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SyQuest EZ135

Apple Notes By Martin Russ
Published August 1996

Martin Russ's terminal terminal finally gives up the ghost and after thinking long and hard about its replacement, he makes a surprising decision...

As you may remember from the last Apple Notes, my Mac IIsi was not well. In fact, just after I had emailed the text to SOS, the IIsi finally died. Rather than just 'freezing' at the wrong moment, it now refused to power up altogether. If I had minor hardware problems before, they were now major!

If you've never had a well‑used computer die on you, you've probably never worried about what happens when you suddenly don't have it any longer. In my case, the IIsi held all my MIDI files, sequencer files, Apple Notes files, and lots of other work in progress — as well as the installs for the copy‑protected music software. And it was now all inaccessible. The word for this situation might be 'disaster'.

But it wasn't. I don't trust computers, and I've always taken great care that everything I do is backed up, as I'm sure all Apple Notes readers already do! In fact, as I have mentioned before, I go one better than just backing up — I have a complete copy of the whole of my work area on a separate SCSI hard disk. The important files in the System Folder are backed up to a removable hard drive, since they don't change very often. But an exact copy of the main drive, which holds all my working files, is held on a partition called Main Backup on an external SCSI 850Mb drive. I use Symantec's excellent CopyDoubler utility program to rapidly copy across only those files which have changed.

The last time I updated my Main Backup was the day before the IIsi died, so the worst scenario I faced was the loss of one day's work. As it was, SOS had my email of Apple Notes, and so I lost very little. All I needed now was a new Mac to connect to the Main Backup drive and get back to normal.


Last month, I speculated about the choices that were open to any prospective purchaser of a Mac for music and MIDI. They really boil down to these options:

  • 68040 Macintosh with NuBus
  • 68040 Macintosh with AV options
  • PowerPC Mac with NuBus
  • PowerPC Mac with AV options
  • PowerPC Mac with PCI

The two 68040 Macs offer the widest scope for compatibility with old Mac software which runs under System 6 or earlier. Not all Mac users are willing to join the ongoing increases in complexity and size of the latest Systems, and choose to remain with some of the older but slimmer releases like 6.0.7, which was the last of the pre‑7 Systems. I've heard some very convincing arguments against the burgeoning additions to System 7.5 (and onwards to MacOS 8) when you are using MIDI sequencers — but remember that for more mainstream applications, System 7 has many advantages.

The other advantage of 68040 Macs is their serial ports, where both can be used for MIDI purposes. The hardware changes that have been made to the serial ports on Power Macs have caused some problems with using both serial ports to input and output MIDI information. Of course, if you use AppleTalk (or LocalTalk) to network to another Mac or to connect to a printer, this can also seriously affect the operation of the serial ports, regardless of the type of Mac.

They'Ve Got The Power

For Power Macs, System 7, or even System 7.5, may well be the lowest System which can be used. But the major consideration with Power Macs (and any PowerPC clones as well) is the expansion options: NuBus or PCI. The first generation of Power Macs had the familiar NuBus expansion buss, which first appeared in the 68030 Mac II series, and continued through the 68040 Quadras. Second‑generation Power Macs have the newer PCI buss, which has the advantage of being widely used by many current computers and workstations. PCI replacements for familiar NuBus cards like those from Digidesign are beginning to appear — their recently‑released Audiomedia III card (see the review in last month's SOS) is the first of many.

The AV options of the Power Macs include enhanced video capability, but also better audio input and output facilities than the ordinary Macs. Although using 16‑bit AD converters and DA converters at 44.1 kHz, the actual performance is not felt to be quite up to CD quality, and the distinctly non‑pro mini‑jack connectors serve to reinforce this. More recent Macs have tended to hide their AV capability — generally the higher‑numbered models have some AV facilities, but the helpful AV at the end of the name is no longer added.

Overall, the Power Mac range has seen a bewildering explosion of models in just a couple of years, which has made trying to keep up with them almost impossible. This seems to have affected Apple as well: under new leader Gil Amelio they are trying to slim down the range to just a few models, so perhaps a bit of welcome sanity will return. Even so, I don't think we will ever return to the halcyon days of the Mac II series, when for several years, the IIfx was the tops, and new models gradually filled in the gaps underneath it, all in a nice predictable way. Nowadays, ever‑faster processors mean that the clock speed has become part of the name of the computer, as in the Power Mac 9500/150, and some manufacturers just use the processor type and clock speed, as shown by the Power Computing PowerWave 604/150.

Checking The Spec

The one thing that no‑one ever seems to want to tell you is just how all these Macs compare to each other. Since I needed to have some idea of the relative merits of the major models, I compiled a league table. It shows a very rough ordering (I'm not infallible, and there has been some interpretation of the available figures) of the main Macintoshes and clones (see box 'The Mac OS League Table').

The computers in the middle area of the table may be most suitable for MIDI sequencing and patch editing purposes, whilst those towards the top may be more suited to hard disk recording and 'MIDI + Audio' purposes. You'll need to check on important details like NuBus or PCI expansion slots, the serial port(s), and suitability for specialised applications like MIDI or audio before you purchase, especially if you're considering a second‑hand computer. The lower cut‑off point typically recommended for current MIDI sequencers is somewhere around the Mac IIsi. For professional 'MIDI + Audio' usage, the nearer the top the better.

Decision Time

So what machine did I go for? After considerable thought, serendipity took over, and I was offered a Centris 610 at a bargain price — and I bought it! (Those PC Notes readers who were hoping that I would say that I went for a Pentium Pro PC running Windows 95 can stop reading now...) Why did I buy such a gloriously out‑of touch machine?

The Centris 610 is one of the last of the 680n0 Macs, albeit not a 68040, with a NuBus slot (via an adaptor), should I ever need one. It runs all my ageing freeware and shareware, and it can run both serial ports at full speed to cope with the demands of my heavily‑used Opcode Studio 5LX MIDI interface. It has enough power to cope with my current MIDI sequencing, and I'm still hesitating about adding audio tracks...

The Centris 610 is also small and neat, with the potential to replace the main board for a 6100 Power Mac board — assuming that there are still some upgrades hanging about when I get around to it. Best of all, it cost a fraction of what my IIsi cost three years ago, so I'm quite happy to have it as my temporary friend whilst I save for a Power Mac — and then I'll have a 680n0 and a Power Mac, so I can separate out the writing and Internet stuff from the music and MIDI work, which should result in a much simpler way of working.

Any readers with a humble 680n0‑based Mac who feared that they were about to be ignored can relax for a while. I haven't abandoned the 680n0 processor — in fact, I now have a live one and a dead one!

Tip Of The Month — Backup

Let the demise of my IIsi serve as a warning to you. Do a backup now, and seriously think about making a copy of your important files or folders onto an external hard disk. With hard disks at their current prices, having a copy of your current work is not going to be very expensive, and could save you a great deal of hassle. Alternatively, one of the new generation of removable hard drives (Jaz, Zip, EZ135) could not only be used to hold copies of your vital files, but also those ever‑expanding patch and/or sample libraries.

Apple News In Brief

    During June, a team of Apple R&D evangelists stopped off in London and Milan to try to convince TV and media broadcast people that Apple have the hardware and software enablers to let them make programmes quickly and easily. New technologies like FireWire and DVD were on show, as well as "the newsroom of the future". Apple Notes was there (in London, not Milan!), and managed to get a sneak preview of the forthcoming QuickTime 2.5, which Apple said should be available by the time you read this. A full report on what I saw will follow in next month's Apple Notes.
    The June Apple Notes featured my views on how a future network computer might bring music and musicians together. Now Apple, Sun, Oracle, IBM, and Netscape have announced a joint proposal to produce an open specification for exactly this type of device. The network computer specification seems to be exactly what it says, in contrast to Microsoft's SIPC (Simpler Interactive Personal Computer) which uses an acronym to hide a cut‑down PC running Windows. Expect increasingly rabid crossfire from these two sides as the battle for the integrated Internet computer intensifies.
    With the music world so focused on MIDI, it is not surprising that some developments in the computer world go almost unnoticed. With the huge increases in processing power and the improvements in audio I/O that have happened recently, an underground phenomenon may now be set to re‑surface: trackers. Trackers, or Mod players, use the techniques behind wave‑sequencing and sample replay to produce complex music from relatively simple components — they were popular on the Atari ST and Amiga computers, and have started to reappear in a significantly more versatile form on the PC and Mac, taking full advantage of the changes in technology. So, if you find someone producing music from a .MOD file, don't assume that it is a mis‑spelling of .MID — it could be the start of the next big thing.

The Mac OS League Table

PowerPC604150Power Mac 8500/150, 9500/150, PowerWave 604/150
PowerPC604132Power Mac 9500/132, PowerWave 604/132
PowerPC604120Power Mac 8500/120, 9500/120, Power 120
PowerPC601120Power Mac 7600/120, 8200/120, PowerCurve 601/120
PowerPC603120Performa 5320, 6230
PowerPC601110Power Mac 8100/110, 8100/110AV, Radius 81/110
PowerPC601100Power Mac 7500/100, 8200/100
PowerPC603e100Performa 5300, PowerBook 5300, Duo 2300
PowerPC60190Power Mac 7200/90
PowerPC60180Power Mac 8100/80, 8100/80AV
PowerPC60375Performa 5200+, 6200+
PowerPC60175Power Mac 7200/75
PowerPC60166Power Mac 6100/66, 6100/66AV, 7100/66, 7100/66AV
PowerPC60160Power Mac 6100/60, 6100/60AV
6804040Quadra 840AV
6804033Quadra 630, 650, 800, 950
6804025Centris 650, Quadra 610, 660AV, 700, 900
68LC04033 Mac LC 575, Performa 630, Duo 280, PowerBook 190, 540
68LC04025Mac LC475, PowerBook 520
68LC04020Centris 610
6803040Mac IIfx
6803033PowerBook 150, 165, 180, Duo 230, 250, 270
6803032Mac IIvx
6803025Mac IIci, LCIII, PowerBook 145, 160, Duo 210
6803020Mac IIsi
6803016Mac SE/30 IIx, IIvi, Classic II, LCII, PowerBook 140
6802016Mac II, LC
680008Mac Plus

The Mac OS League Table. The fastest models are towards the top, the slowest are towards the bottom. All positions are approximate and depend on how you measure performance.