My Turn

Another Perspective On Processor Upgrades

Tom Gabriel - 2002.03.11

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 .

Adam Robert Guha's excellent article published last week, Processor Upgrades a Waste of Money?, regarding the impossibility of upgrading older Macs to the point that they will perform equally and have equal specifications to the newest Macs available makes some salient and valid points. But for a lot of us, particularly those who read and make use of the information on the Low End Mac site, there are other factors which have to be considered, factors which may lead to a different conclusion.

Many of us have an older Mac (mine is a Power Mac 7300 with a 200 MHz 604e CPU) which we use for all our computing needs. These may include word processing, graphics with the likes of Photoshop, PageMaker and Illustrator, Internet (both work and recreation), and various other things. While perhaps not "power users," we find the Mac to be a very efficient work partner in its present form. We may have neither the resources nor the need to think about a new iMac, inexpensive and powerful as it may be.

Let's suppose we decide that a speed increase may make things go a little easier, especially in areas like graphics and the Internet. Perhaps we want to "get our feet wet" in such activities as audio and video editing or burning CDs. A brand-new Mac would make these activities fast and easy, but what if we don't have the money? Or what if we don't know if we really want to jump in that quickly with that much, at least until we really know what we're doing?

These factors are a part of many of our lives, no getting around it. There should be an alternative to spending what to many is a great deal of money on the kind of upgrading we are not sure we need. Thanks to the companies that make CPU upgrades, such alternatives exist.

Let's take a little side trip and look at the other computer platform. There is much made of the fact that Wintel computers can be built almost from scratch. Starting with an empty case, and just about anyone can put one together any way they want it. It follows that you can upgrade all of this piece by piece for not much money.

It's kind of like building a hot rod in your garage. You can cobble together a pretty fast car on your own, and there's a certain amount of pride and satisfaction in doing so. It can even be a great car, but it will never be a Porsche or a BMW - the engineering and design quality of these cars aren't likely to be duplicated in your garage or anyone else's.

But what if it were possible to take an older model of one of these superb cars and put in an engine that would give performance that surpassed the original, would pin your ears back on the road, and was still of quality superior to the hot rod? I'm sure you know where this analogy is going. One of the most desirable qualities of the Mac is its long-lived resistance to obsolescence, in direct opposition to the Wintel machines.

What if such an upgrade could do what we need it to do for our present purposes? What if we don't have the present need to upgrade such things as hard drive speed and size, connectivity with FireWire and USB, or go to the latest and probably greatest operating system (which will only run on the newest machines)? Some of us really don't have such needs - at least not yet. And many of us are not impressed with technical specifications which mean faster running of newer software, but which have little practical benefit when running the older versions.

What we must consider is genuine, practical need. No, we won't be getting the total equivalent of a new Mac, but neither do we need it.

For us, an upgrade of perhaps $200-250 for a faster CPU with another $50-75 for more RAM not only makes sense, but it is in fact the ideal answer. Whether the considerations are economics, practical need, or both, this is the perfect fix for us at the present. It's less expensive than a new machine, there's no need to buy USB-to-SCSI adapters for peripherals, and the chances are good that it will fill our needs admirably.

This is what the Mac does so superbly: Filling present needs with the best hardware and operating system for "the rest of us" while holding the promise of staying power in the long run. I believe it is no accident that the companies manufacturing upgrades for Macs are doing pretty good business. The Mac is not a computer to throw away when it gets a little slow; there's too much life left in it.

If you can't buy (or don't need) a new Mac, you just upgrade for awhile. And when that upgrade no longer fills your needs, sell it or give it to someone who can use it, then move on to a newer (or brand-new) model.

It's possible, it's practical, and it makes sense. It puts computing within the reach of those who do not have (or cannot justify spending) the kind of money a new system requires.

This may not reap the short-term rewards gained by companies that practice planned (or forced) obsolescence, but the Mac inspires customer loyalty and keeps the toxic waste dumps a little less full.

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