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Bring in the Noise
Mac Audio Column
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CPU Upgrades with Audio Apps
by Mark Fassett
(Updated w/Tips and Reader Feedback below)

I recently received an email asking about my opinion about upgrading an older (pre G3) Mac for audio work.. and that sounded like a great idea for an article.

I have experience with audio production on three different CPU upgrade cards in pre G3 computers:

  • Newertech G4 450 (installed in PPC 9500)
  • XLR8 G3 400 zif with carrier zif (originally installed in 9500, now installed in 8600 Pro Tools system)
  • XLR8 G3 300 (several installed in 7500s)

I've found a few things to be true universally in my experience:

  • Installing an upgrade card has meant a very noticeable increase in speed
  • Audio applications benefited greatly from the increased speed
  • Audio applications generally became less stable with the upgrade cards installed, varying from just slightly inconvenient to unusable
  • Non audio applications did not seem any less reliable
  • CPU upgrades will expose otherwise unnoticeable RAM and hardware problems that can be difficult to troubleshoot

The best resource for information and troubleshooting is, of course, this site. If you check the searchable CPU upgrades database , you'll find many other users who have upgraded their older Macs, you can learn quite a bit from this. You can also ask on Mike's forums section.
[Don't forget the topic based FAQ and the CPU Upgrade Reviews/Related Articles also-Mike]

Let's take the cards I have experience with one by one:

G4, 450
For my 9500, I found the Newertech to be more reliable and stable than my XLR8 card. Of course, now Newertech is out of business, so your options for support now and in the future will probably be limited. On the other hand, if you don't look too far ahead (to OSX), the Newertech cards can be a great option. Personally, I've never had to call Newertech for support as this card has been the most reliable card I've owned. When I did need to solve problems, I used online sources like this site.

Note, though, as I alluded to in the first part of this article, the Newer card is probably a little bit less reliable than the stock 604e card with Cubase and other audio applications. I still experience the occasional crash.

G3, 400 (zif in carrier card):
This card was a problematic from time to time in my 9500 running Cubase. I was always able to get work done, but I'd occasionally get crashes. I first found some problematic RAM and removed it, and things were much better for a while. Many months later, the crashes came back.. I would start to get crashes every hour or two. I was never able to completely track the cause of the crashes, and I've tried everything I could think of (and everything others suggested). Once I purchased the Newertech card, I didn't experience the frequent crashes.

As with the Newertech card, non audio applications seemed to be very reliable.

G3, 300
We'll start with my Pro Tools machine. It's an 8600, a Pro Tools Mix system, 256 megs RAM, using the built in SCSI controller. When I first installed this card, I could not get it to run reliably at all. It would crash within minutes of starting Pro Tools. Once I turned down the cache speed, though, it became very reliable and I've never looked back since. This machine actually seems to be the most reliable of all my upgraded Macs.

G3, 300
My company had purchased a bunch of 7500s some time ago, and we've upgraded many of them with G3 300 cards. These see no serious audio work, instead being used mainly for Q/A, CD burning, and Internet access. Most of these seem to be pretty reliable, noticeably faster, and definitely much more useable. It's allowed us to get a few more years out of otherwise obsolete computers. I can't comment on their usefulness as audio workstations, though.

Should you upgrade?

Now that you can purchase a used B&W G3 for around $800, it's certainly harder to justify an upgrade card. For audio, as with other applications, if your budget is small and you already have an investment in RAM and serial MIDI interfaces, it can make sense to upgrade your older Mac. It could certainly allow you to get a year or two out of your computer. Don't forget, if it isn't broke, don't fix it. Keep things simple if you want reliable performance out of your audio app. Audio applications are complex programs that are not usually updated quickly for each new OS.

On the other hand, if you don't have a lot of RAM (128 seems like the minimum for audio work), remember RAM for these older Macs is quite expensive, much more expensive than RAM for G3 or later computers. This RAM is not a good investment, and an upgrade card might not be a great investment as a result.

Finally, if you don't have the budget for a newer used computer, and you can get RAM and an upgrade card inexpensively, it's certainly worth trying. Just don't expect to be able to run a ton of plugins and softsynths!

OS 9.1 and Audio Apps Quick Update
Everyone who has emailed has reported success with OS 9.1 and their audio app of choice. On the other hand, I would always advise keeping an eye on the user forums for your program of choice. It's always better to let others be the early adopters, let others bleed on the edge!
- Mark Fassett

Note: One past reader tip for Audio Appl. problems on Newer Tech G4 CPU upgraded pre-G3 Mac from the FAQ Audio section noted deintervleaving RAM and setting the cache to "write-through" mode helped solve crashes he had. Setting the Backside cache mode to write-through (disabling copy back mode) is easy to do in the control panel for Newer Tech, XLR8 and Powerlogix upgrades as a test to see if it helps an problems you may be having.-Mike

What's Your Experience with CPU Upgrades and Audio Apps? If you're running a CPU upgrade in a pre-G3 Mac with audio apps or cards, let me know your experience. Include your Mac model/OS/Software details and upgrade card model in your report.

Reader's Experiences with Audio Apps and CPU Upgraded Older Macs: (most recent first)

" Running overclocked sonnet G3/320 (resedit modif) on 7100/80 106MB RAM 4GB dedicated audio SCSI drive Cubase 24 4.1 = OK (5 doesn't seem to run on nubus!?) I'm getting a 9600/350 next month

Logic 4.5 = OK
Pro tools 4.3 = OK (same as cubase 5 for PT 5!?)

crashes a bit with a lot of extensions, lots of plugins is fine though

Problem when recording audio, plugins aren't advisalble, as they seem to make the processor glitch, and the recording fails, maybe the bus is too slow...

Thanx for your reviews, great stuff, if u want help, I'd like to review audio software (I have access to all! ). Check my music to see what i do with it bart at
Bart Izoard "

" Mike
Here is my system:

* PowerMac 7600, 144 meg RAM
* XLR8 zif carrier, Motorola OEM G3 400
* Adaptec 2940-UW, 18gig UltraWide SCSI drive (external)
* M-Audio Delta 66
* Truevision Targa 1000 video capture board
* Yamaha 8x CDRW (external)
* MOTU Digital Performer 2.7
* Adaptec Toast 4
* Adobe Premiere 4.1

I have been running this audio system for about a year with no problems. When I upgraded the CPU, I pooled some RAM from a PowerCenter 166 and only used the faster RAM in the bunch.

The Motorola OEM card (from Other World Computing) is not adjustable. I run all the settings at the defaults. I've used this system to do a few demos for my band and it has worked fine. I also used it with the now defunct Opcode Vision DSP and it worked without a hitch. (Digital Performer is a much better product, and still exists to boot!).

While I intend to move up to a G4 at some point, I am not in any big rush since this system has been running fine or both audio and video work.
-Andrew Frink
music, web design, scripting, schwee "

" My experiences with cpu upgrades and audio applications has been limited to Newertech cards. I currently have four workstations all running Protools systems and Cubase VST. All with Newertech G3 cards and all working flawlessly. The only problem I had was with one unit that had the dreaded but much talked about dampered/buffered ram issue that Newertech cards have. Other than that they are all running very smoothly. The 9600 with G3 500/250 is the smoothest of the bunch.

Thanks to Mike's site all installations have been painless and I highly recommend these cards to all who want to upgrade their old computers. Mark's comments about the costs of upgrading versus buying a used G3 are quite valid as ram is expensive but if one needs the PCI slots there is no alternative other than an expansion chassis which we also have as well.

Kevan Staples
Rhythm Division

Here's a break down of what I currently have up and running.
9600 500/250 G3
OS 8.6
448mb ram
Protools 5 LE
Cubase VST 5.0
Digidesign Audiomedia III
Egosys Waveterminal 2496
Digidesign Samplecell II (x2)
Adaptec 2906 scsi card
ATI 3D+ Video
22" Mitsubishi Diamond Plus Monitor

9500 400/200 G3
OS 8.6
256mb ram
Protools 5 TDM
Cubase VST 5
Magma Expansion chassis
Digidesign d24
Digidesign Farm cards (2)
Samplecell II
Adaptec 2906
ATI stock video card
Miro Motion DC30+
SGI 20" trinitron monitor

9500 400/200 G3
OS 8.6
256mb ram
Protools 5 TDM
Cubase VST 5
Digidesign d24
Digidesign Farm card
Adaptec 2906
ATI stock video card
Radius 21" Monitor

7600 250/125 G3
OS 8.6
128 mb ram
Protools 5 TDM
Digidesign PTIII
Digidesign Farm card
Miro Motion DC30+
Internal Video
Viewsonic 17" "

If you're running a CPU upgrade in a pre-G3 Mac with audio apps or cards, let me know your experience. Include your Mac model/OS/Software details and upgrade card model in your report.

Note: Thad Brown's been busy with other things and I'm glad this column has gotten him some much deserved recognition in the audio world. (See below for links to Thad's 60 issues of the Audio column here). I welcome any reader submissions on the subject of Mac audio. If you have an article or commentary to submit, please contact me. Thanks!-Mike

Have an Audio question? Check the Audio FAQ first, then the General FAQ Audio topic area.

Audio Column Back Issues:

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