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My OS X Experiences and Tests with PowerBook G4
By Mike
Published: 3/28/2001
(updated 3/30/2001 for notes on lack of Epson Photo 870 printer support)
I realize it's a new Mac and less likely to have problems with the first release of OS X, but I wanted to summarize my experiences with OS X on a PowerBook G4. I installed it Saturday and have used it for about 20 hours total (buried in email and work here so I can't use it as much as I'd like.)

I'm using Airport to connect to the internet via a cable modem so I can't comment on the PPP/internal modem issues many have reported. I partitioned the drive into two volumes, the first with OS 9.1 and the second for OS X (HFS+ format). My two 256MB SODIMMs had no problems with the firmware update (they were an exact pair of 222 speed modules.) I have had no kernel panics and no system crashes. Internet Explorer has crashed once, and has been sluggish at times (as has iDisk), but otherwise it's been pretty trouble-free. Here are some notes on my compatibility and performance tests (including Classic vs OS 9.1 and Game tests) so far.

  • Setup: I had to force-quit the initial setup registration - it stalled at the connecting stage and also when trying to disconnect. This did not seem to affect the install however and Airport was working from the get-go.

  • Printing My USB Epson Photo 870 was recognized but not supported. Espon has some drivers on the OS X CD, but not for this model. Disappointing. No idea when Epson will have support for my printer.

  • Loss of Cursor: Yesterday after testing several of the screensavers (using the test button) I lost the cursor. Luckily I could see menus highlight and was able to select restart from the Apple menu which brought back the cursor.

  • Display Brightness Keys: After a friend mentioned this, I verifed that if you use the brightness slider in the Monitors control, the keyboard brightness keys then work. However after a restart they don't work again (unless you use the slider again). [Thanks to Steve Weisel for this tip.]

  • Internet Explorer: The only OS X application I've had problems with so far is IE. It has quit suddenly several times (most often during downloads). Perhaps due to net traffic/server load, at times it's very fast, other times (especially during downloads) it becomes unresponsive (spinning cursor, unable to do anything in IE).

  • iMovie2 OS X vs Classic Performance: I ran my usual iMovie 2 Tutorial export test (CDROM medium size) using iMovie for OS X and compared times with the same test I had run with OS 9.1. The times were identical. (OS 9.1 tests used Quicktime 5 preview, which as noted in last October tests on the systems page, cuts export times literally in half with the default H263 codec.)

  • Photoshop 5.5 - OS 9.1 vs Classic Performance: Tests used the 10MB image and 21 filter PSBench series. OS 9.1 took 119.8 seconds to complete the test, under Classic it took 125.1 seconds.

  • Classic Game Tests: Most games I tried would not run properly and all ran slower than they did under OS 9.1 (as expected). With no major OS X native games yet (other than a beta of Cro-Mag rally), there's no reason to run current games in Classic mode when previous OS versions run them better and faster.
    GL Quake 0.7 didn't run, Quake 1 RAVE had no sound (there is a Rave layer in OS X apparently however), Quake2 OpenGL had some spurious polygons, Quake 3 (117) worked but was much slower, and Unreal Tournmanet (436) ran but was very slow. Driver showed a black screen after the opening company logos.

  • Word98/Excel 98: Seemed OK in quick/limited tests. (My old 1.1.1 Visual Page HTML editor also worked. I wish Symantec hadn't dropped that low-cost editor .)

  • Sound: So far I've seen no loss of sound in OS X apps. As other Nomad II MP3 player owners have reported, the first release of iTunes for OS X does not recognize the player. Note: After applying the OS X 10.0.1 update my Nomad II now is recognized by iTunes in OS X.

  • Shutdown Drive Noise: I noticed a much louder "click" from the PB hard drive when shutting down in OS X than in OS 9.1. I now restart in OS 9.1 before shutting down. (May not be an issue really, but I didn't like the sound of it, so I'm being overly cautious with this first release.)

Overall I'm very happy with what I've seen on OS X so far on the PB G4. It will be some time before I use it for daily work, but I like many of the new features and the dock. Performance on the PB G4 is actually better than I expected (considering that the Aqua interface is antialiasing everything). When I can, I plan on removing some of the startupitems folder contents for things I don't need (apache, cron, etc.). This requires root level priviliges I think. (You can move these folders when booted into OS 9.1, but not sure what effect that would have under OS 9.1.)

My PowerBook G4/400 details:

  • 32GB IBM Travelstar
    2 HFS+ partitions, appx 20GB for OS 9.1, 10GB for OS X
  • 512MB RAM (two 222 256MB SODIMMs)
  • Airport card (never updated to Airport 1.3 under OS 9.1)
  • All OS 9.1 updates applied except for Disc Burner

Related Articles:

See the Systems page (Powerbook section) for other PowerBook G4 articles and performance tests (including my comparison of Photoshop 5.5 tests with other G4s and a 1GHz PC, my PB G4 first impressions with Airport vs Wavelan PCCard range tests, HD Upgrade tests and more), the IDE storage articles page and the Firewire articles page for other Powerbook related reviews, tips and guides.

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