Put 54G Wireless in a G3 or G4 Power Mac
2/17/2005 by Keith Benicek, Editor

Nothing like being disinherited -
Have you got a G3 or G4 Power Mac “mini tower” and you feel like the wireless world is passing you by? There’s no reason to feel this way bunky and I’ll show you a quick and cheap way to move from 802.11b Airport Card wireless (if you have one) to the current darling of Wi-Fi 54Mbps 802.11g …. and it isn’t with the help of Apple either.

If you’re a long time Apple computer users like me, you remember when Apple went out of their way to support older “legacy” hardware. That was of course when Apple’s main thrust was computers and not selling music and music player gadgets. You beamed with pride having an 11Mbps Airport Card enabled PowerBook or Power Mac while most Windows PC’s were bound by Ethernet cable. You were way ahead of the curve technologically.

Then just as suddenly, with the announcement of “54G” 802.11g Wireless from Apple with the Airport “Extreme”, those of you with Macs bought just weeks earlier were left out cold from Apples Extreme 54G hardware. How thoughtful of Apple, huh.

The reason is because Apple chose to completely switch card technology to aproprietary “mini-PCI” device that is not compatible with any Mac other
than newly announced models. Apple has never produced a 54G Airport device backwards compatible to your older Macs.

Also seems a bit ironic now that the very first computer company to put wireless inside a notebook and desktop computer is now so far behind in Wireless technology, where 108Mbps to 125Mbps is now the norm.

Real Mac owners have to be resourceful –
For quite a while after the release of 54G Airport Extreme, Mac owners were screwed out of running any 802.1g hardware in their legacy Macs. New Aluminum G4 PowerBooks and the latest models of G4 Power Macs could install the Airport Extreme, while older G4 “TiBooks” still on sale, and “legacy” G4 PM’s, couldn’t.

Then with the release of OS X version 10.2.6 and Airport v3.1 some light shown through. With no direct intentions of Apple’s, 10.2.6 and that new version of Airport software seemed to recognize certain 802.11g CardBus Cards and PCI cards that used the same Broadcom 54G chipset that Apple Extreme uses.

A bit of “enlightenment” for the naïve Mac owner; Apple does not and hasn’t for many years, made any of their own computers and accessory hardware. There are no more Apple factories in the US and there are none in Taiwan, Korea or China. Made in China, means it was made by a contract manufacturing company in China and the same goes for all of Apple Airport gear.

It’s often the same as hardware branded for Linksys, Belkin or even a brand you never heard of. Apple is now only a “marketing company”. Often the same contract manufacturer is making PC’s on the assembly line right next to the Power Mac line. Sorry to break your heart.




G3 and G4 PowerBook owners were the first to benefit because they had CardBus slots and most ran 10.2.6 well. All the original Linksys 802.11g PC Cards worked perfectly and then others like Asante with their AeroLAN-XG jumped on the bandwagon by advertising that their 54G PC Card worked in certain PowerBooks.

I run the Asante AeroLAN-XG PC card in my own G3 500 MHz “Pismo” PowerBook quite happily and it gets better range by a 2x factor than my newer G4 1GHz Titanium PowerBook with an internal .11b Airport Card.

If you have a CardBus “slotless” portable Mac, like all iBooks and pre Wallstreet G3 PowerBooks, you’re still out of luck.
"... Macs bought just weeks earlier were left out cold from Apple's Extreme 54G hardware. How thoughtful of Apple, huh."
                    Click on most images to enlarge
Not as simple for Power Macs –
Things have not been as clear for the G3 and G4 Power Macs for 54G options. Since the internal Airport card cage is only 16-bit PCMCIA and not compatible with 32-bit “CardBus” 54G PC Card. We have never seen a 16-bit 802.11g PCMCIA card from any manufacturer.

There have been no USB 802.11g “adapters” made with the original Broadcom chipset either, so we are left with only one alternative, a PCI slot solution.
The first PCI based card recognized to work in a G3 or G4 Power Mac with Airport v3.1 was the Linksys WMP54G and again this wasn’t by design. Linksys has never gone out of their way to make a Mac compatible device, in fact many who’ve bought Linksys network hardware that work compatibly with Macs, report that their Tech Support people are pretty Mac clueless.

Not long after the WMP54G reached retail selves and Mac owners started spreading the word about it’s compatibility, Linksys revised the card mildly and then again radically with a model they call “WMP54G v2”. We have one of the very first WMP54G PCI cards and we tested it in a G3 “Blue and White” running OS 10.2.8 and a G4 500 Sawtooth running 10.3.6. While the WMP54G equipped Power Macs recognized the card and connected to our Networks and Internet, both refused to connect to Apple “Updater” site. Pretty strange results we’ve never seen before.

We do know that the current Linksys model WMP54G v2 through v4 iare not compatible, because Linksys changed to a different Broadcom 54G chipset not used by Apple. So where does that leave us now?

There is one company still selling, although we hear it’s just the remaining small stock of advertised Mac compatible 802.11g PCI cards, is Sonnet Technologies. Their Aria™ PCI cards are made in Taiwan by a company we won’t mention, but they carry a pretty hefty retail price of USD$129.95.

Fortunately, because most network hardware companies make none of their own products, a number of them that march to the Broadcom chipset drum have been selling the same but privately labeled PCI cards. With a little detective work, calls to our contacts at Broadcom and friends in Taiwan where most of these privately labeled cards are made, we started buying ones to test for you.

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