Hot-Rod Your Mac

Like any columnist who proffers opinions only slightly more controversial than the telephone directory's white pages, I get my share of unanswerable mail from the tragically "het up." Such missives generally run along these lines: "I herd from my secund cusin Bubba that someone on som news groop said that you were a magazin riter that said that Gallactic Space Wars was a stupid game. Well I think that your stupider! Gallactix Space Wars is really grate and if you dont know that your really really stupid!! If I had a subscripshun to your stupid magazine Id cancel it cuz your so stupid!"

Now, don't get me wrong: I love getting mail–regardless of how often people question my intelligence and morality. But other than suggesting that spelling checkers have come a long way in the past few years, how do you respond to something like the preceding? However, every so often I get a letter from a correspondent who's actually read my column, and–though its tone may be slightly confrontational–within the message lies a cogent concern. Specifically: "I herd from my secund cusin Billy-Bob that someone on som news groop said that you were a magazin riter that said you could put a voodo card in your Mac. I looked at my latest ishoo of MacWorld and saw that you said that to. If your so smart why dont you tell us how to do it instead of just saying it stupid!"

This reader has a point. It's easy enough for me to cavalierly mention that I've upgraded my Macs in one way or another, but unless I relate the ins and outs of doing so, you possess only a small piece of the puzzle. Allow me now to make amends by describing how I transformed my 266MHz Power Mac G3 (beige) from a hefty hunk of steaming junk into a game machine that holds its own against the latest G4s.

If you're a Mac gamer, you understand that computer-game publishers have the kind of gung-ho, Manifest Destiny spirit found in this nation's early settlers. "Move aside, lowly word processor!" modern Mac games cry. "We've got 500MB of data to plant on this here hard drive, and by gum, we mean to plant it!"

As you might suspect, I play a lot of games, and in short order, half a dozen of these massive game installations filled my Mac's 4GB hard drive to the tippy-top. I needed something roomier.

These early-model beige G3 shipped with internal IDE drives (rather than SCSI drives), which can make adding a second internal drive tricky because you can chain only two IDE drives together. Worse yet: if, like me, you have a beige G3 without a Rage Pro graphics chip, you can't add a second IDE drive at all unless you sacrifice your CD-ROM drive (the CD-ROM drive is the other IDE device on the chain) or purchase a PCI IDE card such as ProMax Technology's ( ) $200 TurboMax. I had plans for my three PCI slots, and I wasn't about to give one up simply to add another hard drive.

I wanted something fast, expansive, and inexpensive, and I found it in Maxtor's ( ) 27.2GB DiamondMax Plus EIDE drive. Because this 7200-rpm drive–with an average access time of less than 9 seconds and a 2MB buffer–cost all of $250, I discarded any thoughts of saving my old drive.

Moving data from my old drive to the new Maxtor drive was a cinch. I simply pulled the IDE and power cables from the CD-ROM drive and attached them to the new Maxtor drive (I placed the drive, circuit board facing up, atop the power supply inside the opened case), and then I ran Apple's Drive Setup to initialize the new drive. Once initialized, the drive appeared on the Mac's desktop, and from there I copied all the data from my old drive to the new one. With that done, I removed the old drive, installed the Maxtor in the old drive's place, and reattached the CD-ROM drive's cables.

The 266MHz G3 processor inside my Macintosh is robust enough to play some fairly demanding games, but the wimpy on-board 3-D-graphics chip is incapable of anything but the most basic hardware acceleration. Some of the games I cherish–Pangea's Bugdom, for example–require the RAVE hardware-acceleration API, while others prefer the Glide or OpenGL standards. I need hardware acceleration that will work with all three of these standards, and no one board currently handles them all adequately. To cover my bases, I filled one PCI slot with a Rage 128-based ATI Rage Orion card ($149; ) that supports RAVE and OpenGL, and I filled my second PCI slot with a 3dfx Voodoo3 2000 card ($90; ) that supports OpenGL and Glide games.

Now, hang on a second there, Jimmy-Joe–before you send off that acrimonious letter, allow me to explain: I know full well that installing these two cards requires that I either have a monitor for each card or plan to swap the monitor cable from one card to the other on a regular basis. I'm fortunate in that I do have a couple of spare monitors, so adding a second monitor is no big deal for me–but you might not be as monitor-rich as I am. If you have a single monitor, you can play the cable-switching game or you can add a Voodoo2 card (see the sidebar, "The Voodoo You Do So Well").

For those with dual monitors–and I should mention that you'll need two multisync-resolution (not fixed-resolution) monitors–this two-card monte isn't a bad way to go. However, there's a trick to using the Voodoo3 card. It's intended for PCs, and to use it with a Macintosh, you must update the card's ROM and install Mac-compatible drivers. Fortunately, you can find the Macintosh drivers and the FlashROM utility on 3dfx's Web site. To update the ROM you need to connect your monitor to a video source other than the Voodoo3 card, install the card in a free PCI slot, and run the FlashROMVoodoo3 utility. Instructions for doing this are in the Mac Voodoo3Drivers folder.

Before-and-After Science   The clear differences between Unreal Tournament rendered under software (above) and with a Rage 128 chip (below) should be compelling enough reason to upgrade to hardware acceleration.

Most games that offer both Glide and OpenGL or RAVE acceleration will automatically choose the appropriate card and monitor–the Voodoo3 card for Glide games and, by default, the ATI card for OpenGL and RAVE games. If you want to use your Voodoo3 card for OpenGL acceleration–not a bad idea considering that at higher resolutions a Voodoo3 card seriously spanks anything ATI has on the market–you may have to muck about with drivers to get this to work.

For example, while testing the Quake III: Arena demo, I had to turn off the OpenGLRendererATI extension for the game to work with --the Voodoo3 card. Quake II requires that you play the game on the monitor that bears the menu bar. If you want to play the game with the Voodoo3 card, open the Monitors & Sound control panel (or Monitors if you're using OS 9), click on Arrange, and move the menu bar to the monitor attached to the Voodoo3 card. Wacky.

Although a 3-D card offers the most bang for your gaming buck, you can boost frame rates even more with a CPU upgrade. I did just that with Newer Technology's 400MHz Maxpowr G3 upgrade ($460; ). On average, this upgrade bought me an extra 12 frames per second in Quake II at a resolution of 640 by 480 pixels on both the ATI and Voodoo3 cards.

Not all of you have beige Power Mac G3s, so these exact upgrades may not apply to you. But they certainly indicate the steps you can take to make your Mac a finer and faster gaming machine. If you have other suggestions to offer, feel free to drop me a line. I just love reading the mail.

April 2000 page: 70

Unlike Voodoo3 cards, Voodoo2 cards provide a pass-through cabling scheme–you connect your monitor to the output port on the Voodoo2 card, and attach the included pass-through cable to the Voodoo2's video-input port and your Mac's (or video card's) video-output port. When a game requires 3-D hardware acceleration from the Voodoo2, the Voodoo card takes over the graphics chores.

Although the Voodoo2 chip set can crank out frame rates nearly comparable to those of ATI's Rage 128 chip set, it has limitations: it doesn't support resolutions higher than 800 by 600 pixels, and it renders only 3-D graphics–you still need some kind of 2-D output, either from your Mac's on-board video or from an installed video card such as ATI's Rage Orion.

3dfx's Voodoo2 1000 PCI card costs less than $70, and you can find Mac drivers for it on 3dfx's Web site ( ).

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