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PCI Cards -- An Easy and Inexpensive Way to Expand the Power of Your Mac
by Steve Becker

Most desktop PowerMacs* (the iMac is a notable exception) and Mac clones are equipped with three or more PCI (Peripheral Component Interconnect) slots. If you aren't sure whether your Mac has these slots, I suggest taking a look at the manual that came with your computer or getting this info from Apple's web site. Having one or more available PCI slots on your computer can save you money and provide you with wonderful flexibility when you want to update/improve the performance of your Mac!

Here are just some examples of how PCI slots can save you money and add flexibility to your Mac:

You need to have the performance of a FireWire drive, but your PoweMac didn't come with a built-in FireWire port. If you are running OS 8.6 or later, just slip an inexpensive FireWire PCI card into an empty PCI slot -- you now can reap the benefits of both the performance and ease of use that is provided by Apple's FireWire technology!

You want to buy a good Laser printer (read my review of the HP LaserJet 1200) or a color-capable inkjet printer, but your Mac doesn't include the USB port that's required for connecting to most new printers. Just slip an inexpensive USB PCI card into your Mac (if you are running OS 8.5.1** or later) and you now have the ability to use USB devices with your Mac!

I've used both Belkin and Keyspan FireWire and USB PCI cards to add FireWire and USB interfaces to older Macs, though PCI cards can also be used to add additional FireWire and USB ports to any FireWire and USB ports that came with your Mac.


You want to get a larger monitor (or a LCD display), but your Mac's built-in video card doesn't support these devices. You guessed it -- just slip a PCI video card into an empty PCI slot and now you can upgrade your monitor (or add a second monitor)! ATI's Raydeon PCI card is a popular Mac-compatible video card that includes 3D acceleration and other features.


You have a new Mac, but it doesn't include a SCSI port and you have SCSI devices you would like to continue using. Rather than having to invest in new peripheral hardware, just insert a SCSI card into an empty PCI slot!

Even though most older Macs include a SCSI port, I chose to increase the performance of the SCSI devices on my Desktop G3 by installing an Adaptec Fast SCSI card. Adaptec offers a comprehensive line of SCSI PCI cards for Mac users, and detailed info on the cards can be found at the Adaptec web site.


You'd like to upgrade the 10Base-T Ethernet that's built into your Mac. Yep, just install a 10/100Base-T capable Fast Ethernet PCI card.

I networked a G4 to a G3; the G4 included 10/100Base-T Ethernet, but the G3 had just 10Base-T Ethernet and I wanted to be able to utilize the 100Base-T capability of my G4. The fast and inexpensive solution was to install a MacSense Fast Ethernet PCI card.


If you find yourself running out of empty PCI slots, some companies offer "combo" cards. For example, I use a Belkin FireWire/USB Combo PCI card on my Beige G3/300 Desktop computer. This single card includes both FireWire and USB ports and has a street price of around $89. I've been using the Belkin card for several months now, and it has worked flawlessly! (Other manufacturers provide cards that offer additional combinations of interfaces on a single PCI card.)


If you own a PowerBook, some of these companies also offer CardBus Cards that slide into the CardBus Card slots which are provided on many PowerBooks -- just as PCI cards allow you to expand the capabilities of your PowerMac, CardBus Cards allow you to expand the capabilities of your PowerBook. (I'm currently evaluating the FireWire CardBus Cards that are sold by SmartDisk and Keyspan.)

Be sure to check on the specific hardware and software requirements of any PCI card or CardBus card you are considering purchasing. Also, some features of a specific card/technology may not work with certain hardware, so be sure to read the "fine print" of the card's/technologies's requirements. Fortunately, for literally millions of users, using these inexpensive cards is a wonderfully effective and inexpensive way to upgrade and modernize their Macs -- and it's certainly a lot less expensive than buying a new computer!

© Steve Becker. All rights reserved.

*The first PowerMacs didn't include PCI slots, though some of them came equipped with slots for NuBus cards (a more expensive and less common card).
**Some USB PCI cards claim to work with OS 8.1 or later.

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