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How to speed up a G4?

by qqqq88 / November 1, 2010 4:00 AM PDT

Unfortunately I am using a G4 with Mac OS 10.3 right now. I am trying to do whatever I can to speed up its sluggish performance. Any comments welcome on the following strategies:

1) free up hard drive space as soon as I find the best bargain on external hard drive. The hard drive is over 90% full.

2) remove items from desktop toolbar. Is it like in Windows where closing apps from the bottom right corner of the taskbar will free up memory?

3) defrag? I've read conflicting articles about whether it would help me. There is a utility called iDefrag for about $30 that has been recommended.

4) i have an update in the queue for the latest version of 10.3, but I don't know if that will help performance, esp. when I have so little free hard drive space.

Thank you for any info you can give even if you don't know all the answers.

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G4 speed up
by Dan Filice / November 1, 2010 5:27 AM PDT
In reply to: How to speed up a G4?

You can now buy very large external drives at cheap prices. I bought a 500GB LaCie for $125, so what are you waiting for? Don't buy the cheapest external 500GB drive for $29. You will be sorry. Your Mac will work better with a Firewire external drive, so don't just buy some cheap-o external USB drive made for a PC.

Copy everything of importance to the external drive. Files, programs that you downloaded, etc., and don't forget to make note of all your passwords and serial numbers of programs.

Ideally, reformat your drive and reload the software. This will wipe out everthing, but it will reload your OS and everything but the additional iLife programs. I recently loaded Leopard on my G4 and it was faster than Tiger, but my Epson scanner no longer worked. So beware of what the side effect may be if you upgraded. There is nothing wrong with reinstalling your current OS. Boot from your Install Disc (hold C button on restart or choose Start Up disc from your System Preferences).

Your Mac will be a lot faster after reformatting. It's just a lot of work and time to copy and recopy stuff.

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thanks for the reply
by qqqq88 / November 1, 2010 7:12 AM PDT
In reply to: G4 speed up

thanks....the first thing I'm going to do is get an external hard drive. When you say I need to get a Firewire drive, isn't the only difference that it would be faster for me than a regular USB drive made for a PC? I can live with a slower external drive if it saves money, because I will hardly use the drive at all once I transfer some video files to it.

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Some tips
by Jimmy Greystone / November 1, 2010 10:42 AM PDT
In reply to: How to speed up a G4?

Before I even begin, know that there are limits to what the hardware can do, and those are hard limits.

So, first off, it's a total myth that free disk space impacts computer performance. As long as there's enough disk space for swap use, there's not a single bit of difference if it's 10% to or from capacity.

Second, you don't need a more expensive FireWire drive unless you want to create a bootable backup OS install on the external drive. That's a very good idea if you ask me, but also completely optional. A USB HDD will be just fine. FireWire's better, but on a system that old, the rest of the system will generally be so slow you won't notice the difference.

I'm sure Dan meant well, but he's giving you about equal parts good and bad advice. Much of it seems to be his own opinion which is he not clearly distinguishing from fact.

Defragmenting really is pointless on Mac or PC. Unless you run a large database server or do a lot of high end video editing (unlikely on a G4), you'll see minimal gains at best, and those will be limited to specific functions, as well as fleeting in nature. Defragmenting tools are like the cockroach of the computing world. They simply refuse to die no matter what kind of toxic cocktail you throw at them. Microsoft has even started burying the defrag tool deeper and deeper into the OS since XP, hoping (in vain it would appear) that people would maybe get the hint. Apple doesn't even bother bundling one, hasn't for a very long time, if ever. Take that as a sign that $30 could be put towards something that will actually be useful, like more RAM.

Formatting the system is up to you. I don't really buy into the idea that it dramatically improves anything. I figure it seems faster because you just spent the agonizingly slow period of time formatting, so of course things seem faster after that. It can be a quick and easy way to clear out some crap that's built up over time, but it's another one of those things where people tend to put a bit too much stock in the benefits to be had. IMO, they mistakenly attribute the relative difference between booting from a CD, then waiting 30-40 minutes for the OS to install, for some kind of long term benefit. Truth be told, we humans are not as clever as we like to think. We are very easily fooled about a great many things.

So, given this is a G4, figure out how much RAM the system will take, what kind, and max it out. That will give you the maximum benefit. The next option would be to get a faster HDD, but that is a very large step down from RAM. If it's a Power Mac, you could look into getting a faster G4 CPU, but the cost-benefit ratio is likely going to be tilted way in favor of cost. If this is a laptop, the CPU is soldered directly to the logic board and that's not even an option.

Also, icons on the Dock are not necessarily running. Only if you see a black triangle under them are they running. Otherwise they are just launcher icons. Now, if there are things over past the dividing line that separates the section with the Trash icon, that is a running window and closing those may help improve performance. Just make sure you're not using them for anything before closing.

OS updates generally do nothing to improve performance, only security and sometimes usability. If the system is going to be connected to the Internet, these should all be applied. Otherwise you can consider them optional.

But at the end of the day, a G4 CPU is a G4 CPU, and it was really never all that great. You're just going to have to accept that there is only so much you can do to improve the performance of this thing. It doesn't matter if we're talking about a Mac, PC, mainframe, or pretty much any other kind of computer, there are three things that will improve performance and they are constant.

1: CPU speed
2: Amount of RAM
3: Number of running programs

Increase the first two, reduce the third. Pretty much everything else is just a gimmick and quite possibly someone setting out to prove P.T. Barnum's statement about there being a sucker born every minute. Don't let it be you.

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thank you
by qqqq88 / November 2, 2010 3:31 AM PDT
In reply to: Some tips

Wow thanks for the informative reply Jimmy, thanks for taking the time to type all that up. One thing that stands out is the comment about dividing line on the taskbar; I have some folders listed to the right of that dividing line which I will now drag to the trash bin to remove them from the taskbar. I assume there is no risk of losing any files by doing this? Just checking.

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Folders don't count
by Jimmy Greystone / November 2, 2010 10:29 AM PDT
In reply to: thank you

Folders don't count, only if they're program windows that you've minimized to the dock. And you don't need to drag them to the trash, you just drag them somewhere that's not on the dock, you'll see the icon change to something like a dust cloud, and then you release.

And on your other post, that sounds like a classic sign of a HDD that's about to die. If you were to share what this system is, then I could give you some idea of whether or not you want to attempt replacing the drive yourself. Some G4 era systems are certainly doable with a little time and patience, some are very easy, and others are potentially lethal (literally).

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by qqqq88 / November 2, 2010 11:31 AM PDT
In reply to: Folders don't count

Thanks for reply. Wow, that is alarming that the HDD could die soon, I guess I will go to a brick & mortar store tomorrow to pick up an external drive so that I have room in case I find files on this machine I haven't backed up yet. Should I use any of the disk utilities/disk first aid options on the machine in order to check the health of the hard drive? Do you have a recommendation for temperature monitoring software so I can see how hot my machine is running? I wonder if it's clogged up with dust inside the tower. What info do you need about the system; just the model number?

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If it's a tower
by Jimmy Greystone / November 2, 2010 11:09 PM PDT
In reply to: ok

If it's a tower then it's almost certainly a Power Mac, but could probably also be an iMac.

Just answer a simple question: Is your system one that sits on the ground and you have to plug a monitor into it, or does it have a monitor permanently attached to it? And if it's the latter, please tell me it looks like a lamp or maybe a sunflower, not like a fat, squat TV.

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More Info
by qqqq88 / November 3, 2010 1:55 AM PDT
In reply to: If it's a tower

Thanks. Further info: It?s a tower on the ground with a monitor cord going up to the Apple flatscreen monitor on my desk. It?s a Dual 1.42GHZ PowerPc G4 with 512MB DDR SDRAM

The plot thickens: The power accidentally went off to my machine and I had to boot it up again. It took a long time just like when I last rebooted it. I opened the console software to check the logs. It logged that there was an error during startup: Opera can't open library: /usr/lib/libstdc++.6.dylib

Opera had just been installed a few days ago. So if Opera is the problem, I am wondering if I should uninstall it, or do a system restore (actually I don?t think I have a restore point?)? I do like Opera though so I?m trying to find a workaround or the library file. I don?t even want Opera loading at startup but I can?t seem to find a preference setting to change that. Thank you

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by Jimmy Greystone / November 3, 2010 10:25 AM PDT
In reply to: More Info

No, that error message is a symptom of your other problems not a cause.

And since that's a Power Mac, replacing the HDD will be very very easy. That's probably one of the "Quick Silver" line, which are extremely easy to work on. There's a release lever in the back, and the whole side panel drops out giving you access to everything.

Not sure if those systems use IDE or SATA drives, but you can just take the dying drive to a store (after backing it up) in the worst case, and tell them you want a drive of the same connection type. While you're there, you could also probably get more RAM. That's probably DDR-133 RAM, and I'd guess that system could probably handle 2GB easy.

The rest should be pretty simple, but keep in mind you'll have to reinstall the OS on the new drive, so make sure you have the restore media at the ready.

It might also be worth investing in a UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply) if those power outages are common. Even if the power isn't going out, there could still be little dips and surges that will have a cumulative negative effect on the life of the system. So, probably the only thing worse than being saddled with an older G4 system these days, is having the PSU go out, then take out the logic board with it, leaving you with NO system.

And if you go into the user accounts section of system preferences, there's a login items button that lets you control what programs load at startup. Things may well have changed between 10.3 and 10.6, but if you poke around the user accounts area you should be able to find what you're looking for. And yes, it is kind of an odd place to put that sort of thing, but nothing we can do about it.

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(NT) Rather than go through all that
by Dan Filice / November 3, 2010 12:39 PM PDT
In reply to: No
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Sorry I meant to say...
by Dan Filice / November 3, 2010 12:44 PM PDT

Wouldn't it just be easier and more efficient to spend $500 on new dual processor Intel Mac mini? I have one that I use along with my old G4 iMac and there's no comparison in speed.

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by Jimmy Greystone / November 3, 2010 1:39 PM PDT

Maybe, but first there would have to be a dual processor Mac Mini. Presently there's only a dual core Mac Mini.

And a new HDD and some RAM will likely be quite a bit less than a new Mini. True the performance won't likely compare, but it seems as though the OP is a bit short on cash at the moment. Call it a hunch based on the way they phrase things. So after replacing the HDD which, is the main thing, they can increase the RAM as the budget allows.

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Yes, I meant Dual Core
by Dan Filice / November 3, 2010 4:33 PM PDT
In reply to: Maybe

But I've purchased add'l Ram for my iMac, and it certainly is not cheap because the computer is old and the Ram isn't as abundant as the new type. Yes, the budget is a concern, but I was just suggestion an option other than spending a few hundred dollars to fix an old slow computer. Or heck, he can buy my G4 iMac for cheap. It works perfectly and has Leopard and iLife 6.

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It's up to them
by Jimmy Greystone / November 3, 2010 10:55 PM PDT
In reply to: Yes, I meant Dual Core

It's up to them. They could stop at just a new HDD. That should get boot times to a far more reasonable 1-2 minutes and alone would make it seem like a brand new system. Then they have options beyond that.

I did clearly state that in the end there will be a limit to what you can do to improve the performance of a G4 system. And unless every dollar absolutely counts, I'd say if you're going to be spending $300-$400, you may as well just go with a new Mini. Over time, the reduced power consumption should help make up the difference in price. But if you're on a tight budget, you can still make a halfway decent system out of a dual 1.42GHz G4 PowerMac.

I am presenting options to the OP, and what they choose to do with them is up to them. That system, with a little more RAM and a new HDD, would be just fine for light duty like web browsing and email.

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boot time
by qqqq88 / November 2, 2010 9:19 AM PDT
In reply to: Some tips

Last time I rebooted my machine it took 20+ min. to reboot. During this time it showed the gray screen with the rotating cursor? Any ideas what caused this? I'm afraid to reboot for the time being for fear that next time it might never finish. I freed up a few Gigs on the hard drive and will dismount the folders from the taskbar. I wonder if there is anything I should specifically do before my next reboot.

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My misinformation
by Dan Filice / November 2, 2010 11:20 AM PDT
In reply to: boot time

Jimmy was right...I was giving some advice based on my own experience and opinion. My preference for a Firewire drive comes from the fact that I use my computer for video editing and USB externals don't work for that. On the other hand, I just reformatted my iMac G4 because I was trying to get an Epson scanner to work with Leopard that I installed on the G4. The scanner still didn't work, but I noticed an increased speed in the computer. It wasn't a dream and it wasn't because I spent a long time re-installing the OS. Lastly, no computer should take 20 minutes to reboot. Reformatting and installing the OS again is a big pain, but sometimes one needs to do this. I've never reformatted any of my Macs until recently. I wouldn't recommend it unless absolutely necessary. But 20 minutes???? Maybe this is normal and I'm missing something.

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by qqqq88 / November 4, 2010 7:39 AM PDT
In reply to: How to speed up a G4?

Thanks for all the comments they have all contained useful info. The thread required me to reply up here because of the number of replies down below. Here is my current plan to eke out more lifespan out of the G4; any comments welcome:

1) get external drive shortly for backing up. Trying to decide between Western Digital and Seagate

2) check for RAM prices

3) While I decide whether I want to purchase a new internal drive, I might open up the machine and use canned air to blow out any dust. Is it necessary? Some have told me Macs are designed with fans to blow most dust out before it can come into the tower. I wish there was a software program for checking mac HDD temps etc. The programs I have seen listed OS 10.4 as a requirement; I only have 10.3.

4) uninstall Opera and use Firefox. I think Opera is at least part of the problem as far as boot time; the errors listed in the console show Opera trying to find a library file; it could be scanning the whole drive trying to find that file during bootup. I hope Firefox doesn?t do the same thing or worse; I am fairly nervous about rebooting the machine for fear the drive will die on me.

Thank you

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One last suggestion, as wrong as it may be...
by Dan Filice / November 4, 2010 7:48 AM PDT
In reply to: update

Before you buy a new Hard-Drive, and since you will do a backup to an external drive, take your original install disc and do a Clean Install, or do what's called a Reformat and Re-Install of the software. This will get your existing drive back to original, and unless there is a technical problem with it, you should see a dramatic improvement. If this does not help, then investigate a new HD. Do one step at a time, and this will help you do a process-of-elimination to help you pinpoint the problem.

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My thoughts
by Jimmy Greystone / November 4, 2010 10:51 AM PDT
In reply to: update

My thoughts...

1: Doesn't matter. Name a brand of drive, you'll find 20 people who say it's the best brand they've ever used, and 20 more who say it's junk.

2: Good idea

3: People say a lot of things, doesn't make any of it true.

4: The Opera thing is a symptom not a cause. I could get into the technical aspects of how Unix systems do library searches, but suffice it to say that it's not searching the entire drive. There are a set number of locations it will look, if it doesn't find it in any of those places, it errors out. Takes all of a split second to run the full search. It would also only be looking for that file AFTER Finder has started loading, which is AFTER the spinning gear goes away.

Also, if you have the original restore media, one of them should have a copy of Apple Hardware Test on it. Run that, making sure to tick the extended tests box, and I wouldn't be surprised if it confirms the bad HDD. I would be very very surprised if formatting and reinstalling the OS had any worthwhile benefit. I've worked as a hardware tech for the last two years, and HDD failures are some of the most common problems you run into. It's to where I can almost smell them now.

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USB Drives on that G4
by mrmacfixit Forum moderator / November 8, 2010 12:32 AM PST
In reply to: update

Before you rush off to get an external USB Hard Drive, please check that the USB ports on your G4 are USB 2.0 ports and NOT USB 1.1 ports.
Apple did not start using USB 2.0 until later than the G4 series and although you stated that you did not mind a slow hard drive, I can guarantee that you will not like a USB 1.0 external drive.
The difference in speed between USB 1 and USB 2 is considerable.
USB 1 runs at a max of 12Mbps while USB 2 runs at a max of 480Mbps, a FORTY fold increase.

Fortunately, if your machine is only USB 1.1, it is possible to install a USB 2.0 PCI card into one of the vacant PCI slots. This will give you 3 or 4 USB 2.0 ports which will allow the external USB hard drive to hum along happily.


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thanks for tips
by qqqq88 / November 8, 2010 3:04 AM PST
In reply to: USB Drives on that G4

Thanks for the tips regarding USB drives. I did purchase a Western Digital 500gb passport drive which I am trying to decide how to format (half FAT32 and half something else)? Down the road I'll likely be getting a Windows 7 machine and I want to be able to put files from there on the drive too. I was going to format it as one big FAT32 partition but I read some comments about how FAT32 is unreliable particularly when it's been formatted by a Mac. So I don't know.

I'm not too worried about the USB speeds because I won't be transferring data to this drive often. I have a Firewire drive for that but it's full. So I'm going to be shifting some files around and using the Passport drive for archival purposes where it won't be accessed often.

Also, I installed a free software utility called Smartreporter that is supposed to report to you the health of your hard drive(the drive's "smart status"). I guess it is the same as verifying permissions on the drive, I'm not sure. Before I have it issue a report though I thought I would check: can anything bad happen to the drive by using Smartreporter?

Thanks for any further info

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by mrmacfixit Forum moderator / November 8, 2010 8:01 AM PST
In reply to: thanks for tips

All that the Smartreporter does is display the S.M.A.R.T. (Self-Monitoring Analysis and Reporting Technology) status of the hard drive.
SmartReporter is available from the AppleSoftware site,
and does not actually do anything to the drive. Just reports the status.

Running it will not harm the drive, or your data, in any way.

I would suggest that, if your really going to use this drive with a Win7 machine, that you initially format the drive in two partitions. OS X Extended (Journaled) for the Mac side and FAT32, temporarily, for the Windows side.
Once you have the Win7 box, connect the HD to it, and then format the FAT32 partition as NTFS or whatever Win7 prefers.

Back on the subject of speed, do yourself a favor and get a USB 2.0 PCI card. USB 1.1 is really only good for old printers, keyboards and Mice. They are cheap.
Here's an example;


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by qqqq88 / November 9, 2010 2:14 AM PST
In reply to: Smartreport

thanks, I have Smartreporter running every hour and it says my drive is verified. Regarding formatting the external drive, I noticed Disk Utility does not list MS-DOS as a formatting option; I see no way to format in FAT32.

When I make a MAC OS Extended Journaled partition, it lists the other half of the hard drive as free space. If I do it that way, will I be able to format that free space into NTFS down the road from a Windows 7 machine without erasing or affecting the data on the MAC OS partition? Just want to make sure on that

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Not ok.
by R. Proffitt Forum moderator / November 9, 2010 2:18 AM PST
In reply to: ok

All was fine until I read "will I be able to format that free space into NTFS down the road from a Windows 7 machine without erasing or affecting the data on the MAC OS partition?"

While it may work most of the time the Cnet Storage forum continues to get requests for "how do I get my files back?" If you don't have a backup and lose your stuff then that may be the day you turn into a believer of "We only lose what we didn't backup."

Again, I'm not saying that loss is assured but am writing that loss is not a possibility.

So yes you can create volumes and partitions later but the risk is up to you.

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Thanks for info
by qqqq88 / November 9, 2010 8:43 AM PST
In reply to: Not ok.

ok thanks for info. I'm surprised that Disk Utility gives me "free space" as one of the options.
So I'm thinking formatting either:

1 half Mac OS extended & 1 half free space.


1 half Mac OS Extended partition and the other partition also Mac OS extended.

Is one or the other of these options more likely to cause me problems down the road? Is it more or less risky to changing a free space partition to NTFS vs. changing a MAC OS extended partition to NTFS?

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The future.
by R. Proffitt Forum moderator / November 9, 2010 8:46 AM PST
In reply to: Thanks for info

Is not that certain. In my opinion it will not make any difference later. Only those that refuse to backup prior to changing, creating file systems take the risk.

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Are you sure that there was not
by mrmacfixit Forum moderator / November 9, 2010 8:47 PM PST
In reply to: Thanks for info

an option for MS-DOS?


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There might not be
by Jimmy Greystone / November 9, 2010 9:43 PM PST

There might not be an option for that on 10.3, since that was still during the PPC days.

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Possible, but I do remember
by mrmacfixit Forum moderator / November 10, 2010 11:12 AM PST
In reply to: There might not be

it being there in System 9 and I know I have seen it in 10

I cannot recall whether is shows up when you partition the drive or when you initialize it


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another update
by qqqq88 / November 11, 2010 8:49 AM PST

I cleaned the dust out of the tower. There was a lot of dust but not my worst fears. Some of it I couldn't get out because with my canned air condensation can form if I spray too closely. Also, I was worried about static electricity with my vacuum.

I read an article that recommends repairing disk permissions on my hard drive, esp. for people who did video editing on my drive. That's what I had used the computer for a lot; I was using Final Cut Pro and am still storing alot of quicktime vids on the machine. I recently took the hard drive from about 7% free to about 18% free. I'm planning to take it to 35% free or more.

I'm not sure if I will click "repair disk permissions" (Disk Utility) though. I'm nervous that it might mess something up. I have Final Cut Pro files which need to have access to quicktime vids; not sure if any of my file permissions could get messed up by the Disk Utility.
Thank you for the wealth of info in this thread.

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