Best Buys in Used Macs

Power Mac G3 (blue & white): A Best Buy

2003.05.12

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.

Available in speeds ranging from 300 MHz to 450 MHz, the blue & white G3 is a great value for those using the classic Mac OS or OS X. Apple's second generation G3 machine, the blue & white addressed a lot of limitations of the earlier beige G3. It was also the first Mac with a FireWire port. It was also the last Power Mac with an ADB port.

The b&w G3 has four PCI slot, one more than the beige models, although one of those slots is filled with an ATI Rage 128 video card. This is a 66 MHz PCI slot, twice as fast as regular PCI slots. The other three are 33 MHz 64-bit PCI slots, twice as wide as regular 32-bit PCI slots. The b&w G3 was designed to move data efficiently over the PCI bus.

Yosemite designIt was also designed to move data more quickly on the motherboard with a 100 MHz system bus, 50% faster than the 66 MHz bus on the beige G3s, and to move date up to twice as fast between the motherboard and IDE or ATAPI drives. The ATA33 drive bus has twice the throughput of the 16.67 MBps bus on the beige G3s.

With new ROMs, the b&w G3 better supports Mac OS X by supporting hard drives as large as 128 GB and not requiring that OS X be installed on a small partition at the start of the drive.

Except for the 300 MHz model, the b&w G3 has a 1 MB backside cache running at half CPU speed. As already noted, this machine was built for throughput.

But it wasn't perfect. It shipped from the factory with the same dinky keyboard and round mouse as the iMac; most users have already replaced both, but when buying used, they may be bundling the original mouse and keyboard with the computer. If yours comes with the originals, you'll probably want to budget for a better mouse and a full sized keyboard.

Although the b&w G3 includes a pair of FireWire ports, it cannot boot from FireWire hard drives. That capability wasn't added until the Power Mac G4 (Sawtooth).

There were two different motherboards used in the blue & white G3. Machines with the Rev. 2 motherboard have an additional drive bracket and incorporates a newer IDE controller chip (marked 402). They also shipped from Apple with a faster version of the ATI Rage 128 video card.

350 MHz and 400 MHz models may have either motherboard; 450 MHz and faster versions shipped with the Rev. 2 board from the factory. The new IDE controller improves slave drive support and solves a drive corruption problem (drive corruption is never a good thing).

When buying a blue & white G3, be sure you get a Revision 2 system. The best way to make sure you're getting a Rev. 2 motherboard is the "402" marking on the CMD646 IDE controller chip. See Accelerate Your Mac! for more details on differences between these motherboard revisions.

About the only drawback you may run into with the b&w G3 is that Apple intentionally crippled the ROMs to remove support for G4 upgrades (see Why the G4 Uproar? for our thoughts on that). Because of this, G4s pulled from the Power Mac G4 (Yikes!) will not work in the b&w G3 without a patch. Fortunately all of the processor upgrade companies offer such patches, making it easy to upgrade the b&w G3 with 1 GHz G4 processors today.

When the b&w G3 was introduced in January 1999, it was the most powerful Mac ever - and now it sometimes sells for under US$300 from dealers and on eBay, making it an excellent value, particularly in comparison to the beige G3, which is generally available for about US$100 less.

Although the beige G3 can be upgraded with USB, FireWire, video, and faster IDE, for the small difference in price the blue & white has better video (which can be more easily replaced - we recommend the ATI Radeon Mac Edition) and includes both USB and FireWire without using an expansion slot.

Further, the b&w has twice as fast a drive bus and doesn't require partitioning drives over 8 GB for use with OS X. Although ATA33 may seem dated in the age of ATA100 and ATA133, most drives offer maximum real world throughput in the 40-45 MBps range. ATA33 is close enough for most users, while the half-as-fast bus in the beige is sluggish in comparison. (Of course, both can be improved with an ATA66 or faster card, but with the b&w G3, you're less likely to feel the need to do so.)

The good performance from the factory and incredible range of upgrade options combined with today's prices make the blue & white G3 a best buy on the used Mac market.

<go to Best Buys index or b&w G3 page>

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