Mac Daniel's Advice

Picking an Older Power Mac

- 2000.04.06

If you want a speedy, dependable machine for surfing the internet, word processing, spreadsheets, and older games, a Power Macintosh 6100, 7100, or 8100might just be the machine of choice.

When looking at used Macintosh computer systems, be sure to look into the first generation Power Macs. These are the PowerPC 601-based computers introduced in March, 1994; the 6100, 7100, and 8100. These can be fast, low-priced first or second machines for yourself or your whole household.

Now that the G3 processor has been out for a bit over two years, and with the release of the G4, some programs are starting to require at least a G3, so some people are starting to sell their early PowerPC 601-based Power Macs and Performas. However, for someone who just wants a dependable computer for the internet, word processing, spreadsheets, and older games, a PowerPC 601-based Macintosh might be a good purchase.

It is not difficult to find one. You should be able to pick up a basic Power Macintosh 6100 8/240 or similarly configured model for less then $150. A 7100 might go for around $200 for a 16/240 setup. An 8100 16/240 might go for around $250. Expect to pay more for computers with more memory and a bigger hard drive.

Let's say you have purchased a used Power Macintosh 6100 with 8 MB of RAM and a 160 MB hard disk with the original system 7.1.2 for $150. In order to use the internet to it's full advantage, upgrading the RAM, the hard disk, and the operating system are in order. The reason this is necessary are the program requirements. Outlook Express 5 requires Mac OS 8.1 and at least 8 MB of free memory, and Internet Explorer 4.5 requires 11 MB of free memory. That is 19 MB of free memory, and OS 8.1, which can use from 5-12 MB of memory by itself, depending on what extensions, control panels, and fonts are installed. That adds up to 31 MB. If you wanted, you might be able to get away with 24 MB of RAM and virtual memory, but that would make it painfully slow, so I recommend at least 32 MB of physical memory.

NOTE: Mac OS 8.1 can run on a 16 MB Power Mac with virtual memory (VM) enabled, but will be far more efficient with at least 24 MB. Mac OS 8.6 is much more memory hungry - don't even consider it without at least 24 MB (and preferably more than 32 MB) of physical RAM. Mac OS 9 is a real memory hog that will only run on a 32 MB computer if you have virtual memory set to at least 40 MB. Don't even dream of putting OS 9 on any Mac with less than 64 MB of memory.
   Each revision of the Mac OS improves virtual memory; there is very little penalty for using it with OS 8.5, less with OS 9, assuming you have a fast hard drive and enough extra space for the swap space. Setting VM to 64 MB uses 64 MB of your hard drive's space. DK, editor

In terms of a hard drive, you need at least a 700 MB hard drive at a minimum, although bigger is always better. In fact, you may find it difficult to find new drives under 1 GB (1,000 MB) in size.

In terms of the operating system, I find Mac OS 8.1 to be suitable if you have 32 MB of RAM, but if you have 40 MB or more, OS 8.6 will do.

If you purchased a faster power Mac, like an 7100 or 8100, you might want to look into some upgrade cards. There is even a new G4 upgrade card for the 6100/7100/8100.

If you do own a 6100, I do not recommend spending too much money on it, because there is only one upgrade slot. The internal video supports thousands of colours at 640 x 480, and 800 x 600 with only 256 colours. It also uses 1 MB of system memory that is set aside for video.

800 x 600 is the standard resolution for 15" monitors these days, and 15" is probably the smallest monitor you want to buy for a computer used for surfing the Web. Thousands of colours is really necessary for viewing pictures on the Web.

With a 6100 you must compromise, and use 640 x 480 at thousands of colours or 800 x 600 at 256 colours. In order to use larger monitors with more colours, you must add a video card. If you add a video card, the only free expansion slot gets filled up, and a processor upgrade card cannot be installed. If you plan on installing an upgrade card, I do not recommend buying a Power Mac 6100, but instead go for a 7100 or 8100.

Other machines that might not be considered "first generation" power Macs, but depend on 40-66 MHz PowerPC 601 processors, are the PowerPC-upgraded Quadras. These machines would be the Quadra 700, Quadra 800, Centris 610, Quadra 610, Centris 650, Quadra 650, Quadra 900, and Quadra 950 with an Apple or DayStar PowerPC upgrade installed. (These upgrades are rare on the used market. Don't buy a Quadra expecting to find one.) These machines can be good buys if you do not attempt to spend too much money on purchasing them, as they cannot be upgraded any more then they already are, and they cannot run Mac OS 8.5 or higher.

If you need a machine with more upgrade capabilities, PCI slots, and a daughter card, a first generation Power Mac may not be for you. I would recommend a used 7500, 8500, 7300, or 7600. Any of these can handle a 500 MHz processor upgrade, two or more internal hard drives, accelerated video cards, and more. Because of this, they are much more expensive than the first generation Power Macs.

If you just want a capable, low priced computer, look for a Power Mac 6100. If you demand some upgradeability, look for a 7100 or 8100.

I purchased my Macintosh Performa 6115 CD used two years ago and quickly found that it did not have enough capabilities for me, so I settled for a Power Macintosh 8100/80. I am very happy with all it's features, including the Apple HPV (High Performance Video) card capable of displaying up to millions of colours at 800 x 600 and thousands at 1024 x 768.

If you are thinking about purchasing a used Mac, be sure to look for early PowerPC-based systems. They can be great deals at the right price, but take into the consideration the limits of whatever model you choose to look at.

Further Reading

Adam Robert Guha was brought up on a Mac Plus, tested on a Performa 5215 CD, and fine tuned on a Power Mac G3/233 DT. He has worked with the Mac II series, as well as LCs and early Power Macs, such as the 6100. He currently own several 68030 machines, including some interesting models like the Colour Classic. At school, many of the Mac-owning teachers ask him for assistance. He has upgraded and reinstalled software on 15 computers at school - and counting (mostly late 68K Macs and early Power Macs).

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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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