Mac Daniel's Advice

Upgrading an Old G3

Dan Knight - 2002.03.15

From G-List:


I have a G3 All-In-One running at the original 233 MHz. I have the original 4 GB hard drive and have increased the RAM to 160 MB (the original 32 plus a 128 DIMM I bought several years ago). I am running OS 9.1 with no problem. I also have an internal 100 MB Zip drive. I mainly use the computer for Word, Internet (and email), and games. The most graphic-intensive games I have played are Marathon, Myth, Myst. I have not done any video work and very little audio work.

I have about $500 to spend. On what? I have read a lot posts and emails on the Internet, but I have a few questions.

  1. I need a bigger hard drive. Is there a preference on manufacturer? Seems a lot of people like Maxtor. I'm thinking about a 40 GB, 7200 RPM drive.
  2. CPU: An upgrade would be nice. G3/500 or G4/500? Also, manufacturer? OWC has good prices but a lot of reviews seem to have problems with their products. Sonnet?
  3. More RAM. I don't think I would have to remove the 128 MB DIMM (and trash it), because there are extra slots. Where to buy RAM? Before, I bought it at Price-watch.com.
  4. Video: would a video card do me any good? If so - which one? From where?
  5. System: go to OS X?
  6. Anything else ??

I truly appreciate any info I can get.


Using the classic Mac OS, you've probably got a fairly comfortable setup for Web browsing, email, and word processing. Games will always benefit from more speed and better graphics, but let's address items in the order you list them.

Hard Drive

I'm partial to IBM Deskstar drives, which are fast, affordable, and have a pretty good track record for reliability. I've used them at home and work for years. I'd start by visiting DealMac and searching on "deskstar." Although I don't need the space, the recent 60 GB drive at $105 plus shipping would really tempt me. A bit older - 40 GB for $85.

That said, I have a 20 GB Seagate Barracuda 4 in my beige G3/266. It's more space than I need and almost twice as fast as the stock drive.

When I benchmarked my setup, I found that the Barracuda often doubled (and sometimes tripled!) performance of the stock 4 GB Quantum drive. That's the good part. The bad part is the slow IDE bus. Today Ultra66 is common, Ultra100 isn't uncommon, and some vendors are pushing Ultra133 - the beige G3 is limited to 16.67 MB/sec. no matter how fast a drive you put inside it.

That wasn't a problem in 1997, but if you want all today's drives are capable of, consider adding an Ultra66 PCI card for around $70.

CPU

Unless you've pretty much filled your hard drive or have regular out of memory errors, I'd start with a CPU upgrade. Go to DealMac and search for "g3 zif" to find a lot of options - some quite affordable. Unless you plan on running OS X on your All-in-One, save your money and skip the G4s.

Recent deals included a G3/466 for $160. That will double CPU performance and really make a noticeable difference in everything you do. Considering that you're already at 233 MHz, I'd recommend avoiding upgrades slower than 366 MHz since they'll supply less than a 50% boost in performance.

RAM

Although I go to DealMac for most of my purchases, I check out ramseeker when buying RAM upgrades. Their beige G3 page shows DIMMs selling for as little as $44 for 256 MB. One will bring your G3 All-in-One to 416 MB. If that's not enough, buy two, pull the 32 MB DIMM, and have a whopping 640 MB.

Once you have the new memory installed, set the disk cache (in the Memory control panel) to the highest setting available.

Video

Go for the best PCI video card available, the Radeon 7000. With prices starting at under $110, there's no reason not to. (Go to DealMac and search for "radeon 7000" for current deals.)

The Radeon's only drawback - you have to do some fiddling around inside the system if you want to use it with Mac OS X.

Mac OS X?

Having used OS X on a G3/266, I'd advise against it until and unless you bump RAM past 256 MB and have a faster hard drive. Memory is one of the most important factors in OS X performance. You'll also want to run in 16-bit video, not 24-bit, unless you invest in a Radeon card. OS X is also a good reason to consider a G4 CPU upgrade, since the Velocity Engine will also help with all the overhead of the Aqua appearance. Then look for a copy of OS X on eBay for around $70.

In the end, here's what I'd do:

  1. Pick up a G3/400-500 processor upgrade, use it for a few weeks, and see if that satisfies my upgrade lust.
  2. If not, invest in a bigger, faster hard drive. Give it a couple weeks, then see if you're still not quite happy.
  3. If you're not running out of memory, buy the video card next. At this point you'll probably be very, very happy with your All-in-One.

If you want a serious OS X machine, skip the whole thing and save up for a nice used Power Mac G4 with AGP (from $450 on eBay) or a G4 iMac. You'll appreciate the faster system bus, may have a CD burner or DVD drive, and will simply have a system better matched to the demands of Mac OS X.

But if you just want to dabble in OS X, you should find the upgraded machine quite nice - but do invest in additional RAM at that point as well.

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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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