Mac Musings

12 Years of Low End Mac

Dan Knight - 2009.04.07 - Tip Jar

Follow Low End Mac's blogs: LEMblog and Low End Mac Services.

Thank you.

I can't think of a better way to begin a look back on Low End Mac's 12th anniversary. Low End Mac is only successful because so many of you have found it to be a useful resource.

Thank you very much!

It was 1997, and I was just learning about the World-Wide Web, as it was called in those days. I'd acquired a copy of Claris Home Page and was using it to learn how to design pages for the Web. As a book designer, I tknew he importance of learning how to create online content.

Humble Beginnings

There wasn't much to The New Low End User, as I first titled it, in April 1997. It had almost two dozen Mac profiles, from the Mac Plus through the last 68030-based desktop Macs, a few links to other online Mac resources, a whopping 3 graphics, and absolutely no advertising.

Welcome to the New
Low End User Site

  

Back then I didn't have a clue there was money to be made from online publishing; I created Low End Mac to share my many years of Mac experience with anyone who was interested.

At the time my Mac was a Centris 610, which I'd purchased in the summer of 1993. (My first was a Mac Plus, which I sold to help pay for the Centris. I subsequently tracked it down and bought it back.) The Centris 610, with its 20 MHz 68LC040 CPU, was a powerhouse compared to the Mac Plus and the Mac IIci I used at work.

Internet Income

It was 3-4 months later that Jason Pierce approached me about moving Low End Mac from my personal web space to his server. He was creating the MacTimes Network, and he wanted LEM to be one of its anchor sites. In mid-November 1997, we moved LEM to his server, incorporated display ads, and began to make money. We served 60,000 pages in our first full month with MacTimes.

That first check blew me away. I was doing this as a hobby and a service in my spare time, and the check more than covered my Internet access and hosting fees for several months. By early 1999, site traffic had grown to 400,000 pages per month.

MacTimes ran into financial problems, and one by one the member sites left. We acquired the lowendmac.com domain and moved to a new server in March 1999 and severed our relationship with MacTimes.

SuperMac

Many of us were enthusiastic supporters of Macintosh clones, which offered more power for less money than Apple's computers. Unfortunately, the cloners seemed more interested in selling hardware to existing Mac users than expanding the Mac market - exactly what Apple didn't need during the worst years in its history.

The authorized clone era began with the Radius System 100, essentially a Power Mac 8100 running at up to 110 MHz and using a Radius video card. This NuBus machine was built like a tank, and Radius was not a significant player in the clone market. Radius sold its SuperMac name and clone license to Umax in 1996.

Of the several companies cloning the Mac, SuperMac became my favorite. Umax took a different approach than Power Computing, Motorola, and the others - Umax created models that could grow the Mac market, not just steal sales from Apple. The SuperMac S900, for instance, had a second CPU socket, so you didn't have to remove the original CPU to add a second one. And the low profile C500 had two PCI slots in a machine just 4" tall that sold at a very nice price.

Umax J700In fact, Umax was the last company to hold a clone license, and Apple had hoped to convince them to continue to sell SuperMacs in the sub-$1,000 market. Umax threw in the towel and liquidated its SuperMac inventory in June 1998. That's when I replaced my Centris 610 with a 180 MHz SuperMac J700. That machine served me well through G3 CPU upgrades, additional memory, bigger hard drives, and a better video card.

Backbeat Media

Low End Mac managed to make a little money after MacTimes imploded, but nothing like we had in the past. Then came the call from Dave Hamilton, who was creating Backbeat Media to handle advertising for a select group of Mac-related websites. We were on his short list of candidates, and I believe we were the third site to join its network.

The guys at Backbeat have done wonderful things for us. I can use affiliate programs, but selling ad space is beyond my expertise. Backbeat turned Low End Mac from a slightly profitable hobby into a business, and by the end of 2000 I was taking in more from the website than from my day job.

Site traffic was growing steadily, first reaching the half-million page per month mark in October 2000. All indications were positive, and in January 2001, after returning from the Macworld Expo, I gave notice at my IT job. By the end of the month, I would be working full time for Cobweb Publishing, my own business.

The Dot-Com Bubble Bursts

Starting in 1995, Internet-based businesses became the darlings of investors. These "dot-com" businesses popped up based on all sorts of ideas, some viable and many not well thought through. The successes were big successes, and a feeding frenzy ensued.

All good things seem to come to an end, and the dot-com bubble reached is peak in March 2000. There were some big successes, including Amazon.com and eBay, but also a lot of businesses that blew through their money and never turned a profit. After partying like it was 1999, the bubble burst in 2000 - computer sales dropped due to heavy purchases in advance of Y2K, the 1999 online holiday shopping season was not the success most expected, and one failure cascaded into another.

January 2001 was not the best time to give up steady employment, but not knowing how the dot-com collapse would impact ad revenue, I moved ahead. In 2002, I took a part-time job at a local camera shop, where I worked until late 2005 to supplement income from Low End Mac.

PowerBook G4

At the end of January 2001, I bought the first PowerBook G4 to reach my local dealer, and Low End Mac posted the first hands-on review on the Internet. It immediately became my production machine, leaving the SuperMac for the kids to use. Over time I upgraded it from 128 MB of RAM to 768 MB and from a 10 GB hard drive to 40 GB, each in steps. At about the four-year mark I had to replace the battery.

This was the machine I used to experiment with Mac OS X 10.1, which I deemed interesting, promising, but not yet good enough to replace the Classic Mac OS. However, Mac OS X 10.2 was another story. It was much more mature, more efficient, and had a lot more apps available. Over time I moved to 10.3 and 10.4 before the poor old PowerBook died an untimely death after being dropped, which cracked its case.

eMacs

When the PowerBook went in for screen repair under AppleCare near the three-year mark, I bought a used Power Mac G4 Cube, used it long enough to discover its shortcomings, and sold it shortly after the PowerBook came back from Apple. That Cube went to Charles Moore, who later traded it for a Pismo.

My next desktop was a 700 MHz eMac, which I bought refurbished in mid-2003 after the next eMac was introduced. (I take my low-end computing seriously.) It became my primary computer, as it had almost twice the processing power, but I continued using the PowerBook in the field.

A Wrinkle in Life

My personal life took an unexpected twist in October 2003 when my wife of 22 years told me she considered our marriage over. We separated six weeks later, and I spent several months frustrated, angry, and confused. I broke me to lose the one person I believed I could trust implicitly, but I survived, went to therapy, read some very helpful books, and learned to get on with life.

Through the process, I was angry with God for letting it happen and spent a lot of time chewing him out over it. He took it in stride, waited until I burned out, and never abandoned me through the whole process. Over time, my life was healed. In fact, it became better than it had ever been.

I own my own business, I bought my own house, I've gone on two bicycle trips of 400-500 miles, I met an amazing woman a bit over three years ago (we've been married for almost two years), and I have my first dog. I'm very involved at church, have a job I love, and am making connections to family and old friends thanks to Facebook.

Faster

I moved to a 1.25 GHz eMac in early 2005, which meant that I hardly ever wanted to use that old 400 MHz PowerBook. That computer is the newest Mac I own and sits in my office today, but several years ago I bought a dual 1 GHz MDD Power Mac G4 from a friend at church, and that's been my production machine ever since. It's been upgraded with 2 GB of RAM, two 400 GB hard drives, two USB 2.0 cards.

Right now I'm in the process of evaluating whether this will remain my production machine or not. I recently acquired a Giga Design CPU upgrade and a Digital Audio Power Mac G4. I've had a dual 500 MHz Mystic Power Mac for some time as well, and I want to test the upgrade in both machines to see whether the CPU speed more than makes up for the slower memory bus.

How much faster? According to my research, the Giga card has a pair of 1.42 GHz G4 CPUs that have been tested and run reliably at 1.8 GHz, although I haven't been able to achieve any speed over 1.6 GHz in the Digital Audio G4. I can report that this is fast, both subjectively and in benchmarks. I have a feeling that this could become my main production machine.

There are drawbacks, however. I have 2 GB of RAM on a 167 MHz bus in my MDD Power Mac, the DA only supports 1.5 GB on a 133 MHz bus, and I have 1.25 GB installed. As someone who often has a dozen or more programs running at the same time, along with Classic Mode, all the memory is nice. I don't know who comfortable things would be with 40% less memory.

The alternative is the Mystic Power Mac, which supports 2 GB of RAM (like my MDD), but on an even slower memory bus - 100 MHz. Time will tell how fast I can run the upgrade in that machine and whether the additional RAM (it has 1.25 GB installed, but I could liberate some RAM from the Digital Audio to reach 2 GB) offsets the somewhat slower memory bus.

All of this is facilitated by moving my 400 MHz Deskstar hard drive to a NewerTech miniStack enclosure, so I can easily move to any Mac that can boot from FireWire. (This also eliminates the "big drive" problem with the internal IDE bus on the older Power Macs, which is only designed for drives to 128 GB in size.) And whatever machine I end up with will get the Radeon 9000 Pro graphics card that's currently in the Mirrored Drive Doors model.

I'm living on the bleeding edge of G4 computing.

State of the Site

Low End Mac has grown from humble beginnings and now serves 16 million pages a year. We have profiles of every Mac made, the major clones, both Lisa computers, and the NeXT line. We added news roundups years ago, ably handled by Charles Moore. And we manage over 40 Mac-related groups on Google Groups.

Low End Mac monthly site traffic
Average pages served per month, average of previous 12 months.

We recovered nicely from the dot-com collapse, but the ongoing recession has impacted us as well. Site revenue from November 2008 through February 2009 was way down - 30% below our average for 2007 and the lowest income since July 2005. During those months, we had barely enough to get by on, and then only by suspending payments to our writers temporarily.

Things have picked up a bit since then, and last month we began catching up with our writers, and we're doing our best to catch up on back taxes. We'll be able to send money to our writers again this month, but the future is uncertain. We have been blessed by over $500 in donations over the past six weeks, for which we are very grateful - and any additional donations will be greatly appreciated.

My Mac Collection

I've been trying to find a part-time job to free funds for other obligations - the less I need to take from Low End Mac, the more I can use elsewhere - but with the current economy here in Michigan, prospects are petty poor.

I've spent much of the past two weeks pulling vintage Macs out of my storage room, setting them up, testing them, replacing hard drives when necessary, wiping hard drives, installing System 7.5.5 (the last version Apple made available for free), testing monitors, digging out ADB mice and keyboards, and deciding what I would be willing to part with. Last Saturday we had a garage sale, and I sold over $20 worth of "obsolete" Macs and Apple paraphernalia.

It's been a blast from the past setting up an LC, a IIci, a Power Mac 7100, a Performa 630, etc. I discovered that half of my Classic IIs don't work - two have a video problem and one has no video at all. I brought a couple shelving units up from the basement, and now I have 35 old Macs (LC through Power Mac 7100) for sale, including one LC with an Apple IIe card. I have a lot of monitors, mice, and keyboards, although probably not enough to go around. And we hope to try the garage sale thing again this Saturday. Every little bit helps.

These things are priced to move - $8-10 for an LC, $12-14 for an LC II, $10-16 for a IIsi (no hard drive), $16-18 for a IIci (also no hard drive), $20 for a Performa 630, $30 and up for a Power Mac 7100/66. Mice start at $2.00, keyboards at $5.00, and monitors at $12. I even have a couple Portrait Displays and grayscale two-page monitors.

I'm trying to avoid shipping. Boxing up computers and monitors is a pain, and it can cost more than the hardware itself is worth.

I've also got Apple logo stickers, a host of AC cords, a bunch of ClarisWorks 3.0 CDs (Mac and Windows), several SimCity 2000 CDs, a lot of PlainTalk microphones, some DOS cards for the Performa 630, and scavenged floppy drives, power supplies, SCSI CD-ROM drives, etc. from dead Macs. These I have no problem shipping.

It has been fun picking through the accumulation of Macs, choosing which ones to keep and which ones to sell. I have my first Mac, my old Centris 610, the first four models from SuperMac, a IIfx, a Quadra 950, a PowerBook 100, a PowerBook 5x0, a PowerBook 1400, a Radius clone, a beige G3, and a Blue & White G3, among other things. Almost a museum - I just need a place to display them.

Again, Thank You

In closing, I can only say thank you for the time you spend with Low End Mac, for making this site a success, for letting me spend my work day writing about something I'm passionate about. Despite a few tough times, this is a dream come true.

Thank you for being part of it.

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Dan Knight has been using Macs since 1986, sold Macs for several years, supported them for many more years, and has been publishing Low End Mac since April 1997. If you find Dan's articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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