic device.
In recent months the Pismo has been showing it`s age, as a recent router upgrade from Virgin media, caused my wifi to stop working. Fiddling with it as i might, I could not figure out why it had suddenly stopped working. The router was set up with WPA-auto encryption. Running OS X 10.4 “Tiger”, which is the last operating system available for the Pismo and also brings WPA encryption support.
Sure enough when I set the router to WPA I had internet once more. So something was certainly a foot. Why when set to WPA-auto, did backwards compatibility cease, when it was designed to offer support to legacy devices.
Now as I mentioned before I had recently received a new Netgear modem/router from Virgin media. Retiring the old Linksys WRT300n, which had formerly been the workhorse behind our home network. If you do a quick search online, you’ll find that customers are finding their Virgin media Superhub’s anything but super. With it appearing that Virginmedia have intentionally dumbed down the firmware, much to the annoyance of the more seasoned user.
One of the features of the Netgear router is “Push ‘N’ Connect” WPS (Wi-Fi Protected System). Introduced in 2007, this featured offers a quick an easy method of setting up a secure wireless network. How ever as recently as 2011, it was found to be easier to bypass. Many new router/modems comes with WPS enabled by default and it is recommended you disabled to feature. WPA2 continues to be the best encryption method for the vast majority of homes networks.
I offer this advice now, after discovering the fault with my Pismo / Wi-Fi setup was indeed the WPS feature of my Superhub. Disabled WPS instantly solved my connection issues.