A Low-Cost Graphic Card Solution For Old Macs

Earlier this year, I wrote an article for TMO entitled, "Low-Cost Graphic Card Solutions For Macs." In it, I mentioned my "quest" to find a replacement graphic card for my G4 Sawtooth model. This is a great little machine and I hope to get 2 or 3 more years of use from it, especially if 1 GHz CPU upgrade cards continue to lower in price. In addition, Serial ATA cards are now dropping below US$99, so until Apple releases their 3rd generation G5 line-up, and really makes it worth upgrading, Iill be a Sawtooth user for some time.

As mentioned in my earlier article, graphic card options for this machine can be counted on -- well, on one finger. Iive been thinking about this situation for some time now. That is, why does the 3rd party market for graphic cards (not to mention ATA, SATA cards) make it so painful to be a Mac user? Iive come to the conclusion that there is a conspiracy going on that would make even Oliver Stone stand up and take notice. My gut feeling says that it isnit due to a small market share that the Mac has; in fact, many Taiwanese and other Asian companies would be happy to get even a small piece of the Mac market. I think more than likely -- and in a very back room smoky kind of way -- that Apple doesnit want ATI or NVIDIA to support licensees that might have made a Mac SKU of their PC product.

Before you think me crazy, think about it. It all makes sense. Apple wants you to buy a new machine. It is after all a hardware and PODware company, weive been told. Allowing Mac users to upgrade their Macs like their PC counterparts only delays their purchase of Appleis latest and greatest (and often buggy, noisy, overpriced) model that Mr. Jobs introduced at <fill in the Expo that no longer takes place in Japan.>

So, in other words, it is in the interest of Apple NOT to have ATI and NVIDIA pursue OEM chip sales to potential graphic card manufacturers. What do both companies get in return? They get to carve up the Apple line between them. Some of you may point out, "Hey, ATI does sell after-market cards on par with the PC models." Sure, at 4x the price and without any software. It might be that ATI Mac cards cost more because they need to hire lawyers to visit Mac forums to shut down message threads on flashing cards. (Because we all know that supporting Mac users is 100x less costly that PC users with all their odd-ball configurations and OSes.)

OK, now that the rant is out of the way, lets proceed to how you can take back charge of your Mac-life. This wonderful page, http://www.cybercoment.com/macgeforce.htm, and let me say, it is in RED because what they print is NOT FOR THE FAINT OF HEART. Looking on this page, you will find reports on various cards that work and might, and maybe might on a full moon or when the planets align. Seems pretty hit and miss? It is.

The ATI 8500 seems like the best bet, but with all those eBayers marking up this 90is card, you might as well move on. The GeForce2, which in some cases works without any flashing is a nifty card, though donit expect to bring your machine to any LAN parties, unless you are playing some network card game. It also lacks something I very much want -- a DVI port. Sadly, the GeForce 4, which many companies still sell, are not listed on this page as working. With the GeForce FX5200 on the Mac and PC, you would think some hacker (not cracker) would have come to our aid by now. So that leaves the GeForce3. But finding a "plain Jane" GeForce3, without the TI or any other lettering after the "3" is getting harder and harder. Keep in mind that this card will be much better than that Rage 128 you have, but again, donit expect eye-candy to make your friends jealous.

So, I have been hunting for a GeForce3, with DVI and 64MB (yeah, everything is 128MB but you want to stick to 64MB models for flashing) that is NEW and in a box.

Enter XFX, a division of Pine, a company that has been making PC cards for some time. The model I purchased is called: PINE GEFORCE3 64MB DDR AGP4X TV/DVI OUT PVT20AMA. Following the directions on the page, the "RED PAGE", I was able to flash the card, and now am enjoying my Sawtooth once again. I wonit go into the details of the flashing process, because if you need someone to hold your hand, then you shouldnit be doing it!

I will say this, however; before you do any flashing, back up the original PC BIOS so if anything goes wrong, you can revert the machine back to its normal state, and find a PC user to sell it to.

In a perfect world, Pine would notice that a huge number of visitors to that product page are using Safari, put two and two together and make the product right out of factory come with a happy Mac logo.

The cardis link has a handy "BUY-IT" button, and it costs $109. For that much, I could get a nice modern graphic card over on the PC side. For a Mac user (especially us suffering with no Quartz Extreme/Rage 128 users), however, I think it might be music to many of your ears.

Bottom line, until ATI decides to ship a card for LESS than $120, that doesnit require a Mac that was just released last week to run it, we have no choice but to try these "flash-tricks." At the end of the day, ATI and NVIDIA make their bulk sales directly from Apple and should just shift over after-market cards to their OEM partners who can get us the price points we want.

Some people who commented on my previous article mentioned "piracy." I wouldnit condone software piracy, but I think this is a gray area, (i.e. Flashing.) Did I take a sale away from NVIDIA? No, because they wonit/canit sell me a card for my machine. If anything, by buying a card made from their chip, and thus putting revenue into Pineis pocket, it will insure more sales to said company from NVIDIAis OEM business. Did I take it away from ATI? No, because once again, their 9800 card is useless for my needs. If anything, I took a sale away from Apple by refusing to cave into the need to buy a Mac each year. Iid much rather use the money saved towards buying some great Mac software, or an iPod, etc.

Well, I hope I helped some of you, and not offended too many of you. Next time, Iill write about how Mac Serial/ATA PCI cards, combo cards (i.e. USB 2.0, Firewire800, etc.) get changed from hand to hand by a pyramid of companies before they reach your friendly Mac retail shelf. (Can you say, "We donit need no stinkin middle-men!")