Video card updates are often the first stop for users wishing to increase the performance of their computers, and so I decided to start my update efforts in this area. Video card updates are particularly relevant for gamers and for people who are interested in high quality video playback of all sorts.
After reviewing the slate of possible video upgrades for my Power Macintosh 7300/200, I settled on the ATI Radeon 7000 Mac Edition as the best of a limited bunch.
While reviewers generally commented on its “tepid performance” overall, it was still a major boost relative to the onboard video system of the 7300, and seemed the most competent of the set of possible options.
The ATI Radeon 7000 Mac Edition debuted in 2002, and was targeted at upgrades of older Power Macintosh units that lacked the then current AGP bus, and thus had only PCI to work with as a system interface. Despite “being hobbled by its PCI interface” as one reviewer put it, the Radeon 7000 Mac Edition still promised a significant functionality boost to users of older Macintoshes: DVI connectivity, dual monitors, accelerated 3D graphics and finally higher resolutions due to its 32 MB of (then) high speed DDR onboard video RAM.
Arriving as it did in 2002, and aimed at older Macintoshes, the included drivers assumed Mac OS 9.2.2 would be the operating system environment that they would execute in. Thus the OpenGL elements of Mac OS 9.2.2 were required to get full functionality from those drivers. Early versions of Mac OS X were supported as well, but as this was not my focus, I chose not to explore that further.
I am running Mac OS 9.1 on my Power Macintosh 7300/200, and so I was a little concerned about getting things to work, but it turns out that both the initial releases of the drivers, and the October 2002 retail upgrade of them, both supported Mac OS 9.1, but per the above, without full OpenGL support. I resolved that by copying all of the OpenGL system extensions from one of my Mac OS 9.2.2 systems to the Mac OS 9.1 system folder of my 7300/200. The net result was that my Mac OS 9.1 system was upgraded from OpenGL 1.2 to OpenGL 1.2.4.
Installation of the card was a snap (I picked one up on eBay for next to nothing). I installed the October 2002 version of the drivers, turned off the Macintosh, installed the card, and attempted to move the video connector from the onboard video plug to the Radeon 7000 video plug… Well, wait a minute, perhaps installation was not QUITE so much of a snap. More like a hiccup actually!
I am using an original Apple Multiscan 720 17” monitor with my Power Macintosh 7300/200,
and as you will undoubtedly remember, Apple had unique, non VGA connectors at the time. So, I could not simply move the non VGA video connector of the monitor onto the VGA output of the Radeon 7000.
If I had been able to get the Radeon 7000 I purchased with its full original retail packaging, this would not have been a problem. ATI included the necessary adapter for this circumstance in their original packaging. However, all I had purchased was the card itself, and so I was somewhat out of luck.
A return to eBay was in order, and after some trial and error, I discovered that a search for “Macintosh to VGA adapter” turned up the right result, and I ordered one. This arrived a few days later and I was able to complete the install and try out the new card. Needless to say, the delay was annoying!
I connected the monitor to the Radeon 7000 via the adapter and turned on the machine. The Power Macintosh booted smoothly and came right up on the Radeon video port. That was good – basic sanity is always helpful! But what about performance? Well, as reported above, “tepid” does seem a good choice of words. I really did not notice much improvement in observable performance. Subjectively, some applications seemed to accomplish vertical scrolling a little more smoothly, and this was especially visible in Photoshop 6, but that was about it.
Worse, I noticed that selecting and dragging Finder windows seemed to have gotten noticeably WORSE! Where previously window movements had been reasonably smooth, now they were jerky, with the screen image seeming to update very, very slowly. I have been using an extension called Power Windows to achieve solid window dragging.
Suspecting a conflict, I disabled it. That did the trick. Suddenly, although I no longer had solid window dragging, Finder windows moved crisply and updates snapped into place. This was a notable improvement from the state before I had installed the video card, and so I was happy with it.
I am not a gamer, but I have read numerous reports that the Radeon 7000 makes a perceptable difference there, and ditto for video playback. For me, the Radeon 7000 did little for my day to day work on the Power Macintosh 7300. The system did not seem subjectively any faster, short of the minor Finder window update speed improvement I reported, but it did now have more available resolutions, and dual monitor and DVI connectivity (if I should ever want to use these with this system) and so I will call it a net win.
Overall, the real value of a Radeon 7000 addition will be realized by gamers, users of video and those wishing to go to DVI or multi monitor. For my use of my 7300/200, the Radeon 7000 was a nice addition, but not a great performance uplift.
That brings us to next steps. The objective of this exercise was to get noticeable performance improvements, and so it was time to move on to the next step. One typically gets noticeable performance gains from CPU upgrades, and so next up is just that: a CPU upgrade. See the next post in this series to see how that turns out!