Pimp My Ride – Upgrading a Power Macintosh 7300 – Series Wrap Up

Pimp My Ride 10

Welcome to the summation of our “pimp my ride” series. In this series, we have looked at upgrading a Power Macintosh 7300/200. We have upgraded the video card, the CPU and both the hard drive itself and the hard drive interface (from SCSI to IDE). Reviewing the full set of results we have achieved, one upgrade really stands out from the rest: the CPU. Our results clearly demonstrate that to get the biggest “bang for your upgrade buck”, you should upgrade the CPU. This is the highest impact single step you can take. No other single upgrade delivers such dramatic across-the-board improvements.

PowerPC G3

What about the other upgrades? The other upgrades we undertook helped, but none to the extent of the CPU upgrade. Upgrading the video card was nice, but it did not produce that much observable impact in day-to-day use of the computer (unless you are a gamer). Upgrading the hard drive from SCSI to IDE delivered modest improvements in boot time, and also delivered somewhere between 1.5X and 2X reduction in program launch time, definitely making it a good second upgrade step to take. However, in the final analysis, only the CPU upgrade made significant, observable, day-to-day improvements across the board: boot time, program launch time, general responsiveness and so on.

So there you have it. In this series, we started with a stock Power Macintosh 7300/200 and step-by-step, upgraded the video card, the CPU and the hard drive. Of these upgrades, the single largest bang for the buck is the CPU upgrade.

Want to speed up your Power Macintosh? Hit eBay and start searching for Sonnet G3 and Sonnet G4 CPU upgrade cards. Find a good one, install it, and strap on your goggles and driving gloves – you are in for a high speed computing experience!

Goggles and Gloves

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Pimp My Ride – Upgrading a Power Macintosh 7300/400 to an IDE Hard Drive

So far in this “pimp my ride” series, we have looked at upgrading the video subsytem of our Power Macintosh 7300/200 with an ATI Radeon 7000 Mac Edition video card (not much impact) and upgrading the CPU from the stock 200 MHz PowerPC 604e to a 400 MHz PowerPC G3 (BIG impact). In this last installment of our upgrade saga, we will look at upgrading the stock SCSI hard drive to an ATA-66 interfaced IDE drive.

The stock SCSI hard drive that shipped with the Power Macintosh 7300/200 may be many things, but FAST was not one of them. Using the Intech Hard Disk Speed Tools benchmarking program, I was able to measure the maximum transfer rate of the SCSI drive in my 7300 at about 9 MB/s. The graph below tells the tale.

SCSI Drive Speed Results

Now, there is nothing wrong with this number. 10 MB/s is the advertised speed for Apple’s “Fast SCSI”, but to put this number in context, today’s SATA hard drives operate in the GB/s transfer range. Even the older IDE technology delivered up to 133 MB/s transfer speeds. 9 MB/s, while absolutely in spec, is simply SLOW!

To overcome this, I purchased on eBay a Sonnet Tempo ATA-66 IDE interface card. This PCI interfaced internal expansion card promised up to 66 MB/s transfer speeds, a worthy jump in performance vs. the existing SCSI drive. I happened to have a Seagate 3120814A 120 GB IDE hard drive in stock, and so I installed that into the second drive bay of the 7300.

ST3120814A

I then installed the Sonnet Tempo ATA-66 into a spare PCI slot and connected an IDE cable from it to the newly installed Seagate IDE drive. For those that know about such things, I was careful to use the higher speed double conductor type of IDE cable, so as to get maximum speed out of the interface.

I restarted the machine and went into Drive Setup (the standard Apple utility, usually found in the Utilities folder of the boot drive). It obligingly found the drive and offered to initialize it. I will spare you the gory details of that process, but I partitioned the physical drive into several logical drives (one for use as a general files partition, one for use as a second Mac OS partition, and finally, two for a later Linux install on this machine) and initialized each one. That done, I now had no fewer than 5 logical drives showing up on my Mac OS desktop.

Desktop w 5 Drives

How fast was this new disk? Had I accomplished the 66 MB/s I was hoping for? I reran the Hard Disk Speed Tools benchmark, and got a disappointing 31 MB/s.

IDE Drive Speed Results

This is still more than 3X the speed of the stock SCSI drive, but was only half of what should have been possible. I swapped IDE cables, I swapped out the Tempo ATA-66 for another Tempo and generally tried everything I could think of, but nothing would induce the interface to run any faster. I still haven’t solved this mystery, but 31 MB/s IS still a lot better than 9 MB/s, and so I decided to proceed with the testing based on this slower, but still much faster, hard drive and interface.

Clearly, to do any meaningful testing, I needed to be able to boot from, and run applications from, the IDE drive. The Sonnet Tempo ATA-66 box and documentation was very clear that this interface supported booting of the Macintosh and so I proceeded under that premise.

It was MUCH too much work to install a new version of Mac OS onto this new drive just for the purposes of testing, and so I took a very convenient shortcut. I simply copied my entire SCSI boot volume, folder by folder, to a partition of the IDE disk. I then “blessed” the system folder of this copy of my boot disk (if “blessing” of a system folder is a mystery to you, it is the arcane but simple process of making a Mac OS system folder bootable). Finally, I went into the Startup Disk X control panel and selected the new drive to boot from.

Startup Disk X

All set and ready to boot! Stop watch in hand, I hit the power button and timed the boot sequence. It clocked in at 1 minute and 40 seconds, or 100 seconds, from power up chime to the appearance of the control strip on the booted desktop. This may sound slow to you when examined through the lens of today, but this was GOOD! Prior to all of the upgrades undertaken as a part of this series, the equivalent boot time was 2 minutes and 57s, or 177 seconds.

However, I must note that after just the CPU upgrade undertaken earlier in this series, the boot time was already down to 2 minute and 5s, or 125s.  Compared to the new time of 100 seconds this implies that booting from the 3X faster IDE hard drive hadn’t really bought me anything close to a 3X improvement. How could this be? As we noted in the CPU upgrade part of this series, it seems that booting is both CPU bound and disk bound.

What about other performance metrics? After the machine was booted, I tested a few programs that I had comparative metrics for:

– Photoshop 6.0 Load Time: 12 seconds (vs. 27 seconds from SCSI drive)

– Corel Word Perfect 3.5e Load Time: 2 seconds (vs. 3 seconds from SCSI drive)

The improvement in Photoshop load time was impressive; Word Perfect less so, but still good.

Looking at the above, the net result of this decidedly unscientific examination of the relative speed impact of using a 3X faster IDE hard drive vs. the stock SCSI hard drive is that it had an observable impact. Booting was faster, but not THAT much faster, implying that booting was bound by more than just disk I/O. Some program launches were more than 2X faster, while others were only 50% faster or so.

In summary, I think we can conclude that upgrading the hard drive of your Power Macintosh from SCSI to IDE is a worthy step, and one that will deliver you observable performance gains. Critically, booting is faster and program launching is faster. These two areas factor large in the subjective impression of the “speed” of a machine, and this all by itself makes a SCSI -> IDE upgrade well worth considering.

That’s it for this installment! Stay tuned for final post in this series, a wrap up of all of the upgrade steps taken to date.

Pimp My Ride – Upgrading a Power Macintosh 7300/200 to a 400 MHz G3

This is part two of our “pimp my ride” series, in which we undertake  performance upgrades to various subsystems of a Power Macintosh 7300/200. In the first part of this series, we upgraded the 7300/200 with an ATI Radeon 7000 Mac Edition video card, and found the results largely uninspiring. In this post, we upgrade the CPU from the stock 200 MHz PowerPC 604e to a 400 MHz G3.

The CPU is the heart and soul any computer, and a capacity increase in this area should certainly among the highest impact updates a user can make. In my case, my Power Macintosh 7300/200 shipped with a 200 MHz 604e, and was a very capable machine in this configuration. Nonetheless, I had two CPU updates available, both from Sonnet: a 500 MHz G3/1M and a 400 MHz G3/1M. Conceptually, both should have been able to more than double the performance of the 7300, and as we shall see, this was indeed the case.

I am sure that it will come as no surprise to anyone that I started with the 500 MHz card. Installation was simple enough. I located and loaded up the Sonnet Processor Upgrade extension (ce_install_v31.sit) and powered down the machine. I removed the cover, extracted the original 200 MHz card …

2015-10-22.1124, Power Macintosh 7300 with Original 200 MHz CPU in Place

… and slotted the new 500 MHz card into its place. The new card was a curiously small form factor, but It declared itself to be a Crescendo G3, and all of Sonnet’s literature said that this compatible with a Power Macintosh 7300 and so I proceeded. Suspecting that trouble might be in the offing however, I did not replace the cover of the 7300.

2015-10-22.1126, New 500 MHz G3 CPU for Power Macintosh 7300

It slotted into place just fine…

2015-10-22.1127, New 500 MHz G3 CPU Installed, Power Macintosh 7300

…but trouble was indeed in the offing. My attempts to start the machine up after the install were a complete failure. I could hear the machine power on, but there was no start up chime, and no other overt signs of life. I left the machine sitting like that for some time (several minutes), just in case it was running RAM tests, but it remained deaf and mute, and eventually I turned it off.

I reseated the card and retried the start up several times, but always to no good end. I tried zapping the PRAM and restarting, but again, no joy. Finally, I was left to decide that this was either an unsupported card for the 7300, or it was defective. Happily, I had a fallback, the 400 MHz upgrade card I mentioned above, and I dropped back to that.

This card was more or less the same form factor as the original 200 MHz card…

2015-10-22.1134, New 400 MHz G3 CPU for Power Macintosh 7300

…and slotted in easily.

2015-10-22.1136, New 400 MHz G3 CPU Installed, Power Macintosh 7300

When I pressed the Power button this time, the machine sprang to life instantly, issued a robust start up chime and dropping directly into the boot sequence. This sequence was observably faster than before, and quickly yielded a fully booted desktop.

Alright then – so far, so good, but was it running at 400 MHz? Sonnet prides itself on being a no hassle upgrade. As their literature says, “No Switches, No Control Panels, Just Fast”. As you might expect therefore, there was no control panel to look at to verify the CPU speed. Sonnet did however provide a program called Metronome, which measures and reports the speed of the CPU. I found Metronome in my Apple Menu items and ran it. As you can see below, it reported a clean 400 MHz. Sonnet was right. No muss, no fuss, just fast.

Sonnet Metronome, 400 MHz

Apple System Profiler gave me an identical result:

Apple System Profiler, 400

OK, the CPU was running cleanly at 400 MHz. I was particularly interested in this since in the past, I had upgraded a Power Macintosh 7500/100 with a Newer Technology brand 400 MHz G3, only to get a less than advertised 366 MHz from it.  I am guessing that some form of clock auto scaling was responsible for this, perhaps as the card did its best to multiply the system clock, but it always left me wanting… I had paid for 400 MHz and received only 366 MHz. It still made a HUGE difference, but it wasn’t everything I had been expecting. In this case, I was pleased to see that my new Sonnet upgrade was delivering the full 400 MHz I had paid for.

So, how fast IS 400 MHz relative to the initial 200 MHz? I tried a few very subjective tests, and was impressed with the results. Image decoding in JPEGView was significantly faster than before. My ThumbsPlus image cataloger and viewer seemed to race through images in a way I could only have dreamed of before the upgrade. This was all encouraging. It was time for some objective testing.

The system now booted in 125 seconds, vs. the original 177 seconds. This was faster, but not as much faster as I might have expected. It seems to me that this must be reflective of a boot process that is bound not just by CPU but also by disk I/O. I am guessing that having improved only one of these two factors, I did not get the maximum benefit.

Application loading really sparkled however. Adobe Photoshop 7.0 now loaded in 31 seconds, vs. the original pre upgrade time of 1 minute and 30 seconds, a really nice 3x boost. Image decoding improved quite a bit as well. There are three images that I had used in benchmark testing some time ago, and still had the previous recorded decode and display times for. After the 400 MHz upgrade, I tested them again and the new results looked like this:

  • Image One: 3.5 seconds (vs. the original 7 seconds)
  • Image Two: 3 seconds (vs. the original 4 seconds)
  • Image Three: 3 seconds (vs. the original 6 seconds)

Overall, I would summarize the above as a roughly 2x boost, which is not quite as much as I might have expected, when doubling the clock and going from a 604e to a G3 with 1 MB of backside cache, but there you have it.

To offset that minor disappointment however, there was a hidden bonus in this upgrade, quite aside from the new, snappier behavior of the system. The system ran quieter now as well! The 7300 has variable, temperature controlled fans, and I have always noted that as the machine warmed up and internal case temperatures stabilized, the fans would ramp up somewhat and the machine would get noisier. This was  not the case post upgrade. Clearly the new 400 MHz G3 must run cooler than the older 200 MHz 604e, resulting in less need for cooling and thus quieter operation overall.

So, in summary, bumping up the CPU from a 200 MHz 604e to a 400 MHz G3 produced excellent and very noticable results. The machine now booted faster, applications loaded faster AND ran faster, and as a final bonus, the system ran cooler and quieter. I’ll call this upgrade step a big win all around.

Up next, and the last upgrade step in this series, is an upgrade to the hard drive, from an original SCSI drive to an ATA-66 interfaced IDE hard drive. Read on to see the impact of this change.

Pimp My Ride – Upgrading a Power Macintosh 7300/200

powermac-7300-200-image

Imagine for a moment that you are a computer. What do you do on a day in, day out basis? Well, in the abstract, you read some data in from disk, you apply various algorithms and transformations to it, and you display something on screen related to the work you have just done.  On occasion, the user inputs something that causes you to execute more algorithms and transformations, and you then update the screen and potentially write some data back to disk. You repeat this cycle over and over again until finally the user turns you off for the day, allowing you some well earned rest.

With the above in mind, If I WAS a computer and I wanted to optimize my day to day operations, I would clearly focus on a few of my major subsystems: disk, CPU and video.

Now you are not a computer and neither am I. However, we are both likely to be users of computers, and as such we have an interest in optimizing (read “speeding up”!) their operations. To that end, I decided to take a run at optimizing my Power Macintosh 7300/200, to see just how fast it could be made to go, within the bounds of reason… It is after all a 1997 machine.

In the vernacular of the day, I decided to…
Pimp My Ride 10

The small series of posts that follow this one will detail the process of, and the outcome of, the following upgrades:

1. Video: addition of an ATI Radeon 7000 video card

2. CPU: addition of a Sonnet Crescendo G3/400 CPU replacement

3. Disk: addition of a Sonnet Tempo ATA 66 IDE controller

I will reveal in advance that the net result of the above upgrades was quite impressive, but not as impressive in some areas as I might have thought going into this process. Read on to learn more!

Clash of the 200 MHz Titans

200 MHz Title Image 02

In 1997, the world was treated to the luxury of not one, but two 200 MHz CPUs, each championed by one of the two major desktop competitors of the day, Wintel and Apple. In 1995, the Windows/Intel juggernaut had introduced the 180 MHz Pentium Pro, alongside their pre-existing full 32 bit operating system, Windows NT 3.5. In 1997, the Pentium Pro was upgraded to a full 200 MHz, complimenting Windows NT’s 1996 upgrade to Windows NT 4.0. Apple was not far behind, in 1997 introducing the Power Macintosh 7300, powered by a 180 MHz or a full 200 MHz PowerPC 604e CPU. The stage was now set – two heavy duty 200 MHz CPUs duking it out for consumer attention and dollars.

This was BIG news at the time. The original Macintosh had debuted in 1984, featuring an 8 MHz Motorola 68000. Over at the rival PC camp, the original IBM PC had come to market in 1981, featuring a 4.77 MHz Intel 8088 (a slower eight bit bus version of the more powerful 16 bit 8086 processor). By late 1993, Macintosh computers had evolved to the Quadra 660AV and Quadra 840AV lines, employing then cutting edge 25 MHz and 40 MHz Motorola 68040s, respectively and running under the capable and well rounded Mac OS 7.x line of operating systems. By now the PC camp had evolved to Windows and Intel, or Wintel, and was serving up to 33 MHz 80486 processors powering DOS and early versions of Windows. Over the course of approximately 10 years, CPU clock rates, the consumer-accepted measure of “speed”, had only increased by a factor of 4 or so.

Model T Ford

Between 1993 and 1997 however, processor clock speeds rocketed ahead from 25 MHz all the way up to 200 MHz, almost a full order of magnitude in just 4 years. 200 MHz was a landmark. This was BIG news. By 1997, both the Apple and Wintel camps were fielding 200 MHz monsters, competing head to head for the lucrative personal computing market.

This was truly a clash of the titans. Mated to a full 32 bit operating system such as Windows NT, the Intel Pentium Pro promised unparalleled power and speed. The PowerPC 604e based Power Macintosh 7300 featured the already 32 bit clean Mac OS 7.6 and described itself as incredibly powerful and possessed of nearly limitless capabilities.

Race Car

Cutting through the marketing hype was difficult. Which was truly faster, the lightning fast 200 MHz Pentium Pro, running under Windows NT 4.0, or the brawny 200 MHz PowerPC 604e, under the able supervision of Mac OS 7.6?

04_really-fast_01-1

I set out to benchmark these two and discover the answer, using some less than rigorous and perhaps somewhat ad hoc methods. OK, perhaps “benchmark” is an overly ambitious word in this context, since I did not have identical operating system software on each of the two CPUs. Hence, some degree of variability had to be accepted in the results. I attempted to cut through this difference by focusing on CPU intensive tasks that would be less influenced by factors such as OS performance, graphics capabilities and disk I/O. In this case I settled on two test cases: rendering a very large JPEG image, and creating a full set of thumbnails for a large folder of images.

I was helped in this task by the incredible good fortune of having both a Windows and a Mac OS version of two excellent thumbnail and viewer programs: ThumbsPlus and ACDSee. I used these two programs, available on both platforms, as the basic test vehicles.

ThumbsPlus and ACDSee Logos

It is instructive of the computing power of today’s desktops and laptops that we have forgotten how mathematically intensive decoding a JPEG image is. No matter how large the image, it seems to simply snap open. Back in 1997, this was very definitely not the case. A large JPEG could take tens of seconds to render, and because of this, decoding time for a large JPEG was a useful measure of CPU power. As a consequence of this, at the time I had a particular image that I used as my benchmark of how much faster a new computer was than its predecessor. I did this by measuring how much more quickly the chosen JPEG rendered on the new platform vs. the older one. This seemed a good measure of raw CPU horsepower back then, and it still seemed to make sense for the tests at hand for this post.

Let’s look at the two contenders. From the Wintel side, powered by a 200 MHz Intel Pentium Pro with 1 MB of onboard L2 cache, was a custom built PC running Windows NT 4.0 and featuring 512 MB of RAM, a 120 GB IDE (ATA/100) hard drive and an nVidia Riva TNT 64 graphics card with 16 MB of video RAM.

Pentium Pro 1M

From the Apple side, powered by a 200 MHz PowerPC 604e, was the Power Macintosh 7300/200 with 256K of external L2 cache, and running Mac OS 9.1 in 544 MB of RAM. The 7300 was equipped with an 18 GB SCSI hard drive, a 120 GB IDE (ATA/33) hard drive, and built in video acceleration with the full complement of 4 MB of video RAM.

PowerPC 604e

Astute readers will note the large disparity in disk speeds between the two computers, and wonder if that might skew the results in favor of the computer with the faster disk. Other readers will note the significant deltas in cache layouts and wonder the same. Lets look at each of these factors.

The Power Macintosh 7300/200 had two hard drives, one SCSI and one IDE, both of which were significantly slower than the hard drive on the Pentium Pro PC. To understand whether this made a difference, I tried all of the thumbnailing and decoding tests twice on the Power Macintosh 7300, once from the slower SCSI disk (benchmarked at 8.1 MB/S) and once from the much faster IDE disk (benchmarked at 31 MB/s, or nearly 4X faster than the SCSI disk). As expected, there was no measureable difference in the times turned in between the two disks – the tests were completely CPU bound, meaning that relative disk speeds between the two systems were effectively immaterial. So, no advantage accrued to the Pentium Pro system due to its markedly faster hard drive.

What about the cache layouts? The PowerPC 604e integrates 64 KB of onboard L1 cache, split evenly between instruction and data caches, at 32 KB each. The Pentium Pro has only 8 KB of integrated L1 cache, that is shared by both instructions and data. The 604e’s larger L1 cache would seem to give it a clear advantage. However, offsetting this was the fact that the Power Macintosh 7300/200 had only 256 KB of external L2 cache, while the Pentium Pro featured 1 full MB of L2 cache, integrated right into the chip packaging and accessible by a separate, dedicated backside bus. The net result is an L2 cache that is dramatically faster than the L2 cache of the 7300/200.

L1 and L2 Cache

So, the Power Macintosh 7300/200 has significantly more L1 cache, but by contrast, the Pentium Pro had significantly more, and significantly faster, L2 cache. Did this balance things out from a performance perspective? We shall see in a moment, but in the meantime, it sounded like a fair fight, and as it turned out, it was.

Two Boxers

…or was it? It will come as no surprise to learn that I am not the first person to think of pitting the 200 MHz PowerPC 604e against the 200 MHz Pentium Pro. I unearthed numerous comparison tests, from Byte Magazine, Mathematica, Richard Soberka and others. The general finding was the PowerPC 604e was the standout performer in integer math (Byte reported that it was 81% faster than the Pentium Pro) and the unconditional winner in floating point math (where Byte rated the PowerPC 604e at 26% faster than the Pentium Pro). However, most tests found that the Pentium Pro excelled in memory intensive tasks such as Photoshop filters, as a direct result of its superior L2 cache. Since real world work on a computer is often a combination of memory accesses and math, you could almost guess that the two machines would come in about the same when challenged with actual day to day work, and this seemed to be the case.

One major problem did “taint” these results somewhat, unfortunately. While I had both Macintosh and Windows version of ThumbsPlus and ACDSee, they were not the same version between the two platforms. For ThumbsPlus, I had v3.2 for the Macintosh (a beta that was never formally released, as Cerious Software, the vendor, decided at the last minute not to enter the Macintosh market) and v5.0 for Windows. For ACDSee, I had v1.6 for the Macintosh, and v2.4 for Windows. Direct comparison of results between different versions of the same software on the two platforms may therefore contain more than just a small margin of error, and we will shortly see the impact of this as we look at the results.

OK, enough setup! How did they fare? Which of the two CPUs takes the crown? Here are the results for the Thumbnailing and Large Image Rendering tests. Note that the thumbnailing test involved generating thumbnails for an entire folder of family photos. I used two such folders, one with photos from 2010 (412 images), and one with photos from 2014 (121 images).

200 MHz Thumbnail Results

Large Image Decode Results

Given the vast disparity between the above results, which was very much at variance with the expected results, I concluded that some additional data points were needed, and so I went on a “best of” testing spree, where I tried to find the fastest and best image viewing programs for each platform, just to see what was possible on each CPU when a performance minded programmer put their skills to best use. On the Mac I tried out ThumbsPlus, JPEGView, ExifViewer and QPict. On the PC, I tried out ThumbsPlus, ACDSee, IrfanView and NTj. Here are the results:

Best and Worst Results

What do I conclude from all of this? Well, lets start with the obvious. Clearly, comparing the results between earlier Macintosh versions of a program and later Windows versions of the same program is probably not a reasonable thing to do. As any software product evolves, it has the opportunity to be optimized, and in the CPU-bound world of image decoding in the late 1990s, it is reasonable to expect that this happened, driven by the need for competitive advantage. We can further conclude that the algorithms used by each of the programs, and the specific ways in which they were coded for optimum performance, was probably a greater influencer of results than the CPUs themselves. This can be seen by the equal decode times in the Large Image Rendering test by the best of both programs for each of the Macintosh and the Windows PC.

In theory, the PowerPC 604e should have had the edge in a CPU bound task like JPEG decoding, given its larger L1 cache and its superior floating point performance, but the Pentium Pro PC balanced this out with its dramatically larger and faster L2 cache, which probably allowed all of the JPEG decompression code to run 100% from cache, with no external memory accesses at all. In the end, we can guess that it should have been pretty much of a dead heat, and as the results show, it was.

Its a Tie

Therefore, for the purposes of this definitely less than rigorous benchmarking exercise, I declare it to be a tie. Back in 1997, you would have been well served, from an image viewing perspective, by either of these two worthy contenders.