Upgrading a PowerBook G3

Originally published 11 September 2000 as a Mac Daniel column for Low End Mac.

Q: How can I upgrade my "un-upgradeable" PowerBook G3 machine?

A: In case you were under a rock during the last two weeks of July, you probably noticed that two companies announced PowerBook G3 upgrades at the Macworld Expo in New York. Newer Technology and PowerLogix are both shipping upgrades for the original PowerBook G3 series now — for a good deal less than the price of a new Pismo PowerBook G3.

NewerTech requires that the original processor daughtercard be sent to Newer, where they remove the old G3 processor and cache, then solder on a new, faster processor and cache, leaving the old ROMs in place to ensure complete compatibility. The price and model depends on the model of PowerBook G3 you have now. If you have a 250 or 292 MHz WallStreet (a.k.a. PowerBook G3 Series) with the 83 MHz system bus, you need the 458 MHz upgrade at US$550. If you have any other PowerBook G3 Series, including the Lombard (a.k.a. Bronze Keyboard) machines, you need the 466 MHz upgrade, which costs US$600. The reason for the $50 difference is the faster L2 cache chips used with the 66 MHz system bus. If you have a Lombard and feel the need to upgrade, Newer is your only option at this point. Powerlogix's web site states that they will announce upgrades for the Lombard PowerBook G3 "at a later date."

PowerLogix takes a different approach to the problem. Their $700 BlueChip G3 upgrade uses a 500 MHz G3 and works in all the original WallStreet models. The original daughtercard is replaced with the BlueChip upgrade card. Instead of using the ROM from your old PowerBook, BlueChip copies your old ROM information to the new card. The possible problem with this setup is that it doesn't use the original ROM chips from the original daughtercard, which, in theory, might cause problems down the road. The jury is still out on whether this is a real-world issue, however. We'll know more when BlueChip ships; it is expected in October.

Whether is an efficient use of your money is obviously a personal choice, but for anyone who has a PowerBook running faster than 266 MHz, the upgrade probably won't make enough difference to be worthwhile. You'd be better off saving the money and waiting for a newer, faster PowerBook to drive down prices on the Pismo machines.

copyright ©2000-2004 by Chris Lawson