The Power of Mac

What to Do With Your Old Power Mac

Eric Schwarz - 2001.07.26

Lots of people have 'em. Lots of other people can get them inexpensively. You might even have one laying on the floor of a closet or stuffed away somewhere.

What can you do with a first-generation Power Mac?

The first-generation Power Macs - the 6100, 7100, 8100, as well as a few clones - had a few things in common: NuBus slots (or the possibility to add one), a PowerPC 601 processor (ranging from speeds from 60 MHz to 110 MHz), and the ability to be G3 upgraded (though expensive).

This article is not about upgrading these Power Macs, per se. Hardware upgrades are not covered here, but software ones are. You can squeeze a lot out of these older computers, so I've compiled the top five things you can do with these (not in any specific order).

1. Make it play MP3s

Download GrayAMP from EckySoft, a freeware MP3 player that runs quite well even on a 6100 (they even state that in the Read-Me file). The interface has no real "eye-candy," but it runs very well, consumes little disk space, and doesn't require tons of RAM. GrayAMP features include a playlist, the ability to show the time elapsed/remaining in a song, and other little tweaks that make it a cool MP3 player. The best thing is that it's free!

2. Turn it into an Internet router

Buy VicomSoft Internet Gateway or SurfDoubler or Sustainable Software IPNetRouter. These programs can share any kind of Internet connection over a network.

3. Use it as an extra Internet terminal

Get a cheap modem (used or new) or use the built-in ethernet port (for broadband, DSL, cable, etc.) and load on your favorite Web browser, email client, and/or chat program. Internet Explorer 5 works quite well and doesn't require tons of RAM (surprisingly!). Its companion, Outlook Express 5, is also a very usable program. iCab, although in the preview stage, is also excellent.

4. Upgrade the operating system

Most of these came with System 7.1.2 or 7.5.2. Go ahead and upgrade to 7.5.5, 8.1, 8.6, or, if RAM permits, 9.1. Versions other than these usually had bugs that were fixed in these versions. OS 8.1 runs really well and has lots of Internet tools, but doesn't require too much memory.

Correction: I stated that most of the early Power Macs ran System 7.5.2. After correction from Daniel Decker and some further investigation, I learned that the 8100/110 shipped with System 7.5, not 7.5.2. System 7.5.2 was a special version that only ran on a limited number of Power Macs.

5. Use it as a "messing around" computer

Try some version of Linux or Unix on it just to see how Linux/Unix works. See what the underpinnings of OS X are really like (by using one of its relatives), or just run an OS that is all work and no play....

Whatever you decide to do with one of these old Power Macs, remember that they still can be useful if you give them the right tasks, and if you don't have one, well, they can sometimes be had for less than US$30. You can even get a top-of-the-line 8100/110 for about $100. So, what are you waiting for? Go get one or dig your old one out and put it to work! LEM

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