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Mac Musings

A Legacy Power Mac

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- 26 January 1999 - Tip Jar

I got a lot of positive feedback on last week's column, I Was Wrong about the iMac, but also a lot of negative feedback on these two paragraphs:

And what I'd really like to see is something positioned for the upgrade market, a modular Mac that supports ADB, LocalTalk, SCSI, and old monitors. This would be something the LC owner, the Centris owner, the Performa owner, and the Power Mac 6100 owner could buy without leaving their legacy peripherals behind.

Maybe I'm just dreaming there, but if Apple doesn't want to do it, it sure would be nice if they licensed someone else to produce a niche upgrade machine for the tens of millions of Mac owners out there who'd like a Power Mac but find it difficult (whether financially or for sentimental reasons) to retire their older Macs.

A lot of people wrote that the iMac is the upgrade path for LC, Centris, and Performa owners, that it's a good thing Apple is forcing buyers away from outdated technologies.

Hogwash.

Look at the Blue and White Power Mac G3, the new blue-and-white one. Apple reintroduced "outdated" technology - after abandoning ADB with the iMac, Apple decided to include an ADB port as a standard feature on the Blue and White Power Mac G3.

Yosemite designVisit the Apple Store and see what's probably the most popular option for the Blue and White G3, the $50 PCI SCSI card. (The ones we're ordering at work will all have SCSI cards.)

And, while finally adopting the industry standard VGA video port, Apple does include an adapter to allow use of monitors with the old Apple DB-15 video connector.

Apple is embracing new technologies such as USB and FireWire, adopting established standards (PCI slots, PC100 memory, VGA ports), and moving toward the 21st century.

But they're moving too fast for some.

The iMac, PowerBook G3 Series, and Blue and White Power Mac G3 don't ship with a floppy drive. It costs about $100 to buy, but it's a very popular option (along with the $150 SuperDrive that reads regular floppies and 120 MB disks).

The iMac and Blue and White Power Mac G3 don't ship with any serial port except USB, so those with older modems, serial printers, and other serial devices are buying USB-to-serial converters.

The iMac and Blue and White Power Mac G3 don't have LocalTalk ports, either. Sure, it's old networking technology, but if your StyleWriter 4100 or DeskWriter uses LocalTalk, you need some sort of ethernet-to-LocalTalk bridge so you can keep using it. (These have been on the market for years, allowing access to old LaserWriters on ethernet networks.)

Because Macs last so long, Apple needs to retain a high level of compatibility from one generation to the next. They've done this with the operating system and hardware. Old programs run on new Macs, and old Macs can use a lot of new hardware.

Apple seems to be actively promoting solutions to the "problems" it's created by going to USB and FireWire in lieu of ADB, serial, and SCSI.

The Legacy Mac

I propose Apple embrace the need and market an inexpensive Power Mac with a legacy PCI card. The card would include a SCSI port and one or two serial/LocalTalk ports for under $100 - or maybe just two serial/LocalTalk ports for under $50. The card would be available from the Apple Store for use on the new Power Mac G3.

The legacy Mac (or L-Mac) would start with the Blue and White Power Mac G3 motherboard, which is compact and already being built in quantity. Instead of the awesome RAGE 128 video card, Apple could use choose one of the many PCI video cards currently selling for about $100 as the standard video card - and offer faster, more expensive alternatives to those who want more.

Based on current prices for high-end video cards comparable to the ATI RAGE 128, I'm guessing that could trim $300 to $400 from the computer's price. Add back $100 for the legacy card, and you're still looking at a $1,299 to $1,399 alternative to the current G3.

Update: Boy, was I off on that one! The ATI cards based on the RAGE 128 chip set are only about $200!

To further differentiate the L-Mac from the Blue and White G3, Apple should consider a more traditional desktop style case, possibly housing it in the familiar case used for the Power Mac 7200-7600 and earlier G3 desktop designs - although undoubtedly colorized to match Apple's colorful vision.

Given that the price difference between the G3 desktop and minitower was on the order of $400, and also that the new G3 case is probably much less expensive to produce than the old G3 minitower case, this could shave another $100 from selling price, moving the L-Mac right into iMac country.

And since it would be marketed as an upgrade computer, Apple could debundle the keyboard and mouse, reducing retail price another $100 or so.

For an estimated price of $1,199, the L-Mac would have a 300 MHz G3 with a 512 KB 02.1 backside cache, 64 MB of RAM (expandable to 1 GB, just like the Blue and White G3), the same 6GB hard drive as the iMac, four PCI slots, a 24x CD-ROM, two USB ports, one ADB port, one or two serial/LocalTalk ports, a SCSI port, and FireWire.

And for those willing to forgo the legacy card, Apple could probably sell a Power Mac G3 Lite for $1,099.

Doing this could make upgrading from that old LC, Centris, Performa, or first generation Power Mac a lot less costly.

Not only would this help Apple sell more Power Macs, it would also increase the base of those who can buy USB and FireWire peripherals, letting owners of legacy Macs choose when to adopt those technologies. And the number of users able to upgrade to Mac OS X.

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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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