Mac Daniel's Advice

Is a 5400 Worth Buying or Upgrading?

Evan Kleiman - 2003.05.12

Editor's note: Everything said about the 5400 also applies to the Power Mac 5500, except that the 5500 ran at faster speeds of 225 MHz and 250 MHz. Upgrade information also applies to the 6360, 6400, and 6500, which do not have a built in monitor. dk

Q. Should I get a Power Mac/Performa 5400? If I do, how can I upgrade it?

A. The Power Mac/Performa 5400 is a great computer. Sold in educational markets as the Power Mac 5400 or in the consumer market as the Performa 5400, it came equipped with a 120, 180, or 200 MHz 603e processor, a 1.2 or 1.6 GB hard drive, and 16 or 24 MB of memory.

It was also one of the first Macs to feature a PCI slot, which can come in very useful when upgrading. While not exactly a star Photoshop or Final Cut Pro machine, it is still very useful, especially with its US$50-80 price tag on eBay.

Who Is The 5400 For?

The 5400 is an excellent computer for kids. It's very similar, if not exactly the same as, the computers they've used in school. With its built-in monitor and speakers, it has a friendly iMac-ish quality. Heck, it can even run At Ease.

Since it has built-in ethernet and serial ports for a modem, not to mention an up to 200 MHz processor, it is a good starter computer for those who just want to explore the Internet or do word processing.

A printer, such as a StyleWriter, can be added to the computer to create a total letter-writing solution for Grandma. Printers like this can be had for around US$20 on eBay.

However, as the kids get older, and as Grandma and Grandpa want to start designing their own Web pages, the 5400 might need to be upgraded.

How Can I Upgrade It?

The obvious computer upgrades are always applicable to the 5400. With 16 or 24 megabytes of RAM, memory is an easy place to start. The 5400's two RAM slots can handle up to 64 MB 168-pin memory modules for up to 136 MB of RAM. Since memory can be found cheap from various vendors and on eBay, it's an easy and cheap way to add speed and capability.

Like adding memory, adding a new hard drive can be a helpful upgrade as well. You can add higher capacity IDE hard drives to this computer with relative ease. Since it uses the IDE interface for hard drives, upgrading to a larger drive than the stock 1.2 or 1.6 GB unit is cheap and easy. Like memory, these hard drives can be found cheaply on eBay or from Mac vendors such as MacResQ and Other World Computing.

Another possible consideration for upgrading is adding a G3 upgrade card. Some vendors make upgrade cards for the 5400, that can bump this all-in-one Mac from 120, 180, or 200 MHz to a G3 running at 240 MHz - or even 500 MHz. While this might seem like a good solution for some to breathe new life into an old computer, the price may be prohibitive. Look to spend a few hundred dollars wherever you can find it. Reviews for this card can be found at Low End Mac's 5400 page, and a full list of known G3 upgrades (most of which have been discontinued) is available in Guide to G3 Upgrades for Level 2 Cache Slot.

The Bottom Line

If you need a good second computer, the 5400 is a great computer. With all the bells and whistles for basic word processing, game playing, and basic Internet browsing, this is a good computer for grandparents and children alike.

However, if you need more than a basic computer, such as a G3, then this isn't the computer for you, and something along the lines of an iMac is probably your best bet. LEM

Evan Kleiman has been writing for Low End Mac since January 1999. He also runs his own site, Evansite. Evan uses an iMac, along with some vintage hardware. You can read more about his computing experience in The Many Macs of Evan Kleiman.

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