Adding an Intel Mac mini Can Be Cheaper than Upgrading a Power Mac G4!
Dan Knight - 2007.02.14
I just read your Upgrade the Power Mac or Buy an Intel Mac mini? article, and I have a similar quandary. My wife and I have a G4 733 MHz Digital Audio. It is the high-end one with DVD about $4K originally. We have never upgraded the hardware at all yet.
We have OS X 10.3 and will soon be upgrading to 10.4. I want to speed this system up, since we are not in a position to buy a new system. My wife is taking a Final Cut Pro class at our community college and will be doing a lot of video work very soon. She has a classic version of Final Cut Pro.
Is it possible to speed this system up enough to process the video or should we be looking at a Mac mini (cheap one). Could you please advise on your recommended upgrades for storage, memory, processor, etc. for the G4 or for a particular Mac mini. I am not that savvy on how she would work between the two systems, as you stated in your article that you would use the G4 as a workhorse and the mini for video.
Thank you for your time and feel free to use this in your web site.
My workhorse computer is a Power Mac G4/1 GHz dual, which means it has about three times the raw horsepower of your G43/733. It's great for everything I do on a daily basis, and my sons find it quite nice for World of Warcraft, but it turns into a real slug when I work with digital video.
Let's look at your two options: upgrading your Power Mac or buying a Mac mini.
Upgrade the Power Mac
First of all, if you've never upgraded RAM beyond the original 128 MB, you need to. An absolute minimum for reasonable Tiger performance is 512 MB, and if you're going to be working with digital video, I'd recommend 1 GB as a minimum. Ramseeker lists 512 MB modules as available for $56 today. Add a pair to the 128 MB stick in your G4 for $112.
Then you'll want a big, fast hard drive, as video files tend to be big to begin with, and edit files eat up disk space quickly. A 250-320 GB drive should be available for $100 or so - but there's a catch. The ATA/66 controller in your older Mac doesn't support drives over 128 GB, so you'll want to add an ATA/100, ATA/133, or Serial ATA (SATA) controller in one of your PCI expansion slots. That brings us up to about $275.
If you're going to continue to use the Classic version of Final Cut Pro, you won't benefit much from dual processors, so fast single CPU upgrade would make the most sense. Still, that's $300 and up once you get past the 1 GHz mark.
If you're going to be using iMovie, iDVD, etc., which are OS X native, a dual processor upgrade makes more sense. PowerLogix makes a dual 1.3 GHz upgrade for $325, which will provide a lot more overall horsepower than a single 1.6 GHz CPU.
The 2x SuperDrive should be adequate for burning a DVD now and then, but you can replace it with a 16x dual-layer SuperDrive for $60 if you find you need more speed.
Buy a Mac mini
You can buy a refurbished Mac mini with SuperDrive for $649 (1.66 GHz) or $699 (1.83 GHz) from Apple these days. It comes with 512 MB of RAM and an 80 GB hard drive, which already puts it ahead of your G4/733. And the dual-core Intel CPU has at 4-8x the raw computing power of your current system, which makes it a lot more powerful than even a dual 2.0 GHz G4 upgrade.
You'll want to upgrade memory to at least 1 GB, which goes for $80 according to Ramseeker. (2 GB is $145.) That brings us to $730. (Upgrading RAM in a Mac mini is not for the faint of heart.)
You'll probably find the internal 5400 rpm drive adequate, but if you need or want more space and more speed, look into an external FireWire hard drive. I'm a big fan of the NewerTech miniStack, which has USB 2.0 and FireWire, matches the appearance of the Mac mini, has excellent cooling for the fast hard drive inside, and is quite reasonably price.
There are ways to use the Mac mini with your existing keyboard, mouse, and monitor, such as a KVM (keyboard video mouse) switch and VNC (virtual network computer) software.
The Better Choice
In the end, we're looking at $600 worth of upgrades to a great old Power Mac or $785 for an upgraded Mac mini plus an overdue 512 MB memory upgrade for your Power Mac.
What do you gain for the $185 difference in price? First and foremost, you gain a second computer - even if you're not setting up a second computer system. You'll be able to use your Power Mac for all of your Classic software that isn't supported on the newer Intel Macs. And you'll be able to start your Mac mini working on a time intensive video project (importing video, converting video, applying a filter, or mastering a DVD) and go back to work on the Power Mac.
I've experimented a bit with VNC software, and it's a workable solution. I really like the Chicken of the VNC client, and RealVNC and OSXvnc are recommended as good clients for the remotely controlled Mac. VNC should work very smoothly over 100 Kbps fast ethernet or Megabit ethernet if you're not using your ethernet port for anything else, and you can also connect the two Macs using FireWire networking.
If budget is a big concern, here's what I'd do:
- Buy a refurbished 1.66 GHz Mac mini Core Duo with Combo drive. $519 from the Apple Store when available. (They are listed this morning.) Upgrades as mentioned above.
- Buy an ethernet crossover cable or FireWire cable to network the two computers and use VNC to remotely control the whichever Mac you want running as your secondary computer.
- Do all of your video work except for burning DVDs on the Mac mini. Do your disc burning on the Power Mac, which already has a SuperDrive (albeit a slow one).
Your net cost for this would be about the same as the cost of upgrading your Power Mac with a $300 CPU upgrade plus the other things mentioned. You'll have far faster editing performance with the Mac mini, and if you ever need two separate systems, you'll only need to add a keyboard, mouse, and monitor so both systems will be fully usable at all times.
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