Disposable Computers?

“Should You Buy Disposable PCs?” is the cover story in the February 1998 issue of Byte. It is certainly an intriguing question.

Byte magazine cover, February 1998Tom R. Halfhill points out that computers change so quickly, just about every piece becomes obsolete in a few years. A power user or hardware geek might replace the motherboard, RAM, video card, hard drive, and CD-ROM player every year or two, leaving only the case, power supply, floppy drive(s), keyboard, and mouse intact.

But a business user is more likely to buy a whole new computer, moving the older one down the chain and retiring the oldest computer in use. I know all about this – we do it with Macs several times a year at work.

But the Mac isn’t yet a disposable computer.

PCs, XTs, and ATs may be as dead as dodos, but even an ancient Mac Plus, now 144 computer years old,* remains a useful computer.

Okay, I wouldn’t want to use one every day. The keyboard left a bit to be desired, the mouse was rather chunky, SCSI was slow, and the screen was tiny, but it still makes a great word processing computer.

The whole purpose of Low End Mac is proclaiming the ongoing usefulness of each and every Macintosh, although some are more limited than others.

Most Macs have had limited upgrade paths through Apple and slightly more potential with third-party upgrades. Rather than dispose, consider:

  1. Convert Mac 128k or 512k to a Mac Plus with 4 MB RAM.
  2. Locate a Brainstorm upgrade (16 MHz 68000) or another accelerator for the Plus. Some include SIMM slots. Some include a faster SCSI port. (I Brainstormed my Mac Plus.)
  3. Convert a Mac SE into an SE/30.
  4. Drop a 68040 accelerator into the SE/30 PDS for Quadra performance.
  5. Drop an inexpensive 68030 accelerator into a Mac II. (I hope to.)
  6. Convert a Mac II to a IIx.
  7. Drop a 68040 accelerator into your Mac IIx.
  8. Convert a Mac II or IIx into a IIfx – 40 MHz of raw power.
  9. Convert a Mac IIcx to a IIci or Quadra 700.
  10. Convert a Mac IIci to a Quadra 700.
  11. Drop a 68040 accelerator into your Mac IIci or IIsi. (I did.)
  12. Convert your Mac LC or LC II into an LC III or Quadra 605.
  13. Drop a 68040 accelerator into an LC or LC II. (I did.)
  14. Convert a Mac IIvi or IIvx into a Quadra 650 or, better yet, a Power Mac 7100.
  15. Convert a Quadra 800 or 840av to a Power Mac 8100.
  16. Put a $200 QuadDoubler with a full 68040 in your Centris 610. (I hope to.)
  17. Put a QuadDoubler in any 25 MHz 68040-based Mac.
  18. Convert your Centris 610 or Quadra 610 to a Power Mac 6100.
  19. Chip your NuBus Power Mac to 80 MHz and beyond.
  20. Drop a 7500 motherboard into your 7200, then buy the fastest daughter card you can afford.
  21. Put a G3 daughter card in your 7300-7600, 8500-8600, 9500-9600.

That boosts the horsepower. What else can you do?

  1. Increase RAM, increase size of disk cache, turn of virtual memory.
  2. If that doesn’t provide enough RAM, look at RAM Charger and RAM Doubler.
  3. Buy Speed Doubler for a better managed disk cache.
  4. Replace an ancient NuBus video card with an accelerated video card.
  5. Buy a new hard drive. It will be much larger and faster than what you got several years ago – and cheaper.
  6. Buy an 8x or faster CD-ROM drive.
  7. Add a video card to a IIsi or IIci for faster overall performance and more colors.
  8. Drop a level 2 cache into your IIci if it doesn’t already have one.
  9. Upgrade your Quadra with a 128K level 2 cache (getting hard to find).
  10. Put a 1 MB level 2 cache in your Power Mac.
  11. Buy a Zip, SyJet, or Quest drive (SyQuest’s short-lived 4.7 GB removable media drive) and remove dead files from your hard drive.
  12. Network your Macs with ethernet instead of LocalTalk.
  13. Buy a 56k modem.
  14. Increase VRAM for more colors and/or higher resolution modes.

Okay, this may not cure G3 envy, but it should maximize your current system and not cost you $2,000. If none of the above suit you, consider buying a good used Mac. With prices around $200, I find the IIfx a tempting replacement for my Mac II. Quadra start at about $350; Power Macs around $600.

What to do with your old Mac?

Don’t dispose of it. Network it. Give it to a computerless friend or relative. Donate it to a school or a local non-profit agency. Or send it to the Low End Mac Working Computer Museum. 🙂

Every Mac ever made (not counting Lisa conversions) can be upgraded into a decent word processor, at the very least. All can serve for years after Apple stops providing OS support.

Apple hasn’t invented a disposable PC – must be a Wintel thing.


UPDATE 1/23/98 – With Office 98, Microsoft has declared all pre-PPC Macs obsolete. Read The 68K Conundrum or Fracturing the Mac Market for more. (There are consistent rumors that Apple asked Microsoft to make Office 98 require a PowerPC CPU.)

UPDATE 2/18/98 – Year 2000 compliance is a hot issue on other platforms. All Macintosh hardware supports dates through Feb. 6, 2040, although older versions of the Mac OS (before 8) will only handle dates through 2019.

* One month = one computer year.

Keywords: #upgrades #disposablecomputers

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