Hard Drives and Optical Drives

Hard Drives


One of the most important and most abused or neglected pieces of hard ware, the lowly hard drive can be the source of much frustration, or the missing link to performance. 
Probably the most often overlooked upgrade is the hard drive.

Of utmost importance to the system and performance of all applications, a fast hard drive with a large cache and plenty of free space is imperative to good system performance.
Even without changing spindle speed, cache size or capacity, a new hard drive will provide benefits in performance if not simply just because it is new.
A more telling explanation is that hard drives have changed fairly dramatically since the G4’s were released, and they have much better technology which translates to improved performance.

Beyond that, current drives are all quieter, cooler running, and consume less power to run.
If you have old OEM Hitachi drives, just the “quieter” part is reason enough......

Some people get confused by all the terminology of various drive types: ATA, PATA, IDE.
First, all three terms are saying the same thing- ATA is PATA is IDE when talking hard drives.

Second, people get confused by ATA/66, ATA/100, ATA/133.
This is the ATA specification series by bus/transfer speed.

Let’s keep it simple and say, that no matter what G4 you have, you don’t want anything less than an ATA/100 drive.
The faster drives are backward compatible to a slower bus, so it isn’t necessary to search for a “pink elephant” with regards to slower ATA spec drives.

Beyond this, “cache” is often questioned with regard to function and effect on performance.
Again, the simple answer is that the larger the cache, the faster a drive and system will respond.
The first time I changed a 2MB cache hard drive to an 8MB cache hard drive, I felt that I had just entered a new world of possibilities- more cache means faster performance.....

If you want to know more about any of the terms, use Wikipedia......

So, what everyone wants in their G4 for an OS X boot drive, is a modern ATA/100/133, 7200 RPM, 8MB or 16MB cache hard drive that has enough capacity to always have no less than 50GB of free space.
For best results, a boot drive should never be more than 50% capacity.
The rest of the space isn’t wasted, because the system uses the space for virtual memory, for temporary files, for temporary file storage during disc burning, etc.

“But 500GB isn’t enough” you say....

Get a second drive!
or third....
or fourth....

A note about G4 Drive Capacity Limitations

G4 machines including the Sawtooth, Cube, Gigabit Ethernet, Digital Audio and the first series Quicksilvers have native support for 137GB (128GB formatted).

If your Quicksilver has boot ROM version 4.33f2, large drives are supported in OS 10.2 and up.
Check your System Profiler for the BootROM version.

Quicksilver 2002 and all Mirror Drive Door machines natively support large drives.

In the earlier G4’s, using a larger drive, say a 160GB drive, and you will get 128GB of formatted capacity to use with no problems from the unused space.

To gain full capacity, use a PCI controller such as the Acard (on my PCI card page) for drives larger than 128GB.

A software option also exists (requires special partitioning).
The Intech Speedtools HiCap driver allows large ( up to 500GB) ATA drives to be used. 



SATA drives provide advanced technology that provide for higher density platters, faster seek times, better error correction, higher data rates and larger cache. This all translates to faster performance.
SATA drives also are generally quieter and cooler than ATA in operation.

There are different standards of SATA, like ATA, and these standards are defined in the SATA rev 1, SATA rev 2 (incorrectly SATA II) and SATA rev 3 (incorrectly SATA III) standards at http://www.serialata.org/  .

Misuse of SATA drive names also create a point of contention, with SATA I, SATA II and SATA III generally, and incorrectly, being used.

*SATA 6Gb/s is backward compatible with SATA 3Gb/s, and SATA 3Gb/s is backward compatible with SATA 1.5Gb/s
Connectors are standard SATA 15 pin for internal and eSATA for external. SATA 6Gb/s feature xSATA.

Another point of confusion with the SATA standards is the data transfer rate.
Many people assume that SATA 1.5Gb/s and SATA 3Gb/s drives are incompatible with later or earlier systems.
Part of the SATA standard is backward and forward compatibility.
While a logic board controller (or PCI controller) may be programmed for a SATA 1.5Gb/s standard, SATA 3GB/s drives will, with almost no exception, be backward compatible.
It is true, however, that the maximum data rates of the SATA 3Gb/s will be limited to the max data rate of SATA 1.5Gb/s in a SATA 1.5Gb/s system.
As well, a SATA 1.5Gb/s drive in a SATA 3Gb/s system will operate at 1.5Gb/s.

G5 Owners- You can use any SATA 1.5GB/s or 3Gb/s drive in the internal drive slots.
There are also NO CAPACITY limitations.

For G4 owners, a SATA PCI controller is necessary to use SATA drives.

As with G5 onboard controllers, use of SATA 3Gb/s drives with a SATA 1.5Gb/s standard PCI controller generally is not a problem.

You will want to confirm whether or not there are capacity limitations with a chosen controller card.

The benefits of using SATA in a G4 are many.
Faster boot time, faster data read write, and an over all palpable increase in performance are all benefits of SATA in a G4.
The ability to use large capacity drives is also a major plus when using SATA in a G4.

People will argue that the PCI bus will limit SATA drive performance, and to a degree, this is correct.
However, even a 32 bit PCI slot rated at 33 MHz will allow 133 MB/s data transfer, so the data rate is double that of the native ATA 66 bus in all G4 models through the Quicksilver.
This fact is illustrated in benchmark testing that I have documented on the Hard Drive Benchmarks page.

Another issue when using SATA and PCI controllers in a G4 is boot support and is related to the PCI controller itself.
Boot to connected drives is not supported by all SATA controller manufacturers.
However, ALL Firmtek Seritek SATA PCI/PCI-X controllers support boot to all connected drives.

For this reason, as well as the support excellence and reliability of Firmtek and their products, I only recommend Firmtek Seritek SATA controllers.



SSD (solid state) drives provide the latest in memory technology in capacities large enough to be used as system drives.
Through use of memory chips and a controller, SSDs are able to emulate the function of a hard drive, using no moving parts and enjoying the speed of memory read write functions.

While it is true that the native bus in a PPC Mac will not allow the potential speed of SSDs to be realized, using a SSD in a G4 (via controller) or in a G5 (native bus or controller) as a boot and application volume can provide for substantial performance increases over traditional SATA.

To substantiate the above statement , I have tested a 240 GB OWC SSD in a Quicksilver 2002, connected via Seritek 1Ve2+2 controller card.
The results are on the page “SSD in a PPC Mac”.

A main drawback to using SSD drives is price vs. capacity.
While a small capacity SSD may be within ones budget, the capacity limitations don’t allow for storage of all ones files.
This, along with the write characteristics of SSD drives, necessitates that commonly changed files be located on a separate drive, using the SSD for OS X and application files only.

To facilitate this type of setup, moving a users Home directory to a second drive can allow for a boot/application volume only on the SSD, and allow for use of smaller SSD drives.

To move a Users Home folder, follow the instructions as outlined on the page:
Moving the Home Folder 

Optical Drives

As it currently stands, a DVD/CD RW optical drive is pretty much required.
Most current software discs are on DVD media, so a minimum of a DVD ROM drive is necessary to enjoy modern software titles, and a must for retail Tiger and Leopard OS versions.

Apple shipped Superdrives all have DVD/CD reading capability, as well as burning support.
Starting with the Pioneer DVR-104, Mac users have enjoyed this as a standard feature.

Media, however, has changed as the max speed capabilities of drives have increased, and many of the current fast medias will not work well in an old Superdrive.

There is a possibility of a firmware update to the drive, which will increase media capability, and even allow for Region free reading of DVD discs.
For more on this, look up Las Vegas DVRFlash, and learn more at RPC1.

If flashing a drive doesn’t work, or if a drive is just worn out, installing a drive is an easy, relatively cheap upgrade.

Besides better media support, other reasons for upgrading the optical drive include fast read and seek time, faster, more efficient burns, better error correction when burning, and quieter operation.

It used to be easy to find IDE drives for the Power Mac, but the move to SATA interface has brought a dramatic drop in the number of options.


Pioneer drives have always enjoyed a high degree of native support in OS X.
Use of any Pioneer DVR 10x or 11x drive is a sure thing in a Power Mac tower.
To be clear, OS X will use any Pioneer ATAPI drive for disc reading and boot without any special requirements.
For complete burn support, however, adjustment to the OS X drive profiling must be made.
This is easy if Patchburn is used.

My personal preference has always leaned toward Pioneer drives.
They have proven to be reliable, and always have very good burn quality.
I have fully functioning Pioneer DVR-104, DVR-108, DVR-109, DVR-111, DVR-112, DVR-116 and DVR-117 drives.
Not a single one has failed me

Burn quality is a point that should not be overlooked, as burn quality varies between manufacturer.
Reviewing optical drive reviews and reports on the web is highly recommended prior to purchase.

Other makes such as Samsung, LG, Liteon, etc, can also be successfully used, though as with later Pioneer models in OS X 10.3x and 10.4x, Patchburn must be used to generate a proper profile for full burn support.

A must for OS X 10.3 or 10.4 and later generation DVD burners: