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Booting my TiBook from CompactFlash

My poor TiBook is sick. :-( The original-generation 40GB Seagate Momentus hard drive is nearly five years old and is starting to do some funny things. I could replace it, but 2.5" IDE hard disks are getting harder to come by these days. If the machine died, what would I do with such a drive?

So instead of doing that, I decided to pick up a 16GB CompactFlash card ($70CDN) and the appropriate adapter ($20CDN). The verdict? The machine is definitely quieter, except for when the CPU fan kicks in. I can now use this machine to record MFR without having to hide the TiBook in another room, under the bed, etc...

Faster? It's actually a bit slower on some operations (i.e., loading and caching graphics-heavy web pages) due to the "random write" problem inherent in most flash memory[1]. Most of the slowness, though, stems from the fact that it's an 867MHz G4 sitting on a 133MHz front side bus. :-) But I did this for fun, and if the machine dies, I'll still have a 16GB card that I can use for other things.

If you try this yourself, remember to select a CompactFlash card whose specifications explicitly state that the card fully supports UltraDMA, otherwise you may not be able to boot from the darned thing.

[1]Google "ssd" and "hitching" or "stuttering" for the full story)

Views: 489

Comment by Gavin on November 21, 2009 at 10:12am
I have a very similar book, a 1 GHz TItanium. Other World Computing still sells 2.5" IDE hard drives, up to a 320 GB model. I bought a 250 GB early this year.

I'm trying a similar setup on a PowerBook 1400, though. Does the PA-CF25 support waking from sleep? Thanks in advance.
Comment by Derek on November 21, 2009 at 10:25am
Yes, the adapter itself has almost zero electronics on it--all the things you care about are in the CompactFlash itself. so you can use just about any adapter. Note the UltraDMA requirement (above for the card). Waking from sleep works perfectly. :)
Comment by maxheadroom on November 25, 2009 at 8:47am
So, if you install a second CF card, that will work as a different partition?
Comment by Derek on November 25, 2009 at 7:55pm
As a second drive? Yes, it worked with an old non-UltraDMA (i.e., non-bootable) 256MB CF card, no problem. I was surprised, too, since Apple is notorious for leaving out "second disk support" from its older disk controllers. Performance will slow down when you access both devices simultaneously, but these days on a G4... it's all about the fun anyway, right? ;)

I should add that while the 16GB CompactFlash is a hair slower than the 5400RPM/8MB cache magnetic disk I was using, both are waaayy faster than the stock 4200RPM/2MB cache drive.

IIRC, boot time (Apple logo->desktop) with OS X 10.4 went from almost two minutes to 45 seconds.
Comment by Lars (WhyOSX) on December 25, 2009 at 1:28am
He (MacMan) already made it:
There is an adaptor here, but no card yet.
Comment by Derek on January 23, 2010 at 10:56pm
Okay, it's not a hair slower--the onboard controller in a CompactFlash card has a lot less intelligence than, say, an Intel X-25M SSD. If you're doing any writing at all, it's painfully slow.. and if you install MenuMeters, boy will you discover how unaware you were about when your OS writes to disk during the boot/login process. :-)

Changing the volume adjustment (click on an item -> Get Info -> Options) on a 100MB movie within iTunes takes a minute or two because iTunes actually writes out a new copy of the file. Ouch. But this is just a kitchen computer, so sturdiness and movie/audio playback speed trumps everything else. CompactFlash works just fine for those things.

I tried swapping out the secondary (256MB) card for the leftover 4GB MicroDrive from my iPod, but the MicroDrive seems to want the whole ATA bus to itself. I tried it in both the secondary *and* the primary slots, but if there was a second card present at at all, the machine booted, displayed a gray screen, and did nothing else. Booting with the option key held down to poll for bootable volumes yielded a stopwatch cursor that stayed for several minutes before I gave up.


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