View Full Version : Build from scratch

01-06-2001, 06:52 PM
I am pretty savvy about IBM systems but, a friend of mine and myself wish to build a Mac from scratch. We hope it will teach us the same way we learned how to work on PCs. Though you know we will have a preset idea about what should do what because of our PC backgrounds.
What we need first of all is some advice on what we need to get started.
We first need to decide what type of system we are building. With PCs you know what the Processor speed is and all the specs because of how the indutry has set the "Naming" of certain architectures. We know nothing about what a specific line of Macs is known for, in other words the name a certain model of Mac has does not specify its speed or memory etc.

We want to build something comparable to a G3 or G4. We know we need a lot of memory compared to a PC because I personally have used a G4 to color correct photos in a production type environment and know that the OS takes up an enormous amout of memory.

Sorry I'm so long winded,but to summarize what model of case and motherboard(for a desktop) would you(a MacUser) suggest as far as building a Mac to suit?
We want a couple of expansion slots and a lot of processor speed and of course upgradable memory.

Any resources about the Mac architecture and "How it Works" suggestions (links,books,notes,etc) would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks & we'll keep you posted of our "Macnewbie" experience!

01-06-2001, 08:01 PM
Hi there Monolith.......(catchy name)....for starters, check out this link:

with all due respect to those that own them, disregard all the NUBUS macs. Old and, at this point, waning after market support, although there are those who use em and like em just fine.

A couple of the favorites you will read about on this forum are the Power Macintosh 9600 and variants, especially the MACH 5, and in the PowerComputing (mac clone) the PowerTowerPro (PTP). Both of these machines are based on the Tsunami architecture, and sport 6 PCI slots, as well as the memory controllers which support interleaving of high quality RAM sticks for a 10 to 15% increase in overall system speed.

Keep in mind that in some of these systems, system architecture alone does not presume uniform "preferred" memory types. Example: the 9600 can use 168 pin FPM or EDO DIMMS, whereas with the PTP, EDO is not recommnended.

Do you have a specific idea about the tasking of this machine?

The MacGurus (of which, I am not one....., refers to the Moderators who watch over this site) split, generally, mac designates into "New World" (most modern g3s and g4s..."yosemite"...."yikes"....and "sawtooth"...etc..not sure if they include all PPC after the 9600 or not) and "vintage" (well...pre-New World Power Macs. I currently run a vintage PTP, w a very nice xlr8 g3/400Mhz/1Mb L2 cache, OS 9.0.4, 128Mb RAM).

You should consider using OS 9.0.4 as your OS. It's fairly mature and pretty stable, although it is, flat out, a memory hog.

As you may already know, generally, the various Mac architectures developed by Apple were/are much more "closed" and proprietary than those in the PC world, something we macintosh fans have bemoaned at length. But, that is the way it goes (and went), and not worth going into.

Much of the technical jargon the Gurus speak will be familiar to you. Many of the architectural nuances and peculiarities may seem strange and without neccesity to you, and (see above paragraph) you'll probably be right, ultimately. For the Mac enthusiast, these are things, right or wrong, that we have come to grips with because of our enthusiasm for the Macintosh.

Are you just gonna tinker, or do you want to see how fast you can go?

I am biased heavily towards the opinions of the MacGurus, so far as the merits and demerits of the various machines, software, and peripheral hardware/firmware.....and, I think, not unreasonably. These guys are in the business of High Performance mac-based solutions. The machines they build up for themselves are fast, robust, and highly stable.

A well built mac system that utilizes high quality mature PCI cards, (monitor, SCSI cards..etc) quality memory (all memory is not equal), and a minimum of extraneous software, will yield a wonderful ride.

There is a WEALTH of informative, accurate and entertaining information on this site. Read it all, even the pages about the products MG's sell. There is cummulatively YEARS of Mac experience on this site. Your PC hardware background will lower your learning curve nicely, as you read all this stuff.

After saying all that, the first thing you'll probably want to decide is which machine you want to start out with. You can buy some old PCI macs for pretty damn cheap. The 2 vintage machines mentioned in the beginning of my post are very desirable simply because of their expandability, and are the more pricey of the vintage machines. Of the 2, the PTP can be had for a fair amount less than the 9600, yet PTP are damn similar, and well built machines.

If 3 PCI slots will serve your needs, and you might potentially use applications which can capitalize on the capabilities of the g4 chip (altivech enabled aka "velocity engine"), you may well do best with one of the New World macs. The added benefit of New World machines is the ability to run the OS X (10), now in public Beta, and scheduled for release later this year. OS X is a major change in look and feel from the current generations of Mac OS, and based on a UNIX kernel (mach kernel?...can't remember), with the look and "feel" layered over UNIX. OS X does multi-tasking/threading (dependent on the code write)...has "protected" memory.....if an application crashes, the OS doesn't even balk about it or become unstable, it is a seperate "event".

Hope that helps....admittedly...I AM most certainly an amateur....but I REALLY like the mac a LOT!!

Enjoy and have a ball.......

c8....aka..."beginner mac student"

"so much to learn, and so few hours in the day."


[This message has been edited by crazyeights (edited 06 January 2001).]

[This message has been edited by crazyeights (edited 06 January 2001).]

01-06-2001, 09:23 PM
So, you want to roll your own, eh ?

The first thing you have to realize is that unlike the PC world, Apple has kept tight wraps on recent motherboards http://macgurus.com/infopop/emoticons/icon_frown.gif. If you are trying to build a unit that has one of Apples motherboards from the last 2 years or so, you will pay big $$$ if you can find one (usually Ebay).

Now, that doesnt mean you cant have fun. It is relatively easy to pick up a motherboard from the cloning era of 1996-1997 (again usually ebay).

Power Computing and UMAX are the two more common clones you will find.

Before you go to far, you also need to realize that much of the functionality that in a PC would be in a added PCI card is typically on the motherboard (sound and ethernet and sometimes video, for example).
This means that macs will typically have less PCI slots than a PC counterpart.
Most clones have 3 PCI slots. Examples of this are :

Power Computing: PowerCurve, Power Tower, Power Center, Power Center Pro

Apple: 7300, 7500, 7600, 8500, 8600

UMAX: J700 (has 4 PCI slots but no onboard video - although see below)

If you need to build a unit with more slots, you need :

Power Computing: Power Tower Pro

Apple: 9500, 9600

UMAX : S900 (or a modified J700 motherboard : see the UMAX/Supermac formus here)

The above have 6 PCI slots and command a premium on Ebay.

Once you choose a motherboard you have to consider what case to use, not all of the above are ATX.

The Power Curve, Power Center, Power Tower, and POwer Center Pro are LPX style
motherboards that use (to the best of my knowledge) ATX power supplies (see www.powerwatch.com). (http://www.powerwatch.com).)

The Apple 7300,7500, 7600, 8500, and 8600 are cases and power supplies that are close-but-not-quite ATX (some people have modified thenm to fit, see www.xlr8yourmac.com) (http://www.xlr8yourmac.com))

The Power Tower Pro, UMAX S900 and J700 use ATX cases, and not-quite ATX power supplies, but may not fit exactly into a ATX case (I am putting a J700 into an enlight casse but I had to do a little dremeling).

In all of the above you might also have to make a custom backplane for where the serial, ethernet and SCSI backports stick out; this is one of the things I am currently considering how to do gracefully (considering milling out a piece of plexiglass).

After finding a motherboard, case, powersupply, you are pretty much there and are down to choosing hard drives, CD, memory, CPU (macs of this era use CPU daughtercards) and so on.

Generally, you have to do a little more research before building a mac, as there is no one design "ATX" form factor you can rely on.

Tell us more about your requirements and we can help you more.

Mad Dog

01-06-2001, 11:22 PM
http://www.macgurus.com/graphics/bam_bampage.html http://www.crooner.com/geek/u2raid.html

a couple of "classic" mac upgrades...although i think the best way to go is the PTP chassis..its built better than any mac and can still be found on ebay for cheaper than the 9600....however if 3 pci slots are enough and you only plan on 2 hard drives and a single cd-rom drive with no other storage devices internal you will be able to build a killer machine on the 7500 chassis for the least up front cost. In the spirit of building the best mac i say go with the PTP to continue what Power Computing started and apple "squashed".

01-07-2001, 12:21 AM
well, I remember Louie mentioning that there were PowerCurve or PowerWaves for sale at some point for like $29 somewhere. He actually sent me one, which I still have in the basement, waiting for me to figure out what to do with it.

any PCI Power Mac will do. At this point, though, I have to mention that the beige G3-series, whether desktop or minitower, are very useful if only from the standpoint of a supported OSXb install. We have one in the basement with X15 Cheetahs and an XLR8 G3 500MHz running OSXb at 533MHz. To boot into OS9.04, you hold down the option key on startup. She flies. I like the desktop config for the ease of access.

the 7500, and the similar Power Computing machines, are all also very easy to work on, and can be radically upgraded. Only the beige G3 from the "vintage" years runs OSXb in supported mode, however. When XLR8 releases the Velocity upgrade, it will be possible to run a pair of 500MHz or faster G4's in that machine. Earlier vintage Power Macs that require daughtercards rather than ZIF cards will require the Carrier MPe and a Velocity upgrade.


01-07-2001, 10:58 AM
The 9600 case is probably the best anyone EVER built for consumer use, although I have not been fortunate (or rich) enough to have one. If you go this route - get the 200 or 233Mhz. Apple built some 300Mhz 'G2' 604e Mach5 systems. They seem to have slower memory and maybe even PCI performance than their slower predecessors. With a G3/4 upgrade you should get slightly better performance and you will not pay as much. The Power TowerPro is also a great case and it has the added benifit of a removable L2 cache (9500 doesnt have this, neither does the Umax S900/J700, not sure about the 9600 - A G3/4 upgrade would have to disable the cache via software). Removing the L2 cache can help to run the main bus at 50Mhz and sometimes higher. I do have one PTProG3/500 and two S900/G3s. The umax systems do not use standard ATX supplies but you can get them for cheap at SMALLDOG.COM (for now).

The thing to keep in mind while all these systems have 6 slots you loose 2 off the bat IF you want to bring the system up to date. You will need a FW/USB combo card (for the UMax you should not get many combo cards- if any) and a 10/100baseT card (they all come with 10baseT). The other nice feature of the 6 slot macs (most of them) is that you can double your SCSI by puting two identical SCSI cards in the bus master slots. Of course the newer macs have 64bit PCI, so you simply get a 64bit/U160 card for those.

The Umax systems only use ONE PCI controller so you need to put any fast SCSI cards in the top two slots (unless you get the E100-UW JACKHAMMER - which is only good up to 9.02). One of my S900s has an MilesBlueNote in the top slot (it would freeze otherwise - with 4 drive RAID setup) and an E100 in slot #4. An ATI VR (all-in-wonder) card needs to be in slot 2 (or 1), otherwise the Mac does not recognize the video. These systems are essentialy 3 slot Macs with a built in expansion chasis. The J700 only has 4 slots, but if you are good with a slodering IRON you can add the extra ones. The S900 also has a secondary processor slot - but it is nearly useless.

All these systems use built in sound and PCI video. Stock video on a 5 year old computer would be fairly slow anyway. Macs run multiple monitors nearly seamlessly (the only seems I've found were from idiot developers that do not know how to write for the Mac - but they are usually fairly minor). I've run up to 3 monitors on my macs. The main strike against these systems is the RAM is slow (60ns) and expensive ($150 to $200 for a 128MB DIMM). You generally (but do not have to install in pairs. This increases data throughput by about 15 to 30% - giving apps about 10 to 25% boost in speed. Some G3/4 upgrades will require the RAM to be de-interleaved, but I have never had a problem with any XLR8 upgrade and 60ns RAM. These systems generally work best with SCSI, but you can install a PCI-IDE/ATA card. These cards fake the mac out into thinking that the drives are SCSI (so you do have to format when moving from a regular Mac-IDE/ATA bus). Depending on what you want to do and your luck -they work fairly well and are cheap. These systems are also limited to 500Mhz G3s (unless you over clock the bus). G4s will only go to 450Mhz.

A good choice is the Beige/G3s. You get fast cheap RAM (PC66/100) and 3 PCI slots. You have a stock IDE/ATA bus a 5MB/s scsi and built in video & 10baseT. They have ZIF processor slots so should handle just about any G3/4 upgrade and they can go to 667Mhz (10xG3)... The G4s are limited to 9x. The G3 minitower case is a bit smaller than the 9600 case. These systems only have 3 DIMM slots vs. the 8 to 12 slots of the older macs, but you can put in 256x3 (maybe more?). These systems do not have USB or firewire built in, but they do have ADB, serial and floppy.

The Blue&White (B&W- Yosemite) run with PC100. They only have 4 PCI slots (3x33Mhz/64bit & 1x66Mhz/32bit-'video') but they are much faster PCI slots. You can use PC100 and even PC133 (if you make sure to get the right kind). Firewire, USB, 10/100 and ATA/33 is all built in. Some come with DVDs and some even had a hardware DVD decoder installed on the ATI-ORION card. These systems are still great for gaming as you can install a V3/4/5 or RADEON PCI (if it ever arrives) in the 66Mhz PCI slot. You can also get the full benifit of a 64bit SCSI (U160 CARD) or even an an PCI IDE/ATA-66 card. This is the last Apple board to have ZIF sockets (unless the YIKES has a ZIF socket). You can upgrade them to 500Mhz and often get 550 with just adding a CPU fan. They should work find up to 1000MhzG3 http://macgurus.com/infopop/emoticons/icon_biggrin.gif or 950MhzG4 - if we ever get them http://macgurus.com/infopop/emoticons/icon_frown.gif These models and newer do not have a floppy drive http://macgurus.com/infopop/emoticons/icon_smile.gif

The newer models have no CPU upgrades, yet. They add AGP (but remove the 66Mhz/32bit PCI) and some also have 1000baseT and/or internal Firewire. The sawtooth and up can have internal modems or use USB modems. I do not think serial modems work with the newer systems. The B&W and Graphite cases are great, but only handle one 5.25" externally accessible device. You can add about 6 to 7 drives however (cd/dvd, ZIP, 4xHD!).

Most of the Mac parts are crossplatform or close to it. RAM, HDs for the most part will work on either systems and also work with the apple drivers. PCI/AGP cards need mac firmware. The 3Dfx V3 was the only card that was really flashable between platforms. A few have had limited success with the V4/5. I'm not sure if anybody has made a PC ATI card work on the MAC, although they are fairly similar. Often 3rd part NICs, USB and Firewire cards will work in a Mac - unless its a sucky quality. The main expense on Macs is the powersupply (sometimes you can get around this) and the logic board. The CPU's can be a bit more expensive, but that is changing.

Often you can get barebones systems from SMALLDOG.COM, OWCOMPUTING.COM, MACRESQ.COM, EBAY or other site. Often it is better to get a pre-built system and add to it. SCSI is expensive. Old DIMMs are expensive. IDE and new stuff is fast & cheap (but not as fast as SCSI http://macgurus.com/infopop/emoticons/icon_wink.gif). Gool luck in MacLand http://macgurus.com/infopop/emoticons/icon_smile.gif

Have fun storming the castle!

01-07-2001, 12:06 PM
A note on Memory-
I think the most I've seen my Mac us is about 70MB - this is after running the DVD player with 9.04 with 196MB of RAM (with disk cache increases to about 8MB as you add more memory and this is taken up by the system). Normally RAM useage is from 10MB to 30MB with 8.6 or 9.x An old system with about 80MB of RAM running 8.6 only used like 12MB on startup.

I use NT4 sp5 at work and it always seems to use about 70MB... and I do not even play movies! http://www.macgurus.com/ubb/eek.gif

It also seems to run out of VM sooner than my macs do, but it doesnt fragment on NT like it does on MacOS. I think overall the PPC is more efficient with memory - even though some of the code & stuff can be a bit larger (as all the CPU 'commands' are 32bit words -OR SOMETHING like that).

01-07-2001, 12:49 PM
Hey P18,

Great post.
Two good resources: http://developer.apple.com/techpubs/hardware/hardware2.html This is the Apple developer website section on everything hardware

MacWorld Mac Upgrade and Repair Bible, Todd Stauffer


01-07-2001, 03:57 PM
One small correction:

The Power Curve, Power Center, Power Tower, and POwer Center Pro are LPX style

Now that I think about it, I think the Power Tower is ATX as the PCI slots are right on the motherboard as opposed to a riser card.


Mad Dog

01-07-2001, 06:00 PM
a couple of comments.

1. the Mach 5 8600 and 9600 lack logic board cache, and have later revision Open Firmware, which makes them better choices for G3 and G4 daughtercards than earlier revisions. There is a reason why they cost more.

2. the S900 can accept video cards in any slot--not just the Bandit slots. We run ours here with a Rage 128VR in the second Bandit slot, and dual Formac PF+ in the DEC bridge slots. She screams.

3. you cannot use SDRAM DIMMs larger than 256MB in the beige G3. They max out at 756MB total.

4. the Yosemite does not shovel PCI data as well as later Sawtooth logic boards. Probably because Yosemite still uses Grackle, and Sawtooth uses the new UNI-North. Jorge confirmed this in his own machines with ATTO UL3D and Miles2.

01-08-2001, 12:42 AM
Wow....great thread....

Magician, I bow in your general direction........you have surely mastered how to say the most (info), with the least words. Kudos!

(Hmmmm.....I wonder if your expert system database has evolved into an assembler mode....human "machine code"....Ha ha!!)

Did you ever read "Snow Crash"?


[This message has been edited by crazyeights (edited 08 January 2001).]

01-08-2001, 04:20 PM
a long time ago, Dave. I'm about due to go back down to the basement and excavate all my old Neil Stephenson novels. I really, really liked Cryptonomicon.


01-08-2001, 09:29 PM
Cryptonomicon was one of the most enjoyable books that I have ever read. Just finished it a few weeks ago. I laughed my ass off over and over.

01-10-2001, 04:52 AM
Hmmm....I'll have to check that out....