The Power Mac 9600 Adventure, Part I – The Planning Phase

The Power Mac 9600 is one of my holy grail machines. 

It began in the early 2000s when a good friend of mine saw that I was getting by on an old Macintosh LC as my computer. We had a Compaq Deskpro (with a 450MHz Pentium III) as our family computer, but the LC was my plaything.

He had a Power Mac 8100 destined for ewaste, so he handed it off to me. Soon thereafter, he upgraded to a Power Mac 9600 (and I thought the thing was absolutely badass) and handed his 9500 down to me. And that 9500 was also a badass machine, eventually gaining a G3 CPU card before it was finally retired in favor of an iMac DV-SE.

Since I’ve been getting back into retro machines, I’ve been wanting to find a 9600 of my own to build the crap out of as homage to both my 9500 and the 9600 that I lusted after for a long time. Ideally I’d love to find a 9500, but I also know those are hard to find in good condition (due to the plastic interiors breaking due to plastic aging).

Thankfully, one did show up, and I’m insanely thankful to the person who made it all happen. It’s the lower end model, a 9600/200, but still a respectable machine.

Machine in hand, I began planning what I wanted to do:

  • A G3 upgrade of some sort
  • Some form of fast storage
  • RAM (this is ongoing)
  • A good video card
  • USB (and FireWire?)

 Thankfully, for the most part, I got most of this down. Let’s break it down:

The G3 Upgrade

This is one of those things I anticipated to not be getting for a long time. However, as it happens, I put out feelers, and someone I knew actually had one! As of this writing, I have yet to get it, but it should be soon. I’m told it’s an Interware card, specifically a Vpower G3 366.
While I would have preferred a NewerTech for multiple reasons (more of this in a bit), I’m not picky, I’ll take anything I can get.
Not so fast, however: With the 9600 there are a couple gotchas. My 9600–being a 200MHz model from the factory–contains the first revision logic board, known as “Tsunami”. Later, faster models (250MHz and up) got second revision logic boards known as “Kansas”. Why is this a big deal? Because Tsunami has two issues: It has L2 cache on the logic board, and this is always there. With most upgrade cards, what’ll happen is the CPU’s L2 cache (which is usually leagues better) is demoted and reallocated to be L3 cache. This incurs a performance penalty.
The second issue is speculative multitasking. This is how the G3 CPU operates. The ROM of the Tsunami is bugged (or just doesn’t support it?) so it depends on the upgrade card to account for this. Kansas doesn’t suffer this problem with updated ROMs. Some cards (NewerTech) fix this in hardware. Some (Sonnet) fix this in software with a driver. I have no idea where the Interware card falls on this. It could be like NewerTech with a fix in hardware, or it could be like Sonnet (which is less desirable).
As of current, I’m actually loaning a 400MHz NewerTech MAXpowr G3 from the amazing Garth Beagle (who has been a tremendous help throughout this project!) and the control panel included with the card’s software indicates that it “fixes” the L2 cache problem, and the presence of a certain jumper config seemingly confirms the fix for the Tsunami boards. Sweet.
(And the thing’s a speed demon, too. Boot times were cut in half.)


This is the one that has been the toughest nut to crack.
For the longest time, there was only one solution on the market for modern SCSI solutions: SCSI2SD. However, in the last year or so we’ve seen more solutions pop up: BlueSCSI and RaSCSI, along with SCSI2SD’s own ZuluSCSI.
The problem with SCSI2SD and BlueSCSI (not counting the F4 variant, though I am loaning one of those to test, but that’ll be in Part II) is that they were arguably made for 68k Macs and early PowerPC. The 9600 is what’s considered to be a G2 Power Mac–the last 60x-based Macs before the G3 was introduced. These machines were also the last hurrah for SCSI, as with the beige G3 models Apple switched to ATA as the primary drive interface going forward.
The SCSI2SD and BlueSCSI all seem to pull roughly the same numbers–1 to 1.2MB/s with 1 to 0.5ms seek time. Again, this is great for older Macs, but on the G3-upgraded 9600, these begin to feel a touch outmoded.
Thankfully there are faster options available: The F4 BlueSCSI, and the ZuluSCSI. I’ve yet to test the F4, but I’ve got a ZuluSCSI on loan for evaluation. 
However, what if we just…didn’t deal with SCSI at all? And that’s where these PCI Power Macs can do some fun stuff: SATA! 
There are certain Silicon Image SATA controllers that can actually work with these older Macs (and are seen as SCSI controllers by System Profiler). I’ve also got one of these that I plan to use, but that’s getting plagued by setbacks and delays, something that I’ll talk more about in Part II.
But to not leave this with zero advice whatsoever, it would feel as if the only realistic options out there are to go with a flashed SATA card (specifically, an SIL3112-equipped card), or a ZuluSCSI/F4 BlueSCSI. The vanilla BlueSCSI does the job of getting the Mac up and booting if you’ve no other drives to use (and is ridiculously cheap if you go the DIY route), but for G2 Power Macs, the minute you start doing something more advanced with them (say, playing heavier games), the vanilla BlueSCSI will begin to show its limits.
(I would also be remiss if I didn’t mention that the ZuluSCSI/SCSI2SD folk have landed themselves in hot water with the community a few times over. Most recently because the original name for the ZuluSCSI was AzulSCSI, and if you’ve played with Mac OS 8-9 enough you probably realize that Azul is Blue…in Spanish. Yeah, kinda fun, that. Unsurprisingly, BlueSCSI folks weren’t exactly happy about that and the name was changed to ZuluSCSI.
It really feels like the ZuluSCSI folks see this whole thing as business/competition, and BlueSCSI is their competitor. At least it feels like they act like it. Ideally, this while thing should be less…that…and more of a community effort, no?)

RAM (The crappy, expensive part)

As of current, my 9600 has 128MB of RAM, and that’s from pulling in all my RAM for the machines I have around. 
One of the benchmarks for the storage bits actually has me trying to load a game of Unreal, and that presents a small problem–Unreal itself wants 100MB of RAM. Mac OS itself uses 30MB once fully started. 
As of right now, I’m still trying to find RAM. Of course, I’m very limited by available funds, but at least for more “basic” games, 128MB should be enough. (Though it’s odd. I remember running Unreal on lesser hardware when I had my 9500 way back, and as far as I can remember I never upgraded the GPU in it from the stock ATI Mach64…and I’m sure I didn’t even have that much RAM, either.)
I have hopes in finding more RAM at some point, but as of right now with all the available slots, it isn’t that much of a priority. Sure would be nice, though.

A Good Video Card

Admittedly, this is already partially handled: I have an ATI Rage 128 in my 9600 at current because the stock IMX Twin Turbo is…a bit anemic. I would love to buy a cheap Radeon 7000 and put it in here, but that’ll be for a later time.
The Rage 128 works acceptably, but also seems to have a small problem: It’s a good idea to run these older Macs without their clock batteries because they can explode and cause all sorts of damage to the logic board if left in too long. However, this also means the parameter RAM (PRAM for short) gets reset every time there’s power loss. This is where certain settings are kept, like mouse speed, the clock, and other things too. One of those being something to do with PCI configuration.
Why I say this is because if the PRAM is reset, the machine will no longer boot with the Rage 128 installed. It’ll just hang and give no video whatsoever. The only way to bring it back out of this state is to reinstall the Twin Turbo and boot the 9600 with both cards installed. Only then will video come up on the Rage 128. Once this is done, the Twin Turbo can be safely removed and the 9600 will continue on perfectly fine with just the Rage 128, but, again, if the PRAM settings are lost, the 9600 will want the Twin Turbo back.
I’m not sure if this is isolated to just the Rage 128 (that was pulled from a Blue and White G3) or if it affects other, newer cards. If I get another PCI card that works in the 9600, it’s something I’ll need to try out. I know I have plans to grab a Radeon 7000 for my B/W G3, I may well just grab that for the 9600 since I care about that machine much more.

USB and FireWire

FireWire is such an extra thing and I honestly don’t expect it’ll ever work because the cards that would have had that capability for OS 8.6 likely are so expensive that it isn’t worth my time when that effort could be expended elsewhere.
USB, however…
USB was starting to become a thing on the original iMac (which shipped with 8.1 in 1998) and was very much a definite thing once 8.5 and 8.6 arrived on the scene. USB is insanely useful and opens a nice bridge to modern systems for file transfers! The problem is 8.6 doesn’t have USB mass storage support, and the USB drivers are a touch lackluster at best, in my experience.
Thankfully, there is a solution for all this! I’ve heard OS 9 be referred to offhand as “just 8.6 but with extra cruft for OS X”. Sure enough, if we install 8.6 and actually grab the relevant extensions we need (all the USB ones, and for good measure I grabbed the FireWire, OpenGL, and ATI things too) and drop them onto 8.6, everything works flawlessly! Including mass storage support for USB. Pretty cool.
As for the cards themselves: I’ve had an old OPTi Firelink card hanging around forever that was sitting in my old Win98 machine, and sure enough I stuck it into the 9600 and it worked fine. (Which isn’t surprising; the G3 B/W uses the very same USB chip.)
Not long after all this I was told of some cheap USB/FireWire combo cards on eBay going for $5, and I figured this would be perfect, even if only one side of the card worked. The card arrived (smelling a bit burnt, like a card adjacent to it had gone up in smoke) but it worked flawlessly, albeit only with USB. FireWire may work, but it definitely won’t work under OS 8.6 (or 9).
(Fun thing: I actually tried plugging an old iPod into FireWire for giggles and it acted like it was actually trying to read it but then gave up doing so. Really interesting. Maybe there is a way to make it work but I’m not going to pursue it now. USB works, and I’m happy with that. I have no real use for FireWire other than bragging rights.)

What’s next?

While I now have most of my ducks in a row, the next part is actually getting the system happy with all of its upgrades. Most of them just took, but there are a few outliers (like the storage stuff, that’s going to be a big part of the next chapter of this mess). Part II will be about the difficulties, and we’ll get into some benchmarks and notes and observations.
Until then…



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