The Leopard Report: Ready to Retire the G3?

June 19th, 2007

You don’t hear much about the status of the G3 these days. The last model to incorporate that chip, an iBook, was kept in production until 2003, when a G4 version replaced it.

Up till now, the G3 could support the latest and greatest operating systems from Apple, except for earlier models that didn’t sport FireWire ports. In fact, if you topped off the memory, you might even get decent performance with Tiger, although there’s been a brisk business in G4 upgrades for those models that support processor transplants.

It’s been several years since the Steinberg family sold our last G3 computer, a Blue & White Power Mac, and even that unit had a G4 processor upgrade in it. Indeed, the new owner still has it running workaday applications at his home office.

But it does appear that Leopard will bypass the G3, which finally puts that venerable processor on the endangered list. There is no official statement about this from Apple, of course, but folks who have unofficially examined betas of Mac OS 10.5 claim that the G3 is specifically prohibited. Now I don’t like to quote the carrying on at Mac rumor sites, but Wired is a different animal. In a recent article, writer Michael Calore says he likes the new features, but only a Mac Pro delivered stable performance. But it is a beta, right?

The article, of course, was done without Apple’s advanced knowledge or cooperation: “This is an unofficial review. Wired News obtained a copy of the developers’ release, which was provided only to Apple’s software partners under strict nondisclosure agreements.”

Indeed, if Apple finds out who delivered that copy to Wired, the offender will face serious penalties, including loss of their developer status and possible legal repercussions. Then again, it’s highly unlikely Apple will ever find out the identity of the guilty party.

In any case, a short, pithy sentence defines the support: “A G3 won’t cut it.”

While this might change by the time Leopard is released, it makes a lot of sense. Maybe the G3, itself, could run Leopard adequately, but the graphics hardware that comes with those models won’t come close to supporting the new system’s fancy animated acrobatics. I’m willing to suggest that even an older G4 might have difficulty coping. But time will tell, and we’ll know more when the official system requirements are announced.

For now, I’ll accept the loss of G3 support as a perfectly logical step in Mac OS X’s evolution. The G3 was always a little touchy with Mac OS X, and it could drag along horribly if you didn’t max out every possible subsystem on your Mac to accommodate the system’s severe requirements.

However, I do think back to the first announcement of the Mac OS X Aqua interface by Apple in 2000. I had a brief encounter with a product manager, who would not let me even see the computer on which the system was being demonstrated. When I asked him how it would fare on the basic iMac, he said Mac OS X would run with “good performance,” which turned out to be something of an exaggeration.

I didn’t bother to challenge Apple at the time, since it served no purpose. Even the most powerful G4 had trouble getting the original version of Mac OS X to sing along with a rapid rhythm. In those days, all the heavy-lifting was being done by the CPU. There was no support for graphics acceleration, believe it or not. We’ve really come a long, long way since then.

So is it time to recite the G3’s eulogy? Not really. For those of you who will never use Mac OS X, the Classic Mac OS runs quite agreeably on a G3. And, as I said, with lots of memory and maybe a faster hard drive, you can eke out a decent user experience with Tiger on latter G3s equipped with standard FireWire.

On the other hand, four-year-old computers are ancient history in the tech industry. Consider the plight of the PC user who wants to upgrade to Windows Vista. Anything older than a year, with the exception of a high-end box, will likely have difficulty delivering the full Vista user experience, which includes the Aero interface. Of course, that may not be a bad thing.

However, before you’re quick to jump on Apple for making older computers obsolete, consider how well the G3 has served millions of users for all these years. But it’s time to move on, isn’t it?

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11 Responses to “The Leopard Report: Ready to Retire the G3?”

  1. I had to retire my sister’s hand-me-down G3 in November, 2005 (handed down by me in 2003). When I owned it (as a graphic designer), I had pushed the envelope on that system to it’s capacity with maxed-out RAM and an upgraded G4 processor from Other World Computing (plugs are good). But, by the time my sister had owned it for awhile, no matter how often I ran DiskWarrior, removed unused programs, reinstalled the OS, the sad truth became painfully obvious. Programs operated at a snails pace and the spinning ball of death became hypnotic during late night hours – some programs simply failed to open at all. She was tired, and we had to move on.

    G3 Beige Mac died November, 2005 – R.I.P. G3.
    Core Duo 17″ iMac born December, 2005

  2. Aaron says:

    I expected that Leopard won’t support G3 machines. I think that the writing was pretty much on the wall as you say Gene, since Tiger went to having a firewire port as a requirement. I think that either 10.6 or 10.7 will stop supporting G4 processors.

    My daughter has a G3 iBook running Tiger and it runs just fine. I think that I could max the ram a little more but for what her needs are it is fine. I’m not expecting to upgrade that computer any more.

  3. Dan says:

    There are still uses for a G3 iMac. I gave one to my SO 2.5 years ago and it’s still going strong. The RAM is maxed, the hard drive is bigger, and I’ve just had to replace the slot loading CD drive but it runs Panther well. She even did her design degree on it (OK, slowly).

    Now I’ve handed her down my G4 DA, the iMac is going to get a through cleaning, Tiger and will be in use as a jukebox.

    iMac “Indigo” 350. Born July 2000. Still going…..

  4. OS11 says:

    Yes, the G3 won’t run Leopard, but it’s likely any G4 less than 800Mhz will not either. So that’s even more of a story. Developer builds require 800Mhz G4 or higher, thus the writing is on the wall for them as well.

  5. Patrick says:

    Dropping support for the G3 processor isn’t really a surprise (no installing Leopard on Wii…). In fact, Apple has already dropped support for it; iLife 06 requires at least a G4 processor (although not all of the contained programs do). I think Apple usually strikes a good balance between supporting existing users and creating room for innovation.

  6. Yes, the G3 won’t run Leopard, but it’s likely any G4 less than 800Mhz will not either. So that’s even more of a story. Developer builds require 800Mhz G4 or higher, thus the writing is on the wall for them as well.

    I agree that early G4s are on the next step of the endangered species list, but it’ll probably be 2009 or 2010 before that entire processor family is removed from support. At least, that’s my perception of the matter.


  7. Jon says:

    It might be useful to note that the last G3 machine sold by Apple was the 900 MHz iBook, which was discontinued in October, 2003. By the time Leopard releases, those machines will be 4 years old. I would say it is reasonable for Apple to draw the line there for backwards compatibility. Also, if the experience with Tiger is any indicator, older machines may work with something like XPostFacto. We’ll have to wait and see.

  8. Clare Shumway says:

    This is depressing news. I have been using a Blue & White G3 running OS 9.2.2 and am beginning to run into problems. An APS CD burner is beginning to fail and I find that I can no longer find a CDR-RW that runs on OS 9.
    My “work” (play) is with photography and I need to be able to write CD’s for storage. My wife has an eMac running OSX 3.3.5 and it drives me nuts trying to figure it out. I guess that at age 82 I’m too retarded!!

  9. jj wayne says:

    My comment is not about Leopard/G3–it’s about the consistent blather about how pathetically slow Tiger is on G3s.

    I run Tiger 10.4.9 on my 7-year-old iMac: 400Mhz DV SE, 1 gig RAM, Seagate 120-gig 7200-rpm drive, a Superdrive from MCE. It is a FANTASTIC machine. The single greatest speed gain was to max out my RAM, and the faster drive helped.

    I run Photoshop CS–some waiting involved here and there, especially with certain filters, but there’s always something to do while PS crunches away, even if it’s filing paperwork.

    I don’t do gaming–the only game I play on my iMac is Klondike Forever (free). Boy, is it a processor hog! Slowly I learned that I could turn off animations–once every animation was off, no more slowdown.

    I was pretty happy with Firefox 1.5, then made the mistake to upgrade (????) to Lord, did that browser turn into a slug. Which led me to Camino, Cocoa-native, and now I have blink-of-an-eye performance. Goodbye Firefox, forever!

    Another tip: launch Activity Viewer and check out which active program, parked in the Dock, uses RAM. MS Word is one. If you don’t really need it right away, quit it. When I had Firefox, I often would quit it while working with Photoshop–a huge difference.

    Once in a while, restart OS X. It’ll reset your allocated RAM–watch your Activity Monitor pie chart and see.

    Now, I’ve sat side by side with my buddy working on his 17-inch Intel iMac 1.2GHz and yes, stuff really snaps, crackles and pops on his machine compared to mine. So what? I’m not a gamer, nor do I work with video editing. I’m happy with the way Tiger performs on my machine. If my oldie either melts down or explodes, I’ll get a new iMac. Until then, I’m proud to keep chugging away on my faithful G3. Max out your RAM. Get a 7200-rpm drive with an 8Mbyte cache. Tiger on your G3 will be more than adequate.

  10. Frank Tennant says:

    I have a G4 MDD Dual 1.25 which Leopard will support, I know. What I DON”T know and am interested in finding out is: Will Leopard support Classic on PPC Macs?

    Thanks to anyone who can answer this.

  11. I have a G4 MDD Dual 1.25 which Leopard will support, I know. What I DON”T know and am interested in finding out is: Will Leopard support Classic on PPC Macs?

    Thanks to anyone who can answer this.

    My impression is that Classic will probably not be supported. It’s not mentioned in Apple’s information on Leopard, and remember that it is not available (except via a third party) for the Intel-based models. Let’s not forget that Mac OS 9 is 8 years old now, so it is probably time to leave it be, unless you are forced to use a Classic app.


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