Mac Daniel's Advice

The Virtues of Older Power Macs

Korin Hasegawa-John - 2001.07.11

Since I see that some members of the Mac Daniel staff aren't very enamored with older Power Macs, I decided to write an article supporting them. In his column, The Virtues of a G4, Michael Munger says that for him "living without the latest, most powerful stuff is unthinkable."

I envy him. Because I'm a high school student, I don't have a whole lot of money to buy my Macs with. I would love to have a G4, but I don't have the approximately $1,000 needed to buy a used one. Instead, I opted for a Power Mac 9600. I am definitely quite satisfied with my purchase for the following reasons:

  1. Price. My 9600, which is loaded with 288 MB RAM, two 4 GB hard drives, and a Jaz drive, only cost me $400. Of course, my 9600 is a lot slower than a 350 MHz G4, the video card is a lot less capable, and overall performance is about one-third or one-fourth of a G4. Of course, the price was about three-eighths the price of a G4.
  2. Performance. The 9600 runs older versions of Photoshop, QuarkXPress, and many other pieces of software at an acceptable speed. I don't get as many features with old software, but I spend a lot less money for the older versions. Again, a tradeoff, but an acceptable one for me.
  3. Expansion. I removed my computer's internal Jaz drive to install a Yamaha CD burner. It cost me nearly $60 less than an external version. If I had a G4, there aren't nearly as many internal bays and slots for adding devices, so I would have to buy external drives. Of course, I don't have USB and FireWire, but I can easily add both for about $50.
  4. Legacy ports. I use a lot of legacy peripherals (SCSI SyQuest drives, hard drives, and scanners) as well as serial devices (printers, PDA cradles, and the like). I could add SCSI and serial to a G4 with a Griffin card, but it would cost me $100. As I said before, adding USB and FireWire to my 9600 is cheaper. Plus, on a G4 I loose one of three precious PCI slots, whereas on the 9600 there are still four free slots. And replacing my devices would be prohibitively expensive and also render them incompatible with my soon-to-arrive legacy PowerBook 2400. (More about the PowerBook in a future article)
  5. Upgrades. If I ever need G4 power, it's just $250 away with a G4 upgrade card for my 9600. Of course, that wouldn't solve the slow system bus and RAM problem, but it would still double or triple performance.

I think that older Power Macs are a great option for people on a budget (and those needing six slots!). After all, I could run an older version of LightWave on my 9600. Undoubtedly, it would run much, much slower than on a G4, but an old Power Mac is a very capable computer.

You can do almost anything with an old computer that you can do with a new one, just slower. Cheap, older peripherals abound; 4 GB SCSI hard drives go for as little as $30 on eBay. Stay behind the bleeding edge. Spend less money and get cool used hardware! You can't run OS X (well, you can, but Apple doesn't officially support it on pre-G3 machines), but you just have to know the computer's limits.

Getting older Macs working well is what Low End Mac is all about, right?

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Not sure if you should upgrade your old Mac or replace it? Check the Mac Daniel index to see if we've already addressed your problem.

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