Bridge the Gap Between New Macs and Old Devices

SAN FRANCISCO (04/19/2000) - Imagine waking one morning in a foreign land-one where your greenbacks are worthless, people consider your style of dress bizarre, and you find the language incomprehensible. In order to survive, you'd have to find ways to convert your currency, adopt the local costume, and attempt to make your desires known.

Many Mac users felt similarly displaced a few years ago when Apple Computer Inc. no longer included ADB, serial, and SCSI ports-the traditional means of communicating between a computer and peripherals such as printers, scanners, and keyboards-on Macs. Instead, Apple adopted USB for serial and input devices because USB was more universally accepted, and the FireWire bus for storage and video because FireWire was speedier. This was hardly good news if you'd paid good money for older equipment that would still work-if only you could plug it in-or if you had an old Mac that was incompatible with a tempting array of new equipment.

Though Apple drew a line in the connectivity sand, other companies have crossed that line for you. Macworld Lab requisitioned scads of devices that help you hook up old devices to new Macs or vice versa, including USB adapters, PCI cards, and PC Cards. We put all the devices through the wringer, evaluating their compatibility with an array of peripherals and determining their effects on general performance.

Back to Basics

For many Mac users, a computer is a tool, not a strange world to explore. But familiarizing yourself with the back of the box will help you bridge the gap between old and new. If you already have a firm grasp on connectivity technology, you can go directly to the next section. The rest of us might benefit from a brief introduction.

If your desktop Mac doesn't have the kinds of port you need, you have two ways to add them: an adapter or a PCI card. An adapter is commonly a cable with one type of connector (say, ADB) on one end and a port for another type (say, USB) on the other. A PCI card goes in the computer's PCI slot; adding a PCI card with ports is like adding another set of eyes or ears to your machine. Mac portables rely mostly on PC Card slots for the addition of new ports.

Buying a new Mac is exciting, but some of that sparkle fades when you introduce it to your older equipment and find that they don't all speak the same lingo.

The iMac, iBook, PowerBook G3 with FireWire, and Power Macintosh G4 all lack ADB and serial ports and include USB. The blue-and-white Power Macintosh G3 doesn't have serial ports but does include USB and ADB ports. All of these newer Macs can communicate with older serial or ADB equipment with the translating help of adapters.

Hooking Up Serial Devices

So your more au courant Mac lacks serial ports, but you don't want to lay out the cash for new printers, modems, or digital cameras. You have several options, the easiest of which is a USB-to-serial adapter. All you have to do is connect the adapter's USB end to your Mac's USB port and the serial end to the peripheral's serial port. We recommend Keyspan's $79 USB Twin Serial Adapter.

This adapter, unlike Belkin's $69 USB Serial Adapter for Macintosh or Momentum US's $79 uConnect, allows you to use both serial ports at the same time-helpful if you want to connect a printer and an external modem simultaneously. The Keyspan adapter also supports all StyleWriters, while the other two accommodate only a few. However, Palm enthusiasts should note that only the Belkin and Momentum adapters carry connectors that fit PDA cradles. CompuCable makes the $70 Mini-Geo, a two-port adapter that needs its own powered USB port for connecting to serial devices. In the same boat is Inside Out's Edgeport 4, which costs a hefty $399 but gives you four ports.

PCI Power You can add serial ports to the blue-and-white Power Mac G3 and the Power Mac G4 without a USB adapter-an attractive alternative if you have better things to occupy your USB ports. To accomplish this miracle, turn to your PCI slots. Placing PCI cards in the slots takes a little more effort than plugging in an adapter, but none of the cards we tested posed any problems.

We looked at four PCI cards that carry multiple serial ports. MegaWolf offers a series of cards that carry two, four, or eight serial ports-priced at $192, $269, and $568, respectively-and Keyspan markets the $179 SX Pro Serial Card, which contains four serial ports. All four cards work as advertised and have easy-to-use software. Which you choose will depend on your budget, but prices fluctuate. You may find dramatically lower prices online or at your local House of Mac Stuff.

Modem No More As long as you don't need an internal modem, you can also add a serial port to a blue-and-white G3 or a G4 without sacrificing one of its scarce PCI slots. Griffin Technology's $49 gPort is a small device that plugs into the Mac's internal modem slot, replacing the modem with a single serial port. GeeThree's $50 Stealth Serial Port is a similar product.

Talk with the Locals The gPort and Stealth Serial Port both let you connect to printers with LocalTalk, an old communication protocol. (Newer printers use Ethernet instead.) But if you need to hook up a new Mac to a LocalTalk printer or network and don't want to mess with the internal modem slot, look to Farallon Communications' $110 iPrint Adapter LT. This device carries an Ethernet port that connects to the Mac (or an Ethernet hub) and a serial port for linking to LocalTalk. Farallon also makes a version of this device, the $87 iPrint Adapter SL, that provides an Ethernet-to-serial connection for StyleWriter printers.

Tricky Business If you've got a Rev. A or B iMac (the original Bondi blue models) and a sense of adventure, you can add a serial port with Griffin Technology's $79 iPort. This card fits in a hidden mezzanine slot (discontinued in later models), so you'll have to unscrew the iMac's case to insert the iPort. It adds a single serial port that works with most printers and MIDI devices. The iPort supplies a video-out port as well, and it supports a greater variety of screen resolutions than these iMacs can otherwise offer.

Hooking Up ADB Input Devices to New MacsNew computer technology is often better than old. The round mouse included with modern desktop Macs is a distinct exception to this rule. If you prefer your trusty old ADB input device, check out Griffin Technology's $39 iMate and CompuCable's $33 Mini-ADB adapters. The iMate has two usable ADB ports, so it gets our nod; although the Mini-ADB comes with two ADB ports, you can use only one at a time.

Hooking Up SCSI Devices

There are a few ways to connect new Macs to older SCSI devices, which include external hard drives, scanners, printers, and Zip and Jaz drives. If your Mac has PCI slots and you need speed, consider installing an internal SCSI card.

The easier route to SCSI connectivity is a USB adapter, but because USB is much slower than SCSI-topping out at a data-transfer rate of 1.5 MBps, versus the 5-MBps transfer rate you get on most older Macs-SCSI peripherals may seem far less zippy with USB adapters. Just beware: if you fail to purchase the right USB-to-SCSI adapter, zippiness will be the least of your problems. The $80 Xircom PortGear SCSI DB-25 Adapter was the most reliable in our lab tests.

Driver Dilemma Our tests revealed that not all USB-to-SCSI adapters are created equal. To begin with, most had problems with the USB drivers that shipped in OS 8.6 and OS 9. Apple is updating those drivers, and when we used the update betas, the adapters worked far more reliably. Hopefully, the drivers will be out of beta by the time you read this; check Apple's Web site, at

Potential Problems Another possible gotcha: Second Wave's $79 SCUSBee won't automatically mount or recognize external disks. You have to rely on a tool such as Apple's Drive Setup-while not difficult, this is certainly inconvenient. Also, the Belkin F5U015-TPW and Microtech USB-SCSI-DB50 adapters require an active terminator-an add-on device that echoes the SCSI signal back to the source-for attached Zip drives to work. Belkin includes an active terminator, but Microtech does not.

Finally, all of these adapters failed to work with our SCSI scanners and printers because of driver incompatibilities. Our old SCSI scanners and printers rely on Classic SCSI Manager, while the adapters we tested require the newer SCSI Manager 4.3. If your scanner or printer supports only Classic SCSI Manager, an internal SCSI card will serve you better-for now, anyway. Keep your eyes open for adapters supposedly in the works that support Classic SCSI Manager.

Hooking Up Everything

If you've been using a Mac for a number of years, you may have accumulated a rich assortment of peripherals-a collection so vast that one or two adapters won't connect them all to your new Mac. CompuCable provides two answers: one for iMacs, the other for blue-and-white G3s and Power Mac G4s.

The Hub with a Twist The company's iMac offering, the $259 iDock2, is a swivel-base affair that carries a four-port USB hub, two serial ports, an ADB port, and a floppy-disk drive. The iDock2 lacks a SCSI connection, and it doesn't provide a way to bring video out of your iMac, but it supplies all the other ports you need for older equipment.

A Tight Fit The $219 GDock fits neatly atop a blue-and-white G3 or a Power Mac G4 and boasts a four-port USB hub, two serial ports, a parallel port (useful if you have a parallel PC printer), and a slot for mounting an internal ATAPI device such as a Zip, magneto-optical, or SuperDisk drive. It's handy, but some Power Mac G4 owners will mourn the lack of an ADB port.

You want to hang on to your older Mac for a while. Maybe it works just fine, maybe you can't afford a new model. Whatever your situation, you don't think you have to connect to new USB devices. But eventually your old ADB keyboard, mouse, or joystick will shuffle off this mortal coil. Or perhaps your serial or SCSI scanner or printer just doesn't cut it anymore. When that time comes, USB cards let your Mac talk to the new kids on the block.

Hooking Up Old Desktops to Everything USBAdding USB to an older desktop Mac requires a free PCI slot. To see whether your Mac has a PCI slot, go to and download the Guru 2.8 application.

Drive That PCI Card We evaluated 11 PCI cards that carry USB ports. Most but not all of these cards ship with USB drivers-necessary for your Mac to recognize USB devices. Some cards didn't perform properly because they shipped with outdated drivers. Installing the current USB drivers corrected these problems. As we go to press, the USB Card Support 1.3.5 drivers are most current. You can find them at ADS Technologies' USB Port for Desktops got our vote because of the ease with which you can download new drivers for it.

Odd Cards Out Most of these cards are nearly identical, so you can choose one based on price. The exceptions: Inside Out's $99 PCI to USB card carried one port rather than the other cards' two. There are also PCI cards that combine USB and FireWire connectivity. In addition to two USB ports, you'll find two FireWire ports on the $159 Orange Micro (714/779-2772, Orangelink FireWire/USB PCI Board and three FireWire ports on the $179 Ratoc (408/955-9400, PCIFU1P card.

PCI Performance Hit With all of these cards, once we installed the USB Card Support drivers, we noticed a decrease in performance. Overall processor speed dropped between 5 and 10 percent. However, by the time you read this article, Apple will most likely have released new drivers that fix the problem.

Future Looks Rosy In the near future, you should see USB adapters that not only carry more than two USB ports but also provide a separate bus for each port-meaning you can run up to 127 USB devices on each port, rather than sharing the 127 among various ports, as you must do when using the above crop of cards.

Hooking Up Old PowerBooks to Everything USB You can add USB to your PowerBook via the PC Card slots on the side of your portable pal. None of the USB cards we evaluated shipped with the current USB Card Support drivers; you'll have to download them from

Power Source Two of the five cards we examined-Ariston's $99 Cardbus iConnect Series 004 and ADS's $90 USB Port for Notebooks-require that the cards draw power from the PowerBook's ADB port. Although they provide a pass-through ADB connector, a cable dangling from the ADB port to the card is hardly elegant.

The other three cards pull power from the PC Card socket and are comparable in price and performance. Any one of the following should do the job: the $99 Cardbus USB, from Macally; the $99 USB Busport Mobile, from Belkin; and the $99 PCMCIA USB Adapter, from Global Paragon.

The Last Word

Apple's efforts to drag computing-and its users-into the 21st century has left many of us feeling like lost souls in an alien world. But thanks to these many adapters, converters, and cards, the foreign can start to feel more familiar.

Now that you know the lay of the land, you too can walk the road between the old and the new Mac worlds.

Sidebar: Common Connection Questions

BRIDGING THE MAC generation gap can get confusing. These answers to common connectivity questions will help you figure it all out.

How can I transfer data easily from my old Mac to my new one?

Short of physically moving the hard drive from the old Mac to the new one, the easiest and least expensive method is to string an Ethernet crossover cable between the two Macs' Ethernet ports, turn on File Sharing, and transfer files across the network.

You wire an Ethernet crossover cable differently than a standard Ethernet cable. Using a crossover cable, you can directly link two Macs or a Mac and an AirPort Base Station without an Ethernet hub. These cables cost around $10.

When your data-transfer needs are modest, you can copy files onto removable media -- Zip, Jaz, Orb, or CD-R -- to shuttle data back and forth.

Is there an alternative to using a USB-to-serial adapter to connect my serial-only StyleWriter printer?

Yes. Farallon's $110 iPrint Adapter SL uses the Mac's Ethernet port to print to these older StyleWriters. By plugging in this device (and thus the connected printer), you can share your printer on the network -- an option that's not possible with a USB-to-serial adapter.

Can I share my Zip drive between two Macs?

Sure, and you don't need to unplug it from one Mac and carry it to another. You can use a Zip drive just like any other networked drive or server. To share the disk, make sure your Ethernet network is up and running, mount the Zip disk on the remote Mac, and create an alias of it. When you want to copy data to or from the disk, just double-click on the alias to mount the disk.

My MIDI application requires a floppy-disk key to run, but my new Macintosh doesn't have a floppy drive. What should I do?

Rather than muck about with add-on drives, contact the application's publisher.

Many copy-protected applications don't require floppy disks. The same is true for software that once required ADB dongles.

Sidebar: Share and Share Alike

ADDING A NEW MAC to your home or office can be a lot of fun, but figuring out how to parcel out your existing peripherals isn't. Should you move the printer to the new system? Buy a monitor for the newcomer? Use an old display and end up with a monitorless Mac? Thankfully, you can share some peripherals among a group of Macs.

Share a Printer: Take printers, for example. You may want to share a printer among several computers by connecting it to an Ethernet network. Unless older printers (which usually communicate using LocalTalk) bear an Ethernet connector, placing one of them on an Ethernet network is impossible without some kind of adapter. That's where Ethernet-to-LocalTalk adapters such as Farallon's iPrint Adapter LT or Asant's AsantTalk come in.

Making the connection is simple. Just string a standard Cat 5 (category 5) Ethernet cable from an Ethernet hub to one of these adapters and run Ethernet cables from both your new and your old Mac to the hub. With Ethernet selected in the AppleTalk control panel, both Macs recognize the printer. If you're using the printer with just a single Mac, run an Ethernet crossover cable between the Mac and adapter and forgo the hub.

Cat 5 Ethernet cables cost less than $10, and you can set up small hubs for just under $50. Cables and hubs are available from your local computer-supply store.

Share a Vision: If you have multiple Macs and are using one for tasks that don't often require visual displays (for example, running a server or burning CDs), you may want to share a monitor between machines. A monitor switchbox and a couple of VGA monitor cables will do the job. Just connect the monitor's hardwired cable to the monitor-out port on the switchbox, and the two VGA monitor cables from the switchbox's two input ports to the video-out ports on both Macs. To switch the monitor from one Mac's video output to the other, simply toggle the A/B switch.

You can buy no-name switchboxes that control peripherals for two Macs from most computer-supply stores for less than $25. When you really need to share the wealth, consider CompuCable's (714/557-5510, $120 Power Reach Lite KVM controller, which lets you share one monitor, keyboard, or mouse between up to four Macs.

Sidebar: Port Authority

Don't let the ship leave the dock without you. This handy key is your guide to new and old communication methods on the Mac.

ADB (Apple Desktop Bus) ports connect low-speed input devices, such as keyboards and mice. ADB appears on older Macs, as well as on the blue-and-white Power Macintosh G3.

Ethernet ports connect Macs to networks. Ethernet is a LAN protocol that replaced LocalTalk on newer Macs. It supports data-transfer rates as fast as 10 Mbps. An Ethernet variation, 100BaseT (or Fast Ethernet), handles data-transfer rates as fast as 100 Mbps.

FireWire is Apple's name for the IEEE 1394 bus standard. This relatively recent, speedy standard can handle data-transfer rates as high as 400 Mbps.

FireWire peripherals are not as widespread as USB devices.

Serial DB9 & mini-DIN 8 ports connect printers, modems, and digital cameras.

Serial ports have 8, 9, or 25 pins and appear only on older Macs. The 8-pin variety shown here is also known as mini-DIN.

LocalTalk ports connect LocalTalk printers at a poky 235 Kbps. The term also describes the LAN (local area network) protocol from Apple. Newer Macs don't have these ports, relying instead on Ethernet.

USB (Universal Serial Bus) Type A & B ports replace ADB and serial ports on newer Macs. USB is hot-swappable and can connect your Mac to everything from input devices to printers to digital cameras. Although not as fast as FireWire, USB's data-transfer rate of 12 Mbps still beats ADB and serial. There are two types of USB connectors: the rectangular Type A connectors, which you'll find on modern Macs, and Type B connectors, which appear on USB-compatible devices such as printers, scanners, hubs, and MIDI interfaces.

SCSI (small computer system interface) ports connect hard drives, scanners, and printers. SCSI is one of the faster data-transmission methods (up to 80 MBps) and appears only on older Macs. There are many types of SCSI, including SCSI-1, with a 25-pin connector, and SCSI-2, which has a 50-pin connector. Both SCSI-1 and SCSI-2 support multiple peripherals. SCSI-1 and SCSI-2 both handle data rates as fast as 4 MBps. Because of the diversity of the SCSI world, make sure you identify your device's SCSI type before you select an adapter.

PCMCIA (Personal Computer Memory Card International Association) slots are found on portable computers. Devices that fit in these slots are called PC Cards. There are three types of PC Cards: Type I, Type II, and Type III.

CardBus is a variation on the PCMCIA standard that supports a 32-bit bus (wider than the PCMCIA original of 16 bits), and bus mastering and operation speeds up to 33 MHz.

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