My Turn

Power Mac 5200 and the Single Man

Jason Allen - 2001.10.22

My Turn is Low End Mac's column for reader-submitted articles. It's your turn to share your thoughts on all things Mac (or iPhone, iPod, etc.) and write for the Mac web. Email your submission to Dan Knight .

A single man can live sparsely for a long time. If the walls of the apartment or rented house are too bare, he can always tape up a Willie Nelson poster or a couple maps. If the furniture doesn't match, that's okay - he wouldn't notice if it did. When he moves, which can be pretty frequently, he's content to dispose of as much stuff as possible, keeping only the necessities and maybe just a few sentimental things, like a favorite old T-shirt, a small gift from someone, or even his often-maligned Power Mac 5200 .

I'm just a single guy living on a meager teacher's salary, so my worldly possessions can probably fit into a small U-Haul trailer. To be sure, as Richard Foster rightly notes in his book Freedom of Simplicity, there's freedom in both the simple life and in the single. When the time is right, my simple and free life will probably lose some of its simplicity and freedom, because I'll encounter, in the words of the 18th-century Quaker John Woolman, "a well-inclined damsel" with whom to wed.

But I digress.

One of the few items that has accompanied me in my journeys over the last few years is my trusty 5200, which, Power Mac 5200for all its faults and well-deserved criticisms, has proven extremely useful. Even now, though my current workday machine is a Power Mac 7300/200, I am still getting use and enjoyment out of the all-in-one.

The story begins on a snowy Tuesday in February 1996. I was living in Tupelo, Mississippi (ring a bell, you Elvis fans?) in the middle of my second year of teaching 5th grade, and a four-inch snowstorm - yes, that's right - had shut down the schools for four days. With nothing better to do, a friend and I were attempting to play Myst on the LC II that I'd brought home from my classroom. When we could no longer endure the excruciatingly slow graphics, I did what any young, single, still-living-with-his-folks guy would do - I set off for Walmart, where I slapped a whoppin' two grand on the MasterCard for a state-of-the-art, new-in-the-box, never-been-used Performa 5200CD. Thus began a five-year odyssey of a single man and his Mac.

Compared to the LC II that I used in the classroom, the 5200 was a joy to behold. Its speed, internal CD-ROM, 15-inch monitor, and internal modem made my computing life much more enjoyable. For the next 15 months, I used it almost daily for Net-surfing, preparing papers for school, charting the times of my middle school cross country runners, and keeping track of my budget.

July 1997 found me preparing to move to São Paulo, Brazil, where I had signed a contract to teach fifth grade at Pan American Christian Academy. I put the 5200 into its original box, stuffed T-shirts and socks all around it, and just prayed that it would show up at the baggage claim in São Paulo after the nine-hour flight. All ended well. For the next three years I used my Mac daily for email, schoolwork, and Net-surfing. While in Brazil, I upgraded the RAM to 40 MB, replaced the internal 14.4K modem with a 56K modem, and even spent thirteen hours one Saturday downloading and installing the multipart System 7.5.5 - all in a quest to improve the 5200's usability. São Paulo's analog phone systems, which have been repeatedly spliced into by some of the 20-odd million residents of South America's largest city, certainly did not help the dialup Internet experience, but the upgrades did make a difference.

In June 2000, with only boxes of clothes, books, and my computer, I returned to my native Mississippi and promptly bought a used PM 7300 from Mac of All Trades. With ten bucks invested in an ethernet crossover cable and another twenty in an ethernet card, I was able to continue using the 5200, now upgraded to Mac OS 8.1, as a backup hard drive containing six years' worth of teaching lessons and tests.

This school year finds me living and teaching in Dallas, Texas, and the 5200 has refused to say "die." Having never owned my own television and having run across the link to Making a Power Mac 5200 Useful, I began toying with idea of installing a TV Tuner card. After asking around, I found out about Electronic Discount Sales , a two-store chain in the DFW area selling tons of old and new computer equipment. Thirty dollars and a set of $7.99 rabbit ears later, I was sitting on the couch with a remote control in one hand, a glass of sweet tea (nectar of the gods!) in the other, and flipping through sixteen channels. By adjusting the ears, I could get about four channels at a time really clear!

For the next two weeks, I actually got to watch the news rather than just reading it on the Internet, but I was overcome with the desire to watch Cool Hand Luke ("What we've got he-yah is a fail-yah to communicate."), so I headed to the neighborhood K-Mart and picked up a cheap VCR. Over the next three weeks, I got my fill of Casablanca, Murder on the Orient Express, and other classics - but with one small problem. The single man was slowly acquiring some real furniture, so I had to rearrange the sofa and the Mac. Sitting in my new LaZBoy (it matches the sofa!), I couldn't see the monitor as clearly as I wanted.

Well, this week, I showed just how cool a five-year-old Mac - a Performa 5200 at that - could be. A trip back to Electronic Discount Sales left me two dollars lighter and a brand-spanking-new Apple External Video Connector in hand. I plugged the video connector into the 5200 logic board, grabbed the Apple 1710AV from my other Mac, and hooked it up to the ol' dog. Minutes later, The Bridge on the River Kwai was playing loud and clear on a pair of monitors, and I just sat back in the recliner and marveled at it all.

I figure that, after over two thousand days of 5200 ownership, my cost per day is down to about a buck, and I'm still using the 5200 on an almost daily basis. Now, if I could just figure out a convenient way to run a crossover ethernet cable from the bedroom to the living room....

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