Best Buys in Used Macs

Power Mac G3 (beige): A Good Buy

2001.09.10. Updated 2002.01 and 2003.05

We're sorry, but these are very old, very dated articles. Best buys in used Macs is such a moving target that we simply can't keep up to date and have given up even trying. Please read these in their historical context, as some of these articles were written in the early years of Low End Mac.

Most commonly available with a 233 or 266 MHz G3 processor, the beige G3 didn't even exist when we started Low End Mac in April 1997. When the G3 was introduced in November 1997, it was the most powerful Mac ever - and now it sometimes sells for under US$200 from dealers and on eBay, making it a very good value.

Although the Blue & White G3 continues to command a premium price, the beige G3 offers good performance and a lot of upgrade options at a very attractive price. If you're looking for a lot of bang for the buck, the beige G3 has some real advantages over the even less costly Power Mac 7500 (also a best buy) - less costly ZIF CPU upgrades, less costly IDE hard drives (and one more drive bay than the 7x00), less costly memory, and a faster system bus among them. Best of all, even a 233 MHz G3 can provide decent performance for home use.

In addition to processor upgrades, the beige G3 case has a second internal drive bay for an additional internal hard drive (or an internal Zip or Jaz drive, DAT tape drive, etc.). Memory can be expanded to 768 MB, which should be plenty for almost anyone.

We should note here that the beige G3 with the Rev. A ROM does not support slave drives. It cannot boot from them in any version of the Mac OS, cannot see them when running the classic Mac OS, and can only access them when booted in OS X. Because of this significant limitation, although the beige G3 is generally considered a very good buy, the Rev. A model is considered a Road Apple.

You can use the Apple System Profiler to identify which ROM version you have:

At current prices, the beige G3 is an attractive option for those who want G3 performance, may want to work with OS X,* and want the ability to increase computing power in the future with G3 or G4 processors as fast at 1 GHz.

* UPDATE: Although Apple and ATI have provided some accelerated OS X driver support for the ATI Rage II graphic chips on the beige G3, it is a dated design with limited VRAM, making it less than ideal for OS X. Also note that you cannot boot OS X from an IDE drive over 8 GB in size unless it is partitioned, the first partition is no larger than 8 GB, and OS X is installed on the first partition.

Not only is the beige G3 a competent machine in its own right, but it is very expandable, thanks to the three PCI expansion slots. Some PCI IDE controllers, such as the Acard Ahard and Sonnet Tempo, not only support faster protocols (ATA66 and ATA133) but also allow booting OS X from large drives without the need to partition them.

The anemic video under OS X will have a bit more snap if you're willing to run in 16-bit mode, but to really boost video performance, install the ATI Radeon Mac Edition in an empty PCI slot. This is perhaps the best PCI video card ever made for the Mac, and it's fully supported in OS X.

Although we consider the beige G3 a best buy for the classic Mac OS, we cannot rate it as highly for OS X, since several features (the floppy drive, GeoPorts, fully accelerated graphics, etc.) are unsupported and OS X is much more demanding of hardware resources than the classic Mac OS.

That said, because it is a decent performer in OS X and can be improved with a fast hard drive, faster IDE controller, faster (and/or chipped) CPU, better video card, etc., we still consider it a good value for those who want to use OS X but have a limited budget. But if you can swing the extra money, the blue & white G3 is a better buy.

<go to Best Buys index or beige G3 page>

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