My Turn

Building a Fast, Reliable Network Economically

David L. Mitchell - 2002.09.09

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 .

Old Macs are useful servers. I started a small business recently. I have an 8600/200 that I purchased on eBay four months ago for $127 plus $35 shipping. I chose this model for its easy-to-open case and nice fan. It initially had a 2 GB hard drive, 64 MB RAM, floppy, Zip drive, and 604e processor running at 200 MHz. This computer was fast, but I wanted a faster machine to become a network server at my small business without spending thousands of dollars.

The upgrade started with a $133 G3/450 Sonnet card (with free shipping) from Buy.com, along with two 128 MB DIMMs from VelocityUpgrades.com ($20 each). Then I added a second hard drive, a 4 GB SCSI Seagate Barracuda ($25), along with a SCSI Yamaha CDR drive ($80) from Computer Geeks for data backup.

On the main startup 2 GB drive and on the secondary 4 GB startup drive, I have Mac OS 7.6.1 and FileMaker Server 3.0, with each drive serving as a backup in case the other drive should crash. Next I decided that I wanted a low-cost main server drive that would hold years of data, so I added a PCI IDE card from eBay ($50 with room for 4 devices), along with an 80 GB IDE drive from Staples.com (for $76 after coupons and rebates, as listed on DealMac).

Finally, I added a 10/100 PC ethernet card (modified for the Macintosh driver) for $10. I added an Iomega SCSI2 card ($20) and a 2 GB Jaz drive for data transfer ($80 on eBay). The server's cost was $676 for the whole server including hardware upgrades - along with FileMaker Server for $250 at auction, brand new on eBay.

Next, I needed stations of Macs to connect to my main server. Each of my networked Macintoshes is 7300/200s and 8600/200s running OS 7.6.1 with the addition of a 128 MB DIMM ($20 each from a Velocity Upgrades special). The two 7300/200s were each $90 delivered to my door, and the six networked 8600/200 stations were $155 delivered to my door from eBay.

I added the RAM and 10/100 PCI cards to each machine. Each networked machine has a licensed copy of FileMaker 3.0, which I purchased for $20 each on Half.com. Total cost for two 7300s with software and upgrades ($140 each) with software was $280, including software. Total cost for each of the six 8600/200s ($205 each with upgrades) was $1,230, including software.

I bought nine 17" VGA monitors - generic brand - at various office stores (Staples, Office Max, Office Depot) for $120 each with coupons and rebates during the last year. Macintosh adapters were $5 each, $45 total.

I also bought a 16-port hub for $80 after rebates and 100' ethernet cabling for $20/cable for 9 cables, for a total of $180. I use a Personal LaserWriter 320 printer for my main network printer ($50 on eBay with a brand new toner cartridge). I use Nisus Writer, a free word-processor, for letter writing.

My complete network costs for software and hardware, including my self-installation:

  $676 for server
  $250 FM server
  $280 for two 7300s upgraded
$1,230 for six 8600s
$1,080 for the monitors
   $45 monitor adapters
   $80 100 hub
  $180 for cables
   $50 for the printer
$3,871 total

This total cost is less than the cost of most network servers - and cheaper than the cost of two fully loaded new computers. My total network has a fast server, fairly fast servers (100 based ethernet and lots of RAM helps), and low maintenance computers. I have multiple rooms and employees, with simple aliases on each desktop to log onto the network. The FileMaker software is very fast, along with the stable G3/450 processors under OS 7.6.1.

I could not have created this network without looking up specs on Low End Mac of various Macs, without eBay, and without the high depreciation of computers. Most of these models sold for over $3,000 when new a few years ago. Some of the models were considered high-end, and they continue to function well under OS 7.6.1.

I have used networks with Windows NT, 98, and 2000 OS under Pentium III and 4 servers at my former corporate employer; with none of them was transfer data any faster than on my network. The Pentium III and 4 networks required weekly technical support for log-in errors, screen freezes (the blue screen of death randomly appearing), and loss of network printing capabilities.

Not once has my network had any difficulties running OS 7.6.1 with the G3/450 server and the 604e 200 MHz stations.

The Macintosh is an extremely stable network that keeps the total cost of ownership low, as most Macintoshes do not need technical support repairs weekly. It is a pleasure to use the Macintosh hardware and OS.

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