Macworld Expo New York 2001

Best of Show Award

And a look at upgrade options

Dan Knight - 2001.07.20

Low End Mac is about getting the most from your Mac. Perhaps the hottest value at the show was the Sonnet Crescendo G3/300 upgrade card for all the Macs and clones that take daughter card upgrades. If you're running anything slower than a G3/250, the show special price of $99.77 is an impressive value.

What about G4 upgrades? We don't normally recommend them unless you're using G4-savvy applications such as Photoshop and iMovie, but Sonnet is selling their G4/350 card with Mac OS X for $198.61.

Best Upgrade Product

As far as we're concerned, the best upgrade shown at the Expo was the Sonnet Harmoni iMac upgrade. Harmoni works with the old drawer-loading iMacs, which shipped from Apple with 233, 266, and 333 MHz processors. It replaces the old G3 with a 500 MHz G3e processor, which has a 256 KB level cache running at 500 MHz. To top it off, Harmoni brings these older iMacs into the FireWire era - all that for $299. The only drawback? It won't be available until early 4th quarter.

Sonnet Harmoni upgrade

The Sonnet Harmoni earns our Best Upgrade Product of the Expo award.

Runner Up Upgrade Product

Got WallStreet? If so, Sonnet's new 500 MHz G3 upgrade might appeal to you. Due out by the end of the year, this will make even the cacheless 233 MHz WallStreet as fast as this year's iBook. $399.

Upgrading an Older iMac

This begs the question: Is it worth upgrading an older iMac?

You should have no trouble buying a pair of 256 MB memory modules for the iMac for as little as $100 shipped - check ramseeker for the latest prices. That gives you 512 MB, regardless of what Apple officially says these iMacs can support. Just make sure what you're buying is no more than 1.5" high. There's almost no reason not to buy RAM at these prices.

If you're outgrowing the 4-6 GB drive that came with a Rev. A-D iMac, I strongly recommend the IBM Deskstar GXP series of hard drives. These are fast, reliable, 7200 RPM hard drives that a lot of us consider the best values on the market. A quick check with Oupost.com shows 20 GB at $99.95, 40 GB at $124.95, and $60 GB at $204.95. I'd go with 40 GB as the best value unless you're on a very tight budget.

If you're still using a fairly stock, low memory, early iBook, buying Harmoni for $300, one or two sticks of memory at about $50 each, and a 20 or 40 GB hard drive puts your upgrade cost in the $450-525 range.

A new 500 MHz iMac is going to cost you $1,000 and up (see the week's best iMac deals for specifics). You'll sometimes find a used iMac 333 selling for about $650, so the cost of buying a used Revision D and upgrading it to 500 MHz doesn't justify going that route, but if you already have a Rev. A-D iMac an are dreaming of a newer model, Harmoni plus RAM plus a new hard drive is definitely worth considering.

Upgrading an Older Power Mac or Clone

With the Power Mac G4/733 considered entry-level at $1,699, upgrading an older Power Mac can be a reasonable way to improve performance without investing another $1,000 in your system.

As with the iMac, memory is cheap. ramseeker includes prices as low as $39 a stick for 128 MB DIMMs. If you've got less than 256 MB, definitely consider buying more at today's prices.

If you've outgrown your old hard drive, I suggest avoiding SCSI and going IDE/Ultra ATA. The Sonnet Tempo card adds ATA support to PCI Power Macs and clones for just $100. Then add an IBM Deskstar, the same models recommended for iMac upgrade. You'll be very happy with the speed and incredible drive capacity.

CPU upgrades provide a lot of options. Unless you plan on running OS X or use a G4-savvy application regularly, buy a G3 upgrade. Prices range from $100 to $350 with speeds of 300 to 500 MHz. The sweet spot of price and performance is probably 400 MHz cards.

There are several FireWire/USB cards on the market, so if you need both ports, you can add a card for under $100. If you just need USB, you can probably find a card for less than $30.

You might want to consider a newer video card, an area I'm not particularly familiar with. I suggest ATI because they've had a good working relationship with Apple for years, so drivers should be very compatible.

In all, you can probably upgrade a PCI Power Mac or clone to a very comfortable level for under $600.

Upgrading a Power Mac G3

The economics of upgrading a beige or blue & white G3 are even better. ZIF upgrades are less costly than daughter cards, although they aren't available in the same low speeds. Sonnet sells the 400 MHz Encore G4/ZIF for $300. That'll boost a 233 MHz G3 by 50% and give you the Velocity Engine.

PC100 memory sells for as little as $27 a 256 MB stick - stock up!

Hard drives? IBM Deskstar is our top choice.

For about $500 you can add a 20 GB hard drive, three 256 MB memory sticks, and a 400 MHz G4 to your older beige or blue & white G3 - not bad at all.

UPDATE: The Sonnet HARMONi card was incompatible with early versions of Mac OS X 10.4. The FireWire port would tie up 100% of CPU resources. This problem was fixed in version 10.4.7 (if not earlier). If you have a HARMONi card that's had this issue, be aware that updating to 10.4.7 or newer should fix it.

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