Mac Musings

Gee3: Let's Have an Inexpensive Mac!

Daniel Knight - 2 April 1998 -

The price/performance ratio of the Power Mac G3, especially after recent price cuts, is simply amazing. And somehow Apple has packaged the technology into the G3 All-in-One for as little as $1,500. The rumored $2,000 PowerBook G3 also sounds like an incredible value.

How about something really affordable?

I'm an old-timer when it comes to personal computers. The first I used was an Apple II+; the first I owned was a Commodore VIC-20. Much as I wanted an Apple II+ system, the price was over $1,500 with a floppy drive and green screen monitor. The VIC-20 with tape drive set me back about $200.

As computer users often do, I slowly upgraded my system. There was the Panasonic dot matrix printer with a Commodore-to-parallel adapter, the 170KB floppy drive, the expansion chassis and memory cartridges, the amber monitor (so I didn't tie up the TV). Then I replaced Vikki with a C-64. Except for the memory and expansion chassis, which were no longer necessary with a 64KB system, all my old hardware worked with the new CPU.

A few years later I started selling PC compatibles in a Heath/Zenith computer store in Virginia Beach, VA. I had to learn DOS in a hurry - and did. I eventually picked up a refurbished Z-151. Over time I added more RAM, turned it into a Z-158 (8 MHz!), a clock/calendar, an EGA card, a hard drive, an EEMS card, a 3.5" floppy drive. When the old Panasonic printer gave out, I bought a C. Itoh. When I needed better quality, I bought an HP DeskJet 500.

Eventually I got my first Macintosh, a 1 MB platinum Plus. With MacPrint, I could run the DeskJet 500 from my Plus. Over time, I bumped RAM to 2.5 MB, then 4 MB. I borrowed a second 800KB floppy, then bought one. I got a 40 MB external hard drive and later added a 44MB SyQuest drive in exchange for my old Zenith. Best of all, I had Brainstorm install their motherboard modification, which let me run at 16 MHz.

When I got my Centris 610, it was easy to port over my files. I sold the entire Plus setup to help pay for it, retaining the DeskJet for printing. Eventually my wife bought a PowerBook and brought the DeskJet to work, so I added a DeskWriter. I bumped RAM from 4 MB to 8 MB, then 12 MB, and finally 24 MB. (I maxed VRAM the day I bought the 610.) When the DeskJet died, I replaced it with a StyleWriter 4100.

I'm a budget computer user - part of the reason my site is called Low End Mac. I'd like to be able to replace my CPU with a G3/233, but $1,700 is out of my price range. I would have liked a $995 Umax C500/200LT, but they're long gone, and the newer, faster models are several hundred dollars more expensive.

Think Different

If Apple can sell the G3 All-in-One for $1,500 with an internal color monitor, there must be some way to sell a G3 for about $1,000. But how?

  1. Minimize. Sell it with 16 MB of RAM, a 16x or slower CD-ROM, a 3GB or smaller hard drive, and less VRAM if this can significantly reduce the price.
  2. Strip. Sell a stripped version for current Mac owners seeking an upgrade. No keyboard, no CD-ROM, no hard drive. Let us use our old keyboards and drives if we want to. Let us add components as we need them.
  3. Think Cheap. Maybe use the Power PC 740, the one that doesn't support an inline or backside cache. Put a cache slot on the 66 MHz motherboard that we can fill later. Eliminate one or two PCI slots (it's a Mac, how many will we use?). Use a less expensive case, maybe with an external power brick (brick varies by country - no need for the expensive universal power supply).

I miss the days when you could buy a basic computer (CPU, keyboard, floppy drive, video card) for under $500, sometimes way under. Everyone assumes we need that plus the kitchen sink (24x CD-ROM, 2 MB or more VRAM, 4-6GB hard drive, 32 MB RAM).

Apple, why not let us decide what we need, even if its less than what you consider a minimum configuration?

Further reading

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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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