Dr. Macinstein: Using PC Parts On Your Mac
September 28th

Gary: What are you up to this time, Dr. Macinstein?

Randy: Well, if you got to upgrade your G3 minitower, I have decided to upgrade my UMAX S900, but with my own little twist.

Gary: So, what are you doing, attaching a human arm so you can type with both hands when you are in the chat rooms?

Randy: Oh yeah, a laugh a minute you are. Why don't you put down your vodka tonic for a second and help me out?

Gary: Don't be ridiculous. It is seven-thirty in the morning.

Randy: So, what are you drinking?

Gary: Uhhh, beer. But it's light beer.

Randy: Cheers. I've got my tallboy right here.

Gary: So, what are you really doing there?

Randy: Well, remember when I bought that CH Gamepad so I could play Virtual Game Station with a Playstation-like controller? Well, it was ADB-based, and it did work great, except for one thing. It didn't work with VGS, the main reason I bought it.

Gary: The good folks at MAC-O-RAMA did let you return it with no problem.

Randy: Yeah, but I had to wait for it to get here and then ship it back to them when it didn't work right. So, since Steve Jobs decided that the Mac should go with USB, which is getting adopted across the entire PC industry, I decided that I would see how that really affects the Macintosh community.

Gary: You mean?

Randy: That's right. I bought a Windows compatible USB card and a three button mouse right off of the shelf .

Gary: Aaauugghh!!!

Randy: Just think about it, man! This could mean new things for the average Mac user. It means that when we walk into Staples or Circuit City, we can actually partake of the bounty that has always been reserved for the PeeCee-heads.

Gary: But that's not how Mac users do it. We always mail order our stuff. And some people prefer that convenience.

Randy: Sure, but isn't it nice to know you could go to the corner store and buy some hardware if you wanted to?

Gary: Yeah, I suppose. And since Apple has provided generic USB drivers, most devices should work fine. 3Dfx has provided generic Voodoo drivers as well, and I know several people who have bought a Voodoo 3 card designed for the PC. You may be onto something, man!

Randy: Didn't you order a PC IDE hard drive?

Gary: That's true. It specifically says for Windows 95/98 on the box, but Accelerate Your Mac! said many people are having success at installing them into their Macs. You just have to install it alongside your current drive, which usually means unplugging some other device like your CD-ROM and then mounting it with Apple's Hard Disk Setup utility. Interestingly enough, since Hard Drive Setup reads the new drive as unformatted, you can format it with the Apple driver. With most third-party hard drives that you buy preformatted for the Mac, you have to use a third-party hard disk driver, which means conflicts can occur. It also means that you have to make sure that you always have the latest and greatest version of that driver, or your computer may go caca-coocoo.

Randy: Those third-party drivers have been the bane of my existence ever since I bought my UMAX s900. It came with a third -party CD-ROM, and I have constant frustrations with extension conflicts, weird crashes, and the worst of all -- I couldn't play Virtual Game Station. That bugged me so much that I just ordered an Apple-branded CD-ROM from Other World Computing.

Gary: Which brings us to the downside of using peripherals that are not specifically designed to work with Macs: locating and maintaining the appropriate drivers for them.

Randy: Oy Yoy Yoy! What a pain in the ass that can be. After I jumped on the clone ship a few years ago I suddenly I found myself lost at sea with my Umax machine, constantly searching for the newest version of FWB's CD-ROM Toolkit, or their Hard Drive Toolkit.

Before my clone experience I never had to worry about low level disk drivers. Every time I upgraded my system software all the drivers were automatically updated as well. I never had to think about it.

Now all the versions of disk drivers that shipped with the Umax are way out of date, and to top it off, they were all personal or light versions of the driver packages, so I couldn't even upgrade to the newest versions. I had to buy from scratch.

Gary: And now as newer software comes out, like Virtual Game Station that won't even work with clone CD drives.

Randy: Exactly, so I just chucked the old CD drive and installed a new Apple ROM'd CD drive. At least that's one driver I won't have to screw with any more.

Gary: But what about that USB card and the USB mouse? Did you need to hunt down drivers for those?

Randy: Alas, yes. If I had just bought a Mac specific USB card like you did I would have gotten all the software on a neat little CD in the shrink wrap.

Additionally, and this is VERY IMPORTANT, by buying a Mac specific product, you support the great companies that put money and effort into developing Mac products. Without their effort the Mac would have been left in the dust of computer history long ago.

Gary: So basically you have conspired with the devil against the Mac.

Randy: No, I...I am not against the Mac...I just...Okay, I sold out, but I have learned my lesson. This is my last clone.

Gary: You're damn straight it is.

Randy: But my little experiment did uncover something very interesting. The Mac platform and the dark PC side are closer than people may think. In fact, Mac users can actually now go to a local Circuit Village People or PC Puff n Stuff store on the corner and buy many off the shelves components. Apple has been using industry standard parts in all their machines for a while now including PCI slots, ZIF removable processors and even IDE CD and hard drives.

Gary: True, and even though none of the packaging on these "Mac" compatible components actually says "Made for Mac" any standard VooDoo I, 2, or 3 card will work. And if you have an old Quadra 630 or a Beige G3 you can use any of the IDE drives you find in the local Staples.

Randy: And as I found out any standard USB card will work too. I just couldn't wait any longer one day last week and I snagged a two port USB PCI card from ADS Technologies at the Union Square Circuit City. Now keep in mind I really had no idea if this would even work in the Umax back uptown at the cave, but I had been researching USB PC cards for my PowerBook and discovered that many "Windows only" cards worked fine in Macs if you could find the right third party drivers.

With a rakish jaunt of my hat I grabbed the "WIN 98 Friendly" USB card from the shelve and strode to the bored and slightly retarded cashier who proceeded to ignore me for five minutes.

Gary: All right, enough play by play. How did it work?

Randy: Well after snapping the card into one of my many free PCI slots, (It may be a clone, but it's got slot, baby!) I could not get the system to see it until I downloaded the free USB Card Support installer from Apple's web site. Next I needed a USB device driver for the borrowed Contour Design USB three button mouse I was using for my test.

Gary: Dude! YOU snagged my mouse! That is the lowest I have ever seen you stoop.

Randy: Oh, I can go far lower. Don't forget you have a birthday coming up.

Gary: I'm scared...

Randy: As I was saying I needed a generic driver for the USB mouse so I downloaded the most excellent USB Overdrive from Alessandro Levi Montalcini. This shareware driver is an easy to use control panel that can control just about any USB device you can throw at it. It allows you to also make custom sets that will launch a certain configuration when a specific application is launched.

Gary: Did you ever get the gamepad you wanted?

Randy: And how! I bought a delicious Gravis GamePad Pro from DataVision over on 39th street. The Gravis GamePad Pro is labled Mac and Win compatible and it comes with all the drivers you need on a CD.

And man, is it an improvement. For third person games it is the only way to go! From PlayStation titles like Resident Evil, the Directors Cut to LogicWare's wonderful Macintosh port of Tomb Raider Gold the Gravis GamePad Pro gave me so much more control. And it was a million times more comfortable than playing on a stiff old keyboard.

Gary: Well, little buddy, welcome to the future. It's about time you and your sorry clone lovin' ass got with the program. Any games you didn't like with the Gravis GamePad Pro?

Randy: Only first person shooters suffered with the GamePad. For the kind of head control you need in FPS games you just have to go with the mouse and keyboard combo. However, just about everything else worked great with the GamePad. I even tried a few flight sims with the attachable mini joystick. While it did work, I think I'll keep the MouseStick for my air time in FLY!.

Gary: Well I must say that's pretty cool. Mac users are finally beginning to get the benefits of industry standard components.

Randy: I would have to recommend to our readers going with a Mac specific product when choosing a component for their systems. Most of the time you pay exactly the same amount of money for a part, but it comes with all the software you need and Mac instructions for installation and warranty. And it supports the Mac platform by keeping Mac specific sales up, and this is the bottom line for the companies who make the products we all use.

Gary: Not all PC components will work in a Mac and even then you have to hunt down software to make it work. Randy may have had some luck this time but everybody has to remember...

Say it with us know.

Both: Randy is an Idiot!

Randy: If you are brave or stupid enough to play with fire, please, do your research. Until companies start including drivers for all platforms as standard packaging, a journey into the dark side leaves you holding the bag when it comes to driver software. Make sure it exists somewhere before you try a Dr. Macinstein experiment of your own.

Gary: And if you do try one, let us know about it.