Thursday, June 16, 2011

An ATI Radeon 9000 Upgrade on a Sawtooth

I'd long wondered how much of a speed boost a new graphics card would be on my Sawtooth over my old, decrepit Rage 128 Pro. Seriously, the thing was actually turning gray, and it wasn't just the dust covering it. So when thinking about a replacement, I'd mentally settled on an ATI 9000 with 64 MB of memory. Now there are reasons you wouldn't want a 9000 on a Sawtooth, namely the ADC port won't work. Unlike all later Power Macs, the motherboard doesn't supply the ADC port with power, so unless you have an (expensive) adapter for the DVI port, you can't use an ADC monitor. Also, dual monitors are a no-go. But since I don't have an ADC monitor and made this far through life never having the urge to have dual monitors, I figured the 9000 would be an ideal upgrade for me because of the modest cost and lack of a cooling fan. And if you've ever had a graphics card fan wear out on you, you know what I'm talking about. (One more note: Linux has quality drivers for ATI cards, not so much for Nvidia cards, so if I want to boot Linux on this machine I'm gonna want an ATI card.)

So after looking on and off for a few months, I saw a 9000 on ebay for $0.99 plus $8.00 shipping and won the auction as the lone bidder. I also had to get a DVI to VGA adapter since my monitor is VGA, and that was it's own kind of adventure. Long story shorter, you need a DVI-I adapter, not a DVI-D adapter, which are sometimes referred to as DVI(24+1) as opposed to the DVI-Is which are sometimes referred to as DVI(24+5). Got all that? Now back to the 9000.

So I got all the stuff in the mail and installed the new card and fired it up. So how was it? The first thing I noticed was the mouse cursor now had a subtle shadow around it that wasn't rendered with the Rage 128 Pro. Then I did some speed tests on tasks that involved graphics and video and was pleasantly surprised at the results.

First I tried out an abandonware flight sim I like called OSX Skyfighters 1945. On an 800 X 600 resolution, frame rates were about 15% faster. Not a huge deal, but on a 1024 X 768 resolution, frame rates improved by about 35%. Video playback on vlc and mplayer was about 15% faster, and frame rates in the astronomy sim Celestia were between two and three times faster. Also, and I didn't expect this, frame rates in games played in Classic Mode improved as well.

Probably the most striking difference was with MacTubes. With the Rage 128 Pro, the videos would skip frames when displayed at 200% and stuttered in full screen to the point of being not very watchable. Now with the 9000 that's all gone. There's no frame skipping, not even in fullscreen. So now I'm watching fullscreen youtube videos on an eleven year old computer and having the last laugh. You have not defeated me, youtube. You have not defeated me.

Unfortunately, though, and this was the only disappointment, flash playing in a web browser showed no improvement, and that was with Hardware Acceleration in the settings menu switched on and off. But flash is evil, so we'll ignore this.

So the lesson here? If you have an old Power Mac with a Rage 128 Pro or, god forbid, a GeForce 2MX, a graphics card might be a cheap and easy upgrade well worth your time. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm gonna go watch MacTubes and make the 21st Century my bitch.


  1. In your opinion what would be the absolute best graphics card one can find for a "Sawtooth"?

    I have a 9000 on mine and was wondering if there was something better.

    Thank you,

  2. Probably an ATI 9800, though it would be limited by the Sawtooth's 2X AGP slot and 100 MHz bus speed. And I remember reading ATI recommends a 300 watt power supply, and the Sawtooth's is only 237 watts, so if your computer is tricked out with a lot of upgrades you might push up against the upper wattage limit. So even though the 9800 is a much better card on specs, in a Sawtooth it might not make that huge a difference.

    I don't know as much about GeForce cards.