The Low End Mac Mailbag

The Best Mac for Writing, Online Banking with a 68K Mac, Network Advice, Move2X, and More

Dan Knight - 2003.02.14 - Tip Jar

Best Mac for Writing

Michael writes:

I am a writer. I work from home most of the time, and I need a new computer. I would like a Mac, but I am finding it difficult to get advice about which Apple computer would be best for my needs. As I make my living from writing, it is essential that I make the right buy.

Ideally the computer must have a flat screen display. It must be fast on the Internet, as I do a lot of research via the Web, and it must be excellent for emails and word processing. This is all I will use it for.

What do you think would be the best Mac for me?

Thank you for your time, and I look forward to your reply.

Such an open-ended question!

Well, if you want a flat display, you've ruled out the old CRT iMacs as well as using a conventional desktop with an older display. I lean toward PowerBooks myself, as that gives me the option of taking my entire computer with me. It also provides plenty of power during power outages, which happen several times a year around here.

For basic word processing, ClarisWorks, AppleWorks, WordPerfect 3.5e, and Microsoft Word 5.1 are all wonderful word processors that will perform admirably even on older hardware. There are also plenty of good email clients for older Macs.

What defines your bottom end is a fast Internet experience. For that, you really want a Mac with a PowerPC processor and something faster than a dialup connection, such as DSL or a cable modem.

In laptops, I'd recommend nothing less than a PowerBook 1400. Watch out for the "Road Apple" 117 MHz version and be sure you get enough memory when you buy it. The 1400 is a very nice size, has a very usable 800 x 600 display, and provides adequate power for a decent browsing experience. Generally US$200 and less on eBay.

On the desktop side, your most affordable solution is probably a G4 iMac. You can probably pick up a refurbished on for US$1,100 that will provide all the power you need.

Still, I can't tell you what computer's right for you. There are writers who still use and love their old compact Macs and ancient PowerBooks. I can point to a minimum level, but beyond that you'll need to do your own research.

Browser for Banking on a 680x0 Mac

John Nistico asks:

I have a question: I purchased my wife a Performa 580 All-in-One for Christmas, and it runs great. However, when she's on-line, she needs a browser that her bank (Wells Fargo) will allow. Netscape 4.8 or IE 5.0 is recommended as minimums, but they won't install.

Any ideas?

Both browsers require a PowerPC processor, which your Performa 580 doesn't have. If you can locate a PPC upgrade for the 580 (Apple Power Mac Processor Upgrade, DayStar PowerCard 601, or Sonnet Presto PPC 605), you'll solve that problem, but they're not common and tend to be overpriced.

Another alternative is to replace the computer. The Performa 5400 is faster, has a multisync display, and will run modern browsers. They pretty consistently close at around US$40 on eBay, although shipping is extra. If you can find one locally for anything close to that price, it's a worthwhile upgrade.

And now for the no cost solution: You might have some luck with the 680x0 version of iCab, the only browser currently being developed for pre-PowerPC Macs. If that doesn't work, try locating, downloading, and using Netscape 4.0.8 or IE 4.0.

Network Advice

After reading Networking 101, Dave Schleeper writes:

I hope you don't mind me emailing you. I need some advise, and I saw you article on the Internet on setting up a cable or DSL router.

My situation is this:

I have an existing network. 20 or so machines, all running Windows 2000 Pro connected to a server running Windows 2000 server. I put together 3 new machines over the weekend. They are sitting in a room that only has 1 available port in it. That port has an active connection to the server.

I purchased a 4 port wired router (Siemens). I ran a cable from the port in the office and plugged it into the UpLink port on the router. I connect the 3 machines to 3 of the 4 ports. All 3 computers connect to the Internet no problem. However, here is my problem....

None of them can access the network drives. If I run the cable directly from the wall to 1 machine, I can map network drives, no problem, but as soon as I connect the 3 to the router, none of them connect. It says something about "already in use." I believe their own traffic is knocking each other off.

I don't know if I'm suppose to set these machines up as their own computer names or all the same computer names. Should they be configured as part of a domain (the domain name that represents the network) or should they be configured as a Workgroup.

In the end, I want all 3 to access the Internet and able to connect to the network drives on the network.

Could you offer any advise on this? I would really appreciate it.

Yes, you're doing something wrong here. Assuming your main network isn't already connected to the Internet, your router should have one WAN (or uplink) port to handle your outside connection and four ports to connect your three new computers and your existing network together.

If that's what you've got, your problem is probably a very simple one. Replace the cable between your router and your current network with a crossover cable. I suspect that will solve your problem instantly.

A follow-up email from Schleeper thanked me for the advice, so it must have worked.

Move2X

You wrote:

Macs have traditionally been very easy to migrate. You could pretty much drag the contents of the old hard drive to the new drive or computer and be ready to go, although sometimes you had to reinstall the OS. I don't know if OS X is as friendly, but Carbon Copy Cloner seems to make it very easy.

While that is true for migrating from one classic flavor of Mac OS to another, and it may very well be true for OS X, it definitely appears to be (at least) unclear for migrating from OS 8/9 -> X. I think this is really keeping Apple from a real burst of sales. I'm totally convinced that, after a reasonable adaptation period, OS X is going to be something wonderful (though maybe not in the sense of the ending of '2010').

But there's this huge hurdle of moving from an older Mac with (say) 8.1, multiple partitioned SCSI drives, etc., to a much newer Mac that has an entirely different paradigm for storing files. (I'm not even mentioning s/w upgrade issues, because there's always been such issues w/ a change in OS.) If Apple wants to drive the transition to OS X, why don't they take a tiny fraction of that $4 billion they have "in the bank" and prepare a kit that consists of an ethernet crossover cable, an AppleScript for the old 8.1-9.x machine that publishes all attached mass storage, and software on the OS X machine to suck everything over and be at least semi-intelligent in putting it into a reasonable location.

And they could make it be only available from Apple Stores or the online Apple Store, as a way of boosting traffic and encouraging sales of various higher margin items.

Great idea - a version of Move2Mac for classic Mac users. This would be especially helpful for those who have never migrated to any version of Mac OS 9. The migration kit would have to make sure the classic environment is installed on the new computer, collect all the programs and put them into the Applications (Mac OS 9) folder, and help users organize their documents.

More on Radeon 7000, Beige G3s, and OS X

After reading Radeon 7000, a Beige G3, and OS X, Simon Slaytor writes:

Fantastic web site; it's a major part of my daily web reading. I notice in you 11/2/03 (I'm English) Mailbag you state that the Radeon 7000 will not work with a Beige G3, resulting in only a black screen.

This statement is partly true and completely wrong at the same time. Yes, powering on your Beige G3 with a monitor only connected to the Radeon does result in an initial black screen. However, this is only true for the kernel boot portion of the startup sequence, the grey screen with Apple logo. Once OS X loads the ATI Radeon Video driver, at the end of the grey boot sequence, the screen initialises and the blue OS X background and startup bar appear.

From this point on the card works flawlessly.

My current config.

Beige G3 MT 266 Rev A

OWC G4 500 MHz 1 MB Cache 66 MHz Bus
384 MB PC100 CL2 RAM (3x128 MB)
Sonnet Tempo ATA133 ATA Card
OEM 2xUSB/2xFireWire PCI Card
Maxtor 30 GB H/D
ATI Radeon 7000, Dual display using two NEC 1860NX LCD Panels
Apple Extended Keyboard/MS Wheel Mouse Optical USB

Also note that the Xbench score for this machine is 45.31 - a typical score for a B&W G3 with a G4 500 CPU is only 47.94, not that much of a difference which could be attributed to the B&W having 640 MB of RAM as opposed to my machines 384 MB. What I'm trying to say is the Beige G3 is a viable machine. Is much cheaper to buy than a B&W, and the same upgrade parts can be brought to within a hairs breadth of the B&W's performance.

A passing thought, having once owned a B&W G3 450 Rev2, I have found that a serious performance increase can still be had by adding an ATA100/133 card and replacing the already better spec onboard controller.

Americans say 2/11/03, the British say 11/2/03, and I do an end run around the whole convoluted international mess by dating my articles 2003.02.11. This way nobody is confused regardless of local tradition.

Thanks for your field report. I'd sure hate to have a bootup problem before the driver loads, though. And, as the Bare Feats benchmarks indicate, there are areas where other video cards do a better job.

Yes, the beige G3 can be a very viable machine, although the cost of adding a Sonnet Tempo Trio because you already have a video card and sound card but still need to add a faster IDE controller, USB, and FireWire is prohibitive. Given the US$100 premium for a B&W G3 with onboard USB and FireWire plus better video, a faster IDE bus, a faster system bus, etc., that's what I'd pick.

Of course, the price differential probably varies by market around the world, so differences in Europe, Asia, and elsewhere may be quite different from here in the States.

In response to the same article, Gerald McRoberts notes:

FYI, I've been running Mac OS X 10.2 with a Radeon 7000 card in a Beige G3 MT (upgraded with a 400 MHz G4) since last summer, when I bought the Harry Potter game for my son's 10th birthday (requires 3D acceleration). There were a couple of problems with initial booting and black screens, but that's been resolved, and now I have no problem booting back and forth between OS 9.2 and OS X 10.2. I think the July 2002 update was required:

http://www.ati.com/support/drivers/mac/macos-july-2002-update.html

According to the read-me (http://pdownload.mii.instacontent.net/ati/drivers/RADEON-0207.html):

ATI Displays - Supported Cards The current Mac OS X revision of ATI Displays supports all retail Radeon series cards. Please check the ATI web site for updates including support for other card models.

It doesn't appear that Quartz Extreme works; Apple says you have to have AGP, I think.

Anyway, always enjoy your site. As a researcher (infant language development) at a smallish university, I run my lab on low-end Macs ("TRAILING-edge technology"). I've got 2 Beige AIO's, a MT, 6400, and a couple of Power Computing machines - PowerBase 180 and PowerTower Pro 225. Your site has been a life saver more than once, and I never buy used without checking out all the specs!

Thanks for the helpful report. Looks like ATI's right hand and left hand are not communicating, since they still have the incompatibility article posted.

There is apparently a hack that enables Quartz Extreme on PCI Radeon cards, but the PCI bus itself is such a bottleneck that performance is oftentimes worse with the hack than without it.

Happy to hear you find LEM so useful. The whole point of starting the project was collecting the best information on older Macs (and later clones) to help buyers make better decisions and support folk have a better understanding of what they were dealing with.

And we got one more email on the subject, this one from Leonard Gerstel:

Just thought I would let you know that the 7000 in a beige does work with 10.2. You don't get any video until Jag is almost fully loaded, so if you get a kernel panic, you would need to hook the monitor to the onboard video to see what is going on.

There is also a hack that allows you to use Quartz Extreme with the 7000. From the reviews I've read, if you enable Extreme with a PCI Radeon, you get about a 5% increase in day to day video performance, but DVD playback takes a 30-40% hit, so I haven't enabled it yet.

Here are the best resources on the subject:

Those with B&W G3s seem to benefit most from the patch, which would be helped by a combination of a 66 MHz PCI bus, 100 MHz system bus, and generally faster processors than found in beige G3s. Results on beige G3s, older (unsupported) Power Macs, and even the Yikes! G4 appears mixed and seems to vary by application.

Try it. You might like it - and if you don't, PCI Extreme! comes with Damage Control, a program that can undo the changes it makes.

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Dan Knight has been publishing Low End Mac since April 1997. Mailbag columns come from email responses to his Mac Musings, Mac Daniel, Online Tech Journal, and other columns on the site.

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