Miscellaneous Ramblings

Cheap G3, G4 Reader Feedback

1 June 2000 - Charles Moore - Tip Jar

Last week's column about cheap Power Macs for G3 and G4 upgrading was the most popular Miscellaneous Ramblings article Low End Mac has published, beating out my previous champ - a piece on the economics of processor upgrades. Apparently upgrades are a popular topic.

They also generate a lot of reader feedback:

From Eric French:


Thank you for the article on upgrading a 6100 to a G3/G4. It brings up many good points to those who wish to get a G3 or G4 "on the cheap," and for many people it will work out fine.

Unfortunately, I started down this same path with great expectations in February of this year and was badly burned in the process. I was getting rid of my PC and wanted a Mac again (we have had several in the past), and thought that I could get into the world of G3 computing for less than a grand. It worked, sort of.

I paid:

$99 for a 6100/66 (33 MHz bus!). The unit already had a 256k L2 cache chip, so this was an excellent deal. It also came with a 2X CD-ROM. $299 for a Sonnet G3 266 MHz/1 MB backside cache (I believe this card has dropped in price since I purchased it). [It has; it's now $269. CM] $200 for a 4.5 GB 10 MB/sec SCSI HD. $66 for two 32 MB SIMMs (64 MB + 8 MB on motherboard = 72 MB total). $40 for Apple PDS 2 MB video card (new, Apple service part from an 8100).

Your article states that PDS video card upgrades cannot be used with the accelerator card. Not true. The Sonnet cards provide a pass through specifically for this purpose. The 640k of shared RAM used for onboard video is inadequate for pushing anything beyond 8-bit color.

$90 for Mac OS 9. $40 for a third-party new ADB keyboard. $20 for a third-party new ADB mouse

I kept the 17" monitor from my PC and managed to get a VGA to Mac adapter for free from the shop where I picked up my 6100. Total spent: about $850. I spent a little more than your example, but I also acquired the newest Mac OS and a decent-sized HD in the process.

I did not run any benchmarks on my machine, but work with two Macs regularly at my mother-in-law's business and home that I can provide seat-of-the-pants comparisons to. Her machines are a Performa 6320 with a 13 GB 7200 RPM HD and 48 MB (120 MHz 603e) and an iMac Rev. C, 266 MHz G3, 64 MB. I found that my 6100/G3 was somewhere in between the two. With the PDS video upgrade card, the video refresh rate was just slightly better than the Performa, and far worse without it (even with the superior processor). In all aspects, it ran slower than a Rev. C iMac for the programs we like to run.

I was unable to run Adobe Illustrator 8 without crashing, and was unable to rip MP3s without dropouts and errors due to the low CD-ROM speed (more money would have fixed this, but at this point my wife was beginning to lose patience). I was forever unable to utilize USB or FireWire (no PCI slots), forever unable to use cheap IDE hard drives which transferred data faster than the narrow SCSI I was stuck with.

There were four main reasons behind the lackluster performance compared to the Rev. C iMac 266. The G3 card in my 6100 did have a larger backside cache than the iMac I was accustomed to using. However, four things conspired to slow down the performance of this chip. The first was, obviously, bus speed. Even with the 33 MHz bus speed (compared to the 30 MHz in the 6100/60), it still is only half of the iMac's at 66 MHz. Second was drive performance. The HD I purchased was a good Seagate that spun at 5400 RPM (same as the iMac), but only had a transfer rate of 10 MB/sec across the SCSI bus, compared to 33 MB/sec in the iMac.

Third is video performance. The 2 MB video card only carries one third of the VRAM of the iMac and has no built-in modern 3D acceleration support like the iMac's ATI chipset. Last is a bottleneck often overlooked: RAM speed. 72-pin SIMMs only transmit at ~70ns latency. SO-DIMMS like those in the iMac run from 8-10ns. A nanosecond may be a minuscule measurement of time, but with the millions of instructions that the G3 is capable of processing, those nanoseconds can add up over time.

I guess for some the ability to use larger monitors, SCSI, and ADB is worth the trouble, but in most performance aspects, the iMac has it all over the upgraded 6100.

I decided to cut my losses and sell the machine. Little did I know how much that cutting would hurt.

I set out asking $600 for the lot (including monitor), figuring a loss of $250 would teach me a lesson. After two weeks of no bites, I settled for $300 at a local used Mac shop. I don't even want to know what they're going to try and sell it for.

I am now typing this on a new G4/400. Since the 6100 damn near cost me my marriage, I had to also purchase an iBook for my wife to reclaim my half of the bed. I guess this means that I don't qualify as "low end" anymore =) .

This is not to say purchasing an older Mac and upgrading it is not for everyone. I know several people who have done so and have been extremely happy with the results. I have helped them purchase and assemble systems to their liking. I have also assisted others in purchasing new Macs. It all depends on the individual's needs and budget. I'm glad that you mention alternatives in your article (iMac, etc.) It helps readers make an informed decision.

One other option that perhaps you or Dan could write about are Apple Refurbished units. Apple has excellent deals on several models through the Apple store, all of which come with a 90-day full warranty. The iBook we purchased was a refurbished Rev. A (32 MB of RAM, 3.2 GB HD, etc.) Blueberry; it only cost us $1,200. Throw in a 64 MB SO-DIMM ($50), and for $1250 you have a great Apple portable with 96 MB of RAM. We've had it for a month now and have had no issues, other than dozens of stares and questions when I took it on a cross-country flight last week.

Thanks again for the article, and good luck with your 9500 project!!

Eric French

Hi Eric;

Thanks for the interesting and very informative cautionary tale.

Sorry to hear that the 6100 upgrade didn't work out for you.

I had heard that there was a workaround for the PDS slot issue, but couldn't track it down in time for the article. My second reference to slot shortage in the 6100 pertained to NuBus video upgrades, which can't be used with the processor upgrade in the lone NuBus slot.

From Gregory Larson:

Mr. Moore,

I read your article on the cheap Power Macs. I was impressed by the amount of research you did to find all of those companies that offer the older Macs at such a low price. I have an old 6100/60 that works well. I've been going to upgrade that thing for two years now. But when the iMacs came out, I decided to buy them instead of the upgrades. And besides, I just use it to keep my company's books, and it works OK for that.

The other reason I am writing is that I am going to be in Victoria, B.C. for a digital (Photoshop) class in July and would be happy to get bring a computer up there for you. I don't know where you live but we can ship it anywhere from Vancouver. Just a thought if you can't live without one of those older machines.

Greg Larson

Hi Mr. Larson;

I think you made a wise choice vis a vis getting the iMac instead of upgrading the 6100.

Thank you so much for your kind offer of transporting a computer into Canada for me.

However, as you've read above, I've ordered a UMAX S900 from OWC.

I'm in Nova Scotia, BTW.

From Scott Atkinson:

Your recent writing on older Macs (including the PowerBook column of a few weeks back) hits the spot.

Have you noticed that 8100s are not part of the various refurb programs? I wonder why...

Best Regards
Scott Atkinson

8100s are darned hard to find is probably one reason, that is - relative to the prolific 6100 and 7100 series. The 8100 is a nice machine, the best of the X100s, IMHO.

From Jerry Koszut:

Hello Charles...

Just wanted to take a moment to thank you for this article (and all your previous ones). Excellent and thought provoking.

I'm still using a Power Center Pro 210 I built for myself when I was Director of Corporate Support for Power. It actually only clocks at 196 MHz (many of Powers machines ran at well under their advertised rating), but it does have 256 MB of RAM and a 60 MHz bus, so I would assume it's a good candidate for an upgrade similar to the one you mention in your article.

What, in your valued opinion, would be a good no fuss, no muss, plug-n-play upgrade for this machine? I understand that some of these upgrades are a bit wiggy, as a result I've been a bit hesitant about performing this surgery. I do quite a bit of graphic design work so a speed increase of any kind would be valuable.

Thanks again for all your great articles.

Jerry Koszut

Hi Jerry;

I think your Power Center Pro 210 would be a honey of a machine to upgrade with that fast system bus (only 6 MHz less than this WallStreet PowerBook I'm typing on), and your investment in RAM.

I don't want to dis Newer, XLR8, Powerlogix , Met@box, and other upgrade mfrs. and my hands-on experience with upgrading is limited, so take that into account when weighing my opinion, but IMHO the Sonnet upgrades are hard to argue with for price and user-friendliness. No configuration hassles with switches, jumpers, and control panels, and they tend to lead the charge on price competitiveness.

On the other hand, while most processor upgrades use a software/firmware patch for support, Newer Technology's upgrades have a ROM chip that contains this data. The software approach makes it necessary to keep your original processor card around so the machine will boot to run the firmware updater again if the code gets deleted somehow. The ROM chip is a more elegant solution.

Here is the latest Sonnet price list for the cards that fit your machine:

  • Crescendo G3/PCI 333/512K - $199.95 (was $249.95)
  • Crescendo G3/PCI 350/1M - $279.95 (was $299.95)
  • Crescendo G3/PCI 400/1M - $349.95 (was $399.95)
  • Crescendo G3/PCI 500/1M - $499.95 (was $599.95)
  • Crescendo G4/PCI 350/1M - $399.95 (was $499.95)
  • Crescendo G4/PCI 400/1M - $549.95 (was $649.95)
  • Crescendo G4/PCI 450/1M - $649.95 (was $799.95)
However, you may be able to do even better at places like Other World Computing. For example, they currently have a special on the discontinued Sonnet Crescendo G3/300 MHz w/512k 02.1 Backside Cache (SG300C512) (For the Power Mac 7300, 7500, 7600, 8500, 8600, 9500, 9600; WGS 7350, 8550, 9650; Power Computing PowerCenter, PowerCurve, PowerWave, PowerTower; UMAX Super S900 and J700.) for $160.

From Bert Caoile

I read your article "Cheap Power Macs: The $500 G3 and $750 G4" (a link was posted at a Deal-Mac forum thread). It's amazing how cheaply you can buy Mac computer parts and put together a pretty decent machine, more upgradeable than an iMac, though not as pretty.

I also purchased the BB 16 MB Umax C600 from <http://www.smalldog.com>, just to give you an idea how cheap you can get a decent Mac computer, here is the cost break down:

  1. $80 Umax C600 case/floppy/16 MB/256k cache/int cables
  2. $20 Apple 4X CD-ROM from <http://www.compgeeks.com>
    * note: you'll have to improvise mounting this internally, since I can't find a source for the side "HD mounting sleds." I used two screws through the horizontal slits. Email me if anyone knows where to get these.
  3. $35 Quantum 1.2 IDE drive from <http://www.pcliquidator.com/hdd.htm>
  4. $5!! (none left) Umax 240 MHz 603ev also from Small Dog (I bought 2 but only 1 worked, next time I'll buy 10). At 240 MHz its pretty spiffy and not too shabby.
  5. $9 for Umax mouse from Small Dog (Forrest said the AppleDesign KB from CompUSA for $10)

So far that's $158 (+ shipping), just add $30 for a 14" apple monitor or $80 for a 17" Apple MS from <http://www.pcliquidator.com/mac.htm> and maybe even add 32 MB RAM $64 at <http://www.memoryx.com>.

So for around $300 including shipping you get a pretty cool upgradeable machine. Since the 240 MHz 603e is not available, why not add a G3 card for another $180. Also Voodoo 3 PCI at ValueAmerica for $80 after rebate (ends May 31st) - but you'll need another 64 MB DIMM to play UT.

Bert Caoile
Virtu Design & Imaging Inc.

From Bruce Hoult:


Just read your article on cheap Power Macs.

While the 6100-based systems sound good, and I now wish I hadn't sold my 6100AV so cheaply four years ago when I got the 8500, I think that they are not the best machines to start from, and neither are the 7100/8100.

I recently picked up a PowerCurve with a 120 MHz PPC601, 56 MB RAM, 4 GB hard disk, and 15" monitor for NZ$625 (US$280). I added a $189 NewerTech G3/250 card from MacCPU (I see Bottom line has Sonnet 350 MHz card for that price now) and I've got something nearly indistinguishable from my G3/266 PowerBook for well under $500.

The PCI systems with the CPU on a card - 7300/7500/... and clones - cost very little more than the 1st generation PowerMacs on the used market but have much more and more current expansion (I put a brand new "Fuse" PCI video grabber card in the PowerCurve with no problems and Premier goes up to 20 times faster with the G3 than it did with the 601, due no doubt to the L2 cache as much as the CPU) and tend to already have all the bits that you'd have to spend extra money on for a 6100 or 7100.

It really, really pays to look for a used machine that already has the RAM and disk etc. that you want. It tends to add *far* less (even nothing) to the used price than having to buy the components afterwards (even used).

At the same time, mind you, you could build a nice Celeron 500 system with 128 MB RAM and a 10 GB disk for $500. I just this week built myself a 700 MHz Athlon with 30 GB disk and all the works for under $1,000 (for Linux development work).

- Bruce


Good point about getting the most HD and RAM as possible.

The Celeron is cheap, but it's still a Celeron. ;-)

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Charles Moore has been a freelance journalist since 1987 and began writing for Mac websites in May 1998. His The Road Warrior column was a regular feature on MacOpinion, he is news editor at Applelinks.com and a columnist at MacPrices.net. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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