The Low End Mac Mailbag

Value of Old Power Macs, Old Computers in School, Panther or Tiger on Pismo, and More

Dan Knight - 2008.05.12 - Tip Jar

Old Power Macs Plenty Good Enough

From John Black, following up ojn 7447 vs. 7448 G4 Upgrades:

Thanks, Dan. You obviously have researched this question far beyond the amount I have. That's really helpful information.

Our G4 DA was a school unit that my wife used. We got it two years ago for $50, when it was declared excess! Thus, upgrades have been very affordable since we had so little in the machine to begin with. I think the 1.7 GHz 7448 that I got from OWC set me back $325 or so, but it's resulted in a very useful computer, even in this day of super-fast computers. Plus, I like still like the old Motorola/Freescale processors and the ability to use older software via Classic. I think the perceived experience on a Mac is important, and the G4 with 7448 "feels" good to use. There'll come a time to move over to Intel machines, though I'm in no hurry.

Concerning USB 2.0, I actually bought a 5-port PCI card back in the days of our B&W G3; that card is now in the G4 and handles most of the USB connections we need. The Canon 30D images are so big and dense that they just flat tax out the ability of the G4. That's the only handicap we experience, however. With DSL, the Internet is quick, and the 7448 and a 7200 RPM hard drive, plus adequate RAM, make this G4 useful and not at all dated feeling.

I wouldn't make Apple rich, because I am a real low-ender, believing that used is the way to go, and fastest isn't necessarily best. As we say around here, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

John

John,

I'm in full agreement. I love my current setup. The only times it's slow are processing video (which I very rarely do) and using Microsoft Word 2004, especially following links within documents. I have no idea why that should be glacially slow on a dual 1 GHz Power Mac G4, but it is. Everything else is sufficiently fast using Tiger - and I won't switch to Leopard until I find a better way to write and edit articles than the ancient Claris Home Page 3.0 (last updated in 1997 and the only reason I need Classic Mode).

Having access to Classic is the icing on the cake for me, as every now and then I need to boot into it or launch an old pre-OS X program. I could see this being my workhorse for years to come unless some app comes along that required leaving the PowerPC behind.

Dan

Dan,

I have a preference for the old stuff. We still have a working SE/30, though it doesn't get any use any more. Another $50 school cast-off is our 2001 iMac DV, which is used mainly by our son.

The G4 with all its slots and upgradeability is really a hard computer to fault. Heavy graphics and gaming are the only places where it falls down, but we're not gamers, so that's no issue. Maybe a USB hub would do the same thing, but I really like having a PCI card that expands the G4's capability, which is something an iMac can't do. I haven't noticed the problem you mention with Word 2004. I prefer it over ApplewWorks, which, BTW, seemed to me to be a better program when it was Clarisworks. I keep reading of problems with Office 2008, so I'm in no hurry to go there. We continue to hold with Tiger too.

Keep up the good work with all the information you provide on LEM.

John

20" Penryn iMac or 24" Santa Rosa?

From Nigel Burmeister:

Dan, as someone who is considering a Mac for the very first time, I found this article very helpful.

For someone who is primarily going to use the Mac for HD video editing (Final Cut) and Photoshop, would you recommend the new 20" 2.66 GHz 2 GB model or the previous 24" 2.4 GHz 1 GB model?

Will the increase speed/bus/etc. noticeably affect these apps, or should I go for the larger screen size?

thanks
Nigel

Nigel,

The 20" would be adequate, but if you're doing critical Photoshop work, the 18-bit color display (vs. 24-bit in other iMacs) will give you better color fidelity. I also think the extra screen real estate will be a big plus for video work. I'll trade a bit of processing power for more room to work. And RAM upgrades are cheap and you'll probably want to max out to 4 GB for video work, so I wouldn't consider the difference there significant.

Dan

Panther vs. Tiger vs. Leopard on Pismo

Dan,

I've been scouring your site looking for some way to compare performance of Panther vs. Tiger vs. Leopard and haven't been able to find anything to help me. It seems that I can't find out which provides the best level of performance for an older computer like mine. Panther and Tiger both run fine on my 500 MHz G4 Pismo w/1 GB of RAM. I've heard that Leopard will run, but I haven't been able to get the machine to boot. Between Panther and Tiger, I am not sure which runs faster. If Panther is faster, I'm not sure if it runs the most recent version of Safari and other essential apps.

Basically, while running the latest and greatest on my Core 2 2 GHz Mac mini w/4 GB RAM is a no brainer, the question of what to use on my Pismo is much more complicated.

Thanks for your advice.

Sincerely,
Jeremy Zimmerman

Jeremy,

I've only heard from a few people who have Leopard running on G4-upgraded Pismos, but they agree that Leopard is not snappy and have problems viewing DVDs using Apple's DVD Player or VLC. You've also got an antiquated video processor in there, which rules out a lot of the effects of the Leopard interface. I'd vote against installing Leopard on your Pismo as it also have more overhead than Panther and Tiger, further slowing down an already aged computer.

Tiger vs. Panther? That's a harder call, as Tiger has a bit more overhead but a lot more up-to-date software. I was quite happy with Tiger on my 400 MHz PowerBook G4, and with 1 GB of RAM, that would be my recommendation.

Dan

Old Computers in Our Schools

From Josh Rutherford:

Dan,

What a time trip Micah's letter and your response took me on! I grew up as a student in a mid-sized urban public school district (Memphis, TN). We still used 8 and 16mm film strips that did not have audio built-in! You had to use the accompanying audio cassette or *gasp* vinyl record to play the audio. We had one copy machine, although back then they called them what they were - a Xerox! That was only for office use. Teachers had to run off copies of their lesson workbooks on an old manual methanol ditto machine.

You might be asking what we had for computers? There was no technology budget at that time. We acquired, through some measure of wheedling and benevolence, an Apple IIe with (two!) Disk II modules, and we had about three cartridge-based machines with a bunch of educational games on them. I believe those were TI-99/4s. We could hook them up to our Zenith or Sharp TV, which was amazing because you went from using a 9" black and white monitor to a 19" color TV! But that was back when Zeniths and Sharp products were manufactured in Memphis. And lest you think that this was some long-ago age before the Mac, we are talking the period of 1986 to 1992. So I guess you could call me a low-ender from the start.

But I disagree that using 6-8 year old computers is doing a disservice to our students. I understand the necessity of "marketing" education when students have so much competing for their attention. We need to provide our students with the tools they need to be competitive in a quickly changing global marketplace, to use today's buzzwords. But there are way too many public school districts, my county's district included, who are spending more and more on technology just to get an increase in the budget for next year, without any awareness of what we're actually doing with it. I actually voted against an increase in school funding the last time it came up - not because I don't believe our kids deserve great schools - but because I believe we are simply throwing money at technology, instead of using the resources we have intelligently, at the expense of losing people to the private sector that could be great inspirations to our kids.

Let me say clearly that I don't have the patience, the heart, or many of the other qualities that great teachers possess. But I've had some absolutely wonderful teachers in my life, and not a single one of them was great because they wowed us with flashy computers or technology they used. They were great because they were dynamic, engaging, intelligent, and great mentors to their students. They taught us to use the tools we had. They treated us with respect, attention, and challenged us not just to learn the material, not just to become smarter, but to become better young men and women and citizens.

As a student, I didn't spend my time wishing we had faster computers . . . they were tools. I wished my teachers had more time to spend exploring Shakespeare's motivations for writing his sonnets. Wishing we didn't have so much homework because the state put more objectives on our state tests than we could ever hope to cover in one year. I just don't think Micah's students are at a disadvantage for a moment. I can tell they have a fantastic teacher, who will use the tools that he has as an aid to provide them with a great learning experience, regardless of whether they're 8-year-old iMacs or shiny new MacBooks. And I think students will compete to be in his class because of him, not because they want to play with new kit.

You're welcome to pass this letter on to Micah, and let him know if he needs a new home for one of those well-loved iBooks . . . I'd be happy to adopt. :)

Josh,

Thanks for writing. I remember filmstrips with vinyl records, black and white movies with Mike Wallace on American history, and teachers who knew how to use different colors of ink to make 2- and 3-color dittoes. Ah, the good old days! I graduated high school a year before Apple, Radio Shack, and Commodore introduced the first assembled personal computers.

I think it's great that teachers are using computers in the classroom - and sad that in many schools, they reside in computer labs, which limits students' time with them. In the best of all possible worlds, each student would have a notebook computer to take home at night and use for several years. Simply being able to do things like edit and spell check your work can do wonders to improve the writing process.

Technology isn't the solution. As you point out, it's a tool, and the unwillingness of many school systems (and their voters) to invest in the entire education process (wages, technology, facilities, non-core things like physical education and the arts, etc.) does a disservice to our children. (So does the number of tenured teachers that their peers know should no longer be teaching.) 10-year-old Macs is a symptom, as are declining literacy scores and more money spent on sports than the arts. At least since the 1960s, our schools have become experiments to test the latest educational theories and political bandages, and the whole nation has suffered because of it.

On the other hand, it's wonderful that teachers like Micah are doing what they can to keep those old Macs running and up-to-date. Even a 10-year-old Mac is a better tool than a Windows 98 PC.

Dan

External DVD Burner

From Gavin Emery:

Hi Dan,

I recently emailed you asking about external DVD drives that would be a suitable for a G3 iBook, and you pointed me in the direction of Other World Computing, where I promptly followed your suggestion and took the plunge, buying a drive which cost under $80. Even with international shipping the product was far cheaper than anything I would've found in my own country and included all the software and cables I needed - I was up and running, burning DVDs at lightning-fast speed in a matter of minutes. Not only is burning regular CDs far faster than my built-in drive, but the external drive tends to "spin-up" far less when reading discs compared to the internal one, making all of my multimedia applications run hiccup-free.

The point of my email was to thank you very much for your prompt suggestions and to let you know how I've been getting on with the product - I have yet to produce any useless coasters, which is definitely a good sign!

I also wanted to say that for anyone who has no access to a file-converting application I highly recommend ffmpegX, a shareware application which I have been using with no hassles - it fully encodes both audio and video files like a dream, even on my old G3, and I have yet to find a file type that it is unable to convert from - meaning that whenever my colleagues hand me Windows-only-files I have no trouble converting them to a format that my trusty iBook appreciates more. It is worth noting that it is a universal binary, however it is OS X 10.2+ only as far as I am aware.

Well, I hope my email wasn't a bother, and thank you once again for your advice. Please continue the great work you deliver to the Mac community!

-Gavin

Gavin,

Thanks for the kind words, and we're always happy to help at Low End Mac. We want to wring all we can out of older Macs, using them until we have a legitimate reason to replace them.

Dan

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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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